As someone who deals with rescuing businesses on a daily basis, I can confirm that there is a common cause which accounts for around 30-40 per cent of all requests for help: perceived accountancy error.
I emphasise the word ‘perceived’ because it poses the question whether 40 per cent of accountants are so poor at their job to create these requests for help and advice? Of course, they are not and this statistic cannot be solely placed at the accountant’s door.
In my 34 years advising businesses, I have dealt with many good and bad accountants. Why are there so many complaints when things go wrong? More importantly how can you avoid the pitfalls when you need an accountant?
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the needs of a limited company and a sole trader. However, in principle these tips are still relevant for all businesses.
It is fair to add that when under stress, directors need someone to blame and sometimes they unfairly blame the accountant. Another key factor is that the director has simply chosen the wrong person to ‘look after their company’s interests’. Sadly, however, a number of directors are justified in criticising their accountants in some cases.
How can you ensure you get the right accountant for your business?
1. Check them out first
Unfortunately, anyone can set themselves up to act as an accountant so shop around and check them out first. Ask to speak to at least three past clients who can give references.
Approach a trade or membership body relevant to your industry for a recommendation. This serves two purposes:
- The accountant should be familiar with your business sector and working practices.
- You have a genuine and trusted testimonial for reference. (Ask if the accountant has any other clients in the same sector as you and whether you can you speak with them, also.)
2. Get an accountant you can work with
Meet them face to face or Skype / Facetime. By this I do not mean someone who will do as they are told – this is precisely what you do not want. You want them to be proactive and able to argue points, contrary to yours, if necessary.
3. Have a clear job spec
Most small companies’ accountants do not need an audit and signing off, so be clear what you are asking the accountant to do. Agree what work is to be done and when and confirm this in a working agreement.
4. Shortlist three accountants
Narrow your choice of accountants down to three. Get three quotes once you have established who you wouldn’t mind working with. Ask the accountant how he/she prefers to communicate with his/her clients. If they say “we only communicate once a year as we don’t need to see you”, this will tell you a lot.
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