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Choosing an Accountant


Let's face it — as a small business owner you don't have the time or know-how to handle your own accounting. Unless your business is accounting, you will probably be better off outsourcing your accounting needs to a trained professional. However, finding an accountant can be tricky. If you're like most small business owners, you may not even know what to look for.

But don't give up yet. Here are five must-have characteristics to guide your search:

Training

Accounting is a highly technical profession that requires a specific set of skills and in-depth knowledge of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures). At a minimum, your accountant should be college-educated and hold certifications indicating proficiency in his/her craft. You should expect any reputable account to be a CPA or Certified Public Accountant. Additionally, you should expect your accountant to have completed continuing education units on current accounting laws and procedures.

Experience

In addition to training, your accountant needs experience. Hiring an accountant fresh out of college is probably not the most prudent decision for your business. Like anything else, accounting has a learning curve — theory and practice are two entirely different things. It's better to let a young accountant "cut his teeth" in an accounting firm instead of in your business.

Reliability

The accounting process is governed by deadlines — tax deadlines, fiscal year deadlines, etc. Subsequently, you need to have confidence that your accountant will deliver the services you need when you need them. It's no secret that certain times of year (i.e. year-end and the spring tax season) are especially busy for accountants. Find out how many clients the accountant has and where you rank in his/her client list. If your accountant is overbooked and you are the smallest account, you will most likely miss important accounting deadlines.

Initiative

Accountants can help your business in a variety of ways. In addition to tax reporting and recordkeeping, accountants may be able to help your business with things like cost analysis, forecasting and long-term planning. It makes sense to find an accountant who is willing to go above and beyond for your company by suggesting ideas you may not have considered yourself. When interviewing prospective accountants, ask them what services they would be willing to provide for the business and how they might be able to work with you to achieve your goals as a business owner.

Affordability

Cost is always an issue in outsourcing. To some degree, the adage "you get what you pay for" holds true with accountants. However, you may be able to save some money by going with an independent accountant instead of a large firm. Also, although accountants are in high demand in the spring, they are sometimes willing to discount services during the off season. Explore the possibility of changing your firm's fiscal year to take advantage of those discounts.