When you Google “business plan CPA,” you’ll notice you don’t get the most helpful of results. Instead, you’re likely to see information about building business plans, or hiring traditional CPA firms. There’s a reason for that — and it’s because most CPAs are usually not the right person to talk to about your business plan.
An accountant can be an amazing asset to any business — especially a new business when uncertainties are around every corner. But when you’re writing a business plan, you may naturally think that you need a business plan CPA to review the financial section of your plan. In fact, you may have even tried to find one already, but probably haven’t had much luck in your search. This post will review the biggest questions around CPAs and business plans. It will also steer you in the right direction on whether you need one for your situation!
CPAs often feel frustrated when they are asked to look at business plan financials. Most often, the worst offenders in abusing CPAs for business plan reviews are those who are trying to do the right thing. Specifically, new business owners who claim they aren’t a “numbers person” are typically the ones who automatically equate “numbers” with “accountant.”
they shove their business plan projections under the nose of a CPA and ask them, “Are these right?” (If this is you, no shame : ) Lots of people make this mistake!)
Of course, the CPA can’t answer whether you projected the future correctly or not. A CPA is trained in looking at the past financials, not the future projections of a business…but we’ll cover more on that in a moment.
The real question every entrepreneur should ask is whether their projections make sense based on market data, operational assumptions, and other variables. And these questions should not be brought to a CPA for answers. Instead, these details are answered by consulting with a business plan expert (like myself) who regularly deals with forecasting.
Since there are exceptions to every rule, let’s go over the rare circumstances where you do need an accountant to check over your business plan.
When to Bring in an Accountant
There are two main instances for which I’d advise having an accountant anywhere near your business plan.
First, if you’re preparing for an IPO, you’ll want to have your financials looked over by a CPA for format and function. If you are using Excel, the CPA can check that your formulas make sense and seem to create consistent outputs throughout your spreadsheet. The CPA can help to verify you used the proper format for summing your cash flows and listing the right items on your Balance Sheet and Income Statement. They will verify data from your past years in operation, which you (or your business plan consultant) can use as benchmarks to forecast for the next phase of business.
Second, if your investor wants to see your financial projections run by their CPA or financial guru, be sure that you have your own finances-savvy person review your format first if you’re “not a numbers person.” This is more of a form and function review, not a review on whether the forecasts are reasonable or not. Having a CPA on your side to look over the numbers and how they correlate between financial statements can help to avoid simple misunderstandings due to calculation errors or formatting nuances.
The key point: 99% of the time, an accountant is not necessary — or even desirable — to bring in at the business plan stage.
Some people think that involving an accountant brings a higher level of credibility to business plan financials. The reason this isn’t true is that accountants don’t look forward, they look backward.
The Real Purpose of an Accountant
When running a business, an accountant can be an instrumental player on your team at many different points in the process — but not typically for planning and projections.
Think about it from their perspective. There is no room for error in the field of accounting. Accountants make it their business to look to the past. They are trained to comb through factual, irrefutable numbers that have already happened. And they’re great at that. What makes them nervous is being asked to review numbers that aren’t rooted and grounded in fact…like arbitrary projections.
Projections can — and will — be wrong. For this reason, they can’t (and don’t want to) weigh in on whether a forecast looks reasonable or not. It’s simply not in their line of work, and they live in a world where they can even be sued for being wrong.
Where You Truly Need an Accountant
So is it worth hiring an accountant, especially when funding during the startup phase is so limited? Yes, but not just for the sake of saying you had your business plan CPA-reviewed and approved.
You can absolutely benefit from an accountant’s expertise in your business when it comes to managing your books and preparing for tax season. In fact, go ahead and budget one into your financial projections now if you haven’t already.
Accountants can offer great general business advice on the front end of things. And when it comes time to maximize qualifying expenses, an accountant can be instrumental in determining how to file properly.
But if you need help with your business plan projections, hire a business plan professional — not a CPA.
A Quick Side Note
You’re not supposed to naturally know something if you’ve never done it before. A lot of new entrepreneurs feel inexperienced or like they need a crash course in “business.”
They don’t know if they need a CPA or what kind of entity to file or how to create a really good business plan.
Most amazing business founders are not brilliant mathematicians. They are not expert analysts and don’t have super special intuition about all things business.
Your education, background, age, race, and experience have nothing to do with your likelihood of success.
Your willingness to learn, fail, and try again and your perseverance in taking a good idea to the next level by any means you can — that is the best indicator of your success.
Bottom line: You probably don’t need to run out and hire a business plan CPA anytime soon (in part because they don’t formally exist). But if you DO have a business plan that needs the help of an expert, I’d love to see how I can be of service. Contact me and let’s talk!