Do I really need an accountant for my small business?
If a small business cannot afford an accountant, is there anyone else who can help with the company's finances and accounting tasks?
It is ALWAYS recommended that a business owner consults an accountant or a lawyer when making business decisions. Accountants are trained to give advice and are in the know when it comes to their clients' personal circumstances. However, there are services that many people utilise accountants for that don't necessarily need to be conducted through an accountant. The services sold in my particular industry (corporate services) is one such example. If a business owner or potential business owner knows which business structure is right for them or that they need to set up a trust or self managed super fund, they can skip the 'middle man' and register their business, company or trust through a provider such as Shelcom. This is only recommended when the client is knowledgeable in business structures and has certainty that the structure they want to set up is right for them.
Another example would be company annual reviews. Directors of companies may choose to bypass the accountant in this instant, even if they themselves do not want to handle the annual compliance themselves. Shelcom for instance, maintains client company registers throughout the year and ensures that company statements are checked, changes are made within the allotted 28 days, forms 484 are lodged if required and that annual review payments are made within 2 months of review date. This service through us can cost a fraction of what an accountant would charge.
I hate to say it but if they cannot afford an accountant, then they need one more than ever. Not for everything, as bookkeepers can assist in many ways, but an accountant should be able to provide great value far in excess of the fee to a business owner.
Me! Your accountant is the most trusted source of information in a SME. I find that businesses that try and get by without one get into all sorts of a mess - admin chaos or inefficient, or lose sight of their business goals
Fact: 99% of all Australian businesses are SME's, 95% of these businesses fail & are replaced by a equal number of new entrants each year. Common cause - business owners are time poor, lack expertise & resources in all areas, work in the business & not so much on it.
If I can give my business model a plug? get a flexible, part-time, CFO level accountant (for the same value as a full time bookkeeper) to focus on strategies and understand your numbers and explain in a simple way, then you will save in the long run and avoid making costly mistakes. Accountants are no longer account processors and tax returns, they should add value to your business and vision. Sure hire a bookkeeper to keep on top of your admin, BAS, transaction posting, possibly monthly or quarterly if you dont have a large transactional volume but they are generally not qualified accountants so if you need technical or strategic advice then its worth investing in your business by having a good accountant to lean on for negotiations, cash flow management, business improvement and business planning.
Corporate secretarial firms can be useful if you are a corporate and large enough to justify their added cost. As CFO I have used a few of them at clients I have worked at. They were good on the ASIC compliance if you have to manage a few companies but they often come with monthly retainers unless you go on a timed basis. However, if you are a small business, then it is more likely you will be sole trader or partnership so ASIC does not apply in terms of annual company reviews, form 484's etc (if you care to remember all that stuff ;). ASIC has also automated these forms online on their website without the paper trail, so if you have some idea of finding them when a situation arises, funds are tight and you want to save some support costs, then a director/owner/co secretary can complete these forms simply enough by yourself online with ASIC directly for your company. Corporate secretarial firms are geared to the legal obligations of a company and are good at reminding you at want forms need to be completed, directors minutes etc. They also provide some bookkeeping and accounting support and from my experience, at a more basic, routine level, but tend not to be strategic financial advisors as your chartered or CPA accountant. You can also buy these templates pretty cheaply now online for all your minutes, notices, agreements at online legal sites such as www.lawlive.com.au (again keeping your costs low) and www.cleardocs.com for setting up a company.
The use of your accountant is primarily used for accounting, tax and strategic business advice so this is not to be grouped with corporate secretarial services but most accountants can handle this amicably at the same time if you require.
It all depends on your business structure, technical ability, budget, time/resources etc. With everything moving to online DIY is becoming more available to businesses to keep costs low. The challenge is knowing what you need to do and doing it correctly so you don't get into strife. All can be done quite cheaply yourself but it is recommended you at least consult an accountant or corporate services firm for guidance in setting you up.
I have to say Paul that I disagree with your comment above. We provide corporate secretarial services among other things, and we don't have monthly retainers. Also, most accountants outsource their work to us, so the client ends up paying for our services plus the accountants services on top. Not always, but often. So if an individual knows what business structure is right for them, and if they have received advice from someone qualified to give it, using a corporate service provider may be cheaper. It's also cheaper in the long run than going at it alone through ASIC. We know the questions to ask and we catch costly mistakes before they happen. And, as you said, if we become your registered agent, you are reminded of annual reviews in time and all forms are completed and are compliant. In terms of DIY and everything being done online, it's a bit of a catch 22. Yes you can do it online, but have you tried calling ASIC with a question in the last 6 months? They are impossible to get through to, so forget it if you have a complicated issue or a mistake has been made. So in summary, yes it is always recommended to speak to an accountant, lawyer or financial advisor, and once you've got your structure you can set up through a trusted and thorough third party provider and save yourself hassle, time and money.
I recommend you use a specialist where specialist skills are appropriate. This is certainly true for compliance type issues and structuring etc. There are a number of bookkeepers who are qualified accountants that can provide great service and a broader perspective for the routine things (I use one myself), but when it comes to things like tax planning you really need someone who knows their stuff. As someone said above, it will pay for itself.