One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a small business owner is hiring an accountant. The right accountant will help your business grow; the wrong accountant could be detrimental to your business’s health. I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve was an accountant for over 15 years before turning entrepreneur. You shouldn’t just open the books up to anyone.

For this reason I’ve gone through and put together a bunch of information that I’ve collected over the years. Here are 25 tips to finding the best accountant for my business.

1. What Are Your Business Needs?

Prior to hiring an accountant, you need to ask yourself one very important question: what do you want an accountant to do for you? Do you need someone to handle all of your business’s bookkeeping and accounting? Do you just need someone to prepare your taxes? Knowing what tasks are needed and how often you need them completed will help you begin your search for an accountant.

2. Outside vs. Inside

If you’re just starting out, you may want to hire an outside accountant you can prepare taxes, financial statements, and provide advice. However, as your business gets larger you may have to hire an inside accountant who prepares financial statements, manage the general ledger, handle daily transactions, and take care of payroll. You business size should determine if you need an outside or inside accountant.

Being an accountant on the inside with nothing to do for 6 of the 8 hours of the day, evaluate when is the best time. I find that when you’re business size and bill from outsourced accountant is significantly more than having someone in-house.

3.Qualifications

A top-notch CPA actually has to take a number of continuing education credits every year to stay on-top of the constantly changing tax laws – they actually need this to keep their preparer tax ID number. If they don’t have this number when signing your return, that’s an immediate red flag. You also want to make sure that the accountant is part of an accounting body.

4. Experience

Sure, hiring an accountant with years of experience could be a great start. But, you really want to look for someone who has experience with your industry. Remember, every industry has it’s own quirks when it comes to record keeping and taxes.

5. Solid Reputation

If you think you find a qualified accountant who has experience in your industry, don’t hesitate to ask around town about them. Have other business owners, or even the local IRS agent, worked with this accountant in the past? What kind of experience did the business owners have?

6. Several Referrals

Listen to your friends, family members, lawyer, or colleagues. If you keep hearing about this amazing accountant you should at least see what all the buzz is about.

7. Convenient Location

Location doesn’t matter has much nowadays, but what if you have a question and it’s 3 am where your accountant lives? What if you need something to be signed immediately? It’s refreshing to know that you can drive, or at least know you’re in the same time zone, as your accountant when an emergency arises.

Note: In my experience, accountants don’t travel, so you’ll have to go to them. 50% of all bills are paid within 44 miles of where you do business.

8. Solid Response Time

How long does it take for your accountant to respond back to you? If you’re waiting days for an email response you probably want to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is to get a penalty because your accountant didn’t get back to you on time.

9. They’re a Team Player

Your accountant is going to be a crucial member of your team. Therefore, you don’t want to have an accountant who keeps to themselves and isn’t much of a team player. I’ve worked with many accountants and there are a few that wouldn’t be good for any business.

10. Know Where to Look

If you can’t find an accountant from referrals, then you should look at events hosted by your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Development Center, or state accounting society. You can also browse the directory on AccountantsWorld.

11. Their Personality Matches Yours

You’re going to be working very closely with your accountant – even if it’s part-time. Even if they are the most talented accountant on the planet, if you can’t stand them or have a different work ethic, you probably won’t be able to be that productive.

12. Fees & Billing

According to Entrepreneur, “accounting firms charge by the hour with fees ranging from $100 to $275,” but that can vary be region or specialization. Other firms work on a monthly retainer. Regardless, you should know this information. Additionally, you should be aware of the other bills that you’ll be charged for, such as travel expenses.

13. Ask Who Their Current Clients Are

By knowing the accountant’s other clients you can see if they have experience in your industry. However, it also gives you the opportunity to speak these business owners to see if they are satisfied with the accountant.

14. Additional Services

What issues are most important to you? Where do you see your business going? If you anticipate some major growth for your business you may want to have an accountant who is familiar with business and strategic planning, budgeting, cash flow management, and estate planning.

15. Has Worked With the IRS

Having to face an audit is stressful enough. Having to rely on an inexperienced accountant who has never faced the IRS only adds to the grueling experience.

16. They Are Active in the Local Community

This was touched upon earlier, but accountants should be members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), state societies of CPAs, and other professional groups to help them stay current on accounting and tax changes. They should also be active members of the local community so that you can see what they value.

17. Firm is Right Size For Your Business

A smaller accounting would work best with a small business. It just wouldn’t make sense for an accountant who works with enterprises to work for a company that only has three employees.

18. Available When Needed

If you have an emergency, will the accountant make the time to take your call and handle the crisis when needed?

19. Willing to Educate

It would make everyone’s lives easier if the accountant would be willing to educate team members on some accounting and bookkeeping basics.

20. They’re Tech-Savvy

Is the accountant familiar with the latest technology that can make accounting easier and more efficient? Or, are they still using Excel spreadsheets?

21. Fluent in Your Current Accounting Software

If you’ve had success with a particular accounting software, and don’t want to switch, does the accountant have experience with it? If not, you need to discuss how vital business information will be assessed and shared.

22. Data Access

Make sure your accountant gives you full access to your business data. It’s an important part of updating your business plan, and also builds trust.

23. Can They Provide Advice on Business Growth

As mentioned earlier, accountant do more than just prepare your taxes. They’re crucial in helping your business thrive. Find one that provides advice and guidance on to make your business grow and succeed.

24. They’re Pro-Active

Finally, you should have an accountant who is proactive. Instead of waiting to hear from you, your accountant should take the time to check-in and see how the business is progressing.

25. Take Your Time

An accountant will arguably be one of the most important assists for your business. Don’t rush finding an accountant just to get it over with it. Take your time and find the right accountant for you and your business.

Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Palo Alto, California-based Hostt, specializing in helping businesses with hosting their website for free, for life. Previously he was the co-founder of Pixloo, a company that helped people sell their homes online, that was acquired in 2012.

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