Hello, tax season! 6 tips to help you find a CPA

It’s a new year and you might be looking to make a change in your business or personal “team” for this year. That team might include your CPA, life coach, attorney or financial planner.

Today, let’s look at the CPA. A CPA is distinguished from other accountants by stringent state licensing requirements which include required hours of college credit earned, the successful completion of a standardized uniform national examination, an experience requirement and mandatory minimum education classes each year.

You might be quite comfortable with your CPA, but it’s still a good idea to take stock of your situation and see if that person is still a good fit for you. If circumstances have changed, or you have never used the services of a CPA in the past, you might want to look for someone new.

Review your CPA’s professional experience

For instance, your past choice of a CPA may have been based on the business you owned at the time. However, if the nature of your business has changed, you may require additional knowledge or experience from your CPA. Other changes such as pending retirement, a sale of a business, a divorce, estate planning or the death of a family member may require a CPA who has experience in those areas and can prepare the required tax returns.

Does your CPA communicate well?

Do they call you back or respond to your e-mails within 24 hours? Do they talk to you using technical language such as the IRS tax code sections or do they use plain English and simple terms? They should take the time with you to answer your questions without continually looking at their watch to see the time or talk about their next appointment arriving.

Are you looking for a large or small firm?

Large firms might have the experience and expertise you need for your particular situation. If you have an unusual issue that comes up, they probably have someone else in the firm that can help with that particular area. For some people, a small firm is more comfortable where they know all of the staff and are greeted by name when they walk into the office. A small firm might not be able to meet every one of your needs, but they probably know other CPA specialists that they can refer you to easily.

Do you really need a CPA?

If you need an audit of your financial statements, then you do need a CPA. Only a CPA can report on financial statements prepared by AICPA standards. If you are looking for someone to do your bookkeeping, maybe there is an internal bookkeeper that you can hire, or a bookkeeping service that would fit your need instead of hiring a CPA. For tax purposes, you can find enrolled agents, registered tax preparers and even tax programs such as Turbo Tax to do simple tax returns. With the new tax law, it is projected that an increased number of people will be doing their own tax returns this year instead of using a CPA.

How much does a CPA cost?

Large firms usually charge more. Small firms have lower overhead costs, and, therefore, less costs to pass on to you for their services. Both large and small firms charge for the experience level of their staff or partners.  Also, if the individuals have special expertise in special fields, they will charge more for those services. Make sure that you find a CPA that will meet your needs and then make sure that you are comfortable with the fees they will charge you for their services.

What services does the CPA offer?

For businesses, they can help you set up your accounting systems, and accumulate, analyze and report financial and operations information for management decision-making. They can prepare audits, reviews and compilations required by the people you do business with, and provide management consulting services for your individual business.

For individuals, they can help with financial plans, budgets and retirement planning, developing an estate plan, and assessing insurance needs. They can also work with seniors, act as a trustee and prepare court/trust accountings.

There are many other services a CPA can offer for a business or for individuals that are not listed here.

Before you make a selection, interview at least three CPAs. Ask the same questions of each one, and be sure to request references.

Next week we will be looking at another team member for your business or personal team.

Marcia L. Campbell, has worked as a CPA for over 25 years specializing in seniors, trusts, estates, court and trust accountings and probate litigation support.  You can reach her via email at Marcia@MCampbellCPA.com.

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Five ways to motivate employees and drive results

How do you motivate employees and drive results at the same time?

When we think about a results-driven leader, we picture someone who is driving with an intense focus toward a goal. Eyes front. No nonsense. A person who embodies the message, “Get out of my way, I will win!”

On the other hand, motivation requires a leader possess a high degree of people skills, directing his or her energy toward inspiring and building positive relationships with their team. This requires taking the time to help employees develop new skills and talents along the way to success.

This is a lot to ask!

How do you, as leader, manage all this without losing your own focus or momentum?

Here are a few simple shifts that will help you both drive and motivate your team.

1. Leverage is your best friend – embrace it.

As a leader, you may feel as though you bear the burden of full responsibility to achieve the goals that have been placed before you. Not so!

Your job is to set the vision, map out the course, assign responsibilities, teach people the right steps to excel, and coach them to the finish line. If you feel as though you are pulling and dragging people to reach this finish line, you are carrying weight that doesn’t belong to you. You have disempowered your team. Your team wants to feel valued and that they contribute toward the larger picture. Put on your coaching “hat” and get out of the way.

2. Your foundation is everything.

Your foundation consists of your plan, your people, and the resources to do the job.

A. Is your plan solid? Does it contain the “teeth” to leave no room for question? If your people are stalling at certain points, this means you need to clarify how to move forward. And are you regularly checking to see if the plan is moving your team in the right direction? This tells your team you care about them and their success.

B. Do you have the right people in place? If you have a chronic underperformer, the finger should point back at you. What does this person need in order to perform more effectively? Have that conversation and if you discover that you are part of the problem, adjust and rewind. If, on the other hand, you find that the person simply isn’t the right fit, do yourself, the employee, and the rest of the team a favor and have the critical conversation that has been looming for some time.

