Handling your business’s accounts is delicate work. It can also get very complicated and time-consuming very quickly, particularly when you consider everything else you need to be thinking about. So passing it all off to an accountant is a sensible strategy.
But how do you find an accountant you can trust? Accountants can be a significant cost, so you want to know you’re getting the most value for your money. You also want to know you can trust them with such an important job.
To help you find the right accountant for your small business, follow these tips:
#1 Find someone who’s local
These days, where your accountant is based is less important than it probably used to be. The internet makes it much easier to stay in contact over a distance – whether by email, instant message, or the occasional video conference call.
But it may still work to your advantage to find someone who’s local. The main benefit to finding an accountant who’s nearby is that it’ll be much easier to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
#2 Make sure you get on with them
Ideally, your accountant will become one of your most trusted business advisors. They can keep you abreast of the latest tax changes and give you advice on how to manage your finances. For this reason, it’s important that you get on and have a good working relationship.
Personality differences are hard to quantify, but you should be able to get a feeling for whether or not the relationship will work out fairly quickly. If possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting so you can get to know them a bit. If that’s not possible, a quick chat on the phone should help.
Obviously, you’re not looking for your next best friend here – but having good communication with your accountant is important, and can help to smooth out potential issues further down the line.
#3 Choose a chartered accountant
Strictly speaking, anyone can set-up their own accountancy firm. You don’t need a degree or any official accreditation to start shilling for clients, and there’s no legally mandated regulation either. So trying to find a qualified, trustworthy accountant can be a bit of a minefield.
It’s a good idea to find a chartered accountant who’s a member of either the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). To be a member of these organisations, accountants have to pass a number of qualifications and must comply with certain rules and regulations too.
#4 Find someone who has relevant experience
Not all businesses and industries are the same. Each have their unique quirks and peculiarities. For this reason, not every accountant will necessary be the right fit for you. It’s a good idea to try to find an accountant who has experience working with businesses similar to yours, in a similar industry as well.
Doing so increases the chances your accountant will be able to hit the ground running when he or she takes on your accounts. It also means their advice is more likely to be accurate, particularly if they’ve advised similar companies in a similar position to yours in the past.
#5 Pick someone who can scale with your business
If your business is growing – and growing quickly – you should make sure you choose an accountant who can scale with your business. Perhaps the one-man-or-woman-band down the road is right for your business today, but will they be able to handle the workload when your sales double? Or triple!? The last thing you want is to be limited by your choice of accountant.
If you’re expecting aggressive growth in the near future, it might make more sense to go to a bigger accountancy firm instead of a single-person operation.
#6 Be clear about what help you need
Accountants can do more than just bookkeeping and submitting your annual returns, and the costs you pay will vary depending on how many of their services you may need. So it’s important to be clear about exactly what services you need them to carry out for you.
You might want to pass everything financial off to them, or perhaps you just need them to do your annual returns and nothing else. However, you might also need them to help you when it comes to setting up a new company or incorporating (a process which can be quite complex in some cases).
#7 Make sure the price is right
The chances are you’re already a pretty shrewd businessperson, so you probably don’t need us to tell you to make sure you’re not paying over the odds for an accountant. But given that the costs can be quite significant, it’s worth restating.
But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for – so make sure you don’t just settle for the cheap option. You might save yourself some money but ask yourself if you’re going to get the level of service you want for that price?
(If you need help covering the cost of an accountant, we might be able to help.)
#8 Shop around
Whether you’re buying a new phone, a car, or looking for an accountant, it’s a good idea to shop around so you can see what’s available. Come up with a shortlist of three or four accountants that meet your criteria and arrange a quick call or meeting.
If there’s no obvious winner after that, create a quick matrix spreadsheet and score each accountant based on different criteria (for example, how many years’ experience they have, whether they have other clients in your industry etc.).
#9 Find a tech savvy accountant
Technology has revolutionised pretty much every aspect of life – and bookkeeping and accountancy is no different. Gone are the days of giant ledger books and paper tax submissions. These days, your books likely already live in the cloud and tax submissions are increasingly going digital.
With this in mind, you should aim to find an accountant who’s relatively tech savvy. If they can work with your current set-up (or help you transition to something a bit more up-to-date if you’re not there already) then that will make things a lot easier.
And with the recent launch of HMRC’s Making Tax Digital initiative, it’s even more important that your accountant is ahead (or at the very least, up to) the curve.
#10 Ask for a personal recommendation
Nothing beats a personal recommendation. So our final tip is to ask friends or family who run their own businesses too who they’d recommend. They’ll have the benefit of actual, direct experience working with an accountant.
Just don’t forget to take their advice with a pinch of salt. Perhaps the accountant they recommend is perfect for their specific needs, but not quite right for yours. You should balance their recommendation with the other criteria that’s important to you and your business.