Finding a number-crunching expert who really knows your business takes work, but in the end it is worth the effort.


An effective accountant is a key player in the success of any business, but many business owners are not particularly happy with their current bean counter and do nothing about it. I myself was guilty of that. For several years I continued to retain the services of an accountant who berated every single idea I had, yet never seemed to come up with any alternatives. She would tell me, at length, why I was wrong, but never what she thought the right plan of action would be. She actually yelled at me on occasion. And I paid her.

So why did I visit this mediocre accountant year after year when it came time to have the taxes prepared? It was the easiest thing to do – the path of least resistance. Even if you believe your current accountant isn’t doing much to advance your business, it’s less hassle to go back to the known commodity than to search for a new accountant. After all, he knows you and your business and he’s already got all your data on his hard drive.

It takes time and effort to search for, hire and bring a new accountant up to speed on the financial details of your business. And there’s no guarantee a different accountant will be any better, because, admit it, unless you are an accountant, you probably think all accountants are basically the same anyway. Kind of like how those of us who are not penguins view penguins.

FIND YOUR DREAM ACCOUNTANT

The truth is, all accountants are not the same and they are easier to get to know than penguins. You just need to figure out where to look and what questions to ask in order to find your dream accountant … or at least one who understands your business, will work for its success and won’t yell at you. Ever.

First, make a list of what you would like an accountant to do for your business. At the very least you want someone who understands and is up to date on tax laws to help prepare your taxes. You should also want someone who can provide advice and guidance in steering your business throughout the year.

An effective accountant is someone you are comfortable picking up the phone and calling with a question, regardless of whether the date is April 15 or August 15. But for them to be able to assist you year round, they need to understand your particular business. So start your search by contacting others in businesses similar to yours and ask them about their accountant. Find out the name of their accountant and how satisfied they are with the services that person provides them. Some other ways to build a list of possible accountants to interview:

Ask friends and family for recommendations.

Search the Internet for accountants in your area or peruse the Yellow Pages.

Your local U.S. Small Business Administration or SCORE (You may know the group by its previous longhand name, Service Corps of Retired Executives) chapter may also be good places to start. Find these sources at www.sba.gov and www.score.org.

Call local chapters of professional accounting associations for lists of members.

Contact fellow members of any professional organizations you belong to for suggestions.

When you have a list of five accountants who seem promising, start calling them. After a brief phone conversation, ask each accountant to provide names and phone numbers of three former or current clients. With the information from your phone conversation and additional input from these references, you should be able to narrow the list to three. Call those three back and arrange a face-to-face meeting. Treat it like you are interviewing them for a job, because, well, you are. Here is a list of questions to ask:

What services do you provide scope of?

Do you have any specific knowledge of the gas, oil or mining services industry? If not, ask them to describe in general terms what financial issues they think are important to someone in your line of work.

How do you charge for your services? Most accountants will establish a monthly retainer for recurring services such as monthly or quarterly financial statement preparation and charge by the hour for audits and tax returns.

What can I do to reduce your fees? If the fees quoted sound too high, don’t immediately write a candidate off. Maybe there are things that can be done on your end to keep accounting costs down.

How can you help as my business grows? Ask all candidates to describe what they have done to help clients in other growing businesses. If an accountant has helped other businesses—whether it was seeing them through changing working capital needs, advising them on obtaining financing, or even selling a successful business—he could use the experience gained to help your business grow.

Is my software compatible with yours? If you use accounting software in your office, compatibility with your accounting firm’s software can save time on both ends. If you can e-mail income statements and they can be integrated into your tax return with a few keystrokes, you’re not paying for someone to re-enter the numbers. That reduces your bills and the chance of errors.

After interviewing potential accountants, you should have gathered enough information to select the right accountant as an advisor for your business. If no one met your criteria, go back to the research step, put together a new list and start the interview process again.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This process takes more time than going back to the same accountant you’ve used for years and years, but the payback in sound financial advice should make it worth the time and effort. And if you do go back to the same old ineffective accountant, don’t yell at me. I just don’t take that kind of treatment anymore.


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