When you set up your own business it’s based on your skill and experience. Not many of us are equally skilled with the financial side of running a company. Of course, the larger you get, potentially the more complicated your accounting systems have to be.
If you are dealing with your own finances and you have a query, remember all Which? Trusted traders have unlimited, free access to the Which? Money helpline on 01992 822848 as part of their Which? membership. It’s open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, and staffed by financial experts who will give you one-to-one advice on any financial queries.
Check our guide for advice on whether your business should register for VAT or read on for more advice on how to find an accountant.
Choosing an accountancy firm
If you would like someone to manage all or some of your accounting for you, you’ll need to find an accountant. But where do you start?
You want to find an accountancy firm that:
- Specialises in your trade or small-business accounting generally – ideally one that has clients the same size as your business. They are more likely to be up to date with any changes in regulation and allowances that affect you.
- Provides all the services you require. Accountants can cover everything from basic book keeping, PAYE, VAT, personal tax, business tax, year-end accounts, as well as tax returns. Some firms can also help clients raise finance from bank loans, peer lending and crowdfunding, auditing and investment business advice.
- Is a member of a recognised accountancy body, such as ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales) or ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
- Has professional indemnity insurance and appropriately qualified staff.
Arranging the first meeting
Finding the right company – as with any professional appointment – means you need to do some homework. We recommend:
- Asking for recommendations from your business contacts.
- Calling at least three companies and meeting with at least two face-to-face. Personalities are important – you need to have a professional, friendly and open relationship with your accountant.
- Checking your initial meeting will be free of charge before you get there.
- Ensuring you meet the individual who would actually deal with your work within the company. They may not be present at this first meeting.
- Asking about fees – what do they charge and when are they payable. You need to find out what their fees will cover, so you know what’s included and what could add up as extra charges. Will they do a fixed-price deal for the first year? If you want to keep fees down, do what you can to help them do their job, such as providing information or documents quickly when they ask for it.
Clive Lewis, Head of Enterprise at ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales - one of UK accounting’s regulatory bodies) told us that anyone can have a free, no-obligation advice session with a Business Advice Service (BAS) chartered accountant.
If you search the ‘Find an accountant’ section on the BAS website and look for accountants local to you with a BAS logo, you can contact them and arrange your free meeting.
What to expect from your accountant
When you’ve decided on your accountant, they’ll issue you with a ‘letter of engagement’. This is a contract that sets out the terms and conditions of your agreement with them.
Your accountant should keep in touch with you throughout the year, not just at year-end. They are there to help you run your business – don’t be afraid to call on their expertise. Communication needs to be two-way – you need to tell your accountant about changes in your business, problems, costs and so on.
It’s always reasonable to weigh up whether your accountant is providing you with the service that you need. Ask for specific help if you’re not happy. And if you find that the relationship isn’t working out, you can always switch accountants.