There comes a time in every small business when doing the accounts and tax reporting yourself is no longer a cost saving. Number crunching, budgeting, credit control, paying invoices and tax reporting all take up valuable business time. As a business owner, it’s not normally in your business interests to handle this on your own when your expertise is much better placed running and growing the business.
Hiring an accountant is a prudent decision and getting the right one could prove invaluable to your business success. An experienced accountant can not only help you with your day-to-day accountancy needs, but can give valuable advice on tax planning, which could make huge financial savings for your business.
Does it matter which accountant you choose? Actually, yes it does. A mediocre accountant won’t help you to spot business opportunities. Worse still, an inattentive accountant could cost your business more than you think.
I’ve had the pleasure and agony of working with both great accountants and not so great ones. So, here are my tips for making sure you find the right accountant for your business (also see some great tips on WHEN you should hire an accountant here).
Is location important?
In our digital age, location is much less of an issue when it comes to hiring an accountant. Your accountant could literally be located anywhere in the world! A designated accountant can handle your accounts using cloud-based technology in real-time from anywhere.
However, it’s probably a good idea to choose an accountant who is UK trained and UK based, purely because they will understand the legal reporting requirements for UK business accounts and tax. You may also prefer to choose an accountant in your nearby location so you can meet face-to-face.
What services do you need?
Consider what services you would like from your accountant. Do you need advice on accountancy software? Are you looking for someone who can simply help you with basic bookkeeping, VAT reporting and end of year accounts, or do you need a more comprehensive service, including advice on project funding and business planning?
Robin John, chartered accountant and director at accountancy firm Wellden Turnbull says “Many SMEs underestimate the value of having a team of accountancy experts on hand to help with strategic growth and to meet the needs of modern businesses. Accountancy isn’t just about number crunching. Insightful and intelligent accounting helps to drive business performance and profitability.”
Strategic business advice is invaluable and can make a real difference to business growth. When choosing an accountant, it’s also a good idea to find one who has a good understanding of your market sector and has experience working with small businesses. Ideally you want to find an accountant who will be able to spot a problem you don’t know you have.
Ultimately, you need to decide if you are looking for a number cruncher or a pro-active business adviser who can help you with wealth-building strategies.
Do qualifications matter?
Always seek accountancy advice from a qualified and registered accountant. There are six chartered accountancy bodies in the UK and Ireland:
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants(ACCA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland(CAI)
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants(CIMA)
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy(CIPFA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales(ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland(ICAS)
Make sure the accountant you choose is registered with one of the above.
Does your business require specialist accounting knowledge?
Choosing an accountant with relevant expertise is essential. If your business could benefit from R&D tax credits, for example, you need to find an accountant who has this specialist knowledge and a track record in making successful claims.
Does your small business have an international reach? If so, you will need an accountant who is experienced with the complex tax and VAT implications of trading overseas.
Many small business owners underestimate the value of management accounts, which can prove invaluable for business insight and good financial control. See more on the difference between management and financial accounts here.
Consider testimonials and recommendations
As with any other service, a recommendation is the most credible form of testimonial and is a great way to find a decent accountant. When a recommendation comes from someone you know and trust, then it is usually worth pursuing. Consider an initial consultation (often free) to see if this accountant is right for you.
Of course, testimonials on an accountant’s website can give you some insight, but remember no-one will post bad testimonials on their own website so the satisfaction rating could be skewed.
How available is your accountant if you have a query?
If you hire an accountant for basic bookkeeping and annual accounts, don’t expect to pin them down at short notice for the financial figures you urgently need for critical business decisions. Always check at the outset what availability you can expect from an accountant before you commit to working with them.