A Low-Risk Way to Pick an Accountant

Sterck Kulik O’Neill accounting group invites prospective clients to a free introductory meeting in our office. Why?

Lots of professionals charge the first time you meet them because they think their time is so valuable that they never want to give it away.  If you go to talk to a surgeon, they will ask you to pay for your first appointment, even if you decide you don’t like them and don’t want them touching your body! These professionals don’t want to waste time on non-revenue producing activities.

But, we think you should be able to meet us and see if you’re comfortable with our knowledge, personalities, way of talking, and our procedures before you engage us. So, we ask that you come in, explain to us what services you’re looking for, and see if you like interacting with us. For free!

Do we understand the problem you’re bringing to us? Do we talk so you understand us? Do you like our ideas?

Partners Charles and Geoffrey
CPA’s Charles Sterck and Geoffrey Kulik

So you can find out the answers to these questions, we offer prospective clients a free introductory meeting with one of our partners. Usually the first meeting lasts between a half hour and a full hour. You and the partner will talk about your overall financial situation and the pressing issue that made you decide to talk to a CPA.

We’ll ask you to bring in copies of your most recently filed Federal tax return, if you’re looking for tax help. Or, copies of the business financial statements you’re getting now, if that’s the work you want us to do. Basically, the partner is looking for information that will let him estimate how many hours it will take us to do what you want. Then by the end of the meeting he will give you an estimate for the engagement.

We want you to know the cost of the work you need before you spend any money.

Oh, yeah. The free meeting is not a free hour of accounting services! It’s an opportunity for you to decide if you want us to be your ongoing CPA. Sometimes I have to disappoint people who tell me that they want their free hour of asking a CPA questions about their taxes and financial life.

Your time is worth a lot, so we understand that by coming to an introductory meeting you’re risking your time. We appreciate that. But, we won’t charge you while you decide if we are the accounting firm for you.

Plus, we will talk to you about your accounting needs before we set up the in-person meeting. In our phone conversation we will confirm that we do the work you’re looking for and think we might be a good fit. If you’re looking for a tax preparer, but your only income is W2 salary income, we will tell you we probably aren’t a good choice, and we’ll suggest some more cost effective alternatives. Or, if you really want to engage a specialist accountant who only handles art supply businesses (or whatever), we’ll tell you up front that we don’t meet your qualifications. We will try not to waste your time, if we aren’t the accountants for you!

So if you are considering establishing a relationship with an accounting professional, give us a chance. We think we give you a low-risk way of seeing if we are the right CPA firm for you.

2017 Opens a New Portal

One of the services we have updated in preparation for Tax Season is our client Portal.

Portal is a free client service that lets them exchange sensitive information with us over the Internet safely.

Secure safe portal

CCH Axcess Portal is the service we use.  CCH is one of the top makers of software for accountants. Their Portal service provides a way to exchange encrypted information via a secure data center. The clients’ information is stored locked up in a spot where physical access is tightly restricted, and the duplicate remote storage guards against loss from nature disasters like earthquakes and local tragedies like theft and building fires.

Why don’t we just email clients their tax returns?

Email is NOT secure!  Email is typically sent through the Internet without encryption. Someone with a monitor on the Internet could capture the stream of the email and rip off your information. In addition, most people don’t safeguard their email accounts that well. They keep the email program open when they are at lunch, and coworkers wandering by can “accidently” see confidential documents and messages open in email.

Of course we still love doing business face-to-face.  You can bring by your sensitive documents and drop them off in person. If you have the time!

But, if you sometimes need to exchange information instantly, let us set you up on Portal.

Upgrading Our Technology to Serve You Better

Bionic Woman of the FutureOur office is moving to a secure, cloud-based server this week.

We have contracted with Xcentric, a service that only works with accounting firms, to host our applications and store our data.

Xcentric uses best practices to safeguard all information.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has given Xcentric a Service Organization Control report that provides independent validation that Xcentric’s security controls are in accordance with the applicable Trust Service Principles and Criteria (SOC2). This means that our data — and your data — will be safe.

Actually, with a cloud-based approach your information will be better defended against crooks or loss than it has been on our local systems. Xcentric has two secure, geographically distant, US-based, data centers that provide top protection against theft, fire, and natural disasters.

Our partners also believe that the move to the cloud will let our professional staff spend more time doing accounting work and less time being ersatz IT managers.

We are excited!

During the switch over, the firm’s IP addresses will be changing and connections will be disrupted.  There will be times when our email and phones won’t work or won’t work correctly.  We ask that you be patient and try us again in a few minutes, if you encounter any problems.

If you have an urgent need to reach us when our systems are in transition, send us a message at [email protected].  We will monitor that address during this week of change!

How Much Will it Cost?

