Tax time is arguably the best and worst time for business owners. On the one hand, many entrepreneurs don't want to deal with all the paperwork, and on the other, many realize how behind they got on keeping their accounting records up to date and know they need to make a change for the coming year.
Finding the right accountant may be one of the best investments you make. Besides the general tax filing and payroll preparation, many accountants can also serve as advisors in your business. Their suggestions and insight into your business operations can help you reduce your tax liability, highlight areas for growth opportunities, create short- and long-term strategies, and help you budget and manage your cash flow.
I have found through working with thousands of small business owners that spending money on accounting is not first on their list. However, my best advice is this: When the records get out of control, or an accounting issue comes to light, it is much more expensive to try to fix it, then do the right thing from the beginning and have an expert involved in your business.
So, whether you are looking for a new accountant, or revisiting your current relationship, here are six tips to help determine your business needs and make sure you find the right fit.
1. Decide if you want an internal or external accountant.
Many small businesses opt for outside accountants on a consulting basis, which typically costs less than a full-time or part-time employee. An in-house accountant is needed when transactions become too large and complicated that outsourcing these services becomes cost prohibitive.
When you have the right relationship with your accountant, their services can grow with you. For example, I had a client who outsourced their bookkeeping services and one of the owners did the majority of the accounting. Once they had more volume in transactions, they asked me to help in the interview process to ensure that they hired the right bookkeeper and then my company moved into controllership services.
2. Don't feel confined to your back yard.
We tend to feel more comfortable hiring accountants in our back yard, but with today's technology, your accountant doesn't have to be in your city or state. Many accounting firms that I consult with utilize video conferencing to communicate with their clients. That way, whether you are near or far, you can maintain that personal relationship and have your accountant offer demonstrations or training remotely when you need it.
3. Ask around for suggestions.
A good place to begin your accountant search is with your friends and colleagues. Ask what they like or dislike about their accountant, and what they would do differently if they were hiring one today. Also, if you had an accountant before, or currently have one, create your own assessment of what you like and what you wish your accountant would do. Other resources you can consider are your local chamber of commerce, the Small Business Development Center, or the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which maintains a directory of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
4. Prepare for the interview.
You need to create a process to hire a potential accountant like you would any other employee. Ensure you know what you want to get out of a future relationship. How involved do you want the accountant to be in your business? Do you care about the technology they use and what the process they have to collect documents and create financial statements? Do you want them to have experience in your industry? Also, make sure to ask for references prior to meeting with them, and check out their online presence, including website and social media postings on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites.
5. Ask the right questions.
You'll naturally focus on some of the basic things you've got to know, like pricing, services offered, what certifications they possess, and the software they (and you) will use. But also ask more probing questions, like what's their philosophy on customer service? How do they feel about online collaboration? How would they design a financial success program just for you? What's their idea of a good client relationship? These questions can help you determine their level of insight, how they think, and whether they fit your business goals and will be there when you need them.
6. Trust your gut.
During the process, always ask yourself if you could trust him or her with the intimate financial details of your business. If your gut is saying "no," then continue your search. This relationship is personal as much as business. Your accountant knows details about your business that most people would never know, and because of that, you need to feel that they are someone to whom you can ask in-depth questions and who can be an integral part of your business.
Accountants can be a valuable asset to your company beyond financial statements. They can be the key to making the right decisions in your business at critical turning points. You may find that once you have the right accountant, the return on the money you spend with them is much greater that you expect, and you can't imagine how you ever ran your business without them.