A small business guide to finding the accountant of your dreams

When launching businesses, many new entrepreneurs suddenly find themselves taking on multiple roles within their organisation, but as the business grows, they find themselves needing more help due to time or capability constraints. If you have begun to feel a little out-of-your-depth when it comes to your tax returns, it may be time to hire an accountant or finance manager, maybe using one of the many temporary recruitment agencies or websites.

Accountants and finance managers are among the most important people you can add to your team.  After all, it is their job to help you keep your finances in order and help the business maintain cash flow.

Hiring finance professionals can be perilous for small businesses – we’ve all heard the horror stories – but it needn’t be, providing you know what you’re doing.  There are two ways to source the expertise: hire as a contractor or employ in-house.

Every business is different and so some businesses will require different levels of financial services. However, small businesses and start-ups will generally find a contract accountant or finance manager better value for money at the beginning when funds may be tight.

The first step for every business is to work out what you need your finance professionals to do. It’s best to try and jot down everything you think you’ll need, after all you may discover that a bookkeeper is better suited to your needs (and much cheaper).

Contractor

If you’ve decided that your business needs in-put from a finance professional, a good starting place is to ask your business contacts whom they use and whether they would recommend their services. Word of mouth is very powerful and somebody is unlikely to recommend a bad accountant. Although, a word of caution, one size does not fit all in the business world and many finance professionals are specialized. It’s always worth asking your contacts what exactly their finance professionals do for them; your business may have completely different needs.

The next place to look is the Internet: Google and LinkedIn are both excellent resources for finding accounting firms or sole practitioners in your local area (it is best to go local, after all, there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings).

You can also enquire at your local business body or enterprise agency. It’s very likely that they’ll have a list of recommended accountants, which you can investigate.

Remember to always do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the firm or individual, including who their current clients are. Try to find someone who deals with another company within your industry, as it’s more likely that they will have a better understanding about what your company does.

Always make sure they are qualified! This might sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many small businesses fall into this trap. Relevant accounting bodies include CIMA, ICAS and ACCA. Their qualifications should have ‘certified by’ or ‘chartered’ in the title.

Make sure you understand their fee structure. You may be able to get an accountant for a fixed cost. Nobody wants an invoice larger than their mortgage to land on their desk unexpectedly.

If you are opting for a sole practitioner or small accounting firm, make sure they have indemnity insurance and have support incase anything complicated arises in your financial affairs.

Employed In-house

With all of that considered, you might decide to take the plunge and hire a finance manager to join your business team. It may be that this is the most cost-effective solution for your business (accountancy firms often charge more per size of business) or you may decide that having a dedicated accountant on board is just better suited to your particular business goals.

When thinking about salary, remember that your accountant is bringing skills into your business that you do not have, but that you can always offer a performance related bonus rather than a larger pay packet.

Advertising on job boards can be very expensive and may not always yield the best candidates, but there are some good alternative places to advertise jobs including LinkedIn and Gumtree. You might decide to look into using a finance recruitment company, as they are more likely to be able to screen your candidates and will do all the hard work for you.

Whether you go for contract or in-house, remember that you need to get on with who you choose to work with. As silly as it sounds, it’s actually really important. As they say, an accountant is for life and not just for Christmas! You want to have a relationship with your accountant or finance manager that lasts as long as your career, and so you’ll need them to be approachable, pro-active (and willing to meet with you whenever you need them) and most importantly, trust-worthy. After all, they’re dealing with your money and may uncover things about your business that you do not even know about.