Choosing a business accountant

Firstly, what’s the number one reason you need a good accountant as a new business owner? It’s not doing your tax returns for you, even though is a highly important role that an accountant fills. More important than this, an accountant can guide you to use your money effectively, identifying areas where you can save, and potentially saving you enough to keep you afloat as a business during the most stressful (financially and emotionally) period of running a business: the beginning.

How do you choose a good accountant? You may already have one if you are leaving your career to start a new business, but this does not necessarily mean they are your ideal candidate. Here are some core things to keep in mind when researching who should be one of the most important people you keep close to you as a business owner.

The obvious requirements of a good accountant

These are the things you would expect, and things you should check off on your list when considering accountants. What qualifications do they have? For how long have they been an accountant? Importantly, do they have accreditation in the form of being a Certified Practising Accountant. CPA Australia is one of the world’s largest accounting bodies,. At the very least, are they registered with the Tax Practitioners Board? They need to be registered to do you tax returns for you. If they will be providing investment advice, they need to have an AFS license.

Beyond these qualifications, what experience does the accountant have with small businesses? This is important, as experience with small businesses will mean they have the knowledge to make the most of your finances to not just save you from failing as a business but to help you prosper.  

For instance, an accountant may be able to give valuable advice about:

  • the structure of your business (whether or not you would benefit in the long term from finding one or more business partners to helping you plan out future investment in your business),
  • how to best structure your finances and account for your finances on a daily basis (i.e. what sort of software and processes your specific business would benefit from),
  • where elements of your cash flow may open up opportunities for investment and growth,
  • help you plan the stages of your business (i.e your long term goals) and prepare your business for sale
  • aid in transitioning your business to your children or employees

The questions to ask your potential business accountant 

Be aware of how you feel when talking to a potential business accountant. Your instinct is very powerful and is there for a reason. If you do not feel like your specific business needs are being discussed, such as your goals for the business and how an accountant can help deliver on those goals, then your gut should tell you to look elsewhere. The conversation should be a two-way street, with you coming away with a clear idea of how the accountant will help you in the short, medium and long term and that they reflected your goals back to you in his responses and questions.

Be sure to ask some key questions that relate to your business specifically, such as:

  1. Where do they see opportunities to use your money correctly and intelligently?
  2. What experience do they have with small businesses and/or businesses in your specific industry? Can they demonstrate a knowledge of specific regulations or things worth knowing that relate to your industry?
  3. What sort of interaction will you have with them? What sort of relationships do they have with their clients and will yours be the same? For instance, if they work for a large firm, does this mean less time dedicated to your business or more, and why? See whether they follow a set, regular calendar for meeting with you. If not, why not?
  4. How will they help build your business? If they don’t have a good answer for this, then they have not considered your business needs, do not have the experience to confidently answer the question, or view their role simply as someone to handle your finances, and not to help you grow those finances.
  5. How can you help them perform as an accountant? Look for a strong answer, one which shows that they are well aware of where a relationship can break down, or how a client can fail in their role in the relationship.

All of these questions will help to illustrate the experience of the accountant, and how they apply that experience today.

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