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How to Find an Accountant Who Can Help Your Small Business over the Long Haul

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Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 18:59
Created: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 08:08

Just filed your taxes and wished you’d had the help of an accountant? Unhappy with your current accountant? Here are some tips for finding and choosing an accountant you can trust with your small business numbers and rely on for solid financial advice throughout the year.

Why Hire an Accountant

An accountant can save you time and clear up much of the confusion you experience when it comes to managing your finances and taxes, but a trusted accountant can provide other benefits, too.

  • Act as a Trusted Advisor – More than just a tax preparer, an accountant can become a trusted advisor to your small business, helping you manage cash flow, plan for growth, assess risk, and keep your books in order.
  • Help Balance Business and Personal Needs – Many small businesses, particularly sole proprietors and startups, find that their business and personal finances are closely linked. A good accountant can help you make sound judgments beneficial to both.

How to Find an Accountant

Referrals are often the best way to find accountants you can trust. Network and mingle at local business events hosted by your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Development Center, or other small business organizations. Ask other business owners for referrals and even meet accountants. Your state accounting society can also connect you to CPAs.

Interviewing Candidates

Once you have a short list, schedule a free initial consultation to help determine whether your candidates are the right fit for your needs: Some questions to ask include:

What’s your experience with small businesses? Small businesses have dynamic and sometimes complex accounting needs and few resources to manage them.  An accountant who understands these dynamics and has a solid small business client base will likely serve your needs better in the long run. You’ll also want to know that your accountant has experience with businesses that are structured like yours – whether you are a sole proprietor, LLC, partnership, or corporation.

What experience do you have with my industry? Ideally, your accountant should have knowledge of your industry. Many accountants specialize in certain industries such as franchising, real estate, construction or exporting. Again, get referrals from others in your industry.

Do you do more than tax preparation? If you need help with tax filing, then a tax preparer is the way to go. But if you want long-term strategic advice to help you manage your small business finances, be sure to ask about the range of value-add services, such as business valuation, budgeting and forecasting, bookkeeping, risk assessment, and small business startup advice.

Who will I be working with? If your accountant is to become a trusted advisor, then you want to know from the get-go who exactly you’ll be working with.  A smaller firm, where a partner or owner handles the bulk of the work, is often a better choice for small businesses looking for a long-term advisory relationship. The alternative is a larger firm, where you are handed off to a junior accountant after the initial handshake. Other things to consider as you compare your candidates are:

  • Flexibility and responsiveness – for example, are they willing to visit your business premises for quarterly reviews? How quickly will they respond to queries or requests?
  • Fees and charges
  • Value-add services that you may want in the future, such as audit support or CFO services.
  • Professional qualifications, licenses (CPAs are distinguished from other accounting practitioners by strict licensing regulations), and references

Remember...

You are the person who is ultimately responsible for your taxes and finances. Be wary of accountants who promise things that seem too good to be true. If you have concerns about an accountant's claims, you should contact your state's Board of Accountancy. You can file a complaint against a tax preparer at the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility.

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Type: Community Blog