As with most things in life, it is always best to shop around and make sure you know exactly what you are getting before you jump straight in. The same can be said when it comes to employing the services of an accountant for your business. Before you rush to sign on the dotted line, there are certain questions you really should ask to ensure you will be receiving the service you expect.
1. Do you have any experience of working with businesses similar to mine?
Accounting is not a one-size fits all approach. Businesses in different industries come with their own particular issues and challenges. It is advisable to choose an accountant who is knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with the various issues that specifically apply to your industry. To test your prospective accountant, you can ask them about any special considerations they feel are related to your industry. You should also aim to find an accountant who is experienced in dealing with businesses of a similar size and those at a similar stage of growth to yours.
2. How much do you charge?
A simple question, but often an extremely important one. You not only need to know how much their services are going to cost you, but also how you will be billed. Some accountants offer a flat all-inclusive fee for their services, while other will charge an hourly rate. You should also check how the invoices will be delivered and when they will be anticipating payment to be made. Putting everything on the table up front ensures that there are no unexpected bills landing on your doormat further down the line.
3. How often should we be in touch?
Clear, effective and frequent communication is the key to a successful relationship with your accountant. Establish early on how often you’ll connect, and how communication will be made. The chances are you will not be your accountant’s only client, so it’s best to clarify early on how quickly you can expect to hear back when questions arise. This helps to set expectations on both sides and reduces disappointment.
4. What value can you add to my business?
An accountant will be able to provide your business with far more value than simply completing your annual tax returns and producing your accounts. They should be able to help your business grow and expand over time. A good accountant will be able to provide you with advice on how best to structure your company, ensure you are compliant with your legal obligations as a business owner, and provide assistance with running a payroll as your business develops.
5. What qualifications do you hold?
Anyone can call themselves an accountant; this does not mean they are necessarily qualified for the job. It is perfectly acceptable for you to enquire about the qualifications they hold, which will reassure you that they have completed a rigid training programme and passed a stringent set of exams. You should be checking whether they are regulated by a professional body and whether they have professional indemnity insurance in place.
6. How do you communicate with your clients?
All accountants will have their own preferred way of dealing with their clients – some do their dealings through face to face meetings, while some like to handle things via email or video calls. You need to be clear up front what form your communication with the accountant will take to ensure it matches up to your preferences. It’s no good employing an accountant who prefers more traditional methods of communication if you would prefer things to be handled electronically. You should also enquire as to whether they will be proactive with regard to reminding you when you need to submit accounts for example. This clarifies what you are both expected to do and can help to limit disputes further down the line.
7. Who will handle my account?
It may be the case that your accountant is not a one-man band, and is in fact a partner in a larger practice. There are great benefits to this, as the more accountants working for the firm, the more likely there will be one who specialises in your business area. However there are some potential drawbacks which you will want to avoid. The main one is having to deal with a different accountant each time you have a query. In order to avoid this you should ask how many accountants make up the firm and whether you will be assigned to one particular individual who will look after you and your business.
8. Can you provide references from other clients?
Just as you wouldn’t employ someone to work for your company without first checking their references from their previous employer, hiring an accountant should be no different. After all an accountant is essentially another member of staff, albeit one who works remotely. Accountants will generally have a list of people you could contact who would be able to attest for their performance. This could be a very useful tool in assessing whether the accountant is the right fit for your company.