Proactive steps for choosing the right accounting firm

Members of LaPorte’s Baton Rouge team are ready to help if you are considering making a switch in accounting firms.

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Whether you are hiring an accounting and business consulting firm for the first time or have decided it’s time to change firms, the proactive steps presented below and in LaPorte CPAs & Business Advisors’ e-book, Make the Switch, can help by providing proven guidelines for working your way through the selection process.

Preparing for the Proposal Process

Establish Selection Process Objectives

The selection process is time-consuming for both your company decision makers and the firms you invite to bid, so begin by gaining agreement across leadership on your company’s goals in seeking a new firm and soliciting proposals.

Determine Selection Team, Timeline, and Written Request for Proposal (RFP)

Team: Clarify the responsibilities of your selection team, including: development of the RFP and evaluation criteria, identification of potential firms, participation in due diligence interviews, review of proposals and any summary reporting or scoring, and identification of the successful firm.

Timeline: Establish a timeline that provides your company and the firms you invite to respond adequate time for each step of the process.

Request for proposal (RFP): Typical areas to include are:

  • Your company background and professional service needs
  • Instructions on format and content
  • Calendar of important dates, including: available time for onsite meetings, written proposal submission deadline, oral presentations to management and the Board (if applicable), announcement of decision
  • Contact information for questions
  • Preferred method for delivery of proposals
  • Evaluation criteria, including any applicable weighting you have assigned to criteria

 Implementing the Proposal Process

Primary vehicles for learning about accounting firms include research, face-to-face interviews, and written proposals. These tools help you select the firm best suited to serve your company.

Use Research to Narrow the Field

To avoid wasting time, you may want to start by conducting due diligence research on appropriate firms. Word-of-mouth recommendations from business associates and reputation within the financial community can also be helpful.

Invite Your A-List to Submit Proposals

By the time you are ready to invite proposals, the field of candidates should be small. It is recommended to allow firms three to four weeks to provide a thoughtful response.

When you review the proposals, pay particular attention to responses related to fee structure, level of partner attention, and other key areas of concern. Compare the proposals to your RFP to be sure that all areas are covered. Finally, consider quality, completeness, and level of detail when you rank the proposals.

If You Are Still Undecided, Consider Oral Presentations or Final Interviews

Some companies value having final candidates make an oral presentation to address any remaining questions. If this was not outlined in your original selection process schedule, be sure to give finalists adequate preparation time. It is also helpful to provide them with your objectives for this presentation and any specific questions to be addressed.

If the other stages of the selection process were thorough, company decision makers should be able to reach a consensus. Unfortunately, when the choice comes down to two outstanding firms, fees often become the tie-breaking factor. To avoid making a final decision on fee alone – and in the interest of selecting the firm that is the best long-term fit – check references or revisit other important qualifications including industry experience, rapport, and accessibility of partners to help distinguish between these finalists.

These steps will help you make a well-considered and successful decision. To receive greater detail on the above guidance and help on easing the transition of your newly selected firm, download a copy of Make the Switch.