Small Business Roundtable Allows Business Owners to Ask Questions
Small businesses can always use a little extra help, and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce provided some on Jan. 16 with a Small Business Roundtable.
Kurt Mueller, wealth management advisor for Apollon Wealth Management, served as moderator for the event with panel experts Paul Wade, Seorotta Maddocks Evans, CPAs; Ed Enoch, Enoch-Tarver Law; and Adam Williams, Cleveland Group CPA, answering questions from a number of small business owners and representatives.
Mueller said the interaction with other businesses and experts is important for small businesses.
“If you find yourself the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room,” Mueller said.
Here are some of the questions, and the answers the panel provided:
When you’re shopping for a CPA, what are good questions to ask?
Wade: “A lot of the time when someone is looking to switch CPAs, I ask them why, and about 80 percent of the time I get the answer, ‘I don’t feel valuable.’ Most clients want their CPA to be more proactive, they want to know their status before the end of the year.”
Williams: “Trust your gut. A lot of people can file a tax return, whether they’re a CPA or not. Know the person you select has your best interest at heart.”
Enoch: “If you don’t talk to them, they can’t help you. Develop a rapport.”
Mueller: “There are two things here — personality is a big one, and second, what do you want? The companies that go from good to great are proactive.”
Do you offer consultation about business formation?
Enoch: “I’m happy to sit down with folks the first time and assess their needs. I flat-fee most of these things because I’ve done them so many times. But we don’t answer the ‘how much will it cost’ question over the phone.”
Wade: “We don’t charge for the initial meeting. It’s the chance to ask questions.”
Williams: “(The initial meeting) is a way to get to know each other. You don’t know what you don’t know, but as you sit there, questions will come to mind.”
Mueller: “Most high-quality companies do an initial consultation (without charging). If they’re charging for that first meeting, that’s a red flag.”
What are the differences between different business entities?
Enoch: “The purpose of forming an entity, from a lawyer’s point of view, is liability protection. You want to separate your business from your personal assets. The majority of entities we form is LLCs, because they have so much flexibility.”
Williams: “With an LLC, we sit down to determine how to tax it. If you’re the only person in the business, then it’s no different than a sole proprietorship. Then we decide if it’s a partnership or an S Corp. If it doesn’t save any money taxwise, then it may not make that much sense.”
Wade: “Prior to the new tax laws, it was pretty simple to start as an LLC. The new tax law’s pass-through provision is very different if it is an LLC or an S Corp. It becomes a more critical decision.”
Mueller: “In-depth fact-finding, that’s the key. Rather than a one-size-fits-all, you really have to dive deep and ask those questions.”
What are some of the pitfalls of putting a product on the market?
Enoch: “(Trademark of a business name) is the thing I run into the most frequently because of the prevalence of the internet. I do a lot more federal trademark registration than I did 15 years ago. The standard recommendation is that once you have a business, trademark it by registering it at the federal and state level. The way to avoid any problems is to do research. I do a trademark office search, then I do a professional search and get back a detailed report of every place that has a name like that being used. Then it depends on how similar it is and if it’s in the same field. Trademarking is a long process. The biggest downfall is that people jump out with a product, they have a logo, they spend a lot of time getting the brand and then ultimately they can’t use it.”
How do you find someone to do the day-to-day bookkeeping who can be trusted?
Williams: “In the marketplace today, it’s hard to find trained, qualified people. But once you pick that person, don’t just walk away. You still have to stay involved and spot check. As you find a potential person (to hire), call your CPA and ask if they would interview them. I could ask questions that you might not know to ask.”
Wade: “When people have had problems, it’s usually because they hired a person and implicitly trusted them with no oversight. Some local CPA firms offer a CFO (chief financial officer) service.”
When you buy an insurance policy for your business, should you have an attorney review it?
Enoch: “Most attorneys are not going to be able to interpret it any better than you can. Make sure you’re using a commercial insurance broker. Too often, when people start a business, they just get the person who does the home policy, and they’re not experts (in business policies). You need to look at people who write commercial policies. They’re looking for business risk management coverage.”
Mueller: “Look for a commercial broker. There are insurance companies out there who specialize in specific businesses.”
What is the difference between a DBA (doing business as) and an LLC?
Enoch: “A DBA is simply a trade name you can use. It creates a paper trail but provides no liability protection. If you have employees, you’ll want to form an entity (for protection). Remember, mayhem is your employee.”