Search
  • Joe Cangelosi

Why you’re frustrated with your CPA

True Gripes


Creative businesses often outsource at least part of their accounting and tax to a traditional CPA firm. But even with developed mid-market companies I often hear some combination of complaints like:
  • I can never get them on the phone

  • They send me reports I don’t understand

  • Everything they send me is three months old

  • They send me a bill when I ask a simple question

  • They don’t understand our business

  • They don’t help us track projects

  • They talk to me like I’m an idiot

  • They want us to format our work so it works for them

Why is that and why does that drive you crazy?

 

Reason #1: Financial vs Managerial Accounting

There are two distinct but related reasons behind most of this frustration. The first issue is that most CPA’s and CPA firms are focused on financial accounting when mid-market firms need managerial accounting services.


What do you mean by financial accounting?

Financial accounting is the process of recording, summarizing and reporting on the financial activities of an enterprise. By nature, financial accounting is backwards looking. You send a payment; the bank sends a statement. Only then does financial accounting begin. Unless you’re working with a sophisticated outsourcing partner, your bookkeeping workflow might not even start until the statements are closed, so everything in your books could be a month or more out of date.


The classic use case for financial accounting is for financial statements, which, for publicly traded companies, are public records and must adhere to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Simply put, financial accounting is for external users: investors, creditors and the government. So while GAAP has its place it’s not the focus of our approach to accounting - or most accountants working with SMBs.

What is common with small and mid-size businesses is that CPA engagements start with a tax return, and everything that grows out of that engagement tends to support the preparation of a tax return. This affects everything from the bookkeeping schedule to what time of year you can get your accountant on the phone.

News flash: business owners and operations managers don’t care about financial accounting. What do they care about? They care about managerial accounting.

Managerial Accounting 101

While financial accounting makes sense of the past, managerial accounting helps us understand the present and predict the future. When firms try to sell you “CFO services,” what they are talking about is managerial accounting: statements, reports, and documents that help management make better decisions related to their business’ performance.

Reporting on things like project profitability and staff recovery and utilization, or forecasts like cashflow projections and operating budgets, these are all managerial accounting. And do you know what we find at Tee Lex? This is what our customers actually care about.

It’s important to understand that it’s impossible to have great managerial accounting without strong financial accounting. Unfortunately, when you’re working with a legacy CPA firm, the financial accounting is usually so out of date by the time the business managers get it, they end up keeping what amounts to a separate set of books they run the business on.

If you’re tracking accounts payable in a spreadsheet, you understand what I mean.


This is why Tee Lex is hyper-focused on managerial accounting, and we structure our financial accounting processes to provide the best business insights to our customers.

 

Reason 2: “General Business” vs Creative Service Business

Accountants and accounting software pros sometimes use a term that I despise: General Business. What they usually mean is a business other than manufacturing or merchandising (and sometimes construction and real estate), because from a financial accounting perspective those are distinct.

But from every other perspective, a creative service business is vastly different.

I could go on for days about what makes creative service businesses different, and mid-market businesses even more so, but here are the top 10 things that differentiate our clients - and creative service businesses – from “general businesses,” whatever that means:

1. They are often run by visual people

Our customers are astute businesspeople, but some shrink from a page full of numbers.

2. They are project-based

3. The project structure is vertical based

4.Their margins vary across verticals

5. They often contract with customers much larger than themselves

6. They tend to work with freelancers and subcontractors

7. The product is people

8. The inventory is measured in hours

9. Culture is a part of the service delivery

10. Cultures tend to chafe against feeling too “corporate”


Our customers come to us looking for accounting and tax help, sure, but they also ask us for help managing their operations and mitigating risk.

It’s a good thing our team has over 100 combined years in creative services, and our customers feel the difference.
 

If you’d like to talk about how Tee Lex can help your creative service business thrive, drop me a line at joe@teelexinc.com