News surrounding the near-demise of UK cafe-chain Patisserie Valerie has been making headlines everywhere.
Whilst the fact that the company accountant, it has been revealed, had been stealing millions of pounds from the company, which nearly caused its collapse, the sensationalist tale should be a lesson to SME owners too.
They must make sure they choose the right accountant for their SME.
So, unless you’re an accountant, don’t try and do ‘the books yourself’.
The whole point of running an SME is to allocate vital funds to the arms of the business that need to be run, and proper accountancy support is one of these vital veins that run through successful small and medium-sized businesses up and down the country.
A good accountant is for more than balancing books
Having solid and dependable accountancy support means you will make all your necessary payments on time.
This means your credit rating stays stable, and you’re more likely to be able to source funding from banks when you need it, and potential investors will see your business as less risky, and more attractive.
So how can SME owners find these trusty accountant side-kicks?
1. Interview them like any other job candidate
Looking for an accountant for your business should not be some add-on afterthought.
It’s important you find an accountant with the capacity to fully understand how your business operates and what support you might need.
This starts by looking for an accountant who already has experience working for a functioning business.
You must take the responsibility of finding the right accountant as seriously as if you were looking for another type of employee.
As they will be making sure your company performs financially, they are arguably even more important than your other staff when it comes to recruitment efforts.
Remember at the most basic, yet fundamental level, an underqualified and inexperienced accountant may fail to inform you about all the things you need to know and do, as a business owner to make your company financially viable. This could cost you dearly in the long-term.
“Look for someone who can demonstrate the skills and knowledge of supporting a small business.” – Charlotte Chung, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
2. Make sure they’re vetted by a national accounting institution
Just like if you were interviewing for another member of staff, do your research on the candidate.
Chase up past employers to fact-check their experience and commendations, and double-check their qualifications.
In accountancy, employing candidates who have qualifications from a professional body, such as The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales means there are processes in place if they give you bad advice that costs your business money.
These institutions can cover these associated losses if this happens.
However, employing an accountancy ‘cow-boy’ will not ensure you get the same protection.
Taking this route may run the risk of your business going into the red, or coming into conflict with HMRC due to bad advice from your accountant.
3. Find an accountant who wants to get stuck in
This is when you have to do your own research about the scope of an accountant’s responsibilities, and they can be far-reaching, which can be great for your business.
Many people have misguided views about what an accountant actually does, such as they only handle yearly accounts and periodical tax-related obligations – it’s not true.
Accountants can perform a variety of tasks that will help grow your business including helping SME owners find grants, angel investors, and engage in crowdfunding, as well as identify tax relief schemes.
“People tend to say, can you balance my books? What they should be asking is: what am I entitled to that I don’t know about?” – James Richardson, Metric Accountants
If you’re deciding to go public as a company, ‘good’ accountants even have the expertise to help you sell shares in your business.
A qualified and impassioned accountant will not be satisfied with being kept on retainer for annual book-keeping, they will be challenged by the expansive mental gymnastics of findings solutions to help your business stay afloat, and even grow.
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