How to get the most from your accountant within your budget
The best accountants add value to your business, but do so for an affordable cost that the business owner can control
Growing enterprises rapidly find they need the services of an accountant in order to help them manage the finances of their businesses. But which services do you actually need, how should you pay for them, and how do you make sure you’re getting good value for money?
These questions aren’t as straightforward as they sound and the answers to them are almost certain to change over time as your business scales up. But these are important issues to address: used effectively, your accountant can make a huge contribution to your business’s growth. Here’s our top 10 tips for getting the most from your accountant while managing the cost of its service.
1. Use fixed fees
Agreeing a fixed fee for your accountant’s service, rather than paying by the hour, will enable you to plan ahead for the cost of the work and to control cost. The fixed fee agreement should come with clear detail on what you’ll get in return for your money, but you’ll also have the option of commissioning additional work should it prove necessary. Contingent fees – where you pay according to results – may work well in certain circumstances; one example might be work required to claim Entrepreneurs’ Relief.
2. Be realistic about your budget
While it’s important to keep a tight rein on all costs, accountancy fees included, review your budget on a regular basis. Over time, the work you require from your accountant will change – you may need additional and more wide-ranging services, or you may need less support as the business becomes large enough to support more in-house staff. Update budgets according to what your business needs.
3. Buy what you need
Most accountants offer a menu of services, so think carefully about what you actually want. In particularly, look in detail at the support an accountant can give you as you try to grow your business – ongoing advice and feedback based on the financials your enterprise is generating and the accountant’s experience and knowledge working with other firms. Equally, don’t pay for what you’re not getting – if your accountant is charging you for an all-singing and all-dancing service, make sure you’re actually using all that is on offer, or negotiate a reduction in its fees.
4. Timing is crucial
In terms of the potential value it can add to your business, the frequency of the work your accountant produces can make as much difference as the work itself. If your interactions are occasional – once a year, when reports and accounts are completed, say – you may be satisfying your compliance responsibilities, but you won’t be getting timely analysis of trading and business performance that you can put to good use.
5. Relationships matter
Your accountant should be able to make an important contribution to your business’s growth, but if you don’t trust them, or feel comfortable talking frankly and openly with them, you won’t be able to take full advantage. An accountant should be a trusted business partner who is able to provide constructive support as you run your business. If that’s not an accurate description of your relationship, it’s time to ask why.
6. Move on if you’re unhappy
If you’re not happy with the service your accountant provides, for whatever reason, and you can’t see a way of quickly remedying the problem, don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere. It’s likely your accountant will also be relieved to bring an unsatisfactory relationship to an end.
7. Consider outsourcing
In the early years of your business in particular, your accountant may represent a broader finance solution for the company. There will come a time when it makes sense for the business to employ full-time staff such as a finance director or financial controller, but in the short term, where you can’t support someone in a full-time role, your accountant may be the best place to run most of your finance function.
8. Exploit digital
Digital functionality is transforming the relationship many businesses have with their accountants, enabling the delivery of a broad range of services quickly and efficiently. At the very least, digital technologies can reduce the cost of employing accountants, who should need to spend much less time actually in your workplace.
9. Evaluate your own IT systems
To get the best out of your accountant, make sure your own IT systems provide the functionality you need to generate the data it requires and to communicate effectively. If you’re still dependent on paper-based systems, it will be difficult to exploit the digital tools offered by your accountants.
10. Data is crucial
Good management information will make all the difference to your business, enabling you to take strategic decisions on a well-informed basis, rather than depending on instinct. Your accountant should be able to both provide this information and assist you in interpreting it, helping you to scale up your business, but also to manage this growth without exposing the firm to undue risk.
By Luke Streeter
who is part of PwC’s My Financepartner, a cloud-enabled accounting and business support service that helps ambitious SMEs grow.