Know when you fire (or hire) an accountant

DID YOU EVER HEAR OF A KID PLAYING ACCOUNTANT – EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO BE ONE? “-JACKIE MASON

The above quote struck a chord with me. I always remembered wanting to be an accountant. But I don’t remembering receiving an accountant “dress-up” kit as a present when I was a kid. I can make two guesses as to why no one wants to “play” accountant. One, toy makers didn’t see it as a profitable product line. Two, one cannot “play” accountant, you have to be one. Accountants and CPAs are expected to be ethical, knowledgeable, reliable, and financial experts. It’s hard to put all of that in box for $14.99.  It’s also hard to pick an accountant from a list or a Google search.

I recently went to an intimate breakfast networking event consisting of 14 people. After everyone gave brief introductions, we chatted amongst ourselves about our businesses and our goals. Another entrepreneur told me something I couldn’t believe. Before his current accountant (which he gloats about), he had fired 4 other ones. As an accountant, that is a red flag in some cases and a possible warning sign of a difficult client. His decision to change accountants could have been prompted by disputes of fees, services rendered, organizational goals (also known as creative differences in the music industry), or just bad communication. But after talking to him, I knew he was not a “bad” client. He just didn’t know what to look for in an accountant.

I have set a clear set of expectations for presenting myself to potential clients and servicing current clients. My 6 expectations are:

1). Understand the facts of the person, family, or business and use those facts to provide or create services within my scope of professional experience and education.

2). Show commitment by honoring all scheduled appointments and meeting deadlines.

3). Become educated about the factors (social, economic, or financial) that impact the client.

4). Effectively communicate my understanding of the client’s position and create attainable goals together.

5). Maintain a relentless level of motivation to stay educated, informed, and trained due to changes in the accounting industry, the financial climate, and technology.

6). Be genuine and sincere to the point that the client understands that not only do I work for them, I advocate for them.

But what if, as an entrepreneur, a small business or an individual, you do not meet someone like me? Would you be able to spot a good accountant or CPA from one that sort of lacks luster?

Here are some things I suggest you do when “shopping” for an accountant:

1). Ask another business owner, entrepreneur, or someone you trust for a referral. Accountants and CPAs depend on word of mouth advertising.

2). Do an informal background check- Search for the professional on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Read reviews and see what they are putting on the web.

3). Develop a list of questions to ask. May I suggest a list similar the ones listed below?

https://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/assets/Uploads/10-questions-accountant-final.pdf

http://taxes.about.com/od/findataxpreparer/a/tax_accountant.htm

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20061101/handson-smart-questions.html

4). Bring your most current financial statements or receipts to the first meeting. Explain why you are coming to them and that you need help understanding your finances better. Ask them if they see any areas where improvement is needed and ask them to explain why. If they cannot identify any areas that may need attention, just leave.

5). Ask for references. Any accounting or finances professional should have contact information of at least 3 people who are willing to vouch for them.

There is an article on Entrepreneur.com that also outlines expectations you should set for a bookkeeper. It is also listed in the free resource center of my website. Personally, I think that these expectations are applicable to anyone in the financial industry that you or your business may come across. This includes but not limited to, accountants, bookkeepers, business bankers, CPAs, financial advisors, insurance agents, and tax preparation personnel.

Do you have a horror story you would like to share about dealing with an accountant or some other financial professional? I would LOVE to hear it!

Thanks for reading!!!

Jéneen R. Perkins is a freelance accountant and consultant serving entrepreneurs, families and small businesses. She prides herself in being fluent in English instead of “Accountant-ese”.

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