It’s the holiday season and your kids are pouring through catalogs, searching online and making extensive Christmas lists (okay, admit it, we’re describing you). We take care to make lists, check them twice and ensure people know exactly what we might be “surprised” to find underneath the Christmas tree.
All this work for one time a year. What if you put the same effort into finding someone to help your business grow and succeed? Someone who not only understood your books but could help you project, forecast and make sure all the boxes were checked. That person is your accountant (come on, would you expect anything less from us?).
Too often, small businesses adopt the DIY model until the finances become too complicated, or too much of a mess, before they call someone in. Finding the right accountant for your organization early (whether it be someone on your staff or hiring an outside firm) is a gift that will give continually to your organization.
But how do you know what to look for? Similar to the search for the perfect gift, research is key. Here are things you should be sure to put on your accountant wish list:
They know their stuff. We’re talking degree(s) obtained, GPA, certifications (CPA, CMA), continuing education, accounting software experience/background and more. Further, make sure to take a long look at their resume, as it’s truly your first impression. Do they have proven accounting experience? How long have they stayed in previous positions? What were their job responsibilities at each position? Basically, you’re looking to ensure they have the background and framework to help you and your organization.
Tip: Ask them to explain in their own words their skill set and experiences from past positions. Raise the red flag if they just start reciting their resume.
You understand what the heck they’re talking about. You’ve taken the first step and reviewed their experience and education. They know their stuff. But the question is, can they help you understand it as well, beyond all the jargon? According to Forbes, “the mark of a really-great-to-work-with CPA is an ability to translate esoteric ideas and terms into something that you can truly understand and work with. You want someone who will go beyond doing a job for you – you want to be able to use them as a resource to expand your knowledge of how to run your business.”
Tip: Have more than one person interview them. Have a separate interview within different departments to see how well they communicate across departments or individuals. Here’s a few questions to ask:
- Explain a time when your month-end close process didn’t go well, what did you do to fix the problem?
- What processes have you put in place to strengthen the accounting department and why?
- How do you handle the tight deadlines within an accounting department?
It’s not all about THEM. Yes, you’re looking for an accountant for your organization, so you want to make sure they’re qualified. But remember, it’s not all about them. It’s about YOU too. A good accountant should be able to discuss your business and be willing to learn more about what you do. Sure, they need to know the numbers, but they also should be a genuine partner who can give feedback and advice across various areas of your business.
Tip: Ask some general questions about starting or running a small business. A good accountant should be able to talk about industry trends and answer basic small business accounting questions.
They’re not the best thing since sliced bread.
A truly good CPA will be skilled, but will also know where their shortcomings are. According to Forbes, “Look for someone who openly discusses what they’re good at and what their flaws are – and hopefully how the rest of their team compliments and compensates for them.”
Make sure your accountant not only knows their stuff, but is backed by a team that also knows their stuff. Learn more not only about your accountant, but about the team that will be working alongside them. It’s highly likely you’ll be working more with their staff on day-to-day operations and preparation then with the CPA. So you should probably make sure you all get along.
Don’t take their word for it.
Remember, an interview is a person’s opportunity to show their best self. But they should also be able to back it up. Background checks are incredibly important, as they allow you to verify what a person has told you. Background checks can verify education degrees and graduation dates, credentials and if they’re still active, and employment. Further, calling professional references will give you a clearer picture of the person or firm you’re looking to hire.
Yes, this will take time. However, it will take more time if you hire the wrong accountant/firm and then have to replace them and onboard someone else. Spend the time upfront to ensure you get the right accountant early on.
Seem like a whole lot of work? You can always hire a placement service firm (like us) to do the hard work for you.