10-step checklist for choosing an accountant
Small Business Guides
4 min read
As a small business owner, one of the most important decisions you can make is hiring the right accountant. As well as being experienced, your accountant needs to be highly personable and easy for you to relate to.
When and why to employ an accountant
It's wise to engage an accountant as soon as you decide to launch your business. A good accountant will help you set up your accounting and payroll systems properly. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
But that's just the start. A great accountant will also:
- offer business advice
- keep tabs on your cashflow
- keep records and prepare your year-end financials
- provide tax advice.
As you can see, your accountant will play a crucial role in your business and provide useful and timely advice. Here's how to choose the right one.
Write down what your business needs from an accountant
Make sure you think about what your business needs and define your criteria for selecting an accountant. A great accountant will do more than balance your books and make sure your paperwork is compliant. The right one will be able to meet all your requirements – and more.
Start your search by talking with peers and colleagues
Ask your family, friends, peers, even your attorney for recommendations. You could also contact institutions and organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, your state board of accountants, or chamber of commerce.
Interview several accountants and ask plenty of questions
Talk to a few accountants so you can compare them. And consider hiring someone local if you’d like to have the option of meeting with your accountant in person. Ask questions like:
- How would we work together?
- How frequently will we talk?
- How do you usually work with clients?
- Who will my main point of contact be?
- Do you hire junior staff to do the day-to-day work?
- What experience do you have in my industry?
- What’s your fee structure?
- How would your clients describe you?
- Why do you think we would be a good fit?
Ask prospective accountants about your financial and business needs
Towards the end of your first meeting, check whether they've understood your requirements. Ask them for advice on how you could manage your finances more efficiently. A good accountant will come up with some money-saving ideas before you hire them.
Conduct a background check and ask for references
Someone may look good on paper and perform well in an interview. But you should still do your research and make sure they are qualified:
- Review their professional qualifications and experience.
- Inquire about fees and charges to make sure they suit your budget.
- Discuss whether they have specialized services to support you if you are ever audited.
- Ask for references from past and present clients – then check them.
Hire someone you respect and like
Having an accountant you find approachable and easy to talk to is vital. Choosing an accountant is like choosing a business partner. Hire someone you know you can work with – someone who isn’t afraid to give you honest advice. Be sure you're totally comfortable about them being your close business advisor.
Make sure your accountant has relevant experience
Small businesses have different accounting needs from large businesses. It’s important your accountant has worked with businesses of a similar size to yours. It also helps if they have experience in your particular industry.
Make sure they are technically savvy and can use online accounting software
Business software has moved online, and that includes accounting software. Make sure your prospective accountant has experience with cloud-based accounting software. They should also understand online payroll software.
Confirm the fee structure in writing before you hire your accountant
You get what you pay for. So don’t just hire the least expensive accountant you can find. They may not be able to manage all your financial requirements proficiently. And once you’ve agreed on fees, make sure you get the agreement in writing.
Establish a review period to help maintain your relationship
Catch up with your accountant on a quarterly basis. Use these meetings to exchange feedback on how the partnership is working. You should be meeting regularly anyway, to review your finances. These quarterly meetings will keep your partnership on track.
Your accountant is your trusted advisor
The best accountant will guide your financial operations and make sure money is flowing in and out as it needs to.
So when you choose an accountant for your business, make sure you take care and time to find someone who’s a really good fit. The right person will help your business run smoothly and successfully.