One of the questions I get asked most is how to choose an accountant.¬† So, who better to answer that than Judith Morgan who was herself an accountant for many years? Judith contributes this weeks’ guest post:

I used to be an accountant, but I’m alright now. Boom boom!

There’s nothing like someone who has seen the light and got out of the profession to help you navigate your way around accountants and how they work. Like all professionals, many hide behind jargon. ¬†Many accountants sadly never learn to speak “client” and they erroneously believe that if they make it all mysterious, you’ll feel the need to use them all the more. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about what it’s like to be an accountant before I go on to give you a few pointers about hiring the right one for you.

Everyone needs an accountant, like everyone needs a hairdresser. Hair keeps on growing and keeps on needing to be cut. Accounts are the same. The work never stops; year after year after year your accounts need doing again. This can grind down an accountant. When I was in practice I got many a new client because their previous accountant had a nervous breakdown or taken to drink or just disappeared.

It’s the paperwork you see; it just keeps on coming and the mountains of paper get taller and taller, the files get fatter and fatter. Online filing helps, but not much!

But you are the client, you are the one who is important in this relationship, please remember that but do also spare a thought for your poor old accountant too. It’ll help your relationship go smoothly.

Tip No 1 – When visiting your accountant’s office, look around. How are the paperwork mountains doing? All neatly under control? Is the phone ringing off the hook with angry clients chasing their accountant, or is all peaceful? Paperwork mountains and busy phones denote an accountant who is losing the battle to keep up. And you want your accountant on top of everything all the time.

Tip No 2 – Your job is to delegate to your accountant, not abdicate. This means that you must check that everything you send is acknowledged and ask for a list of deadlines by which you have to submit VAT returns, PAYE returns, annual accounts and tax returns and make sure you give all your information to your accountant in good time. The submission dates for the paperwork and the paying of the money are not the same. Check dates for both.

Tip No 3 – You want an accountant who speaks your language. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If your accountant is saying something completely unintelligible, ask her to explain it in a way you can understand. If she cannot, get another accountant. Over the years if you do this you will come to know and understand more and more. This is good for both of you because you become a more informed client who can make better use of the information your accountant is providing and better business decisions.

Tip No 4 – Due to the mountains of work accountants have to manage, most simply give up and instead of being proactive, they revert to sweeping up behind you. An accountant reports historically, after your year has finished. How useful is that, really? If you want more up to date and more frequent management accounts so you can use them to steer your business and some useful advice that goes along with that, ask for it. This will require you to be prompt with the submission of information to her, but again it will increase the benefit to you as a client. Note: It may also increase costs.

Tip No 5 – Since I’ve raised the issue of fees, ask how much your accountants fees are and how often they are billed. In order to avoid a big shock, I recommend setting up a monthly standing order then there can never be any embarrassment or risk of your not being able to pay. No-one likes the shock of a large bill but equally your accountant deserves to be paid fairly and promptly.

Judith Morgan is a former accountant in private practice for more than 30 years. Now she is a small business mentor and professional blogger.

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