We are devoting this week to the hiring of professionals. I want to share my tips on what to look for when you hire an accountant, lawyer, and designer (graphic and/or web) for your business. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people hiring bad bookkeepers and paying good money to only have their accounting records upside-down. I’ll share my resources on where to find good people, what to look for, questions to ask when you interview them, and what you should expect from their services.
Different Accountants for Different Needs
There are different kinds of accountants, depending on your needs. I’ve listed them here in order of importance. (The first being the most important.)
1. Tax Accountant – a tax accountant is a MUST! He or she will do your taxes annually and will advise you on how much you need to be paying quarterly as a self-employed individual and/or business owner.
2. Bookkeeper – a bookkeeper manages your accounting transactions. This is a data entry position for the most part. But, a good bookkeeper will know how to properly record your transactions.
3. Financial Strategist – a strategist will help you determine what your money is doing and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This consultant will examine your numbers and help you make changes to your business for the better.
Where to Look for Good Accountants
For tax accounting, you will want to hire a CPA, Certified Public Accountant. These individuals have studied long and hard for this certification. They are also required to take courses annually to keep their title. You can find CPAs on the AICPA.org website.
For bookkeeping, you will want to ask other small business owners for their recommendations. (Your tax accountant may also have a recommendation for you.) Bookkeepers do not need to be CPAs and a CPA bookkeeper will generally be more expensive. HOWEVER, because they don’t have this certification you do risk working with people who are not always as professional or ‘up to par’. This is why I can’t emphasize enough the importance of asking people for references and referrals.
For strategists and consultants, I recommend that you also ask small business owners or your CPA for recommendations. Some CPAs do offer this as a service. For example, when you are having your taxes done by your CPA, ask him or her for some financial advice. They may give you quick feedback, and you may be able to hire them for more in-depth services. We also offer financial analysis and planning thru Sage Wedding Pros. I have a history in financial analysis given my accounting background and have been able to help a range of small business owners. I understand numbers and can get a pretty good feel for a business by looking at financial information.
What to Ask When You Interview Them
I want to get a feel for the kind of work the professional will do when I’m interviewing them. I ask about their processes. I ask how they will communicate with me when they don’t understand something. I also look to see what they have prepared for me. In my experience with hiring accounting professionals in the past, the best ones have always made an impressive presentation to me. They’ve provided me with information about their work and their expertise. They’ve provided me with timelines and deadlines. The more organized the professional appears in that first meeting goes a lot to show me what their work output is like.
AND – always always always ask for references. Make sure the references are solid business owners themselves.
What You Should Expect
You should expect accounting professionals to provide the following:
- an agreement or contract – the agreement should specify the terms by which both of you agree to work
- a schedule with milestones or deadlines – this keeps you both accountable to work with one another
- a list of deliverables – what reports or forms will they be giving you and when?
Another huge expectation that I have for my accounting professionals is that they communicate with me. This is especially important for bookkeepers. Bookkeeping sometimes requires the accountant to understand every nuance of your business money. But there is no way they can know everything that you are doing with your transactions. They HAVE to ask questions of you when they don’t understand a transaction. (A receipt for Starbucks could be a gift expense or a meal expense. How would they know?) If they aren’t communicating with you, this could be a red flag that they aren’t doing what you’ve hired them to do.
What has your experience been like hiring your accountant? Share with us in the comments below.