Another key ingredient to the success of your business is to find a good accountant who provides pertinent, timely and cost effective advice, and with whom you can communicate with clearly & effectively. A simple example would be that they can recommend a good small business accounting software which fits your requirements.
Where do you find such a person?! You might try the Yellow Pages, check the listings of accounting bodies, ask family, friends or, maybe your banker? All are good places to start!
But how can you be certain that these people on the list are reputable and right for your business?
Accounting firms come in all shapes and sizes.
Tier 1 firms – international firms who tend to work with large businesses.
Tier 2 firms – international firms operating throughout the world who tend to prefer to work for businesses of a reasonable size.
Tier 3 first – firms with several partners, sometimes with national and international affiliation who tend to work a lot more with small businesses.
Smaller firms – firms with one, two or maybe three partners who specialize in small business or with people who earn salaries and wages.
When selecting an accountant, you should be looking for someone who specializes in your size of business, has some experience in your industry and who gives timely, pro-active and useful advice at a fair and reasonable cost. It is also someone who shows they care for you and your business and who you feel you can build a longer term relationship with – someone you are comfortable with and can come to trust.
You need, therefore, to put some effort into selecting the right person and firm.
Step 1: List What You Need from an Ideal Accountant
What do you want from your accountant?
Is it just to complete your annual accounts and tax returns – or are there other matters that are important to you?
Make a list of the services that you think you might want from your prospective accountant. This way you can draft some questions that are relevant and
pertinent to your specific needs.
Step 2: Lookout for the Credentials of Certified Public Accountants
Make a list of say 4 or 5 firms.
Check their web sites – how informative are they? Do they seem to provide services for a small business like yours? If they have no web site – ask yourself –
how progressive and up to date are they likely to be?
Step 3: Evaluate the Reputation of a Good Accountant
Ring each of them (or reduce the number to 2 or 3 firms) and ask to meet with a person who might be able to help you, or speak to them immediately if they are available. Explain who you are and ask if they can offer their services to a business such as yours, and whether you meet to discuss those services and costs. This meeting should be at no cost to you and be, perhaps, about an hour in length.
Assess your experience with them so far – how were you greeted – Were they pleased to talk to you – Where they friendly and helpful?
Step 4: Discover your Needs with the Accountant by Asking Specific Questions
Make a list of your questions.
Use the following as a guide only – add or subtract anything that you want to ask of the accountant you are going to meet.
1. Do they handle small business clients?
2. Explain your business and your current situation and plans for the future.
3. Ask for examples if they have identical or similar businesses to yours and ask what they have done to help them – especially businesses of your size and stage of development. Ask about, say, financing the buying of Plant and Equipment, or how they might assess whether those businesses should be sole traders, a partnership, company or a trust? Are they able to explain to you why such a structure was right – and (briefly) how that might apply to you? Can they give examples of how they have improved the profitability of some of their clients’ businesses, or, can they set up a record keeping program that fits your needs.
4. Can they give examples of where they have been pro-active with their small business clients – say end of year tax planning, business improvement planning, newsletters, client seminars, sending business or tax articles to clients…?
5. What is their response time policy – to questions and queries from business clients like you?
6. What other services do they offer
7. How do they operate? Meaning – who is that you are likely to talk to if you have a simple processing problem? What about if you have a more complex problem? Who do you deal with and how will they process your end of year tax and accounting work?
8. What are their fees likely to be? What are their charge out rates? Do they offer a fixed annual fee for end of year tax work? This should be a “value” question for you rather than just a cost question – especially in regard to planning and problem solving work.
9. Will they travel to your business premises if you want them to? Will they charge for the travelling time?
10. Ask – “why should you use your firm?” This will test them as to whether they have been listening to you and can tailor their response to answer any queries or issues you have raised during your meeting.
Step 5: Do a Reflection on your Face to Face Meeting Experience with your Accountants
How did the meeting go?
Did you feel comfortable with the people that you met?
Did they show a genuine interest in you and your business?
Did they demonstrate that they understood your business?
Did they show initiative in answering some answers to your questions – or discuss or raise some issues that you did not ask questions on? In other words did they show they might really understand your business and how to give you useful advice?
Are their costs likely to be acceptable? Costs are always an issue – but if you are getting good timely advice that is helping you to grow your business and/or saving you business costs and keeping your taxes to a minimum – then you are probably getting value for your money.
Remember – if you want more it will cost more, and, good advice rarely comes cheap.
If you are having trouble deciding – then rate each key issue (you have to decide what is key) out of – say – 10 and then mark each firm on each issue – the highest score should give you an indication as to who you want to do business with.