What Questions to Ask When working with an Accountant
Investing in the professional services, the expertise of a qualified trained accountant is one of the best investments you can make. Unfortunately, all too often, entrepreneurs do not understand just how important an accountant is for their small business.
Finding an accountant is a lengthy process and you are sure to have plenty of questions to ask. There is no shortage of accountants. Take your time to create a list of potential candidates and consider some of the questions you want to ask.
It is important to ask the right questions to get the clearest picture possible of the service you will be receiving for your business.
Here are seven questions we think are key to finding the right candidate.
How do I contact you and how often can we meet?
Although this is a pretty straightforward question, it is possibly the most important one you can ask. In today’s market, an accountant who can only be reached by letter is not useful. Although this is an extreme example, it highlights just how important frequent and clear communication is to the operation of your business. Find out early on how you can contact your accountant and how often you can meet and connect. Either in person, over the phone or through a video conferencing app such as Skype. This is a great opportunity to discuss and agree on how often you will meet physically and contact each other.
Do you have any experience in my business’s industry?
No matter how experienced your candidate is or how many accreditations and professional qualifications they have. If they do not have any experience in your industry, they are not the right candidate for you. Being an accountant for a chain of restaurants is vastly different to being an accountant for a fintech start-up. You need to ensure your accountant knows your industry inside-out, perhaps even better than yourself. Businesses in different industries each have their own specific accounting needs; your accountant should know about the ones which apply to your industry.
How can you help us with our taxes?
The primary reason for hiring an accountant is because they are the people who have all the necessary education, experience and qualifications to deal with taxes. You should make it clear from the start that your taxes are going to be a central part of your candidate’s potential work and work with them to draw up a potential tax schedule for your business. Tax season falls at the same time for all businesses across all industries so, during this time, accountants are at their busiest. A tax schedule will ensure your taxes get the attention they need from your accountant at the time it matters most.
What are your fees and how will I be billed for your services?
Money is seen by many as an awkward topic, but it is central to an accountant’s services. This includes how much your candidate’s services cost and you should be as upfront as possible. The worst thing you could do is decide on a candidate and then find out that you cannot afford their services. Most accountants will charge an hourly fee, but this varies, and some do charge fixed and monthly fees. Some even offer an ‘annual estimate’ which should be avoided; an ‘estimate’ is not a price quote and you could be met with a nasty bill by the end of the year.
Also, ask your potential accountant what is and what is not included in the rate. For example, some accountants can help their clients form their companies and register them legally. This can be included in the rates you pay, whereas others will charge a supplementary fee.
Can you help me form my business into a company?
Tying into the previous point, if you are not yet a registered business and have been operating as a sole trader, you will likely eventually need to register yourself as a company, especially if you are hiring an accountant. Many accountants offer business registration services which eliminate a lot of stress (and cost) for you; forming a company is not a simple process and it involves a lot of paperwork. As we mentioned, though, check if your candidate offers this service in the first place and ask if it will cost anything extra on top of their basic fees.
Are you stuck in the past or do you use modern technology?
Given that most businesses now operate more online than from physical premises – especially start-ups. This is an important question to ask any potential candidate. Nobody wants to be sent documentation from an accountant, only to have to print them out, sign and then return back by mail. Many modern accountants can offer an online package for bookkeeping, which you can both access and see in real-time. Even basic level of software packages – Adobe, has functionality for the filling and digital signing documents.
How can you help my business grow?
Accountants aren’t just number crunchers, they are some of the best people to help your business grow over time due to their specialist industry knowledge and financial experience. A good candidate can help your business with all things financial, not just taxes, which includes taking advantage of tax relief schemes, taking your business public, or raising money and securing investments through crowdfunding or angel investment schemes. Accountants can also help you secure overdrafts and business loans. This can be used for expansion and draw up an affordable repayment plan.