We’ve all heard about the need for accounting pros to become “most trusted advisors” to their small business clients, but specifics on how exactly to achieve this goal have tended to be sparse and piecemeal. One sign that this may be changing is the launch, by Thomson Reuters, of the Small Business Start-Up Certificate Program, which is aimed squarely at CPAs.
The nearly 29 million small businesses (defined as those with under 500 employees) in the U.S. today constitute the fastest growing source of employment in the nation — already employing nearly 57 million individuals. Clearly, meeting the growing needs of these business owners — including strategic consulting beyond the traditional services of bookkeeping and tax compliance — is a critical challenge for CPAs and other accounting professionals.
Accountex Report spoke with Susan Woodruff, Director, New Product Development and Online Publishing, and Chris Horne, Senior Director, Operations and Business Development, at Thomson Reuters, to find out more about this new certification.
Why This New Certification?
“Based on our regular surveys of our client base,” explains Horne, “we’ve consistently witnessed the great need small business owners have for consulting help and advice. Also, the costs and complexity of regulations fall hardest on small businesses, which don’t have the resources of large corporations.”
These businesses, however, are seeking much more than help with their tax and bookkeeping needs. “Over the last couple of years,” says Woodruff, “we’ve tracked interest and participation in the courses and programs we offer through our Checkpoint Learning platform. While interest in tax and regulatory topics remains as strong as ever, we’ve seen a significant increase in demand for ‘soft skills’ like effective business writing, how to create a business plan, and how to utilize social media to market and grow the business.”
Thomson Reuters’ Checkpoint Learning platform provides training and continuing professional education (CPE) solutions for tax, accounting, and finance professionals and firms, including customized group training, webinars, online self-study, public seminars, and conference events.
“While continuing to focus on our heritage of tax and accounting expertise,” says Horne, “Thomson Reuters aims to grow with the accounting industry. CPAs are expanding their skill sets, the accounting profession is expanding, and Thomson Reuters is meeting this challenge by serving our customers through this new certification program.”
Today’s CPAs need and want to become most trusted advisors who are capable of guiding their clients on a wide range of strategic questions. “For example,” says Woodruff, “if a client calls you and says, ‘I’m thinking of buying a building,’ do you possess the skill set to advise on the pros and cons, investigate the concrete issues, and weigh the potential liabilities against benefits?”
“Of particular importance for a small business,” Horne explains, “are the critical decisions involved in the start-up stage.” According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), about one-third of businesses with employees do not survive 2 years, and roughly half don’t survive beyond 5 years. Just one-third survive 10 years or more. “The CPA,” says Horne, “can play a critical role in helping a small business get through this typically challenging ‘incubation period.’”
What Does It Take to Earn Certification?
“The Small Business Start-Up Certificate Program is Thomson Reuters’ 7th certification program,” notes Woodruff. “In launching it we’ve leveraged everything we’ve learned from our other certification programs. And we’ve conducted a robust campaign to get out the word through social media as well as reaching out to our client base, including with one-on-one meetings, to let them know about the benefits of the program.”
The program consists of an online self-study course of 8 modules, worth a total of 38 CPE credits. Horne and Woodruff say the average student will take roughly 40 hours to complete and master the material. A comprehensive, web-based final exam consisting of 75 multiple-choice questions to test understanding of core concepts is the final step — although each of the individual 8 components concludes with an exam for the CPE credits assigned to that module. “The course can be completed in a week, but students have up to one year to finish,” says Woodruff.
The eight components of the program are as follows (click on the links for a detailed description of the material covered in each section):
- Advising and Consulting to the Small Business (8 CPE credits)
- How to Start a Business (8 CPE credit)
- How to Write a Business Plan (6 CPE credits)
- Entity Comparisons (3 CPE credits)
- Financing Options for Businesses (3 CPE credits)
- Fraud 101 – A Basic Prevention Guide for Small Businesses (4 CPE credits)
- Accounting Apps for Your Business (1 CPE credit)
- QuickBooks – Working With and Reporting Client Data (5 CPE credits)
While session 7 focuses on the critical area, of accounting apps, accounting technology skills are featured throughout the program. “Technology is huge,” Woodruff points out, “and the successful student will come away from this program with enhanced skills in utilizing accounting apps, automation of business plans, and how to work with and report client data in QuickBooks.” Horne and Woodruff estimate that approximately one-quarter of the roughly 40 hours required to complete the course are dedicated to technology topics.
“Of critical importance, CPAs will learn which tools the should use to aid their small business clients in assessing and locating financing options,” explains Horne, “which is a key factor in business survival through the incubation period.”
What Are the Benefits of Certification for CPAs?
Why should a CPA or other accounting professional dedicate the time, effort, and cost ($499 per user — contact 800-231-1860 for information on costs to enroll multiple employees at your firm) to obtain this certification?
“Upon successful completion, the CPA receives a Checkpoint Learning Small Business Start-Up Competency Certificate they can frame and hang on their wall,” says Woodruff. “Certificate holders can also add this accomplishment to their resume or LinkedIn profile and opt to be published on a list of program graduates on the Checkpoint Learning website.”
Asked to list the top three benefits of gaining this certification, Horne replies as follows: “First, you will acquire tools and insights into how to implement cost saving strategies for small businesses; second, understand financing options — key to small business survival during the first years of operation; and third, acquire skills for setting up the client in the way in which a business needs to be run to succeed.”
“A business is not the same thing as a skill set,” Horne emphasizes. He notes that a business owner may be excellent at creating a service or product, but that does not automatically translate into how to run a profitable business over the long term. “CPAs aiming to expand beyond their core practices into consulting for small businesses can open up a dynamic new source of growth,” Horne adds.