Bill Lewis's $25-million personnel firm, Career Blazers, based in New York City, has been in a fast-growth mode for the past 15 years. Unfortunately, Lewis has found it tough to hire an accounting firm qualified to keep up. "We've had to switch accountants three times because of all kinds of errors -- and that's intolerable," he complains. "A company can watch a year's worth of profits get wiped out by an accountant's mistake, particularly if it's the kind of error the IRS will penalize."
For Career Blazers, whose accounting advisers have ranged from a three-person operation to, currently, a Big Six firm, mistakes have come in all shapes and sizes. "At first, some seem less troubling, such as when a report or tax form gets filed late," the CEO says. "But even mistakes like that are worrisome, because they're an indication that the accountant is having trouble keeping up with your business and its needs."
To get the kind of quality service Lewis now gets, he advises that you --
* Insist on a review process that will cover all work your accountant performs. "Anytime another trained professional reviews an accountant's work, mistakes will be reduced fourfold." The work performed on the Career Blazers account is reviewed by at least three people before it ever leaves the accounting firm's office.
* Compare support services. Look for accountants who provide tax updates and who have strong Washington, D.C., connections. "If we're considering an innovative strategy, our accountants can check the plan out with the right government sources," he says.
* Keep track of your accountant's performance. For feedback about the quality of tax and other advice, Lewis consults his banker and lawyer. He also encourages his finance people to report any accounting problems. Above all, he stays involved. "I'm probably doing something to monitor our accounting firm's performance every week."
-- Jill Andresky Fraser