Finding the Right Accountant for Your Home-Based or Other Small Business

According to a new survey by Sage, a leading global supplier of business management software and services for small and mid-sized businesses, 62% of U.S. small businesses use an outside accountant in one way or another to help them manage their financial affairs. That’s up a full 2% from last year.

accountantChanges in the tax codes as well as increasingly complex regulations were cited as major reasons for why the use of accounting services is so great right now. More specifically, small businesses that are struggling with navigating the provisions of Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act), which goes into effect in 2014, are likely to need greater support in the foreseeable future.

So what do you as a home-based or other small business owner need to think about and look for when you’re trying to find just the right person or firm to meet your small-business accounting needs?

Here are some quick tips:

Know what services you want and need—Depending on what it is you want to have done you may not need an accountant at all; a bookkeeper may suffice. While an accountant is likely to be well-versed in tax law and compliance issues and can offer you strategic advice, a bookkeeper may be able to handle the more day-to-day administrative tasks associated with keeping your fiscal house in order. It’s important to clearly identify what tasks you need to have done so that you can hire just the right person or firm for the job at the most affordable rate possible. Additionally, the importance of CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) should not be underestimated, especially in difficult cases where their distinct qualifications as licensed professionals are an imperative.

Use referrals—Finding a good and trustworthy accountant that has experience working with small businesses is right up there with finding just the right attorney. In both cases, your personal and confidential information will be in their hands. That’s why referrals from people you trust are so important. And speaking of your attorney, tapping him or her for their suggestions on who to use for financial matters is a great idea, along with your banker, a trusted business colleague or family and friends. The Society of Certified Public Accountants in your state is also a great resource.

Understand and agree on fees up front—Rates for bookkeepers working part-time will vary anywhere from $15 to $60 an hour or more, depending on what it is you need to have done, while accounting firms can charge fees anywhere from $110 to as much as $300 per hour. Others work on a monthly retainer, and some firms cater to small businesses by offering a full range of services to meet their specific needs. Make sure you understand and agree in writing to any fees or charges before work begins.

Remember, cost isn’t everything—Yes, your budget does matter, but so do compatibility, references, response time, capability and the range of expertise provided. Plus, choosing an accountant who is proficient in the financial software you use each and every day is important as well. When it comes to hiring someone to handle your finances, there’s actually a whole lot more to making the decision than money.

Look for risk-tolerance compatibility—While taxes do rank right up there with death when it comes to absolutes, as the old saying goes, how much you pay will depend largely on your tolerance for risk. While some small business owners and their accountants are comfortable pushing the envelope when it comes to tax-law limits, others like to take a more conservative approach. The trick is to find a financial expert whose approach matches your own, who thinks like you do and who is willing to educate you on your options so that you can make the most informed and appropriate decisions possible.

What do you look for when hiring someone to help you manage your small business’ financial affairs? When is hiring an outside financial expert no longer a choice, but a necessity in your view? Tell us what you think…