The life of a small business owner can be a lonely one. Trying to do a million things at once to keep your business on a successful track is no easy feat.
Add making sure the government is happy, and you could end up with a bunch of sleepless nights.
So why spend them alone?
An accountant can be your best business advocate and your connection to sanity in a world of craziness.
Or juggling “all the things” can be your worst nightmare.
I’m a perfect example. During my first three years in business, I blazed through three different accountants. What a waste of time and money.
I don’t even remember how I found the first one though it was probably through the suggestion of a business colleague. I realized after about three months it wasn’t the right fit for me and started looking around.
I thought I did it right the second time. Nope! All was well until that accountant decided to sell out to someone else and never bothered to tell her clients. (That’s a story for another day.) The person who took over was a very clear mismatch.
After that a little legwork proved prudent, and my current accountant has been with my company for about ten years. If you spend some time going through the process outlined in this post, you can avoid the headaches I encountered.
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 (Certified Public Accountant) — 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?
The good news is that technology provides you with plenty of options for finding and working with an accountant.
But that’s the bad news, too. There are so many choices; it can be tough to narrow them down.
Services can range from completely virtual to totally hands-on. Let’s take a look at three steps to get you from overwhelmed to done.
You’ll want to use a three-pronged approach to finding an accountant that’s perfect for you and your business.
Step 1 – Interview Yourself
Step 2 – Ask Friends and Family for Recommendations
Step 3 – Interview the Accountants
Yep, I know. Sounds kind of funny. 🙂 You need to find out who you are and what you want. Put yourself in your prospective accountant’s office chair.
It’s a good idea to know who you are and what your expectations are before you begin the next step. You can’t hire an accountant until you know what you’re looking for.
That means you need to take the time to think through your requirements before you make the first call. Take a few minutes to answer the following 10 questions before you proceed. Answer each question with a simple Yes or No.
Let’s take a look at what you said to help you decide where to start looking for an accountant and what type of firm you’ll select.
Knowing what your requirements are will help you narrow down the next step of your search so you end up with just the right person.
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 spreadsheets, 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 name, ask them why with a few tough questions like:
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. The trick is to figure out exactly what you should look for in an accountant.
Here are some questions you should ask the accountant to ensure a good business fit:
And then you want to dig a bit deeper to ensure a perfect fit. Here are some questions to help you do that:
Plan on setting aside at least 30 minutes for each interview. Your interviews should be conducted in a face-to-face meeting unless you’ve chosen to consider an accountant who is not close to your business.
Even if the accountant is local, you may choose phone interviews just to save yourself time. But be careful doing that. You’re going to be working with this person for quite some time on very confidential issues about your business. A face-to-face meeting can help you clarify how easy this person will be to work with.
Remember as you conduct your interview to stay on topic. Don’t talk about tax issues. You are interviewing and trying to find out what type of fit this person will be for your business, not trying to solve problems.
What’s It Feel Like? Did this person seem to be genuinely interested in your business and working with you? Will you feel comfortable questioning them and asking for advice as your business grows? Do they listen?
Remember you will be spending a good bit of time communicating back and forth. The relationship is a very important part of this business agreement.
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.
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.
This process is an excerpt from my book – Small Business Cash Flow: Strategies for Making Your Business A Financial Success Head on over to that link and pick yourself up a copy. It contains lots of great tips for making and keeping cash in your business — where it belongs.
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