GentlemanIf you’re a small business or a start up then it is really important that you have a good accountant – one who supports you in running your business and gives you clear and timely advice.  But how do you find a good accountant?  This blog gives you some pointers.

1. What do you need

Accountants and bookkeepers won’t all offer the same services.  Think about what services you need, for example:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Statutory accounts
  • Annual returns
  • Self assessment tax returns
  • VAT
  • Payroll
  • Management accounts

Will they be able to continue to support your business as it grows?

2. Word of mouth

Recommendations from friends, family, your bank manager, a lawyer, through social media, etc. are probably the best way to make sure that you get a good accountant.

3. Qualifications

Anyone can call themselves an accountant or bookkeeper, but to get a qualification you have to prove a certain level of knowledge.  Check what qualifications your potential accountant has – for example Chartered Accountant (ACA), Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA), etc.  You can also go to the professional body to check that the accountant is registered with them – or ask them for a list of qualified accountants in your area. 

4. How big and how complicated is your business

If your business is small and straightforward then you may only need a bookkeeper, which should be cheaper than hiring an accountant.  However even small businesses can be complicated, and need someone with the right skills and experience.

5. Location

Most people try to get an accountant who is local to them, which does make face to face meetings much easier.  However with emails, phone calls, online accounting software, etc. you are no longer tied to a local accountant.

6. Personality match

Its really important to get an accountant that you get on with.  You are much more likely to call them for advice if you can have a good chat about your business.  If you don’t like an accountant when you first chat with them, then go and find someone else.

7. Size of firm

Accounting firms range from one man (or woman!) bands, to enormous international firms with thousands of staff.  If you go for a sole practitioner then what happens if they are ill or on holiday?  If you go for a larger firm then who will deal with you on a day to day basis?  Do you have to pay more to talk to a partner instead of someone more junior?

8. Experience

Depending on what you do, you may need someone who specialises in your industry, or type or stage of business.  For example:

  • Retail businesses can take advantage of different VAT schemes so you want someone who knows about them
  • Start ups often need specialist advice

9. Working hours

If you’re a WAHM then you don’t really want an accountant that only works 9-5.  See if you can find someone who is happy to fit meetings / phone calls in around your childcare and nap times.

10. Fixed price

Some accountants will offer you a fixed price, some only charge by the hour.  Ideally you want a fixed price so you know exactly what to expect, and so you can call or email with questions without worrying about extra cost.

11. Price

Cheaper is not always better!  Make sure you know exactly what you are paying for, what it doesn’t cover, and whether ongoing advice and support is part of the package.  This is one of my favourite phrases – a good accountant should save you more money than they cost.

A qualified accountant will likely cost more than an unqualified one, but you are paying for the extra knowledge and experience.

(apologies to those accountants who are qualified by experience and really good at what you do, I know there are plenty out there, but there are also people who just set up as an “accountant” with no experience at all…)

12. Other things to think about!

  • You can’t delegate responsiblity – if there is an error in your accounts / tax return it is you who will have to pay any fines, even if you got someone else to do it
  • Its worth checking whether an accountant has Professional Indemnity Insurance, as you may be able to claim for financial losses that result from problems with the work they do
  • Response time – how quickly will they get back to you if you have a query
  • Will they offer you a free no obligation initial consultation
  • Can you get access to your data when you need it
  • Do you want an accountant that provides, or works with,online accounting software

And make sure you ask for references!