How to Find a Good Accountant For Your Small Business Or Home Business

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A key ingredient in the success of your business is to find a good accountant who provides pertinent, timely and cost effective advice, and whom you can communicate with effectively. For example, they can recommend you the right small business accounting software that fits your small business needs.

So – where do you find this person or group of people? You might try the Yellow Pages, check the listings with each of the accounting bodies, ask family, friends or, maybe your banker? All of the above, possibly. But how do you know that the people on that list are reputable and right for you and your business?

Accounting firms come in all shapes and sizes.

Tier 1 firms are international firms and tend to only work with large businesses. The second tier firms generally are international firms as well with the same name throughout the world, and while they might not be as large as the tier 1 firms, they also prefer to work for businesses of a reasonable size. The next tier firms are likely to have several partners and generally have a national and sometimes an international affiliation. They tend to work a lot more with small businesses. Finally there are smaller firms with one, two or maybe three partners who generally specialise in small business or people who earn salaries and wages.

When selecting an accountant, you are looking for someone who specialises 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?

To help you in that task we have attached a list of many of the services that accounting firms may offer. Refer to the list to ensure you do not overlook an important service that you will require from your accountant.

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?

Are the principal(s) qualified? Do they belong to one of the main accounting professional bodies – Chartered Accountants (CA), Certified Practising Accountants (CPA) or National Institute of Accountants (NIA)? A member of one of the 3 main accounting organisations must complete a minimum number of annual Professional Development hours keep themselves up to date.

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 can 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 by the receptionist and the accountant – if you spoke to one at that point? Were they pleased to talk to you, 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 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 of a few 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, superannuation 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 (web site should give you some leads here)?

– Superannuation returns and planning?

– Business planning and profit improvement?

– IT assistance

– Do they have a strong network of referrals to lawyers, bankers, financial planners, etc

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 our business?

Did they demonstrate that they understood your business (at least to some extent)?

Did they show initiative in answering some answers of 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.

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