It’s that time of year again when small business owners gather and sort through all their invoices, receipts, and other tax documents in preparation for filing. (Side note: you'll have less gathering and sorting to do if you're using a certain awesome accounting app!) But here's the thing: if your business is at a stage where you feel you need help with your tax prep and filing, hiring an accountant might be worthwhile. That said, there are a few questions to ask an accountant before you decide to employ them...
If someone is calling themselves an accountant, it’s all too easy to assume they have the credentials to back it up. But you might be surprised to know that many—while financially knowledgable—aren't technically accountants. So be sure to ask: “Are you a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?” It's also makes sense to ask what additional (if any) certifications or degrees they have. A quality accountant will be more than happy to share this information. (Bonus Tip: Ask your potential accountant how they keep up on the latest tax laws and trends.)
Again, this might seem obvious, but it needs to be asked. Not only do you want to know if the accountant is experienced, you want to know if they have worked with businesses like yours—particularly if you’re in a creative or niche industry. If your business is growing or you plan to expand, you also want an accountant experienced with guiding new, growing businesses like yours. That indicates to you that they're savvy when it comes to making sure your getting every single tax break possible.
Here is where you get down to the nitty gritty. Does this accountant offer bookkeeping services, or just tax preparation? Do they provide audit support so you have back up in the IRS comes calling? Will they be available to help you year round, or just at tax time? If the accountant works within a larger agency, will you be able to continue working with that particular accountant? Lastly, it’s good to know if the accountant works with a tax attorney (or is one) in case that need arises.
Fees & Billing
Save yourself the sticker shock, and get information about fees and billing up front. Be sure to ask if they bill hourly or by flat fee. If they bill hourly, ask what they charge for “quick” phone calls – sometimes they have a minimum billing period even if the call only lasts for a few minutes (if that’s the case, save up your questions for a longer call). If the billing is a flat rate, you need to know how much time you can reasonably expect them to dedicate to you and your business. Lastly, ask about invoicing cycles and payment due dates so that way you can budget accordingly.
You need an accountant that is technologically compatible with your business style. If you stuff your receipts into a shoebox, you need an accountant willing to deal with paper. (We don't recommend this method for obvious reasons.) If you toss the paper but scan the receipts digitally, you want an accountant that is comfortable with whatever platform or software you use to store your receipts, capture your expenses, send invoices, run reports, etc. The best way to make sure your accountant-to-be is knowledgeable about your preferred accounting software? Ask! If they're not familiar with what you use, you can always pitch them on it too. Who knows, it could be good for their business.
Hiring an accountant should be a thoughtful, deliberate task. After all you are trusting them with not only your business finances, but also your tax standing. Start with these five questions to ask an accountant and you'll be on the right path.
As always, none of this post should be considered financial or legal advice. Always consult an expert!