If you don’t have time to do it yourself or you just need some expert guidance, hiring an accountant to handle your business’s financials could be a smart move. Finding the right person for the job is critical, of course, so when you’re vetting prospects, here are four key questions you must ask.
1. What Experience Do You Have Working With Small Businesses in My Industry?
Small business accounting has its own unique complexities, so it’s a good idea to choose a professional who specializes in working with smaller clients. Someone who deals exclusively with small businesses is typically knowledgeable about state and federal tax provisions, as well as other issues that can crop up.
Also, find out if they have experience working with businesses that are structured like yours. If you operate as a sole proprietorship, your tax filing is going to look different from a partnership or corporation.
In addition, some accountants focus on a particular industry, which could be helpful. For instance, the kinds of things you can write off may vary drastically based on your business’s niche.
2. What Type of Accountant Are You, and What Services Do You Offer?
Accountants are not one-size-fits-all. Some have more education and training than others, which allows them to offer a wider range of services.
A Certified Public Accountant, for instance, must be licensed by their home state and complete continuing education classes to maintain their license. In addition to offering help with tax preparation and filing, a CPA is also qualified to conduct audits of your business, compile in-depth financial statements, and analyze key data from balance sheets or cash flow statements to make best-practice recommendations. Someone who has a degree in accounting but has not completed the requirements to become a CPA wouldn’t be able to do all of these things.
There are also some differences when it comes to tax professionals. A CPA or tax attorney, for instance, is likely to be more experienced with tax issues than someone who only prepares returns on a seasonal basis. Not only that, but they also have unlimited rights to represent you in any IRS matter, including audits, appeals or hearings related to payment or collection issues. Someone who is a tax preparer but has no additional credentials or certification would only have limited representation rights.
If you’re looking for help with things that may not necessarily pertain to your business, such as investment consulting or estate planning, CPAs are generally qualified to offer these services, although not all of them do. A financial advisor or certified financial planner can offer advice and guidance on things like setting up a will, establishing a trust or planning your retirement.
Understanding the distinction between the different types of accounting professionals ensures that the person you hire has the appropriate qualifications.
3. How Much Do You Charge?
At some point in the discussion, you need to broach the subject of fees and how the accountant typically bills for clients. Do they charge an hourly rate or a flat fee for specific tasks? Are there situations or services that might qualify for a discount? How are invoices delivered and when is payment due?
Putting everything on the table up front ensures that there are no unexpected surprises down the line.
4. How Much of Your Time Can My Business Reasonably Expect?
While many accountants offer their services on a year-round basis, there are some who limit their availability to the period between January and April, when tax filings are at their peak. When you’re talking with accountants in your area, you want to get a general idea of what their schedule looks like throughout the year and where you fit in. Ideally, you should choose someone who’s able to accommodate your accounting needs at tax time and beyond.
You also need to understand their policy concerning day-to-day communications. You probably won’t be your accountant’s only client, so it’s best to get clarity on how quickly you can expect to hear back when questions arise and how they generally stay in touch with clients before you seal the deal.
While an accountant is essential for keeping your finances in check, there are some accounting tasks you may be able to handle yourself. For tips on how to manage these tasks, see our infographic on financial reporting.
When you’re ready to hire an accountant, use Find-a-ProAdvisor to connect with a QuickBooks Certified accounting pro who specializes in helping small businesses to succeed.