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5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Accountant

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Hank provides expert tips on home maintenance to his customers. But ask him about his “accounts receivable” and “retained earnings” and things don’t always add up.  Hank knows a good accountant could help. The question is, what should he look for when hiring one for his small business? How does one go about finding and selecting a good accountant (CPA) or financial adviser?

Here are some questions to get Hank (and you) started:

  1. What kinds of clients do you work with?
    You want to find someone who has experience with your kind of small business. Some industries can pose unique accounting challenges so you want a professional who is knowledgeable in your field and with your size of business.
  2. Are you certified to represent clients with the IRS?
    If you want your accountant to help with tax filing (and many small businesses do), be sure they are certified to represent you, if needed, with the IRS. Typically a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or an Enrolled Agent can do that but confirm that with them.
  3. What other services can you provide?
    Accountants can do more than prepare taxes and financial reports. They also can serve as a business consultant on issues like budgeting, payroll and bank loans. Some also are Certified Financial Planners that can help with individual retirement, investment and insurance needs.
  4. How often will we meet?
    Ask how often you can expect to meet (monthly, weekly, once a year at tax time). Will you be able to contact the accountant by phone for off-cycle questions that may arise? How will you be charged for those?
  5. What information will you need from me?
    Ask what kind of documentation the accountant will need and how often it will be needed. This will help you determine what changes, if any, you will need to make in your business processes. Also, ask if they can work with the same business software you currently use.

Often, one of the best sources for an accountant is a fellow small business owner, so ask around for a referral.  In addition, your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center can provide information.

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