10 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Accountant

(This was first published by OneSaas on 4 Sept 2015)

Accountants are the “trusted advisors” for business owners. Each year international surveys from the likes of CCH and Sage Omnibus confirm the public’s perception of accountants as someone they can trust for honest, independent, and informed advice. And many people turn to their accountant for financial advice ahead of their banker, financial planner, lawyer/solicitor, family or friends.

So how do you find the right accountant to support your business?

Even in this digital age, personal referral continues to be the most common way to find an accountant – once you get a good referral, there are some great questions to ask to make sure they’re the right fit for you. 

1. What’s the best way to contact you and how often should we be in touch?

This might seem obvious, but clear, effective and frequent communication is the key to a healthy, beneficial relationship with your accountant. Establish early on how often you’ll connect, either in person, on the phone or online. Decide together if you’ll meet weekly, monthly or bimonthly. 

2. Does the accountant have retainer, rather than hourly based, pricing?

This is a significant one for many business owners, and the temptation is to try and minimise this as much as possible. The more touch points you have, the higher the cost will be, with a good relationship the payback will be well and truly worth it.

Where monthly retainers benefit is making the cost predictable, and also ensure you’re not concerned about reaching out to your accountant to get advise due to time based billings. 

3. How can you help me get the best tax result?

Untangling the time sink of preparing filings for the tax authorities, including VAT / Sales tax, payroll taxes and year end company taxes, is often the number-one reason small businesses hire an accountant in the first place.

At the same time, ask them if there are any new tax laws you should take advantage of to maximize write-offs.

Tax opportunities, such as the R&D credits, accelerated depreciation, payroll tax rebates, are something they should be very aware of.

Does your accountant have a pre year-end tax planning meeting with you? It’s too late once the deadline’s passed (at least for the current year) to take advantage of any extra deductions or allowances. 

4. What areas, other than tax, can they help you with?

A skilled accountant should get to know you and your business well enough to regularly keep you aware of an array of factors that could effect your bottom line, for better or for worse. 

Your accountant should be well-versed in several disciplines, including corporate and individual tax, retirement planning and financial planning.

They should also be able to help you weigh the financial ramifications of certain decisions, such as hiring an independent contractor vs full-time employee, buy or rent an office space, or rent or lease a company car.

Your accountant should also work collaboratively with you in a way that makes it easy for you to consider and understand which actions you need to take now and in the future. 

5. How can you help me manage my cash flow?

Cashflow is the lifeblood of every business. Detailed cashflow forecasts are time consuming however this is definitely something your accountant should be able to do for you.

Your accountant should be able to help you develop an organised cash flow model that allows you to adjust your operations in ways that help you survive shortfalls, as well as improve receivables and manage payables. 

6. What is my break-even point? 

Again, this may sound obvious however it’s one of the most important numbers for any business. If you’re below breakeven, eventually you will run out of money. If you’re above breakeven, then it’s the timing issues (such as payables and receivables) which will make or break your cashflow. 

7. Can you assess the overall value of my business?

Is the accountant heavily involved in your industry sector, and is thus across what business’s are selling for right now, and also how this moves? Good insight into this is invaluable, especially if you want to sell or raise capital.

A good understanding of the valuation drivers in your industry will mean you can focus on those metrics to improve the value you eventually get. This needs to be done over an extended period of time so is something your accountant should be on top of. 

8. Can you help me review and negotiate business contracts before I sign them? 

This is a common question for accountants, and they definitely should be able to help you with the commercial terms. This doesn’t negate the need for good legal advise – often your accountant and legal counsel will work hand in hand. 

9. What are the trends in my particular industry and how aware is the accountant of those trends?

Businesses in different industries come with their own unique accounting issues. Your accountant should be knowledgeable about the various ones that specifically apply to yours. 

10. What are some common mistakes that I should avoid when working with you?

Failing to follow the advice of your accountant is a common mistake. The whole point of hiring an accountant is for their expert advice. If you’re not following it because you have concerns about the quality of that advice, that may be a good indicator it’s time to look at a new accountant. 

Rachel WhiteComment