Art of Accounting: How to be the "Other Guy's Accountant"

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IMGCAP(1)]Last week I wrote about wanting to always be the “other guy’s accountant.” I received a number of calls and emails asking how I do it so here is a follow-up.

No matter what client I meet with and no matter what the reason, I try to engage them to find out what’s on their mind.

While I am truly interested in them, I also look for opportunities to tell them about our services and how they could benefit from them, and under what circumstances they should call me. For those that harbor thoughts of going into business, my motive, besides helping them, is to get them and their partner to a face-to-face meeting. A few methods of what I do follow:

• I try to draw clients to discuss their dreams about whether they would ever want to have a business, either by starting one or buying into one. When they express those feelings, I tell them that there are a number of ways to handle it from a tax and financial standpoint. If they ever find themselves discussing it with anyone, I say they should contact me immediately and I will make sure it is set up right for them. I want my clients to get the thought in their heads that I am available and knowledgeable and will look out for their and their partners’ best interests, and to get me to meet with their partner to be. If you don’t meet them, you ain’t getting the client—the other guy will.

• I tell a story about a client and his partner who wanted to start a business or buy one, but they did not have the money. I tell how I suggested the partners get new credit cards while they were still working and then max out the borrowings so they would have the funds to get started. I explain I will show them how to match the high interest rate with the money they will make and value they will build up by being in business; or compare it to the “cost” of having a money partner at the very early stage. No way is a slam dunk, but I have the experience to show them how they could get it done.

• I tell how I helped a client borrow all the funds they needed from a bank to buy the business, but that the partners and their spouses had to personally guarantee the loans. When the time comes, I would review their personal and financial situation and advise them on the best way to proceed, including possibly that way too.

• If I know a client is thinking of going into business, I periodically call them to ask how they are proceeding and if they need any help.

• I tell clients that want to go into business with someone that I will give them a free initial meeting to discuss the viability of their idea and a method of proceeding.

• I suggest that clients would need a business plan and I would offer a free meeting to show them how to get one prepared, including which software I believe is the easiest to use.

• I relate the importance of a buy-sell agreement and how I could review a checklist with them and they can work out how they want it. I also tell them that my process will make it easier for the lawyer to advise them and prepare the agreement.

• Even without putting in a cent, clients that want to go into a business make substantial investments by quitting their jobs. They also risk whatever funds and savings they have. They need to be sure, and I would be glad to meet with them and their partner and spouses to discuss the pros and cons of what they are contemplating.

• I tell clients that I can help them get the best start financially but cannot make the product and generate the sales. While I will give them the best plan for succeeding, I will also make sure to set things up so they can get the maximum tax breaks if they do not make it. It’s not fun, but a safety net will mitigate their losses, including carrying back the losses a couple of years to get refunds of taxes already paid.

The object is to put ideas, alternatives and possibilities in their minds so you will get the calls at the earliest stage. Reread this and last week’s column and put it in practice. It is not hard, but needs a conscious continuous effort by you.

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 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,

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