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In the famous words of Charles Lyell, "never call an accountant a credit to his profession; a good accountant is a debit to his profession." I'd go one further. Through my experience founding Capitalise.com, I know that a good accountant can not only be a debit to his or her profession, but an invaluable asset to a SME.
"A good accountant is a debit to their profession"
This is, however, completely dependent on the professional relationship you foster. At Capitalise, we work with accountants and small businesses, through which we've gleaned some practical advice to help business owners get the most value from their accountant.
Here are five things to consider:
1. Make sure they are a good fit
Different accountants and practices speacialise in different areas. You can and should find one that fits your needs. These needs will depend on a range of factors, with two of the most important being the size of your business and the industry you operate in.
This is particularly important for a SME, as providing a professional service to a small business comes with a completely different scope of activity to corporate accountancy.
Many accountants act as an extension of a small business' financial team. At the extreme, they're playing with the role of CFO. If this is the kind of support you believe your business requires, you need to be sure you're working with a professional that is comfortable with this working dynamic and knows your business inside and out.
2. Set out expectations
The requirements of individual SMEs are often poles apart. This could be as simple as, for example, a business' preferred mode of communication. Similarily, some small businesses may look for different levels of strategic advice, or simply operate unconvential working hours. Accountants are becoming acutely aware of this. As such, they are likely to expect and even appreciate a bespoke brief from you.
The more used to working with small businesses your accountant is, the more likely they are to adapt to your specific needs. The important thing to note is that, by not setting out expectations early, you're likely to end up with a generic level of service that is less valuable to your business.
3. Look for more than core services
The core services your financial professional offers are completely dependent on the job you've hired them to do and the individual themselves. There are obvious differences between bookkeepers and accountants. Moreover, from invoice finance to asset based lending, there is a vast array of knowledge of different financial products across the accountancy community.
A great example here is export financing. UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), UK Export Finance (UKEF) and the ICAEW are already working together to help accountants better understand and assist their exporting clients. As an Exporting is Great partner, Capitalise is also working to empower accountant in providing more in depth counsel on export finance.
No matter who you hire, however, always push for additional counsel where appropriate. As their industry becomes more competitive, accountants are becoming more adept at offering advice on a broader range of subjects. A prime example of this is business funding, with accountants using small business lending marketplaces to inform their clients about the most suitable financing options.
4. Keeping your books in order
It goes without saying but, if you keep your financial affairs well documented and organised throughout the years, it's likely to save your accountant valuable hours when it comes to filing a tax return, for example.
While this seems obvious, not all small business owners realise the cost of failing to run a tight ship. If you have a finite budget to spend on accountancy and financial management, consider whether it is best spent on financial admin or providing higher level counsel and professional advice to you.
5. Leverage their contacts
Accountants, especially those who are accustomed to working in your specific sector, will inevitably have a plethora of contacts that are valuable to leverage. Whether this be a potential supplier, technology provider or business partner, building up a healthy relationship with your accountant is likely to open up their pocket book to you.
In summary, there are lots of choices to make when selecting the accountant that is right for your business. Here are five useful questions to ask:
- What level of counsel are you comfortable offering?
- Are there any commone pitfalls to avoid when working with you?
- Are there special considerations for my particular field/industry?
- How can you help me grow my business?
- How often should I contact you and through which medium?