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FAQ's

Questions to Ask Your Prospective Accountant
The bottom line is that you should expect today's accountant to be much more than a bookkeeper. Most do add considerable value. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So, with your raised expectations, how do you choose the right accountant for your small business? Like any relationship, it boils down to a compatibility of interests, experience and outlooks. Seek recommendations from your peers and ask prospective accountants the following questions:

Do you have your CPA?
Business owners are often confused as to the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. A CPA has a surpassed accepted financial education levels, passed state-administered tests to prove competency and periodic re-certification exams. Certain situations, such as audits and many loan applications, require CPA involvement. Not surprisingly, CPAs can charge higher fees than a non-CPAs. But there are a great many non-CPAs who excel at small business accounting and financial and technology consulting. Again, getting to know them and your needs is the necessary first step.

What kind of creative business advice will you offer me?
A good accountant can deftly handle data and numbers but should also be able to demonstrate quick and creative business acumen. Ask the candidate to offer three quick ideas on how your firm might be able to save money right now. Ask them for three examples in which they offered useful business advice to other clients that went beyond just tracking the numbers. While "creative accounting" is usually a negative, having a creative business mind can be a huge asset towards helping your company to grow.

Do you consider yourself to be tech-savvy?
Small business accounting software has made powerful accounting tools available to everyone. But these accounting packages, most notably Sage line 50, MYOB and QuickBooks, are only as useful as the person who installs them and runs the applications. Even if you are not a "tecchie," do your homework to be able to determine whether the candidate understands the role computer technology plays in turning business information into business intelligence. For example, ask them how they will integrate your computer files with the technology in their office. What role will the Internet play in keeping in touch and interchanging financial information.

Who are your other clients?
Imagine this scenario. You hire an accountant based on the assumption that he understands the basics of your business. Then, you find out that he's never had a client like you before. Instead, he's only prepared tax forms for wealthy individuals that don't own businesses. Avoid that possible disaster by asking who the accountant works with. If they are businesses that are similar to yours, that's a good sign. In asking about their clients, you will also want to understand how busy they are and whether they have the time and resources to support you adequately.

How do you calculate your fees?
Ask the accountant what you can expect fees to be and will he guarantee that you will not exceed certain amounts that you agree upon up front. In a time-based fee structure, make sure to find out the hourly rate, as well as all fees for expense reimbursement. Find out now whether a simple two-minute phone call or a one page fax means an hour of billable time. If that's the case, run for the door.

Are you active in the local business community?
Who do you know that can help me? Find out whether your prospective accountant can introduce you to people who might be useful to you, including prospective customers, suppliers, bankers, and investors. Since talk is cheap, take it one step further. Ask the accountant for examples of introductions they've made in the past for other clients and how those introductions played out.

Why should I use you?
As a final question, it's always good to let the accountant make the case for why you should engage them. Find out whether your prospective accountant can introduce you to people who might be useful to you, including prospective customers, suppliers, bankers, and investors. Since talk is cheap, take it one step further. Ask the accountant for examples of introductions they've made in the past for other clients and how those introductions played out.

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