C. Are you providing your team with the resources they need to do the job? This is a big item. If you are asking them to reach the seemingly impossible, you also need to identify what they will need in order to achieve this. A runner can’t run without a well-mapped out course and the right amount of energy bars and water. Likewise, your team member can’t perform to capacity unless he receives the right kind of support and resources. What do your team members need in order to work more effectively? Ask! This helps them to see you have their best interests in mind and want to see them win.

3. “Rinse and repeat” should be your mantra. It’s not how many steps; it’s how many right steps.

Be careful that you don’t throw your team off course if you aren’t seeing big results quickly. Check your direction, and check the steps you have outlined to get there. I recall leading a multi-million dollar campaign that had never before been achieved. As I learned to put together the strategic plan that ultimately helped us reach and exceed $21.3M in four years (unprecedented!), it was a real eye-opener to realize that just five steps, when repeated over and over, reaped the lion’s share of our results.

Have you identified your own multi-step formula? When you do, and you allow your team to flex and grow while working these steps, it allows them to master these, as well, because they must repeat them many times.

People love learning, and they love achieving. This is motivating. And that is what this does.

4. Evaluate often and collaboratively. You need to have regular meetings set up to evaluate progress – no surprise (but I’m astounded at the number of leaders who don’t do this).

However, if you want to motivate your people, if you want to help them learn and grow, you will want to conduct your evaluations in a different way.

First, be sure you begin these meetings with celebrating what has gone well. Identify what is working and recognize people for their efforts.

Secondly, identify the “points of learning.” What didn’t work as well as you had hoped? Have your team dissect this with you and keep the focus on the moves and tactics that needing adjusting. No finger-pointing.

Third, address any big concerns, and allow the team to give input as to how these concerns might be addressed. You are allowing them to participate in creative problem-solving and to give them a “voice” in the solution. Again, feeling as though you are part of the solution and that your thoughts count is very motivating and reminds people that they are important to the larger picture.

5. Celebrate. It is always a sad sore spot with me when leaders are recognized for achievements and efforts, and the team goes unrecognized.

Begin with your team – recognize them for efforts even if you can’t recognize for results.

Identify what about their contribution was helpful – get specific. In other words, saying “Good job on last week’s efforts, Dan,” rings hollow. But “Good job on your efforts to negotiate with our competitor, Dan. I believe your connecting with them will bear fruit,” is much different. Tell them why you are recognizing them and be sincere.

And when it comes time for you as leader to be recognized in bigger meetings, don’t forget to call out how your team helped to win. You truly could not have done this yourself – and you need to recognize this with others.

If you truly want to motivate and inspire your people, let them know they are an integral part of the success.How do their contributions make a difference? And then, allow them to use these gifts to do so.

Your job is not to run the course alone – it is to coach an entire team to break that ribbon at the finish line. It is when you finally embrace this that you will reach those great results.

Patti Cotton works with executives, business owners, and their companies, to elevate and support leadership at all levels. Her client roster includes privately-owned small businesses and such entities as Bank of America, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Harvard University, Sysco, Edward Jones, Morgan Stanley, Girl Scouts of America, and more.  Reach her by email at Patti@PattiCotton.com

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Ask the Lawyer: How do dishonest lawyers sleep at night?

Q: We know lawyers are very smart people, but yet the law allows lawyers to lie in court since they are not under oath. How do lawyers sleep at night, and how do they really feel when they get guilty clients off?

-D.K., Torrance

Ron Sokol

A: You say the law allows lawyers to lie in court, but that is false. Lawyers are officers of the court, and are not permitted to engage in misrepresentation. A lawyer who does so could well be in very serious trouble, with the court alone the State Bar.

Your question also asks how a lawyer can have peace of mind when he or she may know the client is guilty; still, the lawyer is acting zealously to try to show that the client is not guilty. In such instance a lawyer may justify the defense on the basis that each person is entitled to competent and vigorous representation.

Our system allows all parties to have counsel, if they choose to do so, and in some instances will provide counsel even if the person is resistant.  Bottom line, being a lawyer comes with very solemn responsibilities, one of which is real candor, not deceit, and another which may include handling a task that others would choose to avoid.

Q: My son is thinking of going to law school. It is expensive, very hard work, and there already are an awful lot of lawyers. Is it really worth it?

-P.Q., Manhattan Beach

A: There are good reasons for going to law school, sticking with it, and becoming a lawyer. First, what you learn you can use whether or not you practice law. If you become a lawyer, you can also teach, and/or you can write. You can be a lawyer who works primarily in the office (handling wills and trusts), or you can get into the trenches with criminal or family law matters. In addition, you can work in the public or private sector. Over time, you may become a judge. Another option is to work for a company, not just a firm; or you can go solo. Being a lawyer also is rewarding – not just monetarily, or monetarily alone. You can be involved with helping the community, help people in need, change things for the better, and thus serve a higher purpose.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears on in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask the Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503.

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