5 Questions All Entrepreneurs Should Ask Before Hiring an Accountant
Get the information you need to find the right one.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When you are in the beginning stages of starting a business, it is often challenging to balance all the necessary assets you need to be successful.
One of the most influential people you should have on your team is a competent accountant or accounting and tax planning firm. Whether you are a one-person operation, have a few employees or your business is established and has hundreds or thousands of employees, having an accountant to help guide you with tax returns, audits and bookkeeping is necessary.
But how do you find the right accountant for you?
It can be overwhelming and sometimes costly for a business owner to find the right person for the job. The key to finding the right accountant is asking the right questions upfront to understand if he or she is the right fit, but when you're starting a business, it might be hard to know what those right questions are.
Here are the five questions you should be asking when you consult different agencies or accounting firms to hire for your bookkeeping and accounting needs.
1. What industries do you specialize in or have the most expertise in?
Not all businesses are the same. Similarly, not all accountants are the same.
Your business is in a particular niche and has specific requirements for billing, bookkeeping and accounting. If you're a medical provider billing insurance, your books are going to look completely different compared to an ecommerce business. You don't want to miss out on nuanced expertise.
Finding someone with a background in your type of business will help you decide on the right company or person to hire. Every business is different, and you will need someone who knows how to navigate that accordingly.
2. What is your business model?
Asking questions about their business model and mode of operation is an important differentiating factor.
Some accounting and bookkeeping firms will charge you for every minute you spend with them, whether it's on the phone or in person. Newer companies like Easier Accounting operate on a different model. We set you up with a subscription that allows you unlimited access to our accountants for questions and consultations.
For some, it may work to have someone who bills hourly because you only need him or her a couple of times per year. For others, it works a lot better to have open lines of communication without the fear of spending 15 minutes of billable time for a 15-second question.
Know your expectations and ask the right questions to understand if they can fulfill them. Different businesses and business owners will require different types of business models. For newer business owners, working with someone who will mentor and help you is generally the best, but it usually comes with a monthly retainer instead of hourly pricing.
3. How many services do you offer?
Sometimes it can be good to have multiple sets of eyes on your books. Using one company for bookkeeping and another for tax preparation can have certain advantages, but most of the time, it makes things messier.
Asking about the services they offer is an essential question for many reasons. A lot of this comes down to expectations and an understanding of what your business will need. A record of transactions, known as bookkeeping, is the basic foundation of accounting, but there are other facets of accounting and financials like tax planning and preparation.
Knowing how cohesive their operation is should be a factor in your decision to hire a firm. If they are only available to do bookkeeping but can't help with tax filing or audits, you may find better value elsewhere.
Many accountants are a one-person show, and it works for some businesses, but other accounting businesses are firms with different departments. This allows the employees to have a deep understanding of their area of expertise while allowing the business to help with multiple aspects of your financials. This specialization is the most efficient way of operating the back end of your business and is something to look for in an accounting firm.
4. Are you a single person or a firm?
To add to the last question, since it is hard for one person to cover everything well, do they have a team of people who are well-educated and who specialize in a specific service?
Knowing more about your accountant and their business can help you find reassurance that you're going to have the best service possible. A firm that does tax planning, bookkeeping and tax preparation and has departments for each will stand head and shoulders above a single-person operation.
Some people who are used to dealing with one individual and like to build rapport with that individual may not enjoy the experience as much. Still, you should understand that a single person generally can't serve your business the same way a firm can.
5. Do you offer both compliance and advisory services?
As touched on above, with larger firms or accounting businesses, it is not uncommon that the company you hire will handle only bookkeeping and tax preparation. While this will keep you in compliance with the IRS, it won't help you strategize to get the most significant tax return possible.
Understanding the capacity of these firms is essential. Since many firms are only focused on compliance but don't help you maximize your tax return with strategies upfront, you'll want to find one that does both, especially as your business grows and becomes more complicated.
There are a lot of questions that don't necessarily have answers when you start a business, whether it is large or small. But having as many resources at your disposal as possible will make the journey less stressful.
When you look for an accountant, find a business you can trust and someone you can turn to when things become stressful. It is best to find someone who will be patient and willing to admit when he or she doesn't have an answer — an accountant who will not shy away from seeking an outside opinion or turning to his or her team.
As hard as it is to navigate the bookkeeping, taxes, audits, etc., for your business, hiring someone to help guide you through this process is worth every bit of financial cost and mental focus.