Picking the right accountant for your small business is similar to choosing the right doctor for your health care. You want someone who is skilled and qualified. Depending on your business, you may or may not need an accountant that is certified as a CPA — most small businesses don’t. When you choose a CPA, you are putting your financial security in the hands of a person who is supposed to be certified and up to date on every rule and regulation that applies to you and your business. So, how can you choose the right accountant for your business needs? Let’s take a look at a few items to get you started.
You need to find out who you are and what you want. Put yourself in your prospective accountant’s office chair. What will you expect from your accountant? What kind of things will be deal makers and deal breakers? It is a good idea to know who you are and what your expectations are before you begin the next step.
Ask Friends and Family for Recommendations
Friends and family are often a good resource, so why not ask them? Find out if their tax professional is taking any new clients or if they have time to give you advice. Be honest with them. If Uncle Al says his accountant is still using paper spread sheets, tell Uncle Al you need someone with a computer. Then move on to the next opinion. Get at least three good recommendations of accountants to interview. Don’t just ask friends and family for a recommendation, ask them why with a few tough questions like:
- Why do you like using them? Be specific.
- What kind of business advice and tax advice have they offered you recently?
- Was their advice helpful in saving money?
Interview the Accountants
Twenty or thirty years ago, accountants were often considered bookkeepers. Today, they are much more involved with business rules and regulations and many have specified training in small business and taxes to help set them apart from other CPA’s. The trick is to figure out exactly what you should look for in an accountant.
What kind of questions should you ask your CPA to keep yourself out of trouble come tax season?
- What kind of creative business advice will you offer me? – Sure they can crunch numbers but can they offer creative ways for you to save money now?
- Is your business tech-savvy? Staying on the forefront of technology, as a business, is a great indicator of keeping up with the times. As technology is able to produce info faster, your CPA should be the first to know.
- Who are your other clients? This indicates whether or not your accountant has dealt with businesses like yours and how busy they will be during tax time.
- Are you active in the local business community? Can your CPA introduce you to people who can help make business changes they suggest?
Make Your Decision
After you have done some soul searching, asked people you trust for recommendations, and interviewed at least three accountants or accounting firms with the difficult questions you needed to ask, it is time to pick your accountant. Sit down and go over the qualifications of each accountant or team of accountants. Weigh all the pros and cons and come to a decision on who would be the best accountant to hire.
Don’t forget to write each accountant you rejected a simple thank you note with one or two reasons why you did no choose their firm. This will show them that, although you appreciated their time, your decision was based on specific facts. Don’t burn bridges – you never know when you could be back in their office. Most professionals appreciate honesty, so don’t be afraid to tell an accountant why you didn’t choose their firm.
Now that your accountant has been hired, it’s time to get to know each other. With the difficult part over, take a few minutes to visit your accountant and find out what he or she will expect over the year, leading up to tax time. Maintain a close relationship with your accountant and you, and your small business, will benefit nicely for years to come.
I have a lot of great tips for choosing and working with an accountant in my book – Small Business Cash Flow – Strategies for Making Your Business A Financial Success