How to find the right accountant for your needs
No two accountants are the same, which means you’re likely to find one in your area perfectly suited to your needs. First, consider the following five points before setting out to find the right accountant for you.
If you’re an architect, you don’t leave building plans up to the intern in your office, do you? Likewise, if you’re a lawyer, a big case isn’t going to be fronted by a law clerk.
When it comes to looking after the financial side of business though, many professional services workers don’t give their accounting work to someone who is properly qualified and experienced.
One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a small business owner is hiring an accountant. The right accountant will help your business grow; the wrong accountant could be detrimental to your business’s health. I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve was an accountant for over 15 years before turning entrepreneur. You shouldn’t just open the books up to anyone.
For this reason I’ve gone through and put together a bunch of information that I’ve collected over the years. Here are 25 tips to finding the best accountant for my business.
Finding the right accountant for your business can be tricky. It’s not a decision you should make lightly. This is someone that you’re going to trust with your financials, someone whose advice and expertise could help make or break your business. Are you both on the same page? Or are they on a different book entirely?
At Hillyer Riches, we understand just how much the right accountant can boost and bolster your business. Here are three of our best tips on how to find the right accountant for you and your business.
What Are Your Business Needs?
Prior to hiring an accountant, you need to ask yourself one very important question: what do you want an accountant to do for you? Do you need someone to handle all of your business’s bookkeeping and accounting? Do you just need someone to prepare your taxes? Knowing what tasks are needed and how often you need them completed will help you begin your search for an accountant.
Getting your taxes in order, lodging the correct paperwork with the tax office, and otherwise staying on top of accounting details is a vital component of being self-employed, especially at this time of year when EOFY is on the horizon.
But there is a big difference between accountants, so you must find someone who’s equipped to handle your work effectively.
Given how close it is to Melbourne, finding an accounting firm near Mount Waverley should be simple for local businesses. Instead, the hard part lies in finding the right accounting firm from potential candidates available.
Here are four methods you can use to focus your search efforts:
First, it is important to ensure that the staff at the accounting firm hold the qualifications needed to do the job.
In Mount Waverly, as the rest of Australia, this means membership in one of three organisations:
- CPA Australia,
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, or
- The Institute of Public Accountants.
Outside vs. Inside
If you’re just starting out, you may want to hire an outside accountant you can prepare taxes, financial statements, and provide advice. However, as your business gets larger you may have to hire an inside accountant who prepares financial statements, manage the general ledger, handle daily transactions, and take care of payroll. You business size should determine if you need an outside or inside accountant.
Being an accountant on the inside with nothing to do for 6 of the 8 hours of the day, evaluate when is the best time. I find that when you’re business size and bill from outsourced accountant is significantly more than having someone in-house.
Bear in mind that the exact details of the accountant's education and skill set are much more important than his or her designation because accountants belonging to the same organisation do not undergo the same training. However, qualifications from one of these organisations is still important because it is an indication that the accountant has met their professional standards, which is promising for his or her future performance.
Fields of Specialisation
Some accounting firms specialise in the accounting practices of certain industries. This is important because some industries need special measures that are absent from general practice. For example, a baker is going to need to account for the cost of manufactured goods, which is a much more complicated process than the cost of goods sold for most businesses.
Even in cases where special measures are not needed, prior experience is helpful because all industries use some accounting measures more than others. Summed up, this means that businesses should look for accounting firms that either have experience accounting for their industries or specialise in the same.
A top-notch CPA actually has to take a number of continuing education credits every year to stay on-top of the constantly changing tax laws – they actually need this to keep their preparer tax ID number. If they don’t have this number when signing your return, that’s an immediate red flag. You also want to make sure that the accountant is part of an accounting body.
Sure, hiring an accountant with years of experience could be a great start. But, you really want to look for someone who has experience with your industry. Remember, every industry has it’s own quirks when it comes to record keeping and taxes.
Nature of the Firm
Both the accounting firm's size and its business culture are also important considerations for you. Big accounting firms tend to be able to call on specialised expertise, but smaller firms based near Mount Waverly tend to be more responsive to your needs and understand a broader range of issues.
In contrast, business culture is a much more nebulous topic, being the set of behaviours that infuse all aspects of an organisation. Incompatible business cultures lead to conflict that can impede the accountants' performance.
Although this is not an insurmountable problem, it is still an obstacle that can be avoided through choosing an accounting firm that possesses similar attitudes and approaches. You can gauge business culture through visiting the accounting firm in person, though contacting past clients and speaking to representatives can also make for fruitful avenues of research.
If you think you find a qualified accountant who has experience in your industry, don’t hesitate to ask around town about them. Have other business owners, or even the local ATO agent, worked with this accountant in the past? What kind of experience did the business owners have?
You’ll need to figure out whether you want an internal or external accountant. It’s often cheaper to go with an external accountant. You can work with them on a consulting basis, which will cost less than employing a full-time accountant. For a small business, it makes more financial sense to work with an external accountant. It’s only when your business picks up to the point that you’re frequently dealing with large and complicated transactions that you may reach a point where outsourcing your financial work could become cost prohibitive.
