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Having a good accountant is fundamental to keeping a business' finances in shape. Take a look at our directory of accountancy firm contacts and read tips on how to find an accountant, what an accountant does for a small business and agreeing the best terms

Why do I need an accountant?

You might think that a start up or small business isn't big enough to warrant an accountant. But unless you're an expert in tax and finance - in short an accountant yourself - this simply isn't the case. An accountant provides your business with a great deal of essential support. If you are just starting a business, your accountant will take the form of another business adviser. They will be able to give advice on your business plan and the tax issues of registering a new business. Some accountants offer book-keeping services but if they don't or if you wish to handle this yourself, you can get help with setting up manual or computerised book-keeping systems. And most importantly, you need an accountant to assist on things like whether it is necessary to register for VAT or PAYE and the procedures involved. You can also seek help with budgeting and forecasting cashflow from an accountant as well as credit control and just general financial advice. They can offer you up-to-date information on any general or legal enquiries. Dealing with the taxman is just one of the burdens of self-employment - unless you are an accountant, of course. Seek help from an accountant. If you are one of those whose eyes glaze over at the very mention of tax, the best advice is to seek help. Accountants may seem an expensive luxury at first glance but a year down the line they should prove to be money well spent. Apart from saving you a lot of headaches, a good accountant will probably save you money in unnecessary tax. They know all the allowances and legitimate expenses and will make sure you claim back all that is your right. It can also save headaches with the taxman. Using an agent gives you credibility. The taxman knows the agent is not going to be “cooking the books” and may be quicker to accept the figures.

Take advice early

Make sure you talk to an accountant before you start. It is no good waiting for the first year to come and go and then discover a few tips that would have saved you money. An accountant will be able to advise whether or not you are better off to launch as a limited company or to operate as a sole trader. They will also advise on partnership issues and should generally steer you in the right direction. More advice may well be needed if you are looking for capital with which to launch your business. Your accountant may help with a business plan and suggest tax effective ways of seeking backing. A lot will depend on the type of business you operate – whether it is seasonal, involves several different clients or whether you effectively work for one company but on a freelance basis at home. (The rules on such home workers have changed recently so it is worth checking the fine print or talking to someone knowledgeable). An accountant should also be able to offer advice on how to operate some of the aspects of your business. Should you own your car and charge out mileage to the company, or should the company buy it for you, for example.

As the business grows

An accountant isn't just there to help you manage your money. Whether you are starting up or a growing business, they can advise you on the best way to arrange additional finance without putting your business at risk. Once you have the finance in place there needs to be some control to ensure growth of your business is handled in the right way. Many of your concerns will be financial - adequate working capital, good stock control, invoicing and so on - an experienced accountant's advice will be invaluable in such matters. And can you honestly say that you are on top of all the essential taxation issues? Well probably not - but that's an accountant’s job. Taxation is a large business expense and an accountant can effectively minimise these costs.

How to choose an accountant

Tips on how to pick the number cruncher that's right for your business The first thing you need to consider when going through your list of potential accountants is whether or not any of them have some degree of familiarity with your business' sector. It won't be as much help if you hire someone used to dealing with manufacturing companies if you run is a leisure business as they won't be as familiar with specific legislation. Also, look at the size of the firm. A small to medium-sized business accountant will specialise more in the kind of accounts issues common to smaller firms. They are also likely to charge less than a larger firm and give more direct access to more experienced partners. 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. "You can't fully understand a business until you have been taken round it." And allow each accountant to pitch to you. It isn't just about what you want but also what they're prepared to offer

Agreeing terms

How to get the contract you want It's important to establish who your contact will be at the firm and in the absence of that person who you can speak to instead. This along with the services they are offering you and the fees they will charge will form part of the engagement letter. This like the contract, signed by both of you, which will be the basis of your working relationship. As such, it is important to get as much information on it as possible. If the accountant is to handle your tax, your accounts and your payroll, it should say so. And this is the point where you talk about money. Traditionally accountants charge by the hour with more for a partner than for a junior member of staff. Many firms are prepared to be flexible with regards to payment. You might negotiate a fixed one off fee for a full audit, for example, or pay monthly rather than all at once at the end of the year. The latter should be popular with both parties as it ensures regular payment when the money is available. Don't always go for the cheapest firm, look for one that adds value. How much does the hourly fee vary for a partner and other staff and will photocopying and phone time be included in the cost or be extra? Most importantly, don't be afraid to question anything on the letter or to ask for something to be added. As with most 'contracts' it is in both your interests. Your accountant should be a good investment. In exchange for an hourly fee you should get someone who saves you money, prevents you sitting up late with accounts that won't balance and who can provide general business sense. All the more reason to choose carefully. If you'd like a recommendation, Try using a member of who support They offer a free initial consultation which lasts no longer than an hour and which puts you under no obligation to sign up as a client. The consultation also gives you the opportunity to decide whether or not you feel that you can form a working relationship with that particular accountant

How to find an accountant

Where to start looking for an accountant There are many ways to find an accountant, one of which is through recommendation. Ask friends and contacts if they would recommend their various accountants. Also ask businesses around you if they go to someone locally. Your solicitor and bank manager will be working with accountants all the time - they will probably have a good idea of the firms most suited to your type of business. Equally, your local Business Link or Enterprise Agency will be able to offer advice. Make sure you ask people what they used their accountant for – you might not need the same kinds of services? What would they recommend about them and what are the weak points? Were they always on hand when needed? Most importantly it is advisable to choose someone who is a member of one of the main professional accounting bodies. There is no legislation to stop anyone setting up as an accountant so asking for member accountants in your area will ensure you are getting someone fully qualified. You can now benefit from competitive exclusive rates from professional, registered and accredited providers.

We have Accountants in Blackburn, Croydon, Enfield, Kennington, Kensington, Kidderminster, Peterborough, Sheffield, Streatham, Tunbridge Wells, Lincs, Bedfordshire, South Yorkshire and beyond waiting to help you with any business requirements that you may have. See our directory for more details.

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