1. What does your company need?
To find the right accountant, you’ll need to start with a basic question: What does your company need? Decide what kind of services you need before searching for an accountant, not the other way around, Williams says. Do you need help with your taxes? Do you need someone to help with your daily accounting practices? Is financial tracking something you’re missing? Figure out the primary reason you feel like you need an accountant, and then look for someone with a set of skills to meet your needs.
2. Who are the main players?
Next, you’ll want to conduct a search for accountants. A lot of business owners look for someone who is local, but there are a lot of affordable services online too. You might feel more comfortable with an accountant who has an office just down the road, but online services can be just as accommodating provided you’re willing to communicate electronically. Either way, identify a small group of players that fit your needs.
3. What kind of reputation and experience does the accountant have?
Before talking with an accountant, do a little homework. Look online for reviews, or chat with local business owners to get some background on a particular accountant. This step should help you narrow your field.
Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential accountants to the final two, set up an appointment with each accountant. Go into the appointment prepared with a set of questions. Here are a few questions that you’ll want answers to:
- What’s your experience with small businesses?
It goes without saying that you want an accountant with extensive experience, but you also want one who has experience with businesses that are structured like yours. In other words, if your business is an LLC, make sure the accountant is currently handling other LLC accounts.
- What experience do you have with my industry?
It’s not enough to just have an accountant. You want an accountant who is familiar with your industry, and your industry’s unique issues and needs. Otherwise, they may be missing valuable tax deductions, or giving you advice on your financials that isn’t based on your industry’s standards.
- Who will I be working with?
You want one point of contact. As a business owner, you want to know that you can pick up the phone at any time and get advice from the person you’ve developed a relationship with. Few things are more frustrating than constantly being rotated through a team of people and having to re-explain your questions and concerns.
- Do you offer the services that I need?
Make sure the accountant offers all of the services you need. There’s no sense in hiring someone who can only do a portion of the tasks.
4. How will you be billed?
Before moving forward with your accountant of choice, make sure you understand how the accountant bills for services. Billing structure can vary pretty widely. Some accountants charge by the hour, others have flat rates per service, and others use some combination of the two.
Don’t forget to ask about charges that could occur, that haven’t been discussed yet. That might seem like an odd question, but you could be surprised by the answers you get. Better to be surprised now, before you’ve made any commitments, than to be surprised by your extra-large bill.