What to look for in an accountant

For someone starting out in business, one of the key relationships you are going to have is with your accountant. Things can get difficult out there, and if you can have a good relationship with your key professional advisers this will help you get where you want to be a bit more smoothly.

Most accountants will provide most businesses with some or all of the following services:

  • Company secretarial/filing
  • Accounts preparation
  • Tax compliance and Advice
  • Bookkeeping services
  • Payroll outsource

These are essential administrative and reporting obligations that you will need to fulfil and it is up to you the extent to which you pass these over to your friendly local accountant.

But there is also an “X factor” that will distinguish the added value accountant from the stereotypical beancounter. Will you get the right level of support and reassurance should a HMRC investigation come to pass? When you get your annual accounts back, will you get wise advice about working capital management and the best ways to manage growth in your business? Will tax law be explained to you in a way that is understandable and relevant to your situation?

Clearly, the answer to these questions needs to be a resounding “Yes!” but don’t assume that all providers will be in the affirmative camp, or fight your corner should things turn rough.

Also, you need someone you can get on with, and like all relationships, this takes effort on both sides to build, develop and maintain. The right accountant should be a good sounding board to advise you on managing your business and help you steer clear of major pitfalls. Someone you’ll feel comfortable picking up the phone to when you are facing key decisions.

Time is money, as the old cliché goes, and never was this more true than in an accountancy practice where the aim is to bill every 15 minute segment of every working day. But a good accountant will recognise that a new business will need some investment and will put a bit extra into things at the outset on the understanding that when things do develop they will get rewarded for their contribution. To keep the relationship fair, you’ll need to make sure this happens.

Whatever you do, identify and eliminate “fee monsters” from the candidate list. These are cold operators with no interest in you or your business other than how much they can bill for the delivery of the barest minimum level of work.