A common misconception about accountants is that they only handle the numbers and do your books, nothing more. In reality, any accountant can do that. But a good accountant is capable of a lot more. A good accountant will be able to clearly explain to you what the numbers mean, and how they affect your business. If an accountant is on top of everything, they’ll be able to help you find ways to save money, ensure that everything is operating smoothly, and make themselves a valued member of your team.
Of course, finding a great accountant can be difficult, which is why we’ve created a list of the top seven questions you should ask before hiring one. Let’s take a look at what number one is.
- Do you have experience working in my niche?Every business is going to have unique requirements when it comes to hiring an accountant. For example, if you’re running a restaurant, you’ll need an accountant who knows the ins and outs of restaurant wages and the unique rules regarding tips.On the other hand, if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re running your own company, you’ll need an accountant who can help you understand some of the calculated risks that you might want to take in order to remain competitive. Regardless of what your company does, you should consider hiring an accountant who has previous experience in the industry.
- What services do you offer?Not all accountants are created equal. Depending on their certification, some will be able to perform a broader range of work than others. For example, a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) will be able to perform a financial audit on your business, analyze cash flow sheets, and make recommendations to you for your business.This is opposed to a person who has an accounting degree, but has not become certified as a CPA. Legally, they’ll only be able to perform a narrow range of duties. Before you even begin looking for an accountant, you should ask yourself what services you’re likely to require from them, then you can set about finding the accountant who is the best match for you.
- When will you be available to help my business?Some accountants only work during tax season, or they work limited hours during the off season. For some businesses this is ok, as they don’t need the services of an accountant year round. However, other businesses will need an accountant on hand at all times. Before hiring an accountant you should be sure to ask them if they will be available to help you whenever you need it.
- How often do your clients get audited?This is a great question to ask any accountant you’re thinking about hiring because the question will tell you two things. First, if an accountant knows the answer off hand, you quickly be able to tell that he or she is knowledgable about her client’s affairs. Second, you’ll also learn how responsible the accountant is. The best accountants and accounting firms have less than 1% of their clients get audited. If the number is higher for an accountant you talk to, you may want to find someone else.
- How much will you charge me?Different accountants have different ways of billing for their services. Some accounts charge a flat fee every month or quarter. This will be negotiated beforehand, based on what kind of work you need them to do. In other situations, an accountant may charge you an hourly rate. If that’s the case, you should be aware of how they do their billing.For example, some accountants will round up their time to the nearest hour. So even though you may only talk to your accountant for five minutes, they may bill you the same price as if you had talked to them for an hour. Right from the beginning you should be clear on exactly how your accountant bills so that you aren’t surprised by their fees later on.
- How will we be able to get into contact with each other?This tiny detail is easy to overlook, even though it can have a profound effect on your business in the long term. Like anyone else, an accountant may be a poor communicator. If that’s the case, you might find yourself in a spot where you have to pressure them for regular updates. That can put you into an uneasy situation, and it can be a seed that grows into resentment in your relationship. That’s why it’s better to address this problem right from the beginning. Ask your accountant what forms of communication he or she prefers, and how often he updates his clients about their business affairs.
- Can you file my personal taxes as well?This question will not apply to everyone. If you already have an accountant who takes care of your personal taxes then you’re all set. On the other hand, if you don’t have someone who files your returns, you may want to use your business accountant to help you out with this. Before you do so though, you should ask to make sure that he or she is qualified to do so. Like we said earlier, accountants tend to specialize in a certain industry, and not all of them will be the best choice when it comes to filing a personal return.
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How to Find a Great Accountant
Between all of the job hunting websites, and all of the ads on television and in the newspaper, it might seem like an overwhelming job to find a qualified accountant for your business. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. One of the easiest ways to find a qualified accountant to represent your business is to ask other business owners in your area who they use to handle their accounting needs. This is a great way to get a first hand reference before you even conduct an initial interview. If another successful business owner in your market is using an accountant, you can probably trust them as well.