A good accountant can do more than help with filing taxes every year. Finding a good accountant can help guide your business through ever-changing tax laws and circumstances to grow in the best, most cost-effective ways.
After all, an accountant is much more than a bookkeeper who prepares your financial statements. An accountant is a tax expert who can help you with annual tax preparation and use their knowledge of tax laws to help maximize your deductions all year long.
A certified public accountant can answer questions like whether to choose cash basis or accrual accounting, and can help you explore the possibilities of incorporation or new commercial space. Expertise like this can save you time and money while you grow your business.
Every move you make as a business owner impacts your taxes and what you’ll end up owing the government. A good accountant on your side can help you clean up your books and guide your decisions on purchases, sales, and planning for the future.
Ready to share the financial load of your business with a CPA? Here’s how to find a good accountant.
1. Look for referrals and reviews
Are you part of your local small business community? Ask around for recommendations for accountants who work with companies in your area. This is a chance to use your connections from community organizations like Rotary clubs or the Chamber of Commerce. You may even be able to find a worthwhile referral for a new accountant through your bank, realtor, or loan officer.
If you’re not having luck with local referrals, you can look online for accountants in your area and use online reviews about their services to guide your selection. Forums and other online communities like Yelp, LinkedIn, or local Facebook groups may be helpful in finding a business accountant in your area.
You might find a recommendation for a good accountant working alone, or you might find references to a collective group in a larger accounting firm that offers a range of financial services. Consider which scenario would best fit your needs. Once you’ve accumulated a short list of prospects, reach out to discuss your situation.
2. Review your needs and their services
Accountants have specialties within their industry. Some accountants specialize as a tax preparer for multiple companies, while others help a handful of small business owners navigate financial decisions year-round. Some include bookkeeping services and will prepare your tax returns, and others prefer to guide real estate and business transactions.
As you contact the accountants on your shortlist for the first time, ask them about the services they provide their clients. Discuss how they work with clients and how much experience they have in your industry. Will it be important to meet with your accountant face-to-face or will virtual meetings be sufficient?
Your ideal accountant will be knowledgeable about your industry in particular, not just general accounting. When outsourcing your accounting, look for an expert in tax laws as they apply to what you do.
3. Examine their qualifications
A good accountant will have the credentials to back up their knowledge and experience with business taxes. As you are interviewing accountants in these first conversations, ask for a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. The IRS requires a PTIN for anyone getting paid to help file taxes for others. No PTIN? Immediate removal from your list of possibilities.
In addition to a basic PTIN, which is simple to acquire, you want an accountant with additional certifications or licenses. A certified public accountant, an enrolled agent, a licensed attorney, or someone with a certificate from the IRS Annual Filing Season program will be registered with the IRS and searchable in the IRS directory.
Additionally, a reputable accountant will have membership in professional organizations. You can check for membership in a professional organization such as:
- National Association of Tax Professionals
- National Association of Enrolled Agents
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
- American Academy of Attorney CPAs
These organizations require members to have certain qualifications, like a degree from a recognized college accounting program and a set expectation for years of experience, as well as a code of ethics and professional conduct requirements. If your accounting prospects are members of one or more professional organizations, the organization has done a bit of the vetting for you.
Before moving forward, however, check that the accountants you’re considering are in good standing with their professional association. Be on the lookout for disciplinary issues as well. If anything negative comes up, you should consider it a big red flag. It’s not enough that the accountant has a membership plaque on the wall—they absolutely must follow the code of ethics as well.
4. Meet with prospective accountants
Once you’ve done your legwork, it’s time to sit down with your prospective accountants. This is where you will have more meaningful conversations. Before scheduling these meetings, make a list of topics to discuss, including:
Any questions about licenses or professional organizations. Did you turn up anything unexpected, or were you unable to get this information earlier? Get specifics about your prospective accountant’s education, degrees, certifications, and memberships in professional organizations.
Their experience in your field. Hopefully, you already know that the accountant has some experience with your industry, but how much? Drill into the accountant’s experience a bit and be sure they are up to date with the newest tax laws and regulations. You probably don’t want to be their very first client as they open a new shop.
Ask about the industries of other clients. For privacy reasons, the accountant shouldn’t disclose specifics. Still, an accountant working with ten clients in related or similar industries is far superior to one with the same number of clients in entirely different industries.
Their rates for various services. Billing is an essential topic to discuss, so don’t be shy. Does the accountant bill per hour? Do they offer bundled services priced as a package? Do they bill phone or email tax advice in a particular way? If every emailed question is $50 to answer, you probably want to be aware of that before signing any documents.
If you need bookkeeping support, find out if it is a service they offer and how much bookkeeping will cost.
Be sure to ask about tax preparation fees since that will be a major consideration for your business. Bring in a copy of last year’s business tax return and ask the accountant what it would cost for them to prepare that return for the coming tax year. This will be a rough estimate, but asking multiple accountants the same question will help you narrow down your choices and gain more transparency into their pricing.
Don’t forget: you’ll also want to know if their rates are written somewhere for accountability and future reference.
Any outsourcing they might use. Many small businesses outsource, and that includes accountants. Does the accountant you’re considering also outsource parts of their business? Who’s doing the tax forms at tax time—the person you’re speaking with or someone you’ve never met? You need to know who you’re working with.
Accounting software they use. Does your accountant use particular accounting software that you can both access in some way? Good accounting software will include a client portal that can be linked to your financial records, making it simple and easy for your accountant to maintain your financial records and create documents with minimal additional work on your part.
E-file policies. The IRS requires that paid preparers who submit more than ten returns for clients do so electronically. Be sure that your accountants are e-filing for clients, and that will ensure they are comfortable and knowledgeable in tax filing. If they don’t e-file, their client base must be less than ten clients, which might be a sign of limited knowledge or experience.
Their communication policies. What is the accountant’s email or phone policy? How long can you expect to wait before you get a response? Do you need an accounting service that is available around the clock? Are you comfortable waiting a day or two for a reply from someone who only works specific hours? Does the accountant only work seasonally for tax returns, or are they available all year long for other questions and financial planning? Think about how much and what kind of communication will be most comfortable for you.
5. Determine your comfort level
The right accountant will be half of a long-term relationship. This will be the professional whose financial advice will help you make long-range decisions for your business. You count on your accountant for guidance and adherence to legal statutes at tax time every year.
A good accountant will not only prepare your tax documents but will sign them with their credentials and represent you if any tax questions or issues arise. With information this sensitive and essential, you want to be confident in your decision.
As your business grows, you’ll be looking to bring in the support and knowledge of others. While you might start by outsourcing your bookkeeping, contracting or hiring an accountant can relieve you of bookkeeping, tax preparation, and research into ever-changing tax laws and statutes.
Finding a professional you can trust with your money will give you back the time and mental energy to focus on managing and growing your business. The very best accountants will become a critical piece of your company’s future growth.
How Bench can help
If you’re looking for an expert accountant and a team of bookkeepers to sort out your finances, look no further. In addition to monthly bookkeeping, we can also file your taxes for you. Our in-house Tax Advisors are always on hand to answer your tax questions and make a custom tax plan for your business. To learn more, check out our How It Works page.