“How do I even begin to choose an accountant?”
You may think accounting is frustrating, PAINFUL, and a necessary evil that you wish was unnecessary. But at some level you know that understanding your numbers is important. … and knowledge of where your money goes will better protect you both personally and professionally. But then there is still a problem: if you want help, how do you choose an accountant?
If you are finding yourself in this situation, here’s some inside info from someone who has worked in the accounting field for years. Here are 3 tips to help you choose an accountant … the right accountant … for your small business.
1. Ask their specialty
Accountants have different specialties. To begin, let me make a first important point:
- Every accountant does not do taxes.
- Every accountant does not know QuickBooks extensively.
Examples of Specialties
Yes, accountants have their specialties and strengths.
- Some accountants have more experience in tax, some specialize in monthly accounting, and some work extensively with audits.
- There are accountants that have more experience with products and inventory and focus on “cost accounting”. Some have more experience with service companies.
- Some accountants have experience in forecasting and planning and can make Excel spreadsheets look easier. And the list goes on.
Even CPAs have specialties
For example, my specialty is monthly accounting for small businesses. I can trouble-shoot detailed accounting messes. I work with QuickBooks, streamline work flow, and create advanced Excel spreadsheets to strategically plan. But, I don’t prepare tax returns.
I work closely with a tax CPA who keeps up on the ever changing complexities of taxes. He probably can’t do things as effectively with QuickBooks and Excel as I can and I can’t do complex tax returns. We are both CPA’s and we both take 80 hours of continuing education every 2 years. But we have different specialties.
What do you need?
So, when I see an accountant’s website that shows they do many types of accounting work, unless there are many employees of that firm, I get concerned.
Ask their specialty. Choose an accountant that has the experience you need.
2. Ask what specific services they offer
As a small business, you may take your records to a tax CPA at year-end, and that is great to keep you out of trouble with the IRS. But there are another 11 months of the year … and those financials need to be monitored by you. Do you need help?
“I thought they would fix QuickBooks”
Sometimes I start work for a new client and their accounting records are a mess. They ask “Why didn’t my tax accountant fix that mess in QuickBooks?” The reason may be: you hired the tax accountant to do taxes and that is what they did — based on the information you gave them. You didn’t hire them to make your accounting records better or fix issues.
So a tip for small businesses: understand that hiring a tax accountant to prepare your tax return does not mean they are gong to clean up issues in QuickBooks.
“I didn’t know they could fix QuickBooks”
I also work with clients who have been struggling for quite a while and didn’t realize that an accountant could help fix QuickBooks issues. They didn’t realize that an accountant can help throughout the year instead of just at year-end tax time. If you are frustrated with daily/monthly accounting, then search for an accountant or ask your current tax accountant if they can help. Yes, accountants can help make QuickBooks better plus help create an accounting system.
First Step: Determine how much accounting work you want to do
Yes, ask an accountant what services they offer. But first, you need to determine what you can and can not do.
As you are sorting through what you need, you need to figure out how much time you are willing to spend on accounting. Do you need an accountant to fix problems and help you keep up with the accounting or do you want to jump in and do a lot of the work and have them only do taxes?
Second Step: Ask what services the accountant offers
Once you have determined a realistic time you can spend on accounting, now is the time to set up an appointment to talk through a plan. When you are ready to talk to an accountant about their services, here are some questions to consider asking.
- Will you help me set up a system to track my financial information? (A system can help relieve frustration and get a better work-flow). Some accountants will help you set up an accounting system, some won’t.
- My QuickBooks is frustrating and confusing. Can you help monthly? Some will do monthly accounting, some will only do taxes.
- Can I do some of the work? Some will share in the responsibilities, others want to do most of the work for you. Some want to do very little of the work and mainly advise.
- Can we make a plan so I monitor my numbers routinely?
- How can I have a better understanding throughout the year so I am not as anxious?
3. Determine if your communication styles match
Yes, the accountant needs to be good, but you both need to determine if you can work together.
Some like to explain, some don’t
Accountants, like anyone, have different communication styles and communication comfort levels. Some accountants don’t have the comfort level to explain information in a non-techy way. Other accountants are willing to spend more time with clients explaining and teaching. You need to decide what is important to you.
Some explain nicely and some talk down to you
I have worked with a lot of accountants. I have worked with them as employees, colleagues, and bosses. Some were just beginning their career and some were executives. And just like you, I have had good and not good experiences.
I have seen accountants talk nicely with others. I have also seen accountants talk down to people as if they were “beyond” the conversation.
If not much bothers you, you may not notice comments that others may think are rude. But if that bothers you, choose an accountant who has a more polite approach.
Some will chit chat . . . some won’t
Think back to when you went to a doctor. Some sit down and talk with you and some are in and out of the room before you know it. Accountants: same thing. If you are anxious with accounting, then you may want to choose an accountant who talks with you a few extra minutes.
What do you want?
So once again, the first step involves you: determine how much communication and explaining you want.
If you love numbers and “get it”, you may not have a high need for detailed explanations. On the other hand, if you are overwhelmed, then you may want an accountant who has experience explaining to non-accountants.
Talk with an accountant upfront so both of you can determine if you are a match.
We started with: You may think accounting is frustrating, PAINFUL, and a necessary evil that you wish was unnecessary.
But we also started with: You know that understanding your numbers is important.
If you think through the 3 steps above, you will be closer to finding an accountant that is right for you.