By Hamish Edwards, Co-Founder Of Xero

Small businesses owners place an enormous amount of trust in their accountants. The working relationship between small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and accountants is often one of confident reliance, and rightly so.

Accountants can be the most valuable and trusted source of business advice, from company formation, to accounting and bookkeeping support, payroll services, cash flow, investments, business performance and tax. Accountants can manage the financial side of the business, freeing small business owners to concentrate on serving customers and growing their business.

When working with any business partners and suppliers, the more you put into the relationship, the more you get out of it. While it’s important that your accountant has a wealth of experience teamed with efficient systems and processes, it is important that you work effectively, too.

As a small business, it is often difficult to align your priorities with the work carried out by your accountant. A good accountant can help drive your business, but the greatest benefits can be realised through a solid, supportive working relationship with your accountant. The following are simple steps for small business owners to work together with their accountants for the best results.

1. Choose the right accountant for your business: The first step is to choose an accountant that fits your organisation. Make sure they have suitable experience working with small businesses and that they are willing to understand your organisation and the industry in which you work.

It’s important that your potential accountant is familiar with the tax laws and compliance requirements for your situation. Tap into your network of suppliers, partners and peers for recommendations. Check references and finally, ensure that you’re happy and comfortable with them on a personal level. Remember that you will be entrusting much of the success of your business to this person or firm, so take your time and make the right choice.

2. Learn the tools of the trade: Many accountants encourage their small business clients to use accounting software for bookkeeping and invoicing. These tools allow you to manage the details of your business, improve client relations and streamline routine tasks with relatively few headaches.

Online accounting software also allows your accountant to monitor your financial situation and provide timely business advice for future success. Learn how to use your accounting software properly. A small investment of time to familiarise yourself with all applications will help you save time and improve businesses efficiencies in the long term. If your transactions are dealt with correctly the first time, your financial information is far more valuable.

3. Discuss advice for change and growth: The greatest things you can bring to an accountant-client relationship are an open mind and a willingness to make changes for the future growth of your business. Your accountant may take you out of your comfort zone by suggesting things you’d never have considered. You owe it to your business to be exposed to possibilities and new ideas, even if you only go ahead with subtle changes.

While you certainly aren’t obligated to take your accountant’s advice all the time, take time to understand their suggestions. It’s becoming more common for small business owners to treat their accountant as their CFO. This is a great way to ensure you are being challenged and the business is constantly being re-evaluated. Always ask them to explain the potential impact of their suggestions and tie everything back to cash flow.

4. Foster open and timely communication: Time management and communication are key to every facet of your organisation, and finance is no different. The trouble is the very nature of owning a small business means that those in charge are frequently time-poor. Despite this, it’s crucial that you allocate time in your schedule to communicate with your accountant, and complete activities related to finance.

Be responsive to requests for information and don’t be shy to pick up the phone. Frequent (and respectful) communication with your accountant and their team fosters a good working relationship. You’ll end up with better results and save time and money. Any issues that arise can be dealt with swiftly too.

5. Involve your accountant in business strategy and budgeting: Involve your accountant in strategy, planning and the development of financial templates. The more time you spend thinking strategically, the more clarity you’ll have around what it is you need to become successful. Your accountant can offer years of expertise, solid business advice and an invaluable third party perspective. Use this strategic plan to work toward milestones, evaluate goals and KPIs and present your performance and accomplishments at board meetings.

6. Evaluate your progress: Board meetings and management reports are not just for big business. Regular reporting – preferably monthly or, at a minimum, quarterly – gives you a constant view of how the business is tracking against its plan. Spending just a few hours a month on reporting and board meetings allows you to identify and eliminate weaknesses and focus the business on critical activity.

Your accountant will also advise that regular reporting is vital for any future plans to sell the business. Having a history of good monthly accounts, regular board meetings, minutes and action items is very helpful in the due diligence phase of sale.

7. Know your goals and aspirations: Owning your own business is hard work, often risky and usually thankless. Small business owners need to be very clear on why they are making these sacrifices and what they are working toward – both financially and personally.

It’s more than possible that all this hard work will develop and grow your business asset if you focus on creating value. The best person to help you do this is your accountant. Talk to them from the outset about your goals and aspirations for the business and for your own life. Doing this openly and frankly allows you to work together to make your dreams a reality.

Hamish Edwards is a Chartered Accountant, small business expert and the co-founder of Xero. Xero is online accounting software designed for small business and their advisors

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