Lincoln Park resident Josh Smith doesn't consider filing taxes a once-a-year responsibility.
The 27-year-old entrepreneur strives to serve as more of a business coach to clients of his recently opened firm, JBS Life Chartered.
"What I'm realizing is that so many people who start businesses have never even taken a single business class," he said. "They can bake a cake or paint a picture and their products are marketable, but they may not know some of the basic business laws. That's where I come in."
He feels that offering guidance beyond general accounting is not just a specialty, but the responsibility of anyone who is a licensed certified public accountant. But too often, that responsibility is neglected.
"It's not just about helping people get their taxes correct, it's about helping them to efficiently run their businesses," Smith said.
A Buffalo Grove native and graduate of one of the top-ranked accounting schools in the country, University of Illinois, Smith says he decided to start his firm because he feels accountants often do a disservice to their clients by simply sending them tax organizers once a year. He officially opened for business July 9.
"They're really not helping you to run your business better," he said. "I can't tell you how many people have said to me, 'No one has ever sat me down and explained my tax return with this kind of detail.'"
Teaching people the ins and outs of business management is Smith's passion, he says. He does so from his office in Chicago's renown Garland Building, 111 W. Wabash Ave., where he is the sole accountant in a sea of mostly medical professionals.
His focus is on helping small to medium-sized companies — defined both by their number of employees and revenue — but he also prepares individual tax returns. Businesses he typically serves have as many as 50 employees and generate up to $10 million.
"I love about what I'm doing now," he said. "I feel like I'm really getting to know these people and I'm looking to grow with these businesses."
But his path to accounting hasn't always been so clear.
Smith began his education in hopes of pursuing a degree in sports management — an industry he quickly learned wasn't as cut and dry as he initially thought.
Upon realizing he was at the top-rated accounting university in the country, he soon embraced his talent for crunching numbers and analyzing finances, eventually going on to earn his master's degree.
"There are 15 professionals there so it's a small firm," he said. "But I was the youngest person they ever hired and the only intern they ever hired."
He signed on full time in 2009 and remained there until opting to go solo. He offers clients a litany of tips, he says, including urging them to keep close track of their expenses throughout the year in order to maximize their tax write-offs and best manage their finances.
He suggests that business owners make sure to open a separate bank account for their companies; use an Excel spreadsheet to manage data; file transaction documents in month-specific envelopes and write the reasons for purchases directly on receipts.
The Internal Revenue Service recently reported that late changes to federal tax laws will lead to a "short delay" for most taxpayers to file their 2012 returns. This year's filing season had been slated to start Jan. 22 but was delayed because of the big tax package passed by Congress Jan. 1.
Smith said the setback woouldn't stop him.
"I just want to help people to get these things right," he said. "I want to be a resource. I have a brain, unlike TurboTax."