When to use a small business accountant

Contact an accountant:

  • before you start, buy or sell a business
  • before acquire or replace property, plant or other assets
  • sometime between January and June 30 each year to plan for the end of the financial year (so there are no tax surprises)
  • if you're planning future expansion
  • if you're having problems with creditors, debtors, finance, expenses or stock

Questions to ask an accountant

Lots of accountants are great at what they do – but they may not be the right fit for your business.

To find someone who can take your business to the next level and help you avoid costly mistakes, consider asking them the following questions. You can also check the accountant's website – you might find some answers there.

Verify their skills and qualifications

What are your qualifications?

Make sure they have an accounting qualification and are a member of an accounting body. Your accountant can only give you tax advice if they're a tax agent. They can only provide financial planning advice if they have an Australian Financial Services licence or are an authorised representative of such a licence holder.

How long has the practice been operating, and how long have you been with the practice?

Find out what the practices succession plan if it's mature. You don't want to start a relationship with an accountant and then have them leave you in the lurch if they sell or retire.

Are you familiar with the accounting software package I use in my business?

If they're not, establish how information will be accessed and shared.

What has your growth rate been like in the past 3 years?

If you want to grow your business, an accountant who knows how to grow theirs could be a great place to start.

Find out what services they provide

What kind of clients do you see, and what services do you provide?

Find out if they have clients like you and experience in the services you need? Ask to talk to a current client to see if they're happy with the service provided.

What other services do you provide?

If you want an accountant to help you grow your business, they'll need expertise in:

  • budgeting
  • business planning
  • cash flow management
  • estate planning
  • goods and services tax (GST)
  • strategic planning
  • superannuation
  • taxation

Think about what issues are important to your business, such as bookkeeping, IT support and industrial relations assistance.

How do you keep track of changes in a client's circumstances?

Services should include check-ups on how any plans are going.

How will your practice help me develop my business?

Consider choosing a practice that will partner you in the development of your business.

How do you bill and what will I get for my money?

Find out:

  • what basis fees are charged
  • if you'll be charged for every phone call and also for travelling time
  • their billing cycles, such as monthly or annually
  • how they conduct their research
  • what services they use

Find out what level of support they can provide

Who will look after my business most of the time? What is the size of the practice?

Consider choosing a practice comparable in size to your business. Sometimes smaller practices suit smaller businesses.

Can you provide business advice and assist in the financial management of my business?

Consider practices that provide regular financial reports on your business – with additional commentary.

Will you return my calls within a reasonable time? How long will you take to complete your work?

Establish clear processes to keep you informed.

Do you have a newsletter or some form of communication to inform me of issues of interest to my business?

Find out how you'll be informed, particularly of any changes to legislation.

Make sure your business is protected

How will you protect my data?

Find out what their cybersecurity policies are and if they have cybersecurity insurance.

Make sure you'll be given full access to all your business data. Accountants can provide you with information to update your business plan or a tender document.

What sort of access will I be given to the data you hold about my business?

Make sure you'll be given full access to all your business data. Accountants can provide you with information to update your business plan or a tender document.

What research journals and services does the practice subscribe to?

Even if you've never heard of the journals, flick through them.

Know the financial basics

Don't rely on your accountant for everything.

Make sure you know the financial basics and have checks and balances in place – it's your business and you need to know what's going on.

You can use our financial policies and procedures template to put the right processes in place. Or, if you don't know the difference between a cash flow and a balance sheet, try one of our financial management workshops.