You need to spend time doing a bit of time researching before you pick an accountant. If possible then seek recommendations from others in your industry or from any trade bodies or organisations which you belong to. Internet research can also be very revealing but take some things with a pinch of salt, as there is a lot of misinformation online.
Once you've done your research and have drawn up shortlist of accountants, you need to assess their relative strengths and merits. Personal qualities as well as experience are important in selecting the right firm for you the job.
You need to make sure that the accountant is at least familiar with your business's sector. It will be less help to you hiring someone who's used to dealing with manufacturing companies if yours is a leisure company. They won't be as familiar with specific legislation.
Also, look at the size of the firm. A small to medium sized accountant may charge less than a larger firm and give more direct access to more experienced partners. However, this isn't always the case so use your judgment and remember to ask lots of questions.
Make arrangements to visit several firms in person to meet the people you will be working with and to make comparisons. A lot comes down to personal chemistry. The accountant needs to be able to get into your business and show an interest in it as well as just doing your accounts – if they are to advise you properly on the business. You're likely to be working closely with your accountant and if you don't get on at a basic level, your professional relationship may be more difficult than it needs to be.
Ask if you can speak to other clients. This is like asking for references and will be a real test of the calibre of the firm. If they are confident that their service has impressed, they shouldn't have a problem referring you to a few people. Equally a good accountant should want to make an appointment to come and see your business. And allow each accountant to pitch to you. It isn't just about what you want but also what they're prepared to offer.
But what if they don't do a good job?
You've followed all the rules and carefully chosen your accountant. But this is the first time you've had an accountant – how do you know if they're doing a good job? And what do you do if you're not?
It is possible just to say to an accountant that you no longer want to work with them – you can effectively 'sack' the firm. But don't rush to do this at the slightest hitch, it's important to build a relationship with your accountant. This is difficult if you are changing every six months.
Look at what you are getting from them. At a basic level, are your accounts and tax returns prepared on time? Are you being billed as agreed and are your phone calls and letters answered?
Then on top of that take note of the advice they have given you. Have they come up with ideas you wouldn't otherwise have thought of? And if not, is that because you haven't liked the ideas – or because there haven't been any?
Problems can usually be ironed out so keep careful track of the service and speak to your accountant if you need to. But at the end of the day don't forget you're not paying for poor service.