How to get an accountant you can count on

With the red tape and number-crunching taken care of, a business owner can concentrate on strategy and growth instead. Gary Turner, UK MD of SaaS accounting firm Xero, has these tips for getting the most out of your accountant.

by Gary Turner
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2016

Business owners place an enormous amount of trust in their accountants - and so they should. A bean-counter can be a valuable and trusted source of business advice on everything from company formations to cash flow and investments.

As with any business partner and supplier, however, the more you put into the relationship, the more you get out of it. Here are a few simple steps to help you work with your accountant to get the best results.

1. Do they understand your business?

The first step is to choose an accountant that fits your organisation. Make sure they have suitable experience working with similar businesses and that they are willing to understand your organisation and the industry in which you work. It’s important that your potential accountant is familiar with the tax laws and compliance requirements for your situation.

Tap into your network of suppliers, partners and peers for recommendations. Check references and finally, ensure that you’re happy and comfortable with them on a personal level. Remember that you will be entrusting much of the success of your business to this person or firm, so take your time and make the right choice.

2. Learn the tools of the trade

Many accountants encourage their clients to use accounting software for bookkeeping and invoicing. These tools allow you to manage the details of your business, improve client relations and streamline routine tasks with relatively few headaches. Online accounting software also allows your accountant to monitor your financial situation and provide timely business advice for future success.

Learn how to use your accounting software properly. A small investment of time to familiarise yourself with all applications will help you save time and improve businesses efficiencies in the long term. If your transactions are dealt with correctly the first time, your financial information is far more valuable.

3. Discuss advice for change and growth

The greatest things you can bring to an accountant-client relationship are an open mind and a willingness to make changes for the future growth of your business. Your accountant may take you out of your comfort zone by suggesting things you’d never have considered. You owe it to your business to be exposed to possibilities and new ideas, even if you only go ahead with subtle changes.

While you certainly aren’t obligated to take your accountant’s advice all the time, take time to understand their suggestions. It’s becoming more common for small business owners to treat their accountant as their CFO. This is a great way to ensure you are being challenged and the business is constantly being re-evaluated. Always ask them to explain the potential impact of their suggestions and tie everything back to cash flow.

4. Foster open and timely communication

Time management and communication are key to every facet of your organisation, and finance is no different. The trouble is the very nature of owning a small business means that those in charge are frequently time-poor. Despite this, it’s crucial that you allocate time in your schedule to communicate with your accountant, and complete activities related to finance.

Be responsive to requests for information and don’t be shy to pick up the phone. Frequent (and respectful) communication with your accountant and their team fosters a good working relationship. You’ll end up with better results and save time and money. Any issues that arise can be dealt with swiftly too.

5. Involve your accountant in business strategy and budgeting

Involve your accountant in strategy, planning and the development of financial templates. The more time you spend thinking strategically, the more clarity you’ll have around what it is you need to become successful. An accountant can often offer years of expertise, solid business advice and an invaluable third party perspective.

Use this strategic plan to work toward milestones, evaluate goals and KPIs and present your performance and accomplishments at board meetings.

6. Evaluate your progress

Board meetings and management reports are not just for big businesses. Regular reporting – preferably monthly or, at a minimum, quarterly – gives you a constant view of how the business is tracking against its plan. Spending just a few hours a month on reporting and board meetings allows you to identify and eliminate weaknesses and focus the business on critical activity.

Your accountant will also advise that regular reporting is vital for any future plans to sell the business. Having a history of good monthly accounts, regular board meetings, minutes and action items is very helpful in the due diligence phase of sale.

7. Know your goals and aspirations

Owning your own business is hard work, often risky and usually thankless. Small business owners need to be very clear on why they are making these sacrifices and what they are working toward – both financially and personally.

It’s more than possible that all this hard work will develop and grow your business asset if you focus on creating value. The best person to help you do this is your accountant. Talk to them from the outset about your goals and aspirations for the business and for your own life. Doing this openly and frankly allows you to work together to make your dreams a reality.

Find out more about Xero

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