Written by Angela Bichler: Sydney West Business Services. Chartered Accountant and Reckon Accredited Partner.
Choosing an accountant is like choosing a new business partner. The right accountant will become a trusted advisor you can depend on, who offers advice and guidance for your business during its various stages.
Choosing the right accountant is one of the most important decisions a small business can make. A good accountant can save you time and help your business grow; a bad one could cost you dearly.
But with thousands to choose from, it can be a daunting decision to make.
When it comes to selecting and working with an accountant, here are some aspects every business owner should consider to make the most informed choice.
Where do I find an accountant?
Often, the best way to find a good accountant is to obtain a referral from someone you already trust. However, I highly recommend that you interview a few accountants before you make the decision.
Social media is also good place to obtain recommendations. Platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook are full of recommendations.
You can also find an accountant by contacting any of the professional bodies:
- Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA)
- Institute of Public Accountants (IPA)
- Certified Practising Accountants Australia (CPA Australia)
- Bear in mind that choosing an accountant can be a personal decision, so what’s right
for your best friend’s tradesperson business might not suit your manufacturing company.
What type of services are you needing?
Different accountants offer varying ranges of services. Each business has basic needs but if you’re in the start-up phase, for example, you may need a lot more assistance than another business that is mature.
There are three traditional areas of expertise in a general accounting practice:
- Tax: The two sub areas of taxation matters are tax compliance and tax planning. Planning refers to reducing your overall tax burden. Compliance refers to obeying the tax laws.
- Accounting/Bookkeeping: These are perhaps the most basic of accounting disciplines. This is that day to day recording of your business transactions.
- Advisory: all the other things that help you manage your business successfully. This can include budgeting, forecasting, cash flow management, strategy and even coaching. Effective advisory will help take your business to the next level.
- Sometimes you may need services outside the expertise of your accountant, but a good accountant will be well connected and be able to refer to their business partners with the required expertise.
Qualifications and expertise
What many business owners may not know is that anyone can call themselves an accountant. It’s not like other formal titles such as doctor or professor.
However, qualified professional accountants in Australia are regulated by professional bodies, the two largest ones being Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CAANZ) or Certified Practicing Accountants (CPA).
Professional accountants are highly qualified professionals who have completed degree-level study along with workplace experience and a professional competence program.
Furthermore, always check that the accountant is a registered tax agent. Only registered tax agents can prepare and lodge tax returns. You can check this easily by searching on the Tax Practitioners Board Register.
As a business owner, it’s wise to engage an accountant who is formally and adequately qualified from the start. This way as your business grows, your accountant will be
able to assist you with obtaining finance and handle the more complex issues.
Engaging an experienced accountant means that you can be rest assured that your business’ financial and tax records are complete and accurate.
Location and/or accessibility
This aspect of choosing an accountant has changed in recent times. Years ago, everyone pretty much just chose an accountant that worked in their local area.
Today, thanks to technology, things have changed and it’s possible to hire an accountant from anywhere. With cloud accounting, you and your accountant can view identical real-time data at the same time – no matter where you are.
If you’re considering working with an online accountant, make sure they have experience working with clients remotely. They should be using online document storage/transfer systems such Dropbox and be able to visually help you via TeamViewer and Zoom.
On the other hand, you may prefer face-to-face contact. If this is the case, then you’ll need to limit your search to accountants who work nearby or are willing to travel to your premises from time to time.
Is the accountant’s style compatible with yours? Make sure the people you’re meeting are the same ones who will be handling your business.
At many larger accounting firms, some partners handle sales and new business, then pass the actual account work on to others. This other staff member may not suit your personality.
Communication is extremely important in the client/advisor relationship. If an advisor cannot articulate the message in an easily understandable and digestible way, they either don’t understand the issues themselves or they’re not the advisor for you.
An accountant should never make you feel inadequate or silly.
Fees and Terms of Engagement
Accountants’ fees can vary greatly.
The most common pricing structures include monthly fixed price packages, annual fees based on an estimate, or per piece of work completed. Your accountant should not insist on any particular fee structure and remain flexible during your negotiations.
When interviewing an accountant, you should ask for a written estimate of fees with a list
of what work will be covered. This way you can compare the pricing to other accountants you’re considering.
Just like any service, the higher the level experience and/or service the higher the fees. Compare the estimate of fees you’re provided with the industry average for your sized business to ensure you’re not paying too much.
About the author
Angela Bichler: Sydney West Business Services. Chartered Accountant and Reckon Accredited Partner.
Our primary objective at Sydney West Business Services is to ensure our clients receive exceptional and reliable service from day one. We aim to build and maintain strong working relationships with our clients to help them succeed in all aspects of their business. Reach out to us if you’re thinking of starting a new business or you need assistance with getting your existing small business on track.
Reach out to us if you’re thinking of starting a new business or you need assistance with getting your existing small business on track.
Phone: 02 4571 1911
Angela also took part in our Resilience case study series. You can view her story below: