MATTHEW CASSAR, CPA
Trusting, long-term relationships are key to building a successful business. You can’t build that kind of relationship with your accountant if you only meet with them once a year. That’s why Matthew Cassar of Stonehenge Accounting developed a better service model as he built his own firm.
Quarterly, not annual, meetings include analysis of business performance, a review of operations, and strategic planning for future growth. It’s an approach that goes above and beyond the typical reporting required by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and other regulatory bodies.
“A business needs more than compliance services in order to truly succeed,” says Matt. “A business needs financial analysis, accounting advice and a clear strategy to move forward and grow.”
Stonehenge Accounting was founded by Matt and his father, Lewis Cassar, in 2011. The pair chose to tailor their services to family-run and small businesses for a good reason.
“We wanted to give people the help and advice that we wish we had!” Matt says.
Matt grew up in an entrepreneurial environment. When he was born, Matt’s mother took just a two-week maternity leave and returned to Highbury’s, a quality kitchen and dinnerware store his family operated in Toronto’s Yorkville. She simply brought her new baby boy to work with her.
While his business education might have begun in a crib on the shop floor, Matt grew his knowledge in a more formal atmosphere. He studied Economics at the University of Western Ontario and later earned his Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.
“At Western I focused on the strategic thinking behind economics,” Matt says, “by studying how to make decisions in the face of uncertainty and limited resources.”
Matt’s experience and education informed the Stonehenge approach. Most companies have a bookkeeper who records daily in-coming revenues and out-going expenses then their accountant makes sure that the year-end financial statements and tax filings are completed.
“The problem with the typical system is that bookkeepers aren’t able to provide big picture updates for areas of concern on a month-to-month basis, so they can’t offer advice,” Matt says. “Companies who have accountants to work with their bookkeepers’ records once a year, don’t get the opportunity to identify and correct problems before they become bigger issues.”
To address this, Stonehenge combines the two services completed by bookkeepers and accountants then schedules meeting with their clients every quarter. This gives them an opportunity to have their financial questions answered throughout the year and Matt has an opportunity to advise his clients on how to preemptively address financial issues before they become serious problems.
“We work with our clients year-round so that we can focus on three building blocks,” Matt says. “We want to reduce our clients’ tax liability, increase their profitability and then help them to achieve financial stability both personally and professionally.”
Many of Matt’s clients at Stonehenge Accounting are small businesses and start-ups who have developed problems and now need help to sort them out.
Regardless of where you are in the development of your business, Matt has four tips to help you keep your finances on track so that if there are any surprises when tax time comes around, or other compliance issues arise, you can resolve them with minimal stress.
1. Define your business structure.
Are you a sole proprietor? Are you entering into a limited partnership with another professional or tradesperson? What about incorporation? The legal structure that you choose when you are starting your business may not be set in stone as it develops, but it has implications on taxation, reporting and how the business can be sold to a third party or transferred to relatives.
“It’s always important to set things up properly from the get go,” Matt says. “Structure for the business that you want to grow into, not necessarily for where you are with your new business right now. Those choices don’t just have to do with taxation and accounting, but with operations as well. If your operational structure isn’t able to expand and grow along with your orders, production or projects, you could lose out on opportunities that would help you succeed.”
Operations inform financial stability, so it is one of the aspects of doing business that Matt reviews with his clients every quarter.
2. Keep complete and organized records.
While this advice is a mainstay for all aspects of accounting and bookkeeping, careful record-keeping really does protect the profitability of a business and ensures that it is compliant with the CRA and other regulatory bodies.
“When you are setting up a business, there are so many small decisions to be made on the fly, it is easy for receipts to go missing or get lost in digital files,” Matt explains. “It’s now easier than ever to take pictures of receipts on your phone, for example, and upload them to the cloud. Keeping an eye on incoming supplies and inventory means that you’ll notice if essentials are going missing or not being replenished as expected. Mostly, keeping complete records makes it easier for your accountant to tell you what shape your business is in and show you why!”
3. Be involved in the numbers of their business.
Entrepreneurs are passionate about running their businesses. They know what their expertise is, they know how to sell it and, often, they are thinking of ways to do it better. But they are usually less passionate about what is happening with their businesses finances. Setting up the accounting and bookkeeping systems to offload that responsibility to subject experts is a good idea, but it doesn’t let the entrepreneur off the hook.
“You have to be aware of what your numbers are to make good decisions,” Matt cautions. “You need to look at how your progress is being measured. You don’t have to micromanage every cent that is spent or that comes in, but you have to be aware of the trends and changes from year to year.”
Training his clients to look at their financial picture is one of the most rewarding aspects of Matt’s work.
“I find that people sometimes run away from the numbers completely, at least initially,” Matt says. “They are often stressed out when we start our quarterly meetings, but they do come and they do face the numbers. I get to talk them through it and we have a meaningful dialogue about the health of their business and their progress toward meeting goals. By the end, everyone is in a great mood because we’ve accomplished something meaningful.”
4. Keep a long-term outlook.
Operating a small business can be so fast-paced and exciting that it can be difficult to think past the launch, then past the first year of operations, but the most important thing any entrepreneur can do at the outset is to think of the future.
“It can be hard to plan for more than an hour from now!” Matt says of the work his clients are doing. “But the fact is that thinking long term helps you realize the benefits of what you can do from a financial perspective. There are a lot of little things that you can put in place at the beginning to save money in the long run. It’s important to identify what those little things are and put them into practice. Then, one to three years later, you have more to show for your efforts that you otherwise would not have had.”
Being able to show his clients where their efforts are being rewarded in their financial picture is Matt’s greatest pleasure in his work at Stonehenge Accounting.
“That positive balance shows my clients that what they are doing is working,” Matt says, “but it also shows us that I’m keeping my clients on the path that they need to be on.”
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
250 Yonge Street, Suite 2201
Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2L7