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5 Tips to Choose an Accountant

The Best Way to Ensure Your Money Works

As a 20-something millennial, I thought that the time for accountants was still in my distant future. I thought that I would have ample time to prepare myself emotionally for what I thought was essentially someone noseying through my finances and telling me how badly I was doing. 

However, due to a series of fortunate events, I might soon be the owner of my own company, and the first thing to do in such a situation is get a good accountant. Even my solicitor - who will be writing all the contracts! - won't talk to me until my accountant has sorted out everything she needs.

So I went to see several accounting firms before deciding on Katie, who so far has been an absolute Godsend. 

Choosing the right accountant is crucial for any business, but especially a small start-up like myself, and it can be very costly to choose the wrong accountant, as they might not give you all the information, or the right information. These are the things that I would absolutely recommend everyone did before choosing an accountant.

1. Choose a certified office.

In the UK, there is no licence required for someone to call themselves an "accountant". While this might not mean that your un-licensed Bob Nextdoor is a worse qualified accountant than my Katie, choosing a certified accountant gives you an extra degree of security and safety.

A certified office won't necessarily be bigger or more expensive than an un-certified one. And nobody charges you for "shopping around", so take the time to go and speak to at least two or three accounting offices before committing to anything.

We recommend using ACCA to find your potential accountant, as their website deals with local as well as global accounting firms over 180 countries. 

2. Look for relevant expertise.

There is no point going to an accountant specialised in audits if you're looking to set up a new business. Similarly, there is no point going to an accountant who specialises in new businesses if you need a forensic accountant.

It is worth asking if they've worked with companies in similar sectors, as that will mean that they are familiar with your needs. You might want to check to see if they have larger clients, to check that they can keep up with your growth over time.

If the firm you are looking at has a website, it is worth looking online to see what their members do and what their specialties are. If they don't have a website, a phone call will go a long way. A phone call will also be very helpful in letting you know what the procedures and next steps are, a well as giving you a general vibe for the place, so that your gut can tell you what you think. 

3. Use your acquaintances.

Chances are, you have a friend who owns a business. If you don't, their parents might. Or your parents might.

I know that it can sometimes be awkward to ask friends for help in matters of accounting, because there's so much taboo around talking about money. However, it is so simple to ask for a recommendation for an accountant. And if they won't recommend theirs, why not? What have they been dissatisfied with?

Keep in mind that a relationship with an accountant is very personal, so what works for your friend might not work for you. 

4. Budget

Accountants often charge by the hour, although this is not always the case. They might also charge fixed fees for specific services, such as setting up a Ltd company or quarterly VAT registers.

An option to keep costs lower is to get more involved in your accounting, maybe by dealing with your invoices or payroll directly. There are some wonderful softwares out there such as Xero or Quickbooks that streamline a lot of the process and then send the details over to your accountant so they can do the more fiddly bits.

I am not sure that this is a system that would work for everyone - sometimes it is just better to let the professionals do their job. I know that I do not have the brainpower left after a long day to also worry about invoicing customers, or doing the bookkeeping.

My accountant is very helpful though, because she has set a fixed fee for me to pay every month, which will cover all the ordinary accounting costs of payroll and VAT and all the other things that I am not trained for. This means that I can budget my accountant in like any other expense, and I know exactly what I am spending. 

5. Trust your Gut.

I know this sounds silly in the world of LinkedIn and social media, but honestly please trust your gut. Your gut knows.

The first accountant that I met was a kind, older gentleman, who sat me down and looked at the accounts with me and offered me tea. A lovely man in a small firm about a five minute walk from my house. Sounds perfect, no?

But I just wasn't convinced. He didn't understand what I wanted to create for myself, that it wasn't about being the next Zuckerberg and that I didn't want to do this to make money, but to have my own business that would allow me the lifestyle and quality of life that I was looking for.

He just wasn't the right fit. Trust your gut. Your gut knows.

Once you've done all of that, remember one more thing: just because you've picked an accountant doesn't mean that you've picked the accountant you'll be with for the rest of your life. Your business might evolve in a way that they are not qualified for. You might move geographically and want someone closer to home. Lots of things might happen. Changing accountants is fortunately, as easy as changing clothes, and you should never feel obligated to stay anywhere.

So be brave, take the plunge, it might be amazing.

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