When (and how) to hire an accountant

May 30, 2017

This post is part of our Staffing & Human Resources series. Explore more better business tips and tactics here on the Clover blog.

When your business was just starting out, you probably did the books yourself. Maybe you made your own spreadsheets and hand-entered all your data. Maybe, at some point, you upgraded to a software solution like QuickBooks or FreshBooks, or an app like Commerce Sync that automatically adds your sales data to your accounting software.

But eventually, even with automated tools to help you out, you may start to feel like doing the books is taking up more time than you have. Hiring an accountant to help you out may sound like something you can’t afford on a tight budget, but you may find it’s more affordable than you think once you actually crunch the numbers. And hey, you’ve got plenty of practice doing that, right?

Here are 5 things to think about when you’re considering hiring an accountant:

1. How much is your time worth?

Here’s where you use your math skills to figure out how much you’re actually spending to DIY. If you’re a service provider, you already know how much you charge per hour—if you’re running a retail business, think about how much you pay your managers and then come up with a ballpark figure that adds extra for your expertise. Figure out how much you’re spending to do your accounting yourself, and compare it to quotes from some local pros. You may be surprised at how affordable outsourcing really is.

2. How high are the stakes?

An accountant doesn’t just take busy work off your plate. A good one should be able to make your tax returns bullet-proof. Some will even have audit insurance, so they’ll have your back—at no extra charge—if the IRS takes a closer look at your books. Accountants can also help make your loan applications more appealing and advise you on big business decisions like buying or selling a franchise, reallocating shares when partners join or leave, or selling your business when you’re ready to move on.

3. What do you need your accountant to do?

Keep in mind that an accountant can do more than just balance your books and prepare your taxes. They can dig into the data on your business and give you an invaluable outside perspective. An accountant can alert you to product lines that aren’t working, let you know that a new location is struggling to find its feet, or show you opportunities for growth you might have missed. It’s fine to hire just a part-time bookkeeper if that’s all you need or can afford, but it’s worth finding out how much a little more help would cost.

4. Should you hire an outside firm or delegate to an employee?

Get some quotes from local firms and take some time to think about what kind of arrangement will be best for you. If you’re a low-volume, high-ticket business, your bookkeeping might be simple enough to delegate to a current employee. If your needs are more complex, you might be looking at hiring someone new to keep track of things—in which case, it’s worth crunching the numbers to see whether you should hire a part-time or full-time employee, or contract with an outside firm.

5. Does this person understand my business?

Whatever kind of arrangement you’re looking at, you want someone who really understands how your business works and what your biggest challenges and opportunities are. Tax law is complicated, even for professionals, and you want to feel confident that your accountant knows how to get you all the deductions you’re entitled to. Get some recommendations from similar businesses, so you know the person you’re working with has experience dealing with the issues you’re likely to face.

Hiring an accountant can be a great way to professionalize your business and help you prepare for growth. A good one can not only take some tedious tasks off your plate, but can serve as a great advisor.

[image: Taschenrechner / pocket calculator by Anka Albrecht on flickr]