Choosing an accountant is like choosing a new business partner. In fact, scrap that, it’s exactly like choosing a new business partner. The right accountant will become a trusted colleague you can depend on, who offers advice and guidance as your small business grows. They will find the best ways to distribute your assets, adjust your earnings to maximize returns, and even handle all the annoying, laborious billings, VAT and salaries. These are the things that, chances are, you’re not really a specialist at. And you need a specialist.
But more often than not, entrepreneurs are disappointed with their chosen accountant or accounting firm. There’s an expectation that all accounting practices are created fairly equal, which is not the case at all. Some accountants will do the bare minimum or (horror) they’ll do exactly what you tell them to. That’s not a partner… That’s not value.
Choosing someone to control the life-blood of your business isn’t easy. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. In order to make sure that they’re one of the few really good ones and, at the same time, right for your particular business, there are criteria we believe you should consider. Think of it like buying a house, and put the same level of effort into the transaction. Do your homework, and ask the right questions. Look under the carpets! The result of this due diligence may dictate whether or not you can buy an actual house at some stage. That’s how important accountants are.
Most SME owners choose their accounting firms based on fees alone. That’s like choosing a car based on the tyres it has. The smart business owner, however, will need to look at other key indicators if they want to minimise their own risk exposure, and maximize the potential a good accountant brings.
We’ve put a lot of effort into creating our own business, The Beancounter, to be the type of firm that clients don’t just want, but need. In our 11 years, we’ve seen the guys come and go. We understand the needs of small business owners. And we can tell prospective clients exactly what irritates them, before they tell us: bad communication, or no communication, they don’t know what’s going on in their business, their accountant is not adding value, the fees are too high, they are using outdated technology… This is a world we know intimately. That’s our job.
Whether or not you decide to approach us (and we hope that you do), we want to drop some knowledge on what you should be looking at when making a decision about who to entrust your books to. From experience, we’ve compiled the below set of questions that will give you an indication whether your next accountant will cut the muster, why it is important and how The Beancounter fits into it.
|Question to be asked||Why is it important?||What about The Beancounter?|
|How long has the accounting firm been in business for?||You want to be with a firm that has proven that they can consistently deliver good work over a period of time. It is easy for new firms to deliver great service as they haven’t been tested with many clients. The moment they grow and can’t cope with capacity, you will be the one suffering. We would suggest at least 6 years of experience.||We were founded in 2007 and are 11 years old, with a solid track record of hundreds of happy SME clients.|
|Who will look after my business on a daily basis? And how accessible are they?||Most firms rely on a single partner or individual with junior staff to do all the actual work. You might get great personal service in the early days but, when that singular partner isn’t available, there is no one to really help. And when the partner doesn’t deliver, your only option is to find a new firm.||We have a team of dedicated account managers, one of which will be YOUR account manager. While they are assisted by junior staff, they are all overseen by our Head of Accounting. If your personal accountant is not available, another team member can pick up the slack. If, for some reason, the relationship is not working out for you, you don’t need to find a new firm, we can simply assign you a new account manager. All our people are available on their mobile phones and through emails and our turnaround time is an absolute maximum of 8 business hours (we are usually much faster than that).|
|Is the accounting firm registered & qualified?
|Accountants are regulated by professional bodies to ensure professionalism and a high quality of service delivery. This is also backed by professional indemnity insurance, should something go wrong.||Our accountant managers are registered with either the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) or the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) – the 2 most creditable bodies in SA. We are also a registered tax practitioner at SARS.|
|What IT technologies are in place, and how up to date are they with advances in technology?||Welcome to 2018! There’s a reason we’ve become reliant on technology to do things faster and more efficiently, and you don’t want an accountant who is working on old tech, which will hold your business back. The modern business world is a fast moving one and you need a partner who is at the leading edge of that world.||We are absolutely the leader when it comes to technology, because we’re all passionate about it. All our software is cloud based. In fact, we were Sage Pastel’s biggest partner in 2015 before we moved all our clients over to the world’s leading cloud accounting system, Xero.|
|Is my data secure and is there an offsite copy of all my data?||There is nothing worse, or less forgivable, than an accounting firm losing all your data. Or someone getting access to your financials… But it can happen.||All our systems are cloud based with more than sufficient backup and security in place. Believe it or not, working on cloud applications is actually much more secure than working on local software and files. If you can trust internet banking, then you’ll be comfortable with our systems. We also have various internal IT audits to ensure we comply with the strictest standards at all times, no matter how fast our world is moving.|
|Are their fees fixed or are you charged per hour?||You want to be in control of fees and not open to any nasty surprises when the invoice lands on your desk. With fixed monthly fees, you will have that and can budget for them. Also ensure that ALL items are included and that you are not charged for extras on top of that ‘fixed’ fee.||We have fixed monthly fees with all our clients and don’t charge for any additional work like financial statements or income tax returns. One amount. At all times.|
|How happy are their clients?||Many businesses are great at the sales pitch but are shocking when it comes to executing on all the promises they made in it. The best way to know what you’re in for is to speak to existing clients about their experience, to get a realistic perspective on the services offered.||We pro-actively let all our clients rate us on a monthly basis. In December 2017, we received ZERO bad ratings, 4% rated us OK and 96% as GREAT. Not bad.|
|How do they handle service issues?||Unfortunately, things happen… What matters most is how those things are handled. Customers are often just left in the dark with no one available to assist with the issues they have, which can break a relationship or the business itself. You need to ensure that the firm has a proper structure in place to deal with anything that may arise.||We have a formal complaint process that will escalate up through the levels of the firm until it reaches our CEO. That issue isn’t resolved until that client is 100% satisfied that the issue has been dealt with. And we resolve any issues as fast as humanly possible, and learn from them, so they don’t happen again.|
|What reputation does the firm have and what’s their own business looking like?||Surely you want to partner with a company who is successful if they are going to help with your own success? Of course you do – success breeds success. If they aren’t drinking the accounting CoolAid, why should you?||In just a few years, we grew from a tiny start-up, to one of the most respected accounting practices in the country. We are now a part of Transaction Capital, a JSE listed company. Our CEO, Marnus Broodryk, is a well-known face on TV, a best-selling author and one of SA’s most celebrated advocates for small business.|
Do we believe we are the best? Yes, we do! And we’re proud of that. There are other great companies too – but they are far and few between. Do we make mistakes? Yes, we do. But the difference between us and another firm is that we have the systems and people in place to deal with these mistakes, to correct service delivery issues. No accounting firm will ever be perfect (because it still depends on people) but with us, your service will be backed by the entire company, as well as some of the most talented individuals you’d ever be lucky enough to have your financial back.