5 Questions to Ask When Working With an Accountant

When starting your own business venture, hiring an accountant will not be at the top of your list. It probably won’t make it into the top 50 things you want to do first either. However, this oversight can cause you some serious hardship down the line, once your business truly takes off.

It is by no means easy to find an accountant. Especially if you are not quite sure what kinds of accounting services you actually need. You don’t need to overcomplicate things and impose complex procedures and reporting systems. All you need is one reliable accountant, who will be there to ensure you have the time to focus on other things, while they keep an eye on the money.

Vetting potential candidates can by mind-bogglingly difficult if you don’t know anything about accounting and taxes. Especially in the business world. Here are five of the questions to ask prospective candidates. They will ensure a smooth ride after the contract has been signed.

1) What is the best way for an accountant to contact you?

This might not be the first question that comes to mind – it might not occur to you at all. However, it is important to agree on communication channels right at the start of your journey together. As tax season approaches, most accountants will enter overload mode. So it may be difficult to get a hold of them out of the blue, as you are most likely not their only client.

In order to avoid any potential communication mismatches, make it clear from the start how often do you need to meet in person, how often do you need to have a call or a video conference, and most importantly – how will they have access to your financial papers. Are you faxing them over or do you have a messenger running back and forth? Do they come into your office to pick them up themselves? Do they have an emergency contact number, in case you have a question that needs a quick answer?

Having all of these systems in place will ensure nothing falls through the cracks, simply because either party was not kept in the loop or notified on time.

2) What services do you offer?

This one will likely be at the top of your list too.

When talking about accounting services, we most often think of taxes. And while having someone on board who will deal with every businessman’s nightmare is key – that is not nearly all they can help you with.

Before you even start looking for an accountant, write down what types of services you are looking for, apart from the obvious tax issue. Consider things like virtual assistants and virtual offices. Bookkeeping services are also something you will likely be going for. Do you need help with registering your company? Or are you perhaps looking for someone who can connect you with investors and financial backers? Do you also need legal counsel, and do you want your accountant to provide it? Are you perhaps looking for a mentor in the finance world?

Now that you have all of this on paper, you can start looking for an accountant or an agency who ticks all or most of these boxes. Make sure to also ask them if they have any special packages. Or if they would suggest a service you haven’t thought of.

3) What is your experience in my industry?

Not all accountants are created equal.

Despite the quite cheesy line above, you will have realized yourself that you need to find an accountant whose services are tailored to your industry. If you are a Silicon Valley startup, you hardly need someone who works with uptown restaurants. If you are not overly specialized, you can go to an accountant with broad enough experience to cover your needs. Still, working with someone who has worked with similar companies before will give you the edge of having some experience on your team. They will be able to foresee potential pitfalls you may still be blind to.

4) Who will be handling my accounts?

If you decide to work with a company, you should know who the person who will actually be doing the number crunching on your behalf. Some accountancy firms have client liaisons who communicate with clients, while not doing the actual work. Or you may simply interview one person, and end up actually working with another.

Knowing who to turn to is only part of the reason to ask this question. Working with an accountant can be stressful – you are talking about your investments and profits here. If you can’t work with the person well, you are just setting yourself up for more stress.

I have known brilliant accountants who are simply not people persons, and who mostly don’t like to work with, because they are quiet and shy, or simply difficult to communicate with. Find a person that matches your personality, and whom you feel inspires the trust you need to ring them up when you have a question.

5) What are your fees and how do you calculate them?

Finally, a question you might want to ask first if the costs of accounting services are what worries you the most. On the other hand, affordable or cheap services might not be what you actually need. So make sure you do clarify what you will be getting for your money.

Does the accountant you are considering charge by the hour, or do they have package deals? When will you be billed, and how? What happens if you need more than you have initially agreed on? These are just some of the things to keep in mind when you start discussing actual costs. There are also accountants who take a cut of your profits if their services include maximizing cash flow, another fact to keep in mind.

Conclusion

Even if your head starts aching at the thought of handling all that financial paperwork, taking care of the issue early on will significantly help you in the long run. Having an accountant on board from day one (or day thirty) will ensure they don’t come into a battlefield after you have tried to handle things yourself.

Having someone by your side who has already walked the same road with someone else can be a significant boost to your chances of success. Don’t discount them lightly. Making a financial blunder can cost you more than a few nights’ sleep. That’s why you should consider your options carefully, and make a well-educated choice.

Michael Deane
Michael Deane has been working in marketing just under a decade, helping clients big and small live up to their potential and achieve their goals. He is a tech geek never seen without at least one gadget. You can read some of his work at Qeedle.
Michael Deane

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