- When starting a business, you need your accountant to offer certain services, such as business structure advice, accounting system advice and setup, and tax/compliance services.
- After you've established your business, you may need a new set of skills or services from your accountant, like budgeting and cash flow forecasting.
- Take time to consider the traits you want in an accountant and how much you will have to pay him/her. Above all, make sure you are comfortable enough to talk to them at any time.
- Read on to learn how to choose the best account, whether you're a new or established business.
Editor's Update 07/07/20:
What can an accountant help me with? An accountant is one of the most valuable resources for both startups and established businesses. Accountants can provide a range of services to help you in the following areas:
- The startup process - e.g. assisting with financial aspects of a business plan, accounting procedures, financial compliance
- Regular business operations - e.g. financial statements, tax advice and estimates, overseeing payroll
- Business growth - e.g. purchasing/leasing advice, tax audits, financial forecasts
Do you really need an accountant? While it's not essential to have an accountant, there are many situations where using an accountant will save you time, money and stress. There are many laws and regulations surrounding tax and bookkeeping, so it's worth seeking out an accountant's expertise to avoid noncompliance. Even if you don't use regular accounting services for your business, it's worth getting ad-hoc advice and services for tasks such as tax returns.
What is the difference between an accountant and a financial advisor? Accountants are more strategically focused and work on financial statements, auditing, tax and forecasting, whereas financial advisors provide a more holistic service to advise you on budgeting, clearing your debts, investing and wealth management.
Choosing an accountant that's right for you and your business can be tricky.
Traditionally, accountants looked after the tax and compliance matters for businesses. They are what I call tax accountants, as they prepare annual financial statements, income tax returns and Business Activity Statements (BAS) to report GST and Pay As You Go Withholding (PAYG) on wages.
In recent years, and due to the advent of cloud accounting systems, progressive accountants have expanded their services to provide business advice and management reporting for their clients. There is also a small but growing group of CFOs, some of whom are also accountants, who specialise in business advice and management reporting.
There is a clear divide between traditional and progressive accountants.
Traditional tax accountants tend to focus on recording historical finance data while progressive accountants and CFOs focus on the future, using the history as a guide. As your business grows and your needs change, it may be necessary to review and change accountants to get the best support during every stage.
Starting a business: What you need from your accountant
When you’re starting out in business, there’s so much you need to know, and you may find yourself out of your depth while being completely at the mercy of your advisors, mentors, or accountants.
Thus, it’s important to do your research when hiring an accountant. Ask around for recommendations from other people who’ve already established their businesses.
How to choose an accountant to help start a business
In order to choose the best accountant to help start your business, you should be looking for the following services at a minimum:
1. Business structure advice
There are four options to structure your business: sole trader, partnerships, trusts, and companies. There are pros and cons to each that you need to understand before settling on a structure to suit your requirements.
2. Accounting system advice and setup
All businesses regardless of their structure must keep accounting records. Your accountant must be able to recommend the right one within your budget as well as help set it up. He or she can assist you in using the system so you can keep costs to a minimum. Using a cloud accounting system such as Xero means you don’t need to keep your records in spreadsheets or invoices in the proverbial shoebox. Everything is online, so you will never lose a receipt or invoice.
3. Tax and compliance services
This is mandatory for any business and includes basic tasks such as preparation of BAS and income tax returns for the end of financial year. If you’re hiring people, ensure the accountant knows all the regulatory obligations such as payroll tax and PAYG Withholding.
Ideally, your accountant should assist with budgeting and cash flow forecasting before you start the business. They are crucial to help steer your financial position in the early years. Often, these tasks are overlooked in the excitement of starting a business and complying with tax obligations.
How to find the best accountant for established businesses
Once you’ve got your business up and running, chances are your needs and goals will change dramatically. Whether you are trying to survive through a tough time or thrive and grow the business, now’s the time to dig into the numbers to steer the ship right.
You should be looking for these services:
1. Tax and compliance services
This is the bread and butter of every business to make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side of the tax man. Your accountant should keep up with the latest rules and changes so you can maximize your tax concessions.
2. Budgeting and cash flow forecasting
Annual budgets must be regularly reviewed and updated throughout the year. By creating a budget and cash flow forecast, you are setting goals that you can work towards and provide a basis for accountability to your team.
3. Management reporting
This is crucial to understand how your business is faring. Have your accountant prepare monthly management reports that track important KPIs tailored to your business. These reports help you detect issues before they become major problems such as an erratic cash flow. It also keeps your eye on the target when you’re growing your business or cutting costs.
4. Business advice
This goes hand in hand with the management reports. Schedule monthly meetings to review the results together with your accountant, get financial advice and determine appropriate actions to take.
As your business continues to grow and expand, you may also be looking for help with exit strategies, succession plans for family businesses and management teams, and advice on a myriad of decisions that you will need to make along the way.
What traits should you look for in an accountant?
When choosing an accountant, look for a person with good communication skills and who shows a keen interest in your business. You need to feel comfortable that you could talk about anything and everything without feeling judged or intimidated. You want to feel that your accountant cares about you as a person and can develop a long-term relationship.
They don’t necessarily need to have all the answers to tax or other technical questions. If they have a network of experts to consult, they should be able to provide you with the right advice.
I believe that it is more important today to have an accountant or CFO who has in-depth business knowledge and skills to help you start, run and grow your business than an accountant who is the best tax advisor.
An accountant with a good business acumen is worth their weight in gold; they’ll help you survive terrible times and grow your business properly. Meanwhile, an expert tax accountant can manage your tax obligations and deal with any issues.
By choosing an accountant with good business skills and has access to tax advice, you will get the best of both worlds.
Furthermore, study what accounting system your accountant uses. The way forward for businesses is to use cloud technology, where everything is secure, backed up online and accessible from many devices.
A good accountant should be looking at cloud solutions. Not only is this the future direction but there are significant efficiencies gained by your accountant. Those benefits such as time saved, efficient organization, and accurate financial reports are reflected in the fees you’ll pay.
Accountant costs: What price point should I be looking at?
The old saying “if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys” applies to accountants just as it does to any other industry. Make sure you interview at least three accountants and get quotes from them. Ask for a monthly fixed fee agreement so that you know your costs in advance. This is ideal as it helps with your cash flow by spreading your costs over the year.
Take your time
Take your time when choosing an accountant. Finding the right one for you and your business will make a massive difference to this often least understood pillar of your business.
Consider finding an accountant or CFO who focuses on management reporting and who can give you sound business advice to help reach your goals. If you’re unhappy with your current accountant, it’s not hard to find another who can understand your business and propel it forward.
Above all else, find an accountant whom you feel comfortable talking to and can pick up the phone anytime to get advice. A great accountant will feel like your biggest supporter in business through the good and troubled times.
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