You’ll also need to figure out what kind of accountant you need. Do you need a financial advisor? Do you need someone who specializes in a particular financial area? Maybe you need someone who’s specialty is tax preparation, or someone who’s adept at managing multiple payrolls for different businesses. Not all accountants have the same areas of expertise, so think about what you need before seeking out your accountant.
Listen to your friends, family members, lawyer, or colleagues. If you keep hearing about this amazing accountant you should at least see what all the buzz is about.
An ideal relationship between a client and an accountant is one that’s founded on transparency and openness. Financial matters can be very confusing, especially to someone who hasn’t devoted themselves to studying all the ins and outs of economics, tax laws, and bookkeeping. You need an accountant who can answer all your questions in a way that you can easily grasp it. Beware the accountant who hits you with a barrage of jargon and leaves you feeling confused and overwhelmed. You should walk away from every meeting with your accountant feeling confident in your financials, understanding exactly what’s happening with your money.
Speed is also an issue when it comes to communication. Look for an accountant who responds promptly to emails and phone calls. If they take too long to get back to you, that’s a bad sign. They could be a great accountant, but they could be so busy with other clients that they don’t have the time or mental bandwidth available to give you all the attention you deserve.
In the end, the fastest and perhaps even most effective method for finding the right accounting firm near Mount Waverly lies in referrals. You might be able to find good referrals through approaching customers, suppliers, and even competitors. The more similar the referrers to the business, the more appropriate the referrals.
Don't place your complete trust in referrals. It is important to use online resources such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and review sites to confirm an accounting firm's reputation. Bear in mind that the absence of such information can be a bad sign, since established accounting firms tend to be more competent and reliable.
If you’re in need of a new accountant, or have to find one for the first time, read on for some tips you can follow to locate the right person. You can then begin your search with MYOB’s online partner search directory.
Understand your needs
Get clear on what your needs are before you start looking for an accountant, so you can narrow down options.
Understand what services you need someone to handle for you, and if there is a particular level of expertise or experience that will be required.
If you’re like most people, you’ll be keen to find an accountant who can work with your accounting software, too.
Obviously you must check the qualifications of everyone you consider, too.
Depending on your needs, you might be searching for a Chartered Accountant or a Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA), or it may not matter to you which body the accountant is certified by.
It’s also possible to use an accountant who isn’t certified, chartered or registered, but this isn’t recommended in a lot of cases.
While people can do tax preparation, bookkeeping and other general financial-management related tasks for you without being qualified to the top levels, it pays to have someone who has gone through more training to advise you.
Location doesn’t matter has much nowadays, but what if you have a question and it’s 3 am where your accountant lives? What if you need something to be signed immediately? It’s refreshing to know that you can drive, or at least know you’re in the same time zone, as your accountant when an emergency arises.
Note: In my experience, accountants don’t travel, so you’ll have to go to them. 50% of all bills are paid within 44 miles of where you do business.
Solid Response Time
How long does it take for your accountant to respond back to you? If you’re waiting days for an email response you probably want to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is to get a penalty because your accountant didn’t get back to you on time.
Find a specialist
You can hire a general accountant who handles a variety of jobs, or you might decide to choose a specialist for one or more areas.
There are tax accountants who focus on the preparation of individual or company tax returns, and who can help you to structure your business in the most tax-effective way.
Management accountants help with analysing business reports and results, and assist managers to get budgets and forecasts in order for more informed decision making.
Financial accountants handle the management of financial records and provide relevant reports; while auditing accountants specialise in checking financial reports and collecting evidence to support report numbers.
Know Where to Look
If you can’t find an accountant from referrals, then you should look at events hosted by your local Chartered Accountants, Self Managed Super Fund Association, or CPA Australia. You can also browse the directory on Tax Practitioners Board.
Years ago, everyone pretty much just chose an accountant that worked in their local area. Today, thanks to technology, things have changed and it’s possible to hire an accountant from anywhere around the world.
If you need to find a specialist but there isn’t one in your city, it’s really helpful to be able to go elsewhere to find the right person.
When going down this route, make sure the accountant you’re interested in has experience working with clients remotely.
Ask them about how they will communicate and how often.
If you prefer face-to-face meetings with your accountant, opt for someone who is an easy drive away.
Plus, if you’re a lawyer with a complex business structure, for instance, it might be helpful to use the services of a local accountant who can come to your office to work with your staff and yourself at times.
See what other clients have to say
No matter how wonderful an accountant seems on paper, don’t hire someone without having first done research into what their previous or current clients say about them.
Social media is a boon for this kind of information. Search for reviews and testimonials on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn about the accountants on your shortlist.
There are also other websites to check out, such as accountant-related forums or industry sites.
Alternatively, where possible, contact some clients directly to ask them what they think of the accountant and if they still use them. If not, ask why they went in a different direction.
Their Personality Matches Yours
You’re going to be working very closely with your accountant – even if it’s part-time. Even if they are the most talented accountant on the planet, if you can’t stand them or have a different work ethic, you probably won’t be able to be that productive.
