[IMGCAP(1)]There are three broad types of work CPAs do—financial reporting attestation and support, tax compliance and planning, and management advisory or consulting services.

The consulting part could be described as anything a CPA does that doesn’t fall into the first two categories. Good accountants use all their skills all the time, but consulting could be said to be actually applying all their skills to a specific problem to present possible solutions.

Babies learn to walk, and some grow up to be long-distance runners. When they win their races, they usually thank many people that helped them, but I never heard anyone thank the person that helped them learn to walk. So it is with consulting. You need to learn the basic skills, and by using your sense of observation, inquiry and stick-to-it-ness the brain’s analytical ability will digest everything and offer up solutions. Without the basic skills, I don’t see how effective consulting can be done.

The better consultants are the more experienced of us that have built a reservoir of knowledge that is applied to current seemingly unrelated situations. Consulting grows out of our other disciplines. For example a tax preparer reviewing a return with a client might catch a remark that the client wished she had more income from investments because she wanted to have funds to start a business. The alert preparer would draw out the client to express her goals and offer to assist with the business plan and some methods of how financing can be obtained. That is consulting!

Another example of being a consultant is where an auditor sees a laxity while reviewing a client’s internal control and not only tells them about it, but suggests a method of correcting it.

Auditing and tax preparation are the learning-to-walk process for the CPAs that become consultants.
Consulting can be an extra when you are not specifically engaged for it. The CPA/consultant will carry it forward to special value-providing engagements.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner in WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He has authored 20 books and has written hundreds of articles for business and professional journals and newsletters plus a Tax Loophole article for every issue of TaxHotline for 27 years. Ed also writes a blog twice a week that addresses issues his clients have at www.partners-network.com. He is the winner of the Lawler Award for the best article published during 2001 in the Journal of Accountancy. He has also taught in the MBA graduate program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court. Ed welcomes practice management questions and he can be reached at WithumSmith+Brown, One Spring Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, (732) 964-9329, emendlowitz@withum.com.