We are very happy when people find us on Yelp! Find Us on Yelp We are grateful for the positive comments people have written about us there, and we receive a good number of calls and emails from Yelpers who are looking for accountant.

But recently, without telling us, Yelp added a “Request a Quote” button on the page with our reviews.  Ugh!

We always want clients to know what the cost of our work is going to be before we start doing it.  That’s not the problem.

Yelp's Request a Quote ButtonThe problem is “Request a Quote” results in people following directions and writing in asking, “How much do you charge to prepare taxes?” or, “What’s your price for doing an audit?”

We — like most accounting firms — don’t have a price list for services like this because there is no such thing as a generic tax return or one-size audit.  Billionaire Warren Buffet submits a tax return just as you do… only his is a bit more complicated and costs more to prepare than yours does!

What we do when you are considering our services is to invite you in for a  free introductory meeting in our office.  You’ll talk with one of our partners, see if you like us, and tell us about your situation.

We ask that you  bring in information that will let the partner know the scope of the work you need.  For tax clients, that would a copy of last year’s tax return and the current year’s financial information.  For a bookkeeping client, it might be a copy of the financial reports you are getting now or a list of the reports that you want to see.  The information we ask you to bring varies according to help you’re looking for.

The partner will explain what services our firm offers and how we can help you.  Usually that’s straight-forward: you come looking for tax preparation help, and the partner will tell you we prepare taxes!  Sometimes, with complex financial situations, the partner’s explanation will be more expansive, unexpected, and show a path that you hadn’t anticipated.

Whatever your situation, at the end of the meeting the partner will have a good idea of how much of what type of work we need to do to meet your needs. This will let the partner give you an estimated cost for the engagement.

I wish it could be quicker to get quote.  Unfortunately, for professional services there are three choices:

Reading fine print with a magnifying glass

  1. Have a price list with services set so high that even convoluted examples of the generic service are profitable. This method gives you a fixed, assured price, but it’s a price higher than almost everyone would pay if they were charged for assistance by the hour.
  2. Have a price list with fine print that basically makes the list useless for our target clients, people with complex financial situations.   For a tax return, the fine print would be something like “* good for tax returns using the standard deduction with only a single state W-2 income“.
  3. Learn exactly what the client wants, customize a response, and provide an estimate for the exact work needed by the client.

We use method #3.  It doesn’t let us give quick answers by phone or email. But, we think it’s more straight-forward, transparent, and cost-effective for the client.

If we can provide you with a no-obligation, customized estimate for your accounting engagement, give us a call!  We are at 415-433-4500.

Embracing the Practice of Referring

As the designated contact for the first call from people looking for accounting services, I talk to a lot of folks who have never engaged a CPA before but think they need one now.

It’s fun!  Usually I get to hear about people doing new and exciting things.  They’re starting a business or buying an empire, and they are looking for professional support.

While we talk, I try to find out what accounting services would help the person calling and how Sterck Kulik O’Neill is a good fit for them. Sure,  we’re looking for new clients.  But, we want people to engage us when it makes sense for them.

I’ve discovered new business owners — especially those who have never run a business before — often really have no accounting tasks for an accountant to do!  They say that someone told them they needed a CPA and they want to talk about financial issues.  So, we talk some more about what information they want.

When the business owner is looking for help setting up accounting systems, support in managing their finances, help doing due diligence for a purchase, or taking other action that has a spot for a professional accountant, I set up a meeting for them with a partner to talk about an engagement.

But, I also know that money is tight for new businesses.  If the owners just want to talk with an experienced person about what they’re planning, I offer them two options.

  • They can meet with a partner for an hour or more for a development consultation.  We work a lot with established businesses to grow their profits, and we can provide hourly support that helps someone just starting out.
  • They can contact their local office of SCORE. SCORE is a non-profit organization with offices across the country.  They provide a free one-hour consultation for new entrepreneurs and they offer many free or low-cost seminars on business basics.

I usually suggest that they go to SCORE first, even if it means we’ll miss a hour of consultation.

SCORE San Francisco logo

We want people to get good value for their money when we work for them, and SCORE’s price of FREE is a good one for a new business.  The advisors at SCORE can talk about their personal experiences, how they set up their QuickBooks, how they paid estimated taxes, and how they handled rent, utilities, payroll, and other nuts and bolts issues.

We are not in competition with SCORE, and I am happy to refer people to them when it’s appropriate.  In fact, SCORE is just one of several organizations and businesses I suggest to people when they’ve call us to talk about accounting.

I like that Sterck Kulik O’Neill doesn’t try to get everyone to sign up for their services.  When it’s a good fit, I’ll encourage a prospective client to meet with a partner.  And, I am happy to have the freedom to suggest more appropriate solutions when someone doesn’t need our services TODAY.