Fees & Billing
According to Entrepreneur, “accounting firms charge by the hour with fees ranging from $100 to $275,” but that can vary be region or specialization. Other firms work on a monthly retainer. Regardless, you should know this information. Additionally, you should be aware of the other bills that you’ll be charged for, such as travel expenses.
Ask Who Their Current Clients Are
By knowing the accountant’s other clients you can see if they have experience in your industry. However, it also gives you the opportunity to speak these business owners to see if they are satisfied with the accountant.
What issues are most important to you? Where do you see your business going? If you anticipate some major growth for your business you may want to have an accountant who is familiar with business and strategic planning, budgeting, cash flow management, and estate planning.
Has Worked With the ATO
Having to face an audit is stressful enough. Having to rely on an inexperienced accountant who has never faced the IRS only adds to the grueling experience.
They Are Active in the Local Community
This was touched upon earlier, but accountants should be members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), state societies of CPAs, and other professional groups to help them stay current on accounting and tax changes. They should also be active members of the local community so that you can see what they value.
Firm is Right Size For Your Business
A smaller accounting would work best with a small business. It just wouldn’t make sense for an accountant who works with enterprises to work for a company that only has three employees.
Available When Needed
If you have an emergency, will the accountant make the time to take your call and handle the crisis when needed?
Willing to Educate
It would make everyone’s lives easier if the accountant would be willing to educate team members on some accounting and bookkeeping basics.
Is the accountant familiar with the latest technology that can make accounting easier and more efficient? Or, are they still using Excel spreadsheets?
Fluent in Your Current Accounting Software
If you’ve had success with a particular accounting software, and don’t want to switch, does the accountant have experience with it? If not, you need to discuss how vital business information will be assessed and shared.
Make sure your accountant gives you full access to your business data. It’s an important part of updating your business plan, and also builds trust.
Can They Provide Advice on Business Growth
As mentioned earlier, accountant do more than just prepare your taxes. They’re crucial in helping your business thrive. Find one that provides advice and guidance on to make your business grow and succeed.
Finally, you should have an accountant who is proactive. Instead of waiting to hear from you, your accountant should take the time to check-in and see how the business is progressing.
Take Your Time
An accountant will arguably be one of the most important assists for your business. Don’t rush finding an accountant just to get it over with it. Take your time and find the right accountant for you and your business.
"I’ve found that with regards to choosing vendors, the best fit is one that is relatively the same size as your business," Montali says. "The larger CPA firms were not a good fit for us, as they would hardly give us the time of day. I got the feeling that we were too small to be of interest to these firms." A smaller firm may be willing to spend more time and energy serving a smaller client.
Grill the references.
Checking references is not to be taken lightly, says Jim Rose, CPA, director of assurance services at Purk Associates PC in St. Louis. Some questions to pose might include:
- How often do you interact or hear from your accountant? Only at tax time? Or at least a couple of times during the year?
- Has the firm had a lot of staff turnover on your account? (High staff turnover is not a good sign.)
- What’s the quality of the staff working on your account?
- Does this CPA firm know my industry?
- Does this CPA firm offer services I need?
Look beyond the math.
At hiring consultancy Hireology, co-founder Margot Nash has conducted extensive job analyses on tax and audit positions. "One of the biggest misconceptions about the job of an accountant is that it’s all math and no people skills," she says. "While it’s important for an accountant to be good at math, adept at Excel, and up-to-date with tax laws, the most successful accountants have one thing in common: Top-notch interpersonal skills."
"When looking for the perfect accounting candidate, it's important to look for evidence of that person’s ability to work with others," she says. "If they’ve managed others previously, did they produce consistent results from their team? Did they tend to take ownership of their previous performance, good or bad? Were they able to communicate effectively with their previous supervisors, and become friends with their team?"
Find your niche.
At Hillyer Riches, president and co-founder Ian Aronovich fills a particular niche, compiling and providing information about government auctions of seized and surplus merchandise from all over the country. He needs an accountant who gets it. "Our biggest tip for hiring a business accountant is to absolutely make sure that the accountant in question has lots of experience with your company’s industry," he says. While many business accountants are qualified to help reduce expenses, conduct reporting, and provide additional advice regarding budgets, "not every accountant will be familiar with how a particular company in a particular industry or market niche works."
When Richard P. Console Jr. of law firm Console & Hollawell in Marton, New Jersey, needs accounting help, he starts by asking friends and acquaintances. "I've almost always gone on word-of-mouth recommendations for accountants," he says. Those who came with recommendations "were knowledgeable, experienced, and felt like we would have a good working relationship."
All this may seem like a lot of effort, but it can be well worth the time and energy to find someone who will be there in a clinch. "We can call our accountant with questions at any point, and feel comfortable that he will help us with whatever we need in a reasonable time frame," Montali says.
The best accountants are the ones who have a clear understanding of how your business works. They know the industry you’re in, they understand the trends and market forces at work, they can see where you are in that world and help you find actionable steps to get you to the place where you need to be. Accountants can be invaluable financial advisers and business strategists, which is why you should seek out a professional who understands your business as well as or even more so than you do.
Businesses interested in hiring the services of an accounting firm near Caulfield should consider Hillyer Riches. Contacting Travis Allen for a first meeting is as simple as either picking up a phone or sending an email.