CPAs As Advisors To Business


When I first began as an accountant in practice, I made a commitment to focus on tax as opposed to business advisory services. I reasoned that my clients had business experience and I had just left the tax department where I’d worked as an auditor. Over the years I have watched as everyone seems to be getting into the act of providing tax, accounting, structuring and general business advice to small business.

What’s more I’ve seen small business owners make the same mistakes over and over again. The majority of small businesses fail in the first 5 years – or at least the owners take advantage of the next upturn in the economy to opt for a steady paycheque and abandon the dream of being their own boss.

I have seen my fellow CPAs being overlooked for their general business knowledge in favour of a host of self-proclaimed experts. These “business consultants” exchange “free” business advice in order to create traffic, get referral fees or sell software, consulting services, online subscriptions – or simply want to be seen as doing something for small business in the case of governments.

The problem is that good business advice has to be context-specific.

I find it particularly galling to see the former owners of failed businesses hired as “entrepreneurs-in-residence” for government-funded incubators or to see government bureaucrats providing testimonials for small business planning and management webinars.

At the same time there have been some interesting developments in management science that have put the boots to much of what I and most of my colleagues learned in business school in the 1980s and 1990s. I think of Strategyzer  and the business model canvas – of Steve Blank telling people to “get out of the building” – or of Eric Ries and his “minimum viable product.

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries
Cover of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup

No business plan survives first contact with customers


The Pace of Change is Accelerating

During the course of our careers many of us have seen incredible advances in technology that impact how we and our clients work together and communicate. As we’ll discuss later on, in 1985 97% of all payments in Canada were made by cheque. In 2018, 86% of all payments are transacted online.

In April of 2014 I began using GOOGLE FORMS for creating online timesheets to use in my practice. By the end of October 2015 we migrated to another application – Smartsheets – for our internal timesheets. Soon we started using Smartsheets for creating deposit books that featured images of cheques that I was depositing to the bank.

While Smartsheet still serves us well and has a great deal of power and sophistication, I decided to re-visit GOOGLE FORMS in August of 2018, since our subscription fees for Smartsheet were starting to escalate.

The upshot is that within 4 years, the evolution of GOOGLE FORMS had by and large eliminated the reason for our original migration to Smartsheet. While Smartsheet is still a great tool, if your needs are fairly rudimentary, GOOGLE FORMS may be a better – and more or less free – alternative.

Continuing Professional Development Needs to Keep Pace

In 1981, public practitioners in BC voted to begin a program dedicated to lifelong
learning with the introduction of mandatory professional development. This has to be more than just a way to generate fees for our professional association. One of our key goals is to provide relevant professional development that actually has practical value for CPAs in practice.


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