Hiring an accountant is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your business. It frees up your time to concentrate on building and marketing new products while also providing you with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your money is being handled properly.
Do you really want to try to figure all of this out yourself?
So how do you hire an accountant? Surely, you can’t just type in “[YOUR LOCATION] accountant” and pick one at random? Of course not! There are some very important pieces of information you need to get before you can make a decision. Here are the questions to ask to get that information.
1. What Types of Clients Do You Typically Serve?
It tells you a) how much experience this potential accountant has under her belt and b) how much experience this particular accountant has with businesses like yours. Each field and business type have different rules and regulations. You want to be sure your accountant has experience with the rules and regulations that apply to your company.
2. What Is Your Availability?
Some accountants specialize in taxes and are only available during tax time (this is particularly true for CPAs). As an entrepreneur, you want an accountant who can take care of your dough 24/7/365, not just January-April.
3. What Sort of Services Do You Provide?
You want someone who can track your money, sure, but it would also be nice to be able to find an accountant who will also do your bookkeeping, help you plan an estate, consult on management issues once in a while, represent you should tax issues arise, etc.
4. Who Actually Does the Work?
A lot of small accounting firms and even individual accountants outsource some of their duties. Make sure you know who is handling your funds as well as your personal and business information. It’s okay to hold out for an accountant who does everything in house if that is something that will make you feel better (though they’re few and far between).
5. What Is Your Accounting Philosophy?
Some accountants play fast and loose with write-offs, deductions, and other claims. They want to save you as much money as possible and will sometimes find very creative ways to do this. Other accountants are more cautious and conservative when it comes to these things, preferring to go exactly by the book no matter what. It’s important that you hire an accountant whose approach to your finances and taxes matches your own philosophies.
Do you want to be in charge, or do you want to be led?
6. How Do You Charge for Your Services?
Some accountants bill on retainer. Others will bill by the hour. Depending on what you need and how hands-on you want to be with your records and financial situation, one option is going to be better than the other.
For instance, if you prefer to have as little to do with the numbers as possible, hiring an accountant on retainer to manage everything for you is the way to go. If you prefer to do most of the work yourself but work with an accountant to help you double-check and see to the details, the hourly rate is going to be your best bet.
7. How Much Do You Charge?
As with most things, this is going to be the most important question you ask every accountant with whom you meet. There are no set fees in the accounting world. Each accountant and firm will charge you a different rate based on what they provide and to what extent they provide it. Make sure you hire someone whose rates you can afford. Remember, though: When it comes to managing your money, cheaper is not always better!
As a home-based entrepreneur, you probably want to manage your money yourself. It’s understandable. There are great bookkeeping programs out there you can use to track your income and expenses. You’re smart and confident in your ability to figure out your tax liability and pay your estimated tax payments on time. Still…wouldn’t it be nice to just work on your business and leave the money stuff to someone else?
Erin Steiner writes about small business, personal finance, and a plethora of other topics. She also maintains personal web presences on social media and YouTube.