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When a Business Is Ready for the Next Chapter in Bookkeeping and Accounting

April 21, 1999|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Q: I recently started a marketing and advertising agency that is doing well. Because of our success, we have a lot of bookkeeping and accounting challenges. We're not big enough yet to hire trained accounting people, and we've been using QuickBooks Pro to handle the accounts so far. Who can we call to help us get our house in order? We want to hire someone who specializes in handling businesses such as ours.

--Jose Cano, San Fernando

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Ai When you start a new business, it's a good idea sometime during the first year to meet with a tax preparer, even if you don't feel that you need ongoing help with your records. This way, you will at least get an overview of what your business tax obligations are, in terms of record-keeping and also the possible need to make quarterly tax payments.

Today's software really does do a lot. But I follow the old "garbage in, garbage out" adage in thinking that just because it comes from a computer doesn't mean it's correct. This is another reason to let a professional look at the reports that are generated by your software to make sure that your categories are set up correctly and the data you're getting are really helpful.

If you enjoy doing the financial records yourself and have the time, simply establish an ongoing relationship with a CPA or a tax preparer and meet with him or her a couple of times a year to make sure things are on track.

But if you don't feel confident doing the books yourself, you're not able to use software or you're taking time away from making money to spend time on bookkeeping, you'll probably want to look for a bookkeeper at least part time.

By far the best way to find a bookkeeper, accountant or tax preparer is to check with colleagues in similar businesses or at least similar-sized businesses and get their personal recommendations. Second best is to check with professional organizations, such as the National Assn. of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) at http://www.naea.org or the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants at http://www.aicpa.org and get referrals from those associations.

Once you've accumulated a few names this way, arrange to meet with them or talk to these people over the telephone and pose some key questions: Will they work from your checkbook and shoe box full of receipts? Or will they want you to enter data into record books yourself? If you want to be able to simply hand over your shoe box, you need to make sure the person you hire will be comfortable with that.

If you're looking for a part-time bookkeeper who will come to your business periodically, ask the prospect if he or she has a required minimum number of hours per week or month. Also ask if that person will train you to do the books yourself, if you're interested in that for the future.

Ask for references--and make sure you actually check them out. And, of course, ask about fees and how they are structured so you can compare several options and pick the best one for your business.

--Jan Zobel, tax preparer and

author, "Minding Her Own

Business: The Self-Employed

Woman's Guide to Taxes and

Recordkeeping," San Francisco

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If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016 or e-mail it to kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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