There is a lot that rides on your decision to hire accounting services for your business; far beyond the obvious. Choosing an accountant basically means that you are allowing an external entity to help manage your financials – which are really what the business is all about.
Making such a decision therefore requires much forethought ideally because it is one that has the potential to make or break the business. In choosing an accountant you really want to get the best and most affordable right from the start. Many business owners have settled for mediocre services in the heat of the moment and have unsuccessfully tried to find suitable replacements because the incumbents know too much about their business financials and other data. Finding better replacements also means spending more in most cases. How do you go about choosing the best and most affordable accountant?
The Characteristics of a Fine Accountant
In choosing an accountant for your business you will want to work with a professional who meets several critical prerequisites in as far as his/her accounting practice is concerned. First of all, your desired accountant should be well-experienced. This means that he/she should at least have previous experience working with other businesses of the same size as yours or better yet a business in your sector. Secondly, you should be assured that the accountant will have enough time to look after your business. Let the accountant explain how this will happen – if you are dealing with a firm it is best to know which partner or junior will be directly responsible for your work. Third, have the accountant clarify about efficiency issues, i.e., the response times you’ll expect for the completion of work. Fourth, find out what extra services the accountant offers to add value to the basic accounting tasks expected of him/her. Lastly, your accountant of choice should be able to describe his/her charges and what they entail, i.e., how are the fees computed and whether you can pay all-in fees, etc.
The Primary Role of an Accountant
In choosing an accountant to work with many business owners are basically thinking about the tax season. Indeed, accountants are responsible for preparing, or assisting with, tax planning and the filing of tax returns with information obtained from the business’ bookkeeping records. Rather than wait for the tax season it is prudent for business owners to get accountants involved much earlier such that they can benefit from expert advice on tax-efficient ways of finance structuring, tax planning and tax-saving opportunities.
There are several other roles that accountants play and which business owners can embrace for the good of their enterprises:
- Business consulting – One of the benefits of working with a good accountant is that he/she can offer consulting advice addressing several shortcomings the business is facing and subsequently proposing solutions for the same. Your accountant may be in a good position to offer advice on issues like marketing, pricing, inventory strategy, risk management, internal controls, etc. It is therefore of the essence to go for an accountant who understands the business and is motivated to see it grow further.
- Offering personal finance advice – You will know that you are working with a good accountant when you find that he/she is interested in how you are managing your personal financials. Well-trained professionals understand that business and personal finances are often intertwined and they will therefore seek to ensure that their clients keep these two separate and offer advice on the management of both. The accountant may offer personal financial advice with respect to investment avenues you may want to consider, your retirement plans, and so on, all with an aim of making you stronger financially.
- Buying and selling – With a good accountant you have just the right person to consult when you need investigations into the financial position and performance of any entity you may be interested in purchasing. Similarly, the accountant will help you in the preparation and presentation of your financials in the event that you have plans to sell. It is such considerations that make choosing an accountant with enough work exposure such a priority.
- Implementation of new business technologies – In this day and age you just can’t go about choosing an accountant who is not technologically savvy. Computing technology has spread its tentacles even to the smallest of business enterprises and as such it is imperative that your accountant of choice has a level of proficiency in using some of the latest business management software packages from reputable vendors in the market. He/she can then be able to help you convert your business data into useful material that is beneficial for the overall business strategy.
- Networking – In choosing an accountant for your business that is both good and affordable it is important to not only consider what they know but also who they know. In other words you want an accountant who has a wealth of referrals who can come to the assistance of your business in one way or the other. Here we are talking about financiers who can offer you business loans, suppliers, marketing firms, name it…your accountant should at least be able to introduce you to some of these.
What you Need to Know from Your Prospective Accountant
A good accountant should have the necessary qualifications in the form of CPA designation. However, this does not mean that you can’t find a non-CPA who is well-skilled in accounting as well as consulting in financials and technology. While looking to choose an affordable accountant it is not surprising that non-CPAs will cost less than their CPA-designated counterparts.
Secondly, the accountant must, in addition to handling your financial data, demonstrate creativity and quickness in coming up with strategies/ideas that will push the business performance forward. In interviewing a prospective accountant you can ask an impromptu question requiring him/her to give you a few examples of how the business can save on its expenses. Alternatively, he/she can list some strategies they proposed to other businesses that worked to the same effect. This should give you an assurance that your business is likely to see some growth into the future.
Next, find out who the prospective accountant’s other clients are. It is prudent to ascertain if they actually have prior experience and if so whether they have enough time for you. You should also take the discussion a step further and have the prospective accountants tell you why you should use their services.
Last but certainly not least, have the prospective accountant explain in no uncertain terms how he/she calculates fees. Let him/her explain what fee structure he/she uses, e.g., if it is time-based you should know about the hourly charges and expense reimbursements, etc. You should ideally go for charges that make the most affordable sense to you while providing excellent services in return.
Resources for Help in Choosing Good and Affordable Accountants
The following links should give you a good idea of how to go about finding an accountant to help with your tax returns and more:
Depending on the complexity of your tax return you should expect to pay anywhere between $150 and $450 per hour. More information is available via http://www.costhelper.com/cost/small-business/accountants.html.