How Do I Choose The Right Accountant?
The Australian small business landscape is extremely dynamic. Rapidly evolving cloud technology continues to influence how businesses interact with their customers. Business owners need to surround themselves with innovative and forward-thinking accounting professionals to ensure they are maximizing their potential. A good tax accountant goes well beyond the pale of calculating how much tax you need to pay for the financial year – they will have their finger on the pulse and will act as a sounding board for all business decisions from hiring new staff, purchasing equipment, or taking up a new lease.
A good accountant is an invaluable resource. Here are our tips to ensure you choose the right accountant for your business.
Your Accountant Needs To Understand Your Needs
Before you start looking for an accountant, think about what services you want handled. You might need someone to take the reins of bookkeeping, payroll, BAS lodgement, income tax returns, cash flow, budgeting, or maybe just your annual income tax preparation. If you are like most people, you will be keen to find an accountant who can work with your current accounting software. You may even be looking to implement or upgrade to cloud software.
Even if your accountant is just doing your taxes, they need to understand your business so they can help you make informed decisions. Other things to consider are how you will work together, how often you will meet (in person, by phone), if they outsource and how quickly they respond to questions.
While most accountants work with a variety of clients, some often specialize in specific industries such as trades, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and construction. It is vital to make sure your accountant has experience in your industry and understands your reporting requirements.
Small Business Experience matters
The challenges small businesses face are wide and varied. Problems can quickly arise shifting the focus from cash flow to hiring to financial information needed for a loan application. Therefore, it’s vital that your accountant is experienced with small businesses operating in different industries and different structures to be able to meet your needs.
A vast majority of small businesses only utilise an accountant for retrospective income tax preparation and calculation. The role of the accountant has morphed into business advisor as more small business owners are turning to their accountant for assistance with areas geared towards business growth such as cash flow management, marketing, hiring new staff, and opening at more locations. A good accountant should be able to advise you in such areas.
Accounting & Bookkeeping Qualifications
An essential and often overlooked area of consideration is their professional qualifications. An accountant must be certified and registered with the Tax Practitioners Board and have the appropriate tertiary qualifications. Ideally your accountant has both the technical skills to complete your return and the soft skills to explain them to you clearly.
Accountants who complete and lodge tax returns must be registered. To find out if the potential accountant you have chosen is registered, you can check the tax agent register here.
In our experience in the industry we have come across many bookkeepers who aren’t registered, or are family friends to the business owner. See here for a rundown of why this might actually be costing you more money and time than you realize.
Cloud Technology – Xero, MYOB, STP & Saving You Time
The benefits of cloud technology are massive, which is why it is becoming increasingly popular. Benefits include remote data accessibility, workplace flexibility, data security, and many other features like electronic invoicing. At all times, you will need access to your accounting data, and you will also need your accountant to be able to quickly access is to discuss urgent matters.
Xero & MYOB are the major players in cloud accounting software at the moment. This is a move away from the sole dominance that MYOB has held in the 1990’s and 2000’s. We believe that all businesses benefit from real time data, and we base our practice around showing you the benefits of constant conversations with your accountant.
Communication With Your Accountant Is Key
Your accountant should be number one on your speed dial for all business matters. It is important to find out who you will be working with day-to-day. What if they are on holiday? Is there a support network to assist you? Smaller firms may team you with a partner who might be a better fit for you as you seek to build a lasting relationship. Larger firms may not provide this kind of personal touch.
It is often difficult to gauge an accountant’s responsiveness during initial interactions. When you are a potential client, they should respond promptly to phone calls and emails. If they do not, this may be a warning sign of things to come. Good accounting firms adopt a ‘within 24-hour’ approach meaning they will do everything possible to return phone calls and reply to emails within 24 hours.
Language is another crucial area of communication. The jargon associated with tax can become very complicated, very quickly. You do not need to be an expert; however, your accountant must explain things in layman’s terms to give you a proper understanding. Failure to do so makes communication difficult, resulting in an unprofessional and unhelpful exchange that can slow the progress of your accountancy activities.
If your accountant can’t explain tax & your accounting numbers to you easily & promptly, it’s very likely that they do not have anything to do with your work until the end.
Value for money – How Much Does An Accountant Charge?
Initial consultations should be free of charge and accountants should be open and transparent about their fees. Fees are not usually paid up front as the scope of your accounting matters will involve ongoing work. Historically accountants have charged by the hour, whereas more recently we have seen a trend toward monthly ‘all-inclusive packages.’
A good accountant will supply you with an engagement letter that outlines the fees you pay, and you should receive this before they commence work. A clear understanding of the accountant’s fee schedule allows you to budget for their services, know whether their services are competitive, and know where you stand before they commit to working with you.
Bookkept works on packages as a first point of call. This removes the thought process of “if i call my accountant they are going to charge me more” – we want you to feel comfortable to call us because your decisions impact your business.
Check Their Reviews
Above all else, the best advice is to see what other clients have to say. Google reviews are easy to find and will paint a clear picture of the accountant’s competence and performance with other clients. You may even decide to contact an existing client directly to get specific feedback.
Social media is also useful for this kind of information. Search for reviews and testimonials on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to get more information about the accountants on your shortlist.
In the past we have had clients ask for a reference, and we were happy to put them in touch with our existing clients. We know our clients are happy, and that shows.
Choosing an accountant is one of the most important decisions a small business owner will make. Take your time with your search, do not just rush into a relationship during tax season. Plan, assess your needs in a timely manner. This is an important milestone in your business development… don’t wait until its too late.
If you are looking for an accountant or thinking it’s time you made a change, please give us a call on (03) 8568 3606. With over ten years of combined experience working with a diverse range of clients, Bookkept is well equipped to assist your business.