How you can find the best accountant for your small business.

Aug 21 2018 | Contributing writer Aaron Berson, manager and cloud accounting ecosystem curator, EisnerAmper

As a small-business owner, you’re probably used to doing everything yourself – from running customer service to taking inventory and updating your website.
But accounting is one area that demands a pro. Hiring an accountant is one of the best investments a business owner can make. It can pay off not just financially, but also in the confidence you’ll gain from knowing you’re doing things right – especially if you’re just starting out. Let’s address questions you may have as you kick off your search.

Before we discuss how to hire an accountant, let’s get real: Do I even need an accountant?
Yes, absolutely! Accountants have specialized experience and up-to-date professional expertise that can bring great value. And when you work with an accountant regularly, you can be proactive and prepare for taxes all year round. This can reduce your stress about tax season, and help you save time for the more important parts of your business.

2. Virtual accountants or in-person meetings – what’s better?
This is largely a personal preference – maybe you feel more confident meeting face to face, or perhaps email or chat consultations are more your style. I’d seek virtual providers who at least offer video consultations. Seeing a face can improve communication. If you prefer to regularly meet accountants in person, you’ll be limited to people in your area – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; these accountants probably know helpful local tax issues.

3. Should I look for an accountant who knows my industry?
Industry knowledge can help a lot, especially if your business presents tax-compliance challenges or is experiencing rapid growth. Someone who knows your market can help you ace the tax details and may give you the best possible service. However, if your tax returns are straightforward, industry knowledge may not matter.

4. What questions will help me find the right fit for me and my business?
Start by asking your candidates what kinds of clients they serve. Detailed questions will help you see how deeply they know their clients’ businesses. Offer a snapshot of your business and any financial challenges you’re facing, and ask what they can do for you in terms of taxes and finance. In addition, find out if their communication preferences (phone, email, video calls) match yours.

5. Does it matter which accounting software they use?
Generally speaking, no. Accounting systems are just tools. You wouldn’t tell a hairdresser what kind of scissors to use, or tell a mechanic what brand of tools you prefer. At the end of the day, you’re buying the services of an expert, and part of their expertise is choosing the most-effective tools.

6. How do I search for accountants?

Personal referrals are the best place to start, but you’ll probably need to do some independent research. Search engines can be helpful, but fine-tune your search as much as possible. Xero offers a directory of accountants that use its accounting software. There are also a few aggregator services that will connect you with advisors, but I’ve found that either they are overpriced (due to the aggregator’s pay-to-play model), or bargain rate . . . with quality to match.

7. My bookkeeper says they can handle my accounting. Can’t I just leave it to them?
This might be tempting, but taxes can get tricky. Given the big tax changes coming in 2018, it’s more important than ever to employ someone who stays current on tax laws, as required for accountants with the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and EA (Enrolled Agent) designations. Your bookkeeper may be staying on top of tax changes as well – but just as with medical advice, it’s never a bad idea to seek a second opinion.

8. Does my accountant have to be a CPA?
This is a sensitive topic in the profession – and there’s a lot of confusion among consumers and business owners about what the CPA designation means. Currently, a CPA is only required for financial statement audits and legally, you don’t need a CPA to prepare business taxes. That said, CPAs go through a rigorous educational process, including a demanding series of exams designed to prove their understanding and knowledge. They’re also required to undergo continuing education, so they’re usually well-versed in current tax law. As in any profession, a credential is not a silver bullet guaranteeing quality. My advice: Don’t focus on the credentials as much as you focus on the content and value of your conversations with the candidates.

And a final tip: As with any relationship, you’re seeking the right chemistry. Taxes can be a headache, and hiring someone who you enjoy working with can be of great value. Also, keep in mind that accountants do more than taxes – they can offer insights on growing your business and keeping it financially sound. Tap into their expertise whenever you can.

For more advice on getting ready for tax season, visit the PayPal Business Resource Center often – you’ll also find articles on payment processing, selling internationally, and marketing, among many other topics.
Aaron Berson is a Manager in EisnerAmper’s Private Business Services group. He serves a diverse client base from start-ups to mid-sized companies. His expertise includes financial statement preparation, tax preparation, and accounting system implementation and training as well as app ecosystem curation and education.

The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.

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