Your accountant is a big part of your business—even if you only talk to her a few times a year. She could, quite literally, keep the IRS off your back and help your business save money and grow.
But the right accountant for you may not be the one your business bestie is using. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking for the person responsible for ensuring you’re abiding by all state and federal tax laws. It’s a tall order!
Before you choose the first accountant you talk to, consider some of these important factors.
Personality really does matter when it comes to hiring—even if your contact is limited to a few times a year. You want someone you can work closely with, should things get hairy. You don’t need to be BFFs with your accountant, but she should be approachable if you have questions. And, more importantly, she should be able to explain what she needs and where you are financially in a way that you can understand.
Your bookkeeper will keep your finances in line on the day-to-day matters; your accountant should pay more attention to the big picture. She should spend the time interviewing you about your business and how you’ve handled money and taxes in the past. She should understand how you conduct business and where you often have a surplus or shortfall. She should be able to communicate with your bookkeeper, so she can take the day-to-day and apply it to your finances over the course of time. This big-picture perspective will help your business grow and make you feel more comfortable about where your business is going.
Chances are, your accountant has some experience under her belt. But does she have experience in your particular industry? Not every business is the same, and different industries have different factors to consider when it comes to management and accounting. E-commerce businesses have a lot of balls in the air, including sales tax, shipping, outsourcing, etc. Your accountant needs to have an understanding of your industry and know the laws in your state to help keep your business in check.
There’s no excuse today for an accountant who doesn’t streamline their processes with online systems. They’re affordable, easy to use and allow for a workflow that saves time and money. They should be familiar with QuickBooks Online, Wave or other online systems, she should be able to easily grasp what you’re using in your daily bookkeeping so you’re not paying for yet one more tool. Especially if you’re in a business that runs primarily online, you’ll be beyond frustrated if your accountant isn’t as tech-savvy as you.
I’ve heard horror stories from accountants about “that client” who showed up with a shoebox full of receipts and no clue how to access their bank statements. But it’s the accountant who’s at fault. If they’re waiting until tax time to meet with you for the first time, you’re in for a long and painful experience—and a hefty bill. Find an accountant who performs mid-year checks and helps with quarterly estimated tax payments. You’ll be less likely to miss a deduction in April, and your tax bill will be much less painful.
No matter where you find your new accountant, be sure to ask around. Check out her website, talk to other business owners, check references and ask a lot of questions before you choose. If done right, you’re in for a lasting relationship with someone who has your best interests at heart.