07/01/2014

By Mike Day

Choosing an accountant is like choosing a new business partner. The right accountant will become a trusted colleague that you can depend on, who offers advice and guidance as your business grows.

So what are the top things you need to look out for?

Ask yourself if location matters

It used to be important to have your company’s accountant located nearby. But today, more companies are collaborating online using cloud­based technology to manage their business. With the cloud, you and your accountant can view identical real­time data at the same time – no matter where you are, collaborating via email, phone calls, video­conferences or secure accounting software.

On the other hand, you may prefer face­to­face contact and find it useful to have someone who’s able to go to business meetings with you. If that’s the case, limit your search to nearby accountants or those willing to travel from time to time. And wherever they are, make sure they’re an expert in the tax laws that apply to your business.

Choose a chartered accountant

Chartered accountants are highly qualified professionals who have completed degree­level study along with workplace experience and a professional competence campaign. Given their greater experience and knowledge, a chartered accountant will be able to add value to your business from the start.

Tasks such as bookkeeping, tax preparation and general financial management might not need a 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 working for companies of a similar size and revenue to yours. And if your company uses cloud­based software for much of the 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 to understand the unique needs of your business.

Talk to government and business associations

Take advantage of networks and business advisors available to help you make the decision. There are often voluntary organisations and local chambers of commerce willing to advise you too.

Tap into your social networks and online connections

Ask friends or family members who own small businesses, or even online connections, if they would recommend their accountant. If so, why? If not, why not? But bear in mind, what’s right for one business might not be right for yours.

Get someone who’s proactive about saving you money

The best accountants are proactive, so before choosing, ask what they could suggest to save your business money.

Find out what software the accountant uses

Try to find an accountant who’s using the same software as you, or failing that, one who’s willing to do so. Although it can be possible to export and import data in a suitable format, it can be time­consuming and easily lead to errors.

Ideally, use collaborative, cloud­based accounting software like Xero with encryption built in. This will mean you won’t have to worry about the risks involved in exchanging data back and forth.

Interview several candidate before you decided

Don’t automatically accept the first offer you receive. Compare a selection of accountants so it’s easier to determine which is best for your business. An interview is a powerful way to see how well you’re likely to be able to work with a person.

Negotiate fees

As a small business owner, negotiation should be part of your skill­set. If it’s not, learn it and apply it here. Get written quotes from all accountants you interview, then go away and compare them. Some will charge by the hour, some a monthly retainer, while others could ask for a percentage of your turnover.

Do background checks

Talk to some of your prospective accountants’ clients before signing. This will help to confirm some of the information the accountant has provided and enable you to hear first­hand about their relationship with other clients.

Use and trust your intuition

When you meet an accountant for the first time, consider your intuition. Alongside logical evaluations such as location, pricing, experience and references, ask yourself if you could trust this person with the intimate details of your business. And if you think you can work with them for the foreseeable future, then that’s great – go for it!