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March 7, 2011

Selecting a new Accountant

Looking for an accountant can be a complex process for any business. Here are some simple questions to ask when you are selecting a new accountant?

• What kind of business advice will they offer me?
A good accountant can deftly handle data and numbers but should also be able to demonstrate quality business acumen. Ask prospect accountants to offer three quick ideas on how your business might be able to save money right now. Also ask them for examples of occasions where they offered useful business advice to other clients that went beyond just tracking the numbers. Someone with a creative business mind can be a huge asset towards helping your company to grow.

• Do they consider themselves to be tech-savvy?
Advances in software for small businesses have made powerful accounting tools available to everyone. But these accounting packages are only as useful as the person who installs them and runs the applications. Even if you are not a ‘techie’, do your homework so you can determine whether the accountant understands the role computer technology plays in turning business information into business intelligence. For example, ask them how they will integrate your computer files with the technology in their office. What role will the internet play in keeping in touch and interchanging financial information?

• Who are their other clients?
One thing you want to avoid is hiring an accountant based on the assumption that he or she understands the basics of your business, then finding out they’ve never dealt with a client like you before. If an accountant doesn’t understand your business model, and your day to day operation, they can’t add deliver value. Make sure you ask who the accountant works with, and how many clients they have – you will want to understand how busy they are and whether they have the time and resources to support you adequately.

• How do they calculate their fees?
Ask the accountant what you can expect fees to be and will they guarantee that you will not exceed certain amounts that you agree upon up front. In a time-based fee structure, make sure to find out the hourly rate, as well as all fees for expense reimbursement. Find out now whether a simple two-minute phone call or a one page fax means an hour of billable time. And, if that’s the case, run for the door.

• Are they active in their local business community?
Find out whether your prospective accountant can introduce you to people who might be useful to you, including prospective customers, suppliers, bankers, and investors. Since talk is cheap, take it one step further. Ask the accountant for examples of introductions they’ve made in the past for other clients and how those introductions played out.

• Why should you use them?
As a final question, it’s always good to let the accountant make the case for why you should engage them. Find out what your prospective accountant can offer you beyond the basics of their accounting role, and if their business ethos fits in with yours.

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