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Choosing an accountant - tips and advice

Every business needs a good accountant, but few make an active choice because you may think that all accountants are alike. They are NOT.

Accountants are (and should be) people who like and understand the world through numbers. It usually means they are amazing at figuring things out and keep the books right, but that doesn't mean that they are creative and willing to help you get to keep as much money as possible.

My experience of accountants is that they are quite afraid to be creative. To them it doesn't matter - they charge you plenty of money anyway. Sometimes it feels like accountants are merely the henchmen of the IRS (whom you pay) rather than good economic advisers to your business. And please note - I don't mean that they should be helping you cheat on taxes or do any other things that are illegal. I’m merely saying that they have lots of knowledge that they in many cases don't inform you of even if you pay them to do just that.

This is precisely why it's important for you to choose an accountant in a more active way than just look up the word “accountant” in telephone book and pick the first service you find. You pay them good money - you have a right to also make some demands.

Here are the questions you should ask anyone who wants to become your accountant:

1. Are you certified?
This is important for those who want the best knowledge for their business. Certified Public Accountant is a protected title that a person, for example, must have a university degree in business administration and a certain period of work experience (typically 5 years) as an auditor. He/she must also be able to prove that he/she has managed his/her own and others' finances without faults.

2. What can you offer more?
You want to know what the auditor can offer you more than just the pluses and minuses and to put numbers in the right columns. A good accountant knows his/her numbers, but he/she also knows lots of other things about deductions, tax planning, personal finance and everything else about the economy that you don't.

3. Do you have any knowledge of, and use, new technologies?
This is an issue about how your accountant can help you to better improve your book keeping with computer support and to see whether your system supports the auditor's own system. You want an accountant who uses your valuable (and expensive) time to make sense of things that can't be handled by computers alone.

4. What kind of customers do you have today?
If your accountant is working with clients in the same industry as you, he/she probably knows a lot about the industry and that's good for you. You don't want an accountant who needs to take a lot of time to update himself/herself about your world before they can do the job smoothly and effectively. It's not your job to pay for your accountant's education.

5. How do you get paid?
Ask what you can expect to pay for his/her services.

6. Why should I hire you?
The question doesn't need be worded in quite such a direct and straight forward way if it’s not appropriate, but he/she should be able to understand it anyway and provide you with an answer. The auditor has to, just like you, prove why he/she is the right person for you to hire.

Finally - check to see if your personal chemistry is OK. It's important because you will need to feel that the auditor is a partner of your business. He/she must be someone who you can call and get help from and someone you can open up to. Accountants know a lot about the company's competitors and things that others may never know, so you have to be able to trust and enjoy the person you hire as your auditor.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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