When choosing a small business accountant it is important not to be overly concerned with the size of the accountancy practice. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and there are many small firms of accountants out there that are more than capable of providing the types of services you and your business may require.

So, what is the first thing to look for? Qualifications are a key thing to consider. Unlike other professions a person does not have to be qualified or a member of a professional body to be called an ‘accountant’ and offer general accountancy services to the general public. As a result, there are many people offering accountancy services who are unqualified, not up to date with current laws, regulations and standards and simply not up to the task. Using one of these unqualified accountants is likely to come back and bite you at some point therefore these individuals should be avoided at all costs.

Qualified accountants have undergone years of practical training and rigorous examinations, therefore earning themselves the right to be accountants and join a professional accountancy body, such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (“ACCA”). All qualified accountants are regulated by their respective professional body therefore they have to adhere to strict rules, procedures ethics and code of conduct. In addition, all professional bodies require their members to remain up to date and abreast of changes to accounting standards, company law and generally accepted accounting principles, therefore all qualified accountants have to undergo continuous training and development.

When dealing with a qualified accountant that is a member of a recognised professional body you can be confident you are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing, someone who takes their career seriously and someone who is dedicated to career development. What’s more, if anything goes wrong when dealing with a qualified accountant of a registered body you can launch an official complaint and seek compensation and remedial action through the professional body, which should give you a bit more confidence.

All qualified accountants that are members of the same professional body are regulated in exactly the same manner and the size of the accountancy practice makes no difference, and all accountants and practices have to adhere to the same stringent rules and maintain the standards.

When choosing an accountant never go with the first one you come across. It is important to do some research and devise a list of potential accountancy firms. Search the internet, look through local business directories, speak to the business community and obtain some recommendations. It is worth investing time and effort in researching a potential accountant in order to save time, effort and hassle in the future if you choose the wrong one.

Once you have devised a shortlist of accountants the next step is to contact them and have a meeting. An accountant should offer a no cost, no obligation initial meeting to discuss you’re requirements. If you are going to be charged for an initial meeting walk away and strike that particular accountant off your list, as they are not worth bothering with.

An accountant offers more than the compliance services of year end accounts preparation and taxation affairs. Whilst these are important an accountant can offer so much more, such as VAT, payroll accounting services and corporate finance to name but a few, therefore your accountant can play a key role in helping you develop and drive your business forward. As a consequence, the relationship between your business and your accountant should be strong, loyal and you both need to be in it for the long term to get the most out of it. Because of this it is important you can ‘gel’ with your accountant and work with them.

When meeting all the different accountants you need to keep asking yourself “can I work with this person?”. “Do I like this person?”. “Will this person drive my business forward?”. If the answer to any of these questions is no, the accountant is not right for you or your business and you need to strike it off the short list. During the meetings you need to rely on your gut feel and instincts and listen to them. An accountant should never be selected solely on the basis of cost. Some accountants will quote cheap and do the minimal amount of work to satisfy Companies House, HM Revenue & Customs, the banks etc. in order to make money. When this happens corners are often cut and long term opportunities to improve the business are often missed. Can you afford for this to happen to save a few pounds in the short term in accountancy fees?

Choosing an accountant is not an easy task and there is a lot to think about, so it can be quite daunting. However, if you do end up making the wrong choice in accountants all is not lost and it is easy changing to one that is more suitable for what you and your business needs.