The internet is now full of accounting software solutions that often urge businessmen to attend their tax and accounting issues by themselves. Still, there are cases when an expert is needed. Just as installing Photoshop in your PC does not make you a graphics designer, having accounting software will never make you an ample accountant. It can only follow your commands —and a skilled accountant can do far more than just fill in some gaps and type some numbers. A skilled accountant is an essential and valued partner that can boost your business’s growth. He masters any aspect of your business’s life and course, from financing your next venture to saving for your son’s academic education.
The majority, upon hearing the word “accountant”, immediately pictures a tax preparer, but an accountant is much more than that. Accountants possess far wider knowledge than just tax laws and regulations, and therefore can serve as priceless assets to any entrepreneur.
But let us be more specific. An accountant’s field includes 4 main areas:
- Business Consultants. This service usually determines which accountant will eventually earn your trust. Your accountant knows well, even better than you, your business’s special nature, your tax status, and your financial statements. Therefore, nothing would seem more prudent than asking him to assist you while trying to lay down a business plan that is feasible and promising. A skilled accountant can advise you on numerous business issues, from insurance bits and pieces to expansion ventures. Your accountant can offer you fresh and reliable insight, simply because they have a deeper understanding of the background.
- Accounting & Record-Maintaining Services. Accounting and records occupy most of an accountant’s working time. However, more and more businessmen tend to keep their own books and records. This is because if they are checked by lenders or by the IRS, the business owner is considered responsible for their truthfulness; hence, many believe it is wiser to keep them themselves.
In most cases, accountants are asked to help when a business is organized for the first time, by installing and explaining the operation of several accounting systems to the owner. These systems can help you assess revenue and expenses at any given time and adjust prices and charges. They also allow you to cut on unnecessary operating costs, establish a budget and stick to it, and reduce accounting work (and corresponding fees) needed while preparing financial statements and tax returns.
- Tax Consultation. An accountant can assist you regarding taxes in two different ways: tax compliance (i. e. ensuring you will not find yourself in trouble with the law), and tax planning, namely discovering ways to minimize your general tax burden. Many companies are looking for tax consultation abroad. A great example of premium tax consulting services is Cyprus.
- Auditing. Auditing services are needed in several cases, usually though they are required by banks as an essential term when issuing a loan. Auditing may come in several forms and levels, from a simple preparation of a financial statement based on data supplied by the businessman to an actual audit, in which the accountant assures that the business’s financial statements are accurate.
How To Choose Your Accountant
Often, the best way to get a skilled accountant is to ask your lawyer, your banker or a colleague to propose one. In case you need more options, just about any state has a Society of Certified Public Accountants that can readily assist you in your quest.
Please, do not make the mistake of undervaluing the CPA’s opinion. Their members are exclusively professionals who have successfully passed a thorough nationally standardized test that lasts 2 days! The majority of states require CPAs to have no less than a college degree or an adequate equivalent, and many ask them also to present proof of some post-graduate experience. The least you need your accountant to have is adequate education and understanding of your business’s accounting needs. Passing a CPA test is a minimum guarantee of an adequate level of skill and knowledge.
As soon as you have in mind some good options (4 or 5 will do), you must prepare before meeting and discussing with them in person. First of all, draft and take with you a list of what you will need. It is vital, for example, to decide in advance how much of the accounting work of your business you are willing to assign to your accountant.
As soon as you have everything you need in place, you are ready to meet them in person. Focus on discovering 3 things:
- Character & Style. Every individual has their peculiar personality, and the first thing you should do is determine which personality you consider easier to work with. After all, your accountant will be one of the most trusted and close partners. So, is the accountant’s character well-matched with yours? If you visit an accounting firm, please bear in mind that some partners undertake sales and new collaborations and then assign the actual work to a colleague.
Since you want to assess their competency and skills, try to find out how they would handle possible problems and situations relevant to you, i. e. an office audit seeking confirmation of automobile costs. Then listen carefully and see whether the answer satisfies or disappoints you.
- Service. All, almost all, accounting firms provide tax and auditing services. But maybe that is not enough for you: for example can they handle your bookkeeping? Can they advise you on management issues? On pension fund accounting? On real estate issues? Is your future accountant skilled enough to assist you while designing and implementing financial information systems?
Some CPAs may even undertake transaction analysis regarding loans and financing, or the preparation, auditing, reviewing and drafting of financial statements. Some accountants are specialized in investment management. Make sure your accountant will be able to represent you before tax authorities.
Ensure the accountant has the whole lot, based on your needs and wants. In case they aren’t able to provide specialized accounting services (investment management for example), they may know other accountants with whom they collaborate with and trust and can refer them to you. Besides that, you should also evaluate the accountant’s experience in your type of business and in your field or industry. That’s quite important in terms of time: an experienced accountant in your line will not be obliged to spend time and effort in familiarizing with relevant regulations and directives, and will surely make far fewer mistakes.
- Fees. The first thing you should know is whether he or she demands upfront fees. Accountant fees range from $100 to $275 (€90-€250) per hour, or more, depending on the kind of services provided. Still, numerous accountants prefer to work on a monthly charge. Of course, in this case, you are the one who will have to do the math: consider your needs and figure out what services will be more cost – effective in your case.
Make sure you gather quotes from different accountants and then try to estimate the total yearly charges for the services you require. However, do not make cost – effectiveness your compass: an accountant with a larger per hour fee is probably far more experienced and able to work faster than a beginner with a more economic charge.
Finally, do not hesitate to ask for references, especially from colleagues of yours or clients of the same profession or industry. An accomplished, experienced accountant will be happy to provide such references. Then, contact some of them and determine how satisfied they were with his availability, his or her services and charges, as well as his communication skills.
I’m sure all this information will wisely guide your decisions.
Chris Adam is content writer at Global Serve Consultants, a leading organization specializing in international tax advice and planning, company formation and management.