Choosing A Great Small Business Accountant

Well done! If you’ve found this page you’re in the exclusive minority that are questioning what a small business accountant should really offer to your business.  

As a Melbourne based accounting firm we get to work with a wide variety of different businesses so we've come to understand what's important to the average small business owner. Let’s expand upon our three commandments of what makes a great small business accountant.

"The very best technical advice"

What is “the very best technical advice”? As a small business owner, you’re unlikely to be a professionally trained and highly experienced business accountant and tax adviser. So then, how do you know if your accountant meets this standard? We have broken it down into a few elements which should help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

1. They are exceptionally well educated and have the best qualifications
Yes, it’s true. If you attend and excel at the best educational institutions and attain the best industry qualifications, then chances are you will be a better equipped technical accountant and tax adviser. So look for major university qualifications and CA or CPA certification. 

2. They listen to your issues and ask lots of questions before delivering advice
There are many subtleties and nuances in business accounting and tax advice and it is simply not possible to give the best technical advice without understanding the business and the issue in detail. If an accountant hurries with their advice or glosses over key issues then it is probably not getting the attention needs. 

3. They are prepared to give you bad news to make you safe
As an adviser, sometimes you need to be the deliverer of some ordinary news. It could be that the application of a tax law may create an unexpected adverse tax outcome for your business. Some accountants can be pressured into overlooking compliance issues and not  surprisingly we do not rate that “the very best technical advice”. If you accountant is a "yes" man (or woman) then you pay later at audit time - plus penalties. 

4. They know their limits and know when to refer you to a specialist external consultant
Great business accountants and tax advisers have a broad range of experience with businesses and issues of all types. However, there are occasions where a specialist may be required to produce the very best result and a great accountant will be forthcoming in recommending this.

"A first class service every time"

When we say first class, unfortunately we don’t mean the type where we greet you at the door, take you to your seat and offer a glass of French Champagne. However, we think every great business should aspire to treat its clients and customers as VIP’s and accounting firms are no different.  Here is what you should expect from your accountant.

1. Emails or calls should be answered or replied to within the 24 hours
Yes, great business accountants are normally relatively busy so they won’t necessarily be available immediately to reply to every call or email. However, all too often accountants take extended periods of time (days or weeks) to get back to their clients. Or worse, there will be no reply at all. How many businesses could get away with that sort of poor service? We think it’s unacceptable and you should to.

2.  Your enquiries should be welcomed and you should sense this

The best way to help a business client is to engage with the owners and managers with enthusiasm. It leads to superior communications which leads to superior advisory outcomes. If you don't feel the love then something isn't right.

3. Offer proactive assistance and advice

Most accounting firms are relatively one dimensional annual compliance only solutions (its an old school mentality). Great accountants look to innovate and deliver new services that add value to their clients. For example, at 360 Partners we have recently developed a special post Federal budget tax planning solution for small business clients. This service has been appreciated by many of our small business clients. 

4.  Look for constant improvement

Like any great business, accounting firms should constantly evolve and improve what they do and how they do it. If the accounting firm is doing the exact same thing in the exact same way that it was five or ten years ago, then it’s not really innovating. At 360 Partners, we undertake a post engagement survey for every business reporting engagement. This information is used to improve all our solutions so that we get better all the time.

"Value that exceeds the cost"

Ok this can be hard to measure precisely for some services (but easy for others). Annual compliance reporting provides a variety of valuable benefits including (most importantly) meeting your ATO compliance obligations and avoiding fines and jail. It also provides clarity about the past year’s financial performance to help manage the business and it assists with business valuations and bank finance. These benefits can be hard to ascribe a value to. Contrast that with our tax planning solutions which always produce measurable tax savings that we document in our final advisory statement. Some comments on this are

1. The various financial reports and tax returns need to be optimised for tax to produce the maximum savings
This should be the primary objective of any great accountant. Lets face it, reducing your tax bills is one of the best ways an accountant can add value to your business. Tax represents a substantial cost for most taxpayers so even saving a few percent can result in thousands of dollars saved. 

2. Figures should be explained if you don’t understand them.

There is no point getting a financial report if it makes little sense to you. You can't value it if you don't understand it. 

3. Your accountants should save you time (because time is money)
Whether it be urgently sending reports to your bank for finance or liaising with the ATO to address an issue, an accountant should assist in the efficient management of these issues to help save you time. 

So next time you are thinking about your accountant we encourage you to consider these items and evaluate whether they meet the grade