When you hear the term accountant you may already have an image in mind and think that they are all similar, however there can in fact be large differences between them…
You may be surprised to find that the generic term ‘accountant’ isn’t protected, and anyone can actually call themselves one – even if they have no experience or qualifications. It is therefore important to check their qualifications, background and support they can bring. (The term ‘chartered accountant’ is actually protected, but many people would not notice the distinction between that and ‘accountant.’)
Sometimes accountants start a business by buying a block of clients from a retiring accountant – this can be a quick way to get started as you have a ready business, however could mean that they miss out on the experience of starting a business from scratch and growing it. This experience can be of benefit to their clients when they are growing their own business, so it may be preferable to seek out one who has indeed done this themselves.
A normal accountant could perhaps be considered to be likened to a GP – dealing with many aspects of accounts and tax, perhaps including payroll, limited companies and other areas.
Therefore one that specialises in a particular area of business can be preferable.
There are several points you may want to consider in relation to the topic:
– Is the price a quote or an estimate? Estimates can sometimes unfortunately be too low, resulting in a nasty surprise later.
– Is VAT included? Many accountants quote fees excluding VAT, so you could find an extra 20% on top of the bill you had budgeted for.
– Are there any extras? Do you have to add a cost for software to produce your data in a format they would like or are they flexible? …and remember to include your own time cost for learning how to use their system and using it.
– Are the prices open? Do you know up front what the packages are and their costs? Is this published, or do you need to find out at a meeting?
Remember there are costs to ‘saving money’ by completing your own accounts and tax return through the time lost that could have been spent on your business – as well as perhaps not claiming for all the allowances you are entitled to.
These are some of the issues that can affect you as a small business; the great thing with the web is that it is easy to do research on an accountant to answer these questions and you can then choose one that will fit in with your own needs.