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How to get the most from your accountant

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Setting goals can help you to keep building your business

A good, experienced accountant could save your business thousands and even help you find new ways to grow. But if they need to spend most of their time sorting out messy paperwork and making sense of your accounts just to file a mandatory tax return, you will not be getting that value for money.

If you learn to work with accountants in a productive way, on well prepared books, you could benefit from their experience of helping businesses tackle similar problems to the ones you face and get more from the fees you pay them.

So, how do you get the maximum value from your accountant? Here are seven suggestions.

1. Shop around to find the right accountant for your business

If you’re hoping for something more than checking the books and filing the tax return, then it’s a good idea to get the best fit for your business.

The big firms will have more resources but it’s also worth checking out smaller players who understand your industry. If you work in quite a specialist field, this means you avoid having to repeatedly explain the basics, so you get more value from their time.

2. Ask for help early

It’s no good engaging an accountant two days before your tax return is due. They may be able to provide some help in that time but to make a real difference, they can help you set up professional bookkeeping and financial management so they can offer the best guidance throughout the year.

3. Be clear about what you need

Give your accountant some guidance on what you’re looking for. Is it the statutory requirements, or strategic financial advice? If you don’t ask, you’ll probably end up with the minimum service. If you want more than that, you need to understand what they can offer and what you need from them.

4. Make sure the books are in order

If the books are in a mess, your accountant will spend time sorting them out, rather than analysing your business and giving you valuable advice.

There’s no point paying their fees only to have them spend the day adding up receipts. If you don’t have time to sort the books out yourself, a more cost-effective way is to find a bookkeeper (rather than a qualified accountant) to do it for you.

There’s plenty of software available to help you keep the books up to date. The latest tools work in the cloud so you can, for example, scan and file receipts whether in the office, at home or on the move using tablets and smartphones as well as the office computer.

5. Respect their experience and learn from them

An accountant probably won’t know your business or industry as well as you do, so you may find they start with some basic questions. They may also make comments about the way you manage your finances that you don’t agree with. Try to resist being defensive.

If you’re paying for their advice, it’s because they have knowledge and experience that’s useful to you. Hear them out, as there may be something valuable you can learn from them.

6. Stay in touch

Don’t think the job is done for another year once your accountant has filed the tax return. If you’ve been efficient in your dealings with your accountant and given them up to date, easy-to-read books, they should be able to give you ongoing tips on how to save money and run the business better.

Quarterly follow-up calls can help keep your plans on track between annual visits. If you’re using cloud-based accounting software, you can give your accountant access to it from anywhere, so they can check the latest figures and offer advice without having to visit your office.

7. Break out the fancy biscuits

Lastly, make sure your accountant feels welcome in your office. Don’t shut them in a cupboard full of dusty old files or give the desk in the corner. Believe it or not, accountants are people too. Talk to them and share some news about the business.

Making them comfortable and at home will encourage a spirit of good will. Remember, they have lots of contacts in your area or industry, which you could find useful. A nice biscuit or two can go a long way.

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