Finding an accountant with knowledge about both small business and your industry can be a tremendous resource. Here are some things to keep in mind as you interview candidates:
FEBRUARY 25, 2015 A strong and qualified accountant is one of the best strategic hires you can make for your team. However, a solid small-business accountant has to embody unique skill sets in order to be a good resource. As with all important relationships, finding the right accountant is a process. When done properly, strong research and analysis can yield great rewards.
Here are seven questions to keep in mind during your search for the right accountant for your business.
1. Do They Have Certification?
Accountants are regulated by their state’s licensing board, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the entity that administers the profession’s certification exam. The AICPA notes that while “[a]ll CPAs are accountants ... not all accountants are Certified Public Accountants. The principal differences between accountants and CPAs are education, experience and opportunity.”
If you prefer an accountant who is a CPA, ask for both a resume and a copy of their certification. A red flag should go up if the person is unwilling to provide documentation. However, you can go to your state’s accounting board and get a request for certification form.
2. Do They Have Small-Business Experience?
While certification may be an important factor for small-business owners to look for, it should not be the exclusive one. “Just because an accountant has a CPA designation does [not] mean [he or she] would be a good fit," advises Clinton Jones, owner of Clinton Jones & Associates and a CPA with more than two decades of experience. “A CPA that has worked in one or two areas of accounting—i.e., auditing, government contracting, tax—for 20 years may not translate very well to a small business.”
For instance, according to the Small Business Administration, a small-business owner’s personal finances are often “strongly tied” to the business’s finances. This presents unique financial issues for the small-business owner that large businesses do not necessarily have. Accordingly, a seasoned small-business accountant will understand these matters and can advise you on developing strategic operating systems, policies and corporate structures that may greatly assist the business. There are many tax consequences and penalties for improperly commingling funds, and a strong advisor can help ensure your success early on by setting up your operations properly.