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For Help at Tax Time, a Matchmaker for Accountants

When launching a new business, you need a trusted bean counter in your corner. Though finding a good accountant may not be as onerous as doing your own taxes, it's certainly no picnic. Firms spend plenty of time and resources in the search for solid financial advice. But rather than shuffling off to Google, there may be a better way to land some much-needed assistance before you're knee-deep in bills.

Count on help with Amit Vemuri's Teaspiller.
Count on help with Amit Vemuri's Teaspiller.
Photo© Eleanore Hopper

Teaspiller, launched in 2009 by former Travelocity vice president Amit Vemuri, is an online database and accounting platform that connects users with qualified professionals. The New York City-based startup can be used to comparison-shop from more than a million listings of accountants and tax-return preparers culled from the internet, public listings from CPA state boards and the IRS' official database of enrolled agents who are licensed to represent taxpayers before the agency.

"For a lot of small businesses and individuals, it's really hard to find a quality accountant," Vemuri says. "When you talk to people, a lot of them have found their accountants through trial and error, the Yellow Pages or a friend. But those search costs are pretty high."

What is it?
The name Teaspiller comes from a colonial-era newspaper editorial referring to the Boston Tea Party. The idea, Vemuri says, is to shake up the way the average small-business client relates to and works with their accountant by breaking the process into a few simple steps. The user searches for an accountant in Teaspiller's database, then books an appointment or requests a quote using an online form. If the accountant has an active Teaspiller account, not only can the meet-and-greet process be handled remotely, but the subsequent working relationship can be managed online through the secure Teaspiller platform, which allows for everything from scheduling phone calls and sharing tax documents to billing.

What does it do?
As an accountant search tool, it's hard to beat Teaspiller. Users search by geographical area as well as by the services they're looking for; a simple drop-down menu reveals a comprehensive list that includes everything from basic tax preparation to forensic accounting. Teaspiller then generates potential matches with a Yelp-like listing for each accountant; in many cases the listing includes a rating, the accountant's résumé, links to websites and social media accounts such as LinkedIn, and a breakdown of services offered.

It's all the more impressive when you realize that gathering the same kind of information for the same number of accountants on your own could take hours of web searching and sifting. It's easy to use Teaspiller to pull together at least a basic list of potential accountants so you can proceed to making phone calls or firing off e-mails asking for quotes.

For quick and dirty financial help, Teaspiller also has an Ask an Account-ant feature, which lets users submit questions to accountants in Teaspiller's database. Submitting a question is free, but to guarantee a response, you'll have to pay up: $10 for an answer within two business days; $15 to hear back within one business day.

What doesn't it do?
Teaspiller pulls a huge chunk of its database from the IRS' list of enrolled agents and sets up basic accountant profiles until individual accountants claim them and start filling in more details. Therefore it's quite possible that your search results will pull in accountants who aren't using Teaspiller's remote accounting functions (Vemuri says that's up to the accountant). That may not be a bad thing, because it's likely not every small-business owner will feel comfortable doing sensitive accounting work over the web, even though Teaspiller assures users that its sharing platform is secure.

There is also the ratings game. At this point in Teaspiller's development, most accountants don't have user ratings, and the ones who do only have a couple. Accountants are assigned a Teaspiller rating, which takes into account years of experience and professional licenses. But because Teaspiller vets the accountants it adds to its database, these ratings almost all range from very good to superb. Unfortunately, it just may be impossible to take trial and error completely out of the equation.

The bottom line
While it's not perfect, Teaspiller is a welcome resource for any startup. It's as good a place as any to seek out a qualified accountant or business tax pro.

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.

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This article was originally published in the March 2012 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Teaspiller to the Rescue.

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