How to Choose the Right Accountant for Your Small Business

Most small businesses are driven by personal vision and a healthy DIY attitude. As the founder, you probably have a very clear picture as to how you want things to be run. This is understandable but you need to be careful that by taking on a dozen jobs you don't compromise some of them. Accounting is the obvious example: it is a highly specialised discipline which can add significant value to your company. 

 

But where do you start looking for the right accountant? Here are our ten tips to get you on track.

 

Choose a Chartered Accountant

 

First, let's deal with the level of ability. There are hundreds of thousands of accountants who are perfectly competent in bookkeeping, tax matters and general financial affairs but an ambitious business needs the services and qualifications of a chartered accountant who has professional accreditation from a recognised accounting body.

 

Relevant Experience

 

Although accountancy skills are applicable universally and rarely industry-specific it can still be valuable to appoint an accountant whose experience suits not only the size of your company but who has in-depth experience with your industry sector (at Plummer Parsons, we have extensive experience in the charity and not for profit sector, for example). This will give them a more instinctive insight into the particular needs of your business.

Does Location Matter?

In theory, your accountant could be based anywhere in the world, although their qualifications need to be UK specific, as they will require that they are up to speed with the current regulatory regime of the UK tax system. That being said, many people will prefer their accountant to be local as they will want face-to-face meetings to discuss complex matters. We're all used to video calls these days, but there is still a lot to be said for having an accountant in the same time zone and legal jurisdiction as your business.

Fees

It's easy to neglect cold, hard questions of money when you're so concerned with finding the right people, and the cheapest option is rarely the best one, but you should make sure you get a thorough breakdown of fees and charges, ideally in the form of an itemised quotation. Not only will this make it simple to compare firms but it may also suggest the relevance of services you had not previously considered.

Referrals and Recommendations

Directories and associations are perfectly good ways to find an accountant but there is no substitute for the endorsement of a colleague, a friend, a sympathetic business partner or acquaintance. If these are not forthcoming then review sites such as Trustpilot are valuable sources of recommendation. Any accountant you approach should in any case be willing and able to supply testimonials from satisfied clients and, in some situations, even let you speak to them.

Individual or Firm?

This depends on the size of your enterprise. A sole trader may work best with an individual accountant, a business with a modest workforce may suit a multi-partner practice and a major concern might be best served by a larger firm. It's wise to think ahead, too, because if you are confident that your business will grow quickly from a small start-up to a much larger business, then you should think about appointing accountants who will be ready for that growth with resources that are extensive enough not to hold you back. Scalability is everything when making the decision on an accountant. 

Future Developments

Finding an accountant who can handle the nature and volume of your current business is fine, but if you expect diversification and expansion in the foreseeable future then it is well worth having a discussion at the earliest stage to make sure your accountants have the skills and expertise to match. That prevents you from being forced to change firms as you scale up.

Contact and Communication

Unless you are going to be working with an individual in practice on their own then you ought to determine who will be your dedicated accountant and point of contact within the firm you appoint. It doesn't mean they will be the only member of the firm who can help you but having a clear channel of communication gives certainty and consistency.

Due Diligence

This falls into the same general area of qualifications and referrals. It will always pay you to take the time and trouble to do background checks. If you are considering a chartered accountant, which is your best move, then check them out with the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW) or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Identifying any question marks over the reputation of an individual or a firm needs to be done early.

Technology

Digital solutions have revolutionised every aspect of business, some more quickly than others. It's still common to find business service providers, such as accountants and lawyers, who have resisted the advances in efficiency and capability provided by today's software packages and cloud computing. These should be avoided. They may have sound accounting skills but if they are unwilling or unable to adapt to modern systems of recording, storing, updating and communicating information, it means they are behind the times and means their ways of working are likely to be less efficient, meaning more costs for you.