With a variety of accounting apps and tax resources available at your fingertips, it’s easy to overlook the importance of an accountant when it comes to your business. Why pay for someone’s services when you can secure them for yourself for a fraction of a fee? But new and seasoned small business owners will admit that the right accountant can save your business thousands of dollars, help you avoid costly legal and tax mistakes, and offer strategic advice that can yield financial growth.
But even if do you know that hiring an accountant is the best option, how exactly do you find the right one for your small business? After all, your financial integrity is on the line, and you don’t want to entrust that to just anyone.
If you’re considering hiring an accountant, whether it be to file your taxes or act as a guiding force in your financial decisions, there are a few questions that can help you hire the best person for the job.
1. Are they a certified?
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accountant who has undergone rigorous state licensure requirements, including a multi-day CPA exam as well as professional experience and ongoing educational requirements. Both accountants and CPAs can complete basic accounting tasks, and in many cases, both can be highly skilled in their field, but there are some distinct advantages to hiring a CPA.
A CPA is typically well versed in the continuously changing tax law and, if specialized, industry specific requirements — something important to small businesses. Additionally, although accountants can create and analyze your financial reports, it’s a CPA that will offer strategic advice. Finally, and perhaps most importantly when it comes to your business, a CPA is the only one of the two who is eligible to represent you with the IRS, specifically during auditing efforts.
Hiring a CPA may cost a little more, but many small business owners find that it’s well worth it.
2. What type of experience do they have?
Without the right experience, even the most qualified accountant may not be the best one to manage your business financials. As you review candidates, it’s important to inquire about their experience, specifically as it pertains to your businesses.
The best person for the job will likely have experience working with small to medium-sized businesses. Similarly, an account that has experience working with businesses within your industry may also be a better fit as they will be familiar with industry-specific rules, regulations, and even growth strategies. This is particularly important if you’re seeking an accountant that will take on an advisory role.
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3. Are they highly recommended?
Finding an accountant can be overwhelming, especially if the first place you look is the internet. One of the best ways to kick start your search is by asking fellow professionals and business owners for a recommendation.
If you haven’t received a specific recommendation, you may also want to consider asking the potential candidates for references, which will allow you to contact existing or past clients for feedback.
4. Does location matter?
In the past, location often played a primary role in selecting the right accountant, but as time has changed and technology has provided us with a digital bridge to close locational gaps, location isn’t always a deal breaker.
If you’re comfortable primarily relying on email, chat and/or the phone to conduct a significant amount of your business, then you may not care how close the candidate is to your office. However, if you prefer more frequent face-to-face visits or want the opportunity to make office calls, then you will need to limit your search to a comfortable radius.
5. Are they accessible to their clients?
One factor that can really help you refine your search is communication and accessibility. Fruitful relationships are those that allow for open communication, and that means working with an accountant that can make themselves available to you or your employees, within reason, of course.
It may not be easy to determine this before you hire them, but there are some ways you can get a feel for their communication habits. For instance, emails and calls should be returned in a reasonable amount of time, and they should be willing and eager to take time to speak to you to determine if the potential relationship is a good fit.
If they don’t return your calls or emails, are hasty in their responses, or don’t have time to field basic questions, then they may not be the right fit for you. In short, if you don’t feel important in your initial exchanges, you likely won’t feel important once you begin your professional relationship.
6. What type of availability are you looking for?
In some ways, this question is similar to the one below, but in reality, it is more about your overall expectations. While some business owners are looking to hire an accountant to complete specific yearly tasks, others want accountant who is available to answer questions or offer advice year round
The right accountant can be a vital resource for your company, and as you search for one, you’ll need to audit your needs and expectations. By answering the questions above, you can filter through candidates and select an accountant who represents a good fit for your business.
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This article was originally written on January 22, 2019 and updated on February 1, 2021.
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Jennifer is a alum of the University of Denver. While in the graduate program there, she enjoyed spending time identifying ways in which non-profits and small businesses could develop into strong and profitable organizations that while promoting strong community growth. She also enjoys finding unique ways for freelancers and start-up businesses to reach and expand their goals.