By Andrew Leck, ACCA’s head of Western Europe

A large number of businesses find themselves needing to hire a new accountant, whether that is for the first time or because their current accountant is moving on, retiring or simply wasn’t right. Faced with this prospect, a number of directors feel uneasy as this is often a difficult process.

Choosing the right accountant can be the difference between your business succeeding and not, especially for small businesses. Therefore, hiring one who will look after the company’s interests is vital. This is much easier said than done. If this is the first time you have looked to hire an accountant, perhaps you don’t know what to look for or what questions to ask to uncover the right one for you. Or, you might have used someone for a while and don’t know where to look for a replacement which meets your expectations.

Getting it right might be easier than it first appears. Follow these five top tips and it will ease the burden of this process.

1. Are they qualified?

The most important thing is to make sure they are professionally qualified and a member of a professional body. In the UK that’s most likely to be ACCA, ICAEW or ICAS. That means not only are they qualified, but they are also regulated and required to undertake continuous development. They are also subject to disciplinary procedures if things go wrong.

2. Do they understand your business?

If your new accountant is going to get under the skin of your business, it is important they understand what you do and the market you operate in. One way to find this out is to see if they have any other clients in your field or past experience in the space. There are many accountants who specialise in certain industries, or certain types and sizes of businesses. It is important they understand the challenges faced and the legal requirements specific your businesses.

3. Personal Recommendations

Given how daunting this process can be, taking a personal recommendation can be extremely beneficial. Do you know someone who can recommend a good accountant they’ve done business with? Ask around and see what leads come out of those conversations. Perhaps they can facilitate a meeting? If so, go along and get a feel for how they will approach the relationship.

4. Reciprocal relationship

When looking for an accountant, also think about finding someone who not only provides services to look after annual accounts, balance the books and advise on tax compliance, but someone who can provide help and advice to help your business grow. This is specifically important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and start-ups, as your accountant can provide vital advice on growth from their experience.

5. Finding the right balance

Different accountants mean different levels of contact and engagement. Less contact could mean less cost, but can make it difficult to flag questions and discrepancies. It is important to make sure that you find the right balance on the cost of hiring an accountant and the return on investment you receive. The investment in this relationship needs to come from both sides and commitment levels decided beforehand.

The most important things to remember when finding an accountant is making sure you are comfortable with them and confident that they will give your account the care and time it deserves. Follow these steps, do your research and you should be on your way to the perfect accountant. It can be scary when entering in to a new relationship, but remember that you are the client, they are working for you. You need to be clear about what you want and expect from them and be confident that they can meet your requirements.