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10 questions to ask when hiring a small business accountant

February 25, 2019

There are probably several dozen questions you could ask a small business accountant vying to work for your company. But would you also take the time to ask yourself questions after the interview? If you want to hire an accountant who is knowledgeable, experienced and a great fit for you and your business, do your due diligence and try these ten questions; five for the accountant and five for you!

Five Questions for the Accountant

1. How many years have you been an accountant?
This is the door opener, and though a close-ended question, it should lead you to ask whether the person is a certified public accountant, if so, for how many years, and if they are licensed with the State of Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). If the answers are yes, double check the information on the LARA website to verify.

2. What is your experience working with small businesses?
After their response, inquire about any experience they may have in your particular industry or area of expertise. Many industries have regulatory compliance issues and costs, and an accountant that already knows the industry can be a real lifesaver. When the accountant is one of a team, it’s also good to know if you will be working solely with him or her, or with different team members. Ask for testimonials from other small business clients or letters of reference if available.

3. Can you provide comprehensive accounting services from start-up through growth and expansion to saleor succession of the company?
In a perfect world, once you hire an accountant you trust, you will probably want to build on that trust and make a professional relationship that will last a lifetime or longer. So, it’s essential to hire someone skilled at many or all levels of small business accountancy who can become part of your team for the long term.

4. How do you usually prefer to communicate with clients and how often? (phone, text, email, in person, etc.)
It is important to know if you and the accountant are on the same wavelength regarding communications. If you want to stay in touch through live meetings or telephone calls and the accountant prefers text or emails, you may not be the best match. On the same note, since you will likely be sending personal and business financial documents and information via email to your accountant, this is a good time to inquire about cyber security and how your information will be protected.

5. What rate do you charge for your services?
An accountant’s hourly rate is essential for your budgeting and decision making. You should also inquire about estimates of time to handle the accounting work you need to be managed or about monthly retainers if that’s appropriate. Don’t be afraid to tell the accountant any limitations you have on funding available. By being honest, the accountant can best estimate how much work can be done for your company and prioritize work so that the essential tasks are performed first.

Five Questions for You

1. Did the accountant’s credentials check out?
If not, walk away and don’t look back. If they did, you might want to also contact friends and professional acquaintances and ask if they have ever worked with the person, have knowledge of their reputation or can recommend the person as a competent, knowledgeable and ethical CPA.

2. Was the accountant candidate able to provide credible letters of recommendation and testimonials?
If the answer is yes, don’t hesitate to check references and read testimonials as they are usually among the highest compliments a firm or individual can get. If the answer was no, you can still rely on the word of people you know and trust for their impressions and recommendations.

3. Is the accountant candidate’s communication style in sync with yours?
Be honest with yourself. If you are old-school formal and have to have in-person meetings for everything, and the accountant prefers to email back and forth, you will not be happy. There is no point in starting a business relationship with someone who is not going to fulfill your expectations.

4. Do you think the accountant candidate is someone you can develop a working relationship with?
Working together toward common goals requires a certain rapport. You will need to approach it as a partnership that will require a high level of mutual respect and understanding. If you do not feel you can develop a healthy and trusting relationship with the person you should keep looking.

5. Does the accountant candidate have experience in all of the areas you will need to be managed?
Even if you like someone and feel a good rapport is possible, if they do not have all of the expertise you need, you will eventually find out that their shortcomings are your business’s shortcomings. If an accountant can’t give you examples of actual work and actual clients that match your needs and your business, it’s better to continue your search.

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