You might be out to dinner with friends and the topic of money or tax comes up. Almost invariably at some stage the words "You need a good accountant" enter the conversation. But what makes a good small business accountant? Better still what would the best accountant look like?
Here are 5 questions you should be asking:
#1. Do they understand my financial needs?
Like anything in business, in order to become the best in what you do, a tax accountant or business accountant needs to understand their client needs. If you went to the doctor the first thing they usually ask is "Tell me what's bothering you?"
Your accountant should be no different. They also should find out what your end game (i.e. financial objectives) is so that any advice takes that into account.
#2. How do they propose to help me achieve these?
Once an accountant understands what your needs and goals are, exactly how are they going to help you get there? This is where it's important to find out the different services they offer. Look for:
Minimum Service Offerings
- Business planning and goal setting;
- Monitoring services that will keep you on track;
- Tax minimisation strategies;
- Understanding of what makes a business valuable;
- Getting the best deal from your bank
#3. How do they stay up-to-date?
A good accountant knows their stuff. A great accountant never stops learning. If you see an accountant who looks as though they are winding down and appear to be getting ready to retire and/or aren't offering any new services regularly, these could be signs that things are getting a bit staid. The best accountants should be:
- Using technology to offer better value services to their clients;
- Learning from their peers;
- Going to business advisory and tax updates;
- Looking for efficiencies through cloud accounting wherever possible.
It's not always a sign but usually accountants that are looking to grow their business are making sure they are right across all of the latest tax and business advisory techniques.
If they're not they are going to get left behind.
#4. Are they proactive or reactive?
If an accountant is doing everything in #3 above, then it follows they should be on the front foot and letting their clients knowing about these things. There is nothing more embarrassing for an accountant to find out from their clients that one of their friends had a similar problem and their accountant suggested a better way.
#5. How do they charge?
The days of looking how much time a job took, adding it all up and sending the client a bill are over. Those that are billing this way leads to some bills becoming substantially more than the previous year. People don't like surprises!
The modern accountant quotes a fixed fee for almost all services regardless how long a job takes. Encouraging clients to ring with a query should be promoted without fear from the client they will be charged.
The forward thinking accountants don't even have an hourly rate - it's all about producing an outcome for the client.
Remember, cheapest may not always be best but value is critical. If you know what your fee will be and you get exactly what you want, with a modern approach and service, you might end up paying more but be much better off financially. Value pricing for clients is critical.
Chances are your accountant is doing a great job. Coming from across the other side of the desk, the questions above are what accountants and business advisors should be asking themselves when considering the services they are offering their clients and potential clients.
Whilst the list is not exhaustive, it's a pretty good guide as to what the best accountants seem to be doing.