Running a small business can be an isolating experience for owners. They often lack people to confide in who have a sufficient understanding of their business – which is why a good accountant is so vital.
The right accountant acts as a business mentor, helping with so much more than tax strategies, business structure and the usual compliance services. In my experience, growth is best achieved if an accountant applies their skills to identify strengths and weaknesses, using the figures as building blocks to drive the business forward, tasking the owner with addressing limitations and building on assets.
But with so many accountants advertising their services, how do you select the right one for your business? The following may help to guide you in the right direction.
- In the UK, anyone can call themselves an accountant – even if they aren’t qualified. So, ensure that the one you choose is suitably qualified and part of the relevant professional body (ie ACCA or ICAEW for chartered accountants).
- Recommendation is always a good sign: ask friends, colleagues, fellow business owners, etc if they are happy to recommend their accountant. If you are an active networker, this can be a great place to source an effective accountant.
- Beware accountants that make big promises. The first thing an accountant should do is listen so they can get to know your business, including its history, what is currently happening and its future goals.
- Some accountants specialise in specific sectors such as retail or manufacturing and it may be that you want an accountant who is very familiar with yours.
- The connection between personal and professional finance can be very closely related within small businesses, particularly family companies and sole traders. Your accountant should be able to help you make decisions that recognise this link and which are mutually beneficial.
- It makes sense to choose an accountant with experience of dealing with businesses of your size and type (eg one who specialises in family businesses, SMEs or start-ups). An accountancy practice with a high proportion of large clients on its books may not understand your needs as well – or value your business as they should.
- Finally, it’s important to appoint someone who you feel comfortable with, who understands you, is on the same wavelength and who you feel comfortable picking up the phone to speak to. A sense of humour is an added bonus!
SMEs rarely have the advantage of large management teams with a wide range of specialisms and expertise. So, having access to suitably qualified professionals in the form of a knowledgeable and proactive accountant is essential. Someone who will keep a professional confidence and who understands a company well enough to offer constructive advice can make the difference between getting by and running a thriving and growing business.
By Carl Elsby, MD of chartered accountants Elsby & Co