So you’ve decided that you need an accountant. Good business decision. Professional accounting support helps to make sure your business is protected and the financial aspects are well managed. Now what?
Like researching the purchase of a new car, you need to understand what accounting features you really need and want – and how much you’re willing to pay for it.
Are you looking for an economy model that is simply good on gas and can get you from A to B? Or are you prepared to invest in luxurious leather seats so you enjoy the drive in comfort and style? Whatever you decide, you need to be happy with your choice. Of course, price is a significant factor but there are other considerations you need to think about.
Here are five important questions you need to ask to make sure you hire the best accountant for your unique business needs. They should be ready – dare we say happy – to answer them to make sure they’re a good fit. For your sake but also theirs!
1. What size business do you typically deal with?
Have you ever bought a new vehicle with all the bells and whistles? And then tried to get Cousin Bob (he’s handy with cars, right?) to fix it when that engine light just won’t turn off? An accountant for large multi-million dollar companies normally won’t have the experience with small business complexities (i.e. deductions for small-to-medium sized companies). Or if you’re a larger business, you likely already have an internal accountant to do most of the heavy lifting. Chances are you won’t need the same type of financial guidance that smaller businesses need.
2. Do you have experience in my industry?
If you drive a Nissan, are you going to get it fixed by a Ford mechanic? As with most things, we feel much more comfortable if our Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are familiar with our terminology, regulations and trends. Many industries also have specific tax rules and credits (i.e. oil and gas). It’s (obviously) very important for the accountant to understand what these are and how to apply them.
3. What level of service do you provide?
Are you the kind of client who wants free oil changes for a year or are you happy with a complimentary air freshener? Some clients want full day-to-day accounting services and advice. However, not all accounting firms have the manpower to offer that level of support, or they might be too expensive for your budget. That might be a situation where the services of a bookkeeper would be a better alternative.
4. How do you see us working together?
If you’re shopping for a used car, do you want your salesman calling you every day with “a car you just need to see”? You and your accountant need to be compatible (that important “fit”) in the way you approach business to have the most beneficial relationship possible. If the accountants you’re chatting with are reluctant to answer your questions or make it seem like you’re insulting them, they aren’t for you. Cut your losses and walk away. At the very beginning of an important association like this, you should be very comfortable and know they will have your back.
5. What’s the best way to contact you and how often should we connect?
OK. So, there are no car analogies for this question – we ran out of gas (well, none except for that one…). This might seem too simple a question, but it also falls into the “fit” category. Clear, effective and frequent communication is key to a productive, valuable relationship with your accountant. Establish how often you want a conversation, either in person or virtually (via phone or a video chat app like Skype or Zoom). Decide together if you’ll meet weekly, monthly or bimonthly.
One of the questions that should be avoided (at least until they’ve had a chance to learn more about your business and see your books) is: “How much will it cost?”
Cost varies depending on the size of your business, the state of your records and level of service you require. So it’s better if you give your prospective accountant as much information as possible and a sample of your records. Then ask for a range in prices rather than one amount. As a business owner, you probably know how difficult it can be to provide a quote when important information is missing.
You may think of other questions that are pertinent to your particular business or industry (certifications required or add on services you want) but these five should be the beginning of your discovery conversation.