On today’s episode of things we do but probably shouldn’t, it’s time to get real about that “great financial advice” you are getting from your significant other/best friend/family member. It’s great. It’s so great. And best of all, it’s free. So free.
I’m going to make a comparison you aren’t going to like but you also know to be true. Free business financial advice from a non-CPA is about as effective as getting free medical advice on WebMD.
Sure, it’s useful. Occasionally, it’s even correct. But we have no way of really knowing, unless we speak to a professional who’s being paid for their educated services. In instances of the common cold or how to properly elevate a sprained ankle, WebMD is great and free. Similarly, when you have simple financial questions, your friends and family are a useful resource.
When it comes to major business financial decisions, however, your free advice from your friends and family are about as useful long term as asking WebMD about your questionable mole.
Like most small business owners, you’ve probably held off on getting your own accountant because, well, accountants cost money and money is something you’re not exactly growing on trees. So start with something you feel comfortable with, something free and easy.
H&R Block offers free financial advice for small business owners from REAL CPAs and you can learn how to prepare to make sure you are properly filing on behalf of your business via phone, chat or even reading their informational virtual tax center. There’s no shame in this, it’s a considerable start, but it’s just a start. You need to accept that in order to make real financial gains in what you’re doing, your accountant is the single most important employee you will hire. And in my opinion, they should also be your first hire as a small business. If you’re ready to get serious about your business’s finances, here’s how to find a good accountant that may actually end up helping you make money one day.
Start with a few referrals. You probably have at least a handful of acquaintances or friends who also are in similar business boats, and use an accountant to aid in their finances. Start to ask around for referrals from people in your industry. While location doesn’t really matter, you will ideally want someone who is experienced in what your business does and thus, experienced in your goals for success. Try to put together a list of at least five different accountants to reach out to.
Next, evaluate where you really need help in managing your money. Some people are really organized with their finances and all they really need is someone to look at their spreadsheets when it comes time to file. Others, are surrounded by crumpled receipts and haven’t filed anything in 9 months. Be honest with what you think you need and what you don’t. A quality accountant will have an array of services they could offer you and your business, and they'll work with you on your budget if you ask them to. You may want all of their services or just a few, but being clear with your financial goals and needs will only make them better at their job while also making sure you are spending your time with them wisely.
And speaking of time, it’s interviewing go-time. After gathering referrals and establishing basic accounting goals, take a deep breath and remember that interviewing accountants puts YOU in the driver’s seat. Just like you give your customers a chance to buy your products and services, this person is going to try to sell you why they are the best fit here. Keep a clear head, and feel out their management style and personality alongside their skill set. You want someone who’s going to have your business goals and personal best interests in mind. Who is going to be able to look at your numbers and see where you can be better. Who sees your financial shortcomings and strengths and has a very accurate understanding as to what you’re good at and what you’re not.
Come up with three things where your accountant can support you and ask them to start there. You do not have to buy in to every service they offer! Along those same lines, be prepared to negotiate the fee. If you have a certain rate in your head, ask them what can you personally do to get them down to that price.
And voila. Just like that you’ve stepped away from the ‘free online article’ fear of accountant commitment cave and into a whole new accountable (had to) business financial responsibility. Your future finances will thank you for it.