How to choose your accountant

Once you've decided it's time to hire an accountant, the next step is to choose which accountant to hire.

It’s important to take the time to do this carefully, and there are a few things you’ll want to consider first. You'll need to think about issues such as the accountant's location, the division of workload and the type of accounting software you'll use. Consider how much you'll have to pay the accountant, and whether they can help to reduce your business taxes.

It's in your company’s best interests to have an experienced, capable person handling one of the most important areas of your business – your finances. The right person will save you time and money year after year. So here are some things you should consider when you’re choosing an accountant.

To choose a certified or chartered accountant

In many countries, accountants are regulated by professional bodies which look after accounting qualifications and try to maintain high professional standards. Depending on the country you’re in, professional accountants may be called Certified Public Accountants or Chartered Accountants. Chartered Accountants (CAs) are highly qualified professionals who have completed degree-level study along with workplace experience and a professional competence program.

Given the greater experience and knowledge that a certified or chartered accountant has, they'll be able to add value to your business right from the start. And if you expect your company to grow, it's a good idea to hire a professional accountant at the beginning rather than later on.

Of course, it is possible to use accountants who aren't certified, chartered or registered, but it might an unwise business move. Tasks such as bookkeeping, tax preparation and general financial management might not require a certified or chartered accountant. But you will almost certainly need one if your company grows to the point when you need a loan, or if you’re ever audited.

Look for an accountant with relevant expertise

You’ll need someone with experience preparing tax returns and financial documents for companies of a similar size and revenue to yours. If your company uses cloud-based software for much of its business, you'll probably want someone who’s savvy with cloud computing.

It’s even better if they've worked with companies in similar market sectors to yours, as that will help them understand the unique needs of your business. You might want to check to see if they have larger clients. If they do, it’s a good sign as you'll know they should be able to handle your growing needs over time.

Talk to government and business associations

Small businesses are the lifeblood of many countries' economies. Because of this, governments like to encourage their growth.

As a small business owner, take advantage of networks of business advisors available to help you make decisions like choosing the right accountant. There are often voluntary organizations and local chambers of commerce willing to advise you too. Make use of these, as they are there to help you and their advice is usually free.

They can also be useful places in which to network and talk to other business owners. Do this a few times, and you may find an accountant is recommended to you by other business owners. If nothing else, this could help you cut down the list of possible people to interview.

Tap into your social networks

When searching for an accountant, the ideal candidate might be right under your nose. Start by asking any friends or family members who own small businesses if they would recommend their accountant. If so, why? And if not, why not? The answers to both questions could prove useful at a later stage, when you come to interview candidates.

Bear in mind that choosing an accountant can be a personal decision, so what's right for your best friend's PR business might not suit your manufacturing company. Also take into account differences in business structure. The best accountant for a sole trader might not be the best fit for a company with ten employees.

Make use of your connections online

Although Facebook might not be the best place to post a request for accountant recommendations (though it's not the worst, either), more business-oriented networks could be useful. LinkedIn is one of the largest globally, and if you already have a profile there, you could use it to search for accountants who’ve been recommended by others.

Decide how the accounting work will be divided

Accountants can handle every aspect of bookkeeping and small business accounting. In most cases, you can bundle up your bills and invoices, hand them all over, and they can do the rest. But this might not always be the best approach.

Accountants often charge by the hour, so making them do simple data-entry tasks is not the best use of their time – time that you're paying for. So take charge and get more involved in the accounting process (if you can). This will give you a better grasp of expenses and revenues in real time and a heads-up on potential problems.

For example, you might choose to enter the basic accounts data in-house, then hand the work over to your accountant. Then they can handle the more involved tasks such as bank account reconciliation, filling out tax return forms, payroll and capital depreciation calculations.

Good quality accounting software will make it easy for you to take part in your accounting process. It will simplify tasks like invoicing, automatically sending the invoice and recording its contents at the same time. And if the accounting software is cloud-based, you can then give your accountant secure access to your accounts with the click of a button.

Get someone who’s proactive about saving you money

Some accountants will do little more than manage your accounts and complete your tax return forms, but the best accountants are more proactive. So before choosing an accountant, ask what they could suggest to save your business money.

For example, what proportion of your operating costs do they think you can offset against tax? If you're a sole trader or consultant, can you offset a percentage of your phone bill, car costs, maybe even rent or mortgage payments? What are the implications of doing so? The accountant should warn you of any pitfalls. For example, using your home as business premises could result in a tax charge levied on the house when you sell it!

Always bear in mind that in most countries there is a big difference between tax avoidance (usually legal) and tax evasion (usually illegal). You need an accountant who knows the details of tax law so well that they'll save you money in legal ways, but not one who takes things too far and risks causing your business to operate illegally.

Be very careful about this, because ultimately it's you, the business owner, who'll pay the penalty if the law is broken.

Good accountants will help your company grow

If all of this sounds more like a marriage than a business relationship, there's a good reason for that! Your accountant will become intimately involved with the operation of your company so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. You will need one you can trust, who has the necessary experience and who will be there when you need them.

Good accountants help companies grow, by managing complex financial work and offering advice on practical business issues. This will be guaranteed to save you money in the short and long term. The best ones will be your partner in all but name – and as long as you choose wisely, you can’t go wrong.

Still not sure where to start, drop us a line and we'll try and get you pointed in the right direction.