Keeping your finances in order and maintaining smooth cash flow lie at the centre of business success. To achieve this, virtually every company needs a good business accountant.
They can help you put effective accounting procedures in place, make sure you’re paying the correct amount of tax, ensure you operate within HMRC rules – and provide nuggets of advice that’ll make a real difference to your company’s prospects.
But finding a business accountant requires real care. You’re aiming to find someone with whom you can build a long-term relationship. They need to understand your company’s objectives, then help you achieve them.
What business accountant services do you need?
Search for ‘small business accountant’ in Google and you’ll be overwhelmed with results. From national accountancy firms to part-time sole traders, from specialists to generalists, it’s hard to know where to start.
So, don’t start by looking for a business accountant. Start by listing the services you think you require. For instance:
- Do you need someone to process your invoices and receipts?
- Are you after an accountant to prepare your tax return?
- Will they need to run payroll for you?
- Are you looking for an expert who can create budgets, forecasts and reports?
It could be that you end up splitting responsibilities between different people (an accountant and a bookkeeper, for example). But at this stage the important thing is to define your requirements carefully.
Accountants vs. bookkeepers
If your requirements are simple, the services provided by a bookkeeper might be all you need. Bookkeepers tend to charge less than a business accountant, so this is a good way to keep costs down.
A bookkeeper can help if you need someone to keep track of transactions – like payments, purchases and sales – but don’t require any other financial or accountancy services. If you need an accountant to help with specific jobs – like your tax return – you can always hire one separately.
However, most companies can benefit from the services of a business accountant. If you have employees, you might need assistance to meet your payroll obligations. You might want help to change or create your company structure, or to produce documentation supporting your application for a bank loan.
Or – quite simply – you might feel that it would do you good to sit down with an accountant once every few months to discuss the state of your finances, your company’s performance and identify any opportunities or risks.
Finding the right individual accountant
Once you know what sort of financial professional you need, where do you start looking? Referrals can be fruitful, so ask your business contacts to recommend someone they trust.
There are lots of places to look online, too. Try searching Google for an accountant in your area, or use our find an accountant tool to locate a suitable accountant near you. You can also check with professional bodies like the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
Look for a business accountant who understanda the line of business you’re in and the type of company you run. Make sure they’re able to offer the time it will take to help your business succeed.
You’ll probably want to create a shortlist of three to six accountants, then interview them one-by-one. Make sure you ask some key questions:
- Do they work with other businesses like yours?
- What other companies do they have as their clients?
- Can they work with the accounting software your company uses?
- If they’re a firm of accountants, will you be dealing with a specific person?
- Do they understand your business and the industry you work in?
- What is their charging structure? Do they charge by the hour? A flat fee?
Check each business accountant has professional qualifications and is officially recognised as an accountant. Look for the words ‘certified’ or ‘chartered’ in their title. It’s also important to make sure they have professional indemnity insurance. This protects you in case there are any issues with work the accountant has done for you.
Making the decisions
Finding the right accountant for your small business involves weighing up their performance when you interview them, evaluating whether their charges seem reasonable, and asking them to describe how they could help your business.
It’s also important to choose an accountant you’re comfortable working with. If all goes well, the relationship with your accountant will be one of the most important your company has. If they don’t speak your language, it’s not going to work – even if they have exemplary qualifications and an impressive grasp of your sector.
For more information on how accountants can help your business, visit the Accountant news section of the Small Business Centre
You can find an accountant by using our exclusive directory.