The right accountant can make or break a business, writes Alexandra Cain.
A great accountant can make a difference to the underlying profitability of your business, as well as its future success. So choose your accountants wisely.
Donna Stone, founder of bookkeeping service Consulting & Bookkeeping, says most accountants have the same skills and expertise. "The difference is about how they do business, their customer service practices and the extras that make them stand out from the average.
"When looking for an accountant, don't just go for someone who is simply geographically handy," she says. "A better way is to ask around and get referred to a good one. Look for a recommendation from a person who you admire as a successful person in business."
Peter Locandro, a principal accountant at accounting firm ZJL Partners, says a starting point when it comes to choosing an accountant is referrals from friends. "If you know they have improved the friend's financial wellbeing then odds are they will apply the same commitment to your results."
Locandro says make sure you choose an accountant who is registered with a reputable association such as CPA Australia or the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia.
"Choose a business that is well-established and proactive. Look for an accountant that actively engages the community and spends time educating their clients. You need an accountant who will let you know about legislative changes and developments, not expect you to update them," he said.
Stone advises looking for a bean counter who covers business advice if you want more than simply tax-return work done. "A good accountant can work with you and your bookkeeper to set up KPIs [key performance indicators] and work out your break-evens and profit margins."
Her other advice is to find an accountant who has time for you. "The two biggest complaints I hear about accountants are fees and accessibility. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard 'my accountant is never available to talk to me'. This is where the referral comes in - if the person who referred you says 'my accountant always returns my calls and emails promptly', that's definitely a big tick in their favour."
Also, Stone says it's essential to look for an accountant who is proactive, not reactive. "Some accountants will only action things when you ask - sometimes repeatedly - but others will step in and be proactive."
Stone says it's also useful to find someone who is flexible to changing trends. "Ask your accountant which software programs they use. Think twice about using an accountant who only services clients using one software package - most should be able to accommodate all the major software programs."
Indeed, Rich Walker, director of Intuit Australia, suggests looking for an accountant that uses cloud-based software. "The benefit of doing your accounting online means you can look beyond your local area for quality support. Your accountant can access your files any time, anywhere giving you the benefit of making business decisions based on real-time data. Remember to check what security measures are in place to back-up and protect your data."
Josh Golombick runs a business called White Collar Quotes, an online platform that helps consumers find the right accountant. He says when choosing an accountant, it's often the questions they ask you, rather than what you ask them, that indicates their competency.
"A good accountant will be able to ask intelligent questions that show they understand the nature of your requirements. A better accountant will be able to show you these competencies in a language that you understand - whether that is high-end technical jargon or simple English."