If I could go back to the early days of my business there are plenty of things I would change. I’m sure that’s true for just about anyone, and I’m a big believer in learning from other people’s mistakes.
But there are also several actions I took that I would never change, and I hope you can learn from those too.
Hiring a talented, supportive accountant, with good communication was a major factor in my success, and I hope I can convince you to take that step too.
If you’re already convinced and just here for the tips, all the better! I’ll help you narrow your search and ensure your new accountant is a perfect fit for you and your business.
If you’re riddled by thoughts like:
- When should I get an accountant?
- How do I find an accountant for my online business?
- Should I get an online accountant for my small business?
I’ll go over all of that and more.
When Should I Get an Accountant?
Okay but really, you know I want what’s best for you, right? Hiring an accountant is one of those things that most people put off, but in reality it’s like greasing a pan before you bake. If you’ve never made brownies before, you might be wondering why you need to mess with all this. But when that chocolatey decadence comes out of the oven, I promise you will be very glad you set yourself up for success.
Many new business owners think, “But I have no money to manage… why would I pay someone else to manage it for me?”
But a quality accountant doesn’t manage your money or just spend time “crunching numbers” (that’s more of a financial planner’s job). Rather, they’ll set you up with systems that keep your financial transactions organized and well documented — something that’s essential for everything from taxes and audits to hiring help and reevaluating your business structure.
Accountants can also help you avoid tax liability, capture more business expenses, go through financial statements etc – adding yet another reason to get an account for your online business sooner rather than later.
If you have another job, a partner/spouse, or dependent(s), it’s even more important to understand how your new business will affect your taxes, accounts and financial information.
So, even if you’re just starting out, take the time to find an accountant.
Qualities Your Accountant Must Have 👩🏽💻
Remember: when you reach out to an accountant you aren’t committing yourself to them. Be sure to ask questions, get price quotes, and don’t feel obligated to move forward if you don’t feel completely comfortable with them or their team.
There are 5 qualities I suggest you look for when you’re selecting an accountant.
✅ Quality #1: They listen
And I mean really listen. 🎧 They need to understand what you do — not just “Oh yeah, I get it, you ‘work online’”. The nuances of an online business can make a vast difference in how your accounting should be handled, so you want to make sure they know the ins and outs of your business.
- Do you need to itemize your receipts for your clients?
- Do you need to charge sales tax on your products or services?
- Does your trip to visit a colleague count as a business expense?
Your accountant should be able to help answer these questions.
You want to make sure that they know enough about your business and financial data to guide you in areas like what expenses you can deduct and when your business might benefit from shifting to filing your taxes as an S-Corporation. (If you’re an LLC, by default you’re taxed as a sole proprietorship. Talk to your accountant about if and when it makes sense for you to elect to be taxed as an S-Corporation instead. Yet another reason to get an accountant early and stay in regular communication with them!)
✅ Quality #2: Communication is Easy, Open, and Prompt
Here I’m not just talking about a quick response time, or the fact that they should send you notices about your quarterly taxes — although both of these things are important!
I also mean that they have excellent communication skills and are there to reach throughout the year.
No matter how far along in your business you are, you’re going to have questions. And you want to find a great accountant who doesn’t want to nickel and dime you if you pop in their email or jump on the phone every now and then.
Tax code changes constantly. So even if you think you have a good grip on things now, you might have some questions again next year.
When you’re looking for an accountant, ask them:
- Am I able to call you when I have questions? Can I email you?
- Do I get charged for that time?
I’m all about people getting paid for their work, but when you’re a new business owner, it’s nice to know what you’re being charged up front and feel comfortable asking questions about little things. Of course if you need to have a more in depth meeting about something, there’s always going to be a charge.
✅ Quality #3: Clear, Straight-Forward Fees
I’m a big fan of flat fees rather than hourly fees, especially when you’re a new business owner. When you’re just starting out and have tighter profit margins, it’s comforting to know exactly how much you need to budget for your accountant.
Whichever you decide to go with, make sure the fees are crystal clear and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They should be able to clearly and quickly tell you how much they charge to do your taxes at the very least. You’ll also want to ask them if they charge for quick phone calls or emails throughout the year to answer your quarterly tax questions, whether they file quarterlies for you, and how much they charge for any/all of that.
If and when you’re ready to switch to filing taxes as an S-Corp, ask your accountant how much they charge for it and whether they handle the entire process on both the state and federal levels.
✅ Quality #4: Patience
As a new business owner this is particularly important. If you get a sense of frustration from an accountant or bad vibes when you ask them a question, go ahead and move along on your search.
You need to feel confident and secure to reach out as often as you need to until you have a solid understanding of the systems and tax processes for your business. And like what I do for legally protecting your online business, they should make you feel comfortable to ask any question that comes to mind, without judgment. Otherwise, you run the risk of not asking something that could be important.
This is one of my pet peeves with lawyers. Some attorneys will make you feel intimidated or silly or stupid for asking questions. They might make things overly complicated or act like it’s super fancy when it doesn’t need to be.
But just like I try to provide straightforward guidance on your legal concerns, there are good accountants out there who will do the same for your money.
You deserve to understand your finances and you deserve to have an accountant who treats you with patience and respect.
Please don’t let someone make you feel stupid for not knowing what a 1099 is or for not knowing if you owe quarterly taxes — that’s why you’ve reached out for help! You’re smart enough to hire an expert! 👊🏽 *Pound it*
Quality #5: They Offer Audit Protection
When you call and ask questions about hiring a new-to-you accountant, be sure to ask if they offer some sort of audit protection.
This means if they file your taxes for you, they will back it up with all the paperwork and filing necessary if/when you ever get audited. This is one of the biggest benefits to having an accountant, so you don’t want to miss out on this! You’d also want to ask them if this service is included for no additional fee, or whether you’d have to pay if you got audited.
How Do I Find an Accountant?
Now that you know what to look for, you probably want to know how to find an accountant.
My best piece of advice here is to ask your fellow small business friends. There’s probably someone in your network who loves their accountant or can recommend accounting firms, so ask around! That’s how I found my wonderful accountant (shout out to Lauren!)
It’s helpful if you reach out to people who you know have a similar business to your own. That way you know the accountant has relevant experience.
Should I get an online accountant for a small business?
Keep in mind that taxes are state dependent, so you’ll want to confirm that your accountant knows the taxes where your business is registered and operating. Other than that, online accountants can be an excellent option for online business owners. (Online Financial Strategists can help too!)
Some online accountants working are specific in several states, but you may want to be cautious with larger corporations who offer tax services to all 50 states. That’s not to say they’re all bad — just be sure to ask lots of questions. Will you be given a single point of contact? If not, are you okay talking to a different person each time you reach out?
Personally, I prefer to know and trust my accountant on a personal level and who I can trust with confidential information but some people appreciate the convenience and rapid response times of a larger team. It’s really up to you, but these are some things to consider.
For my own business, I use an online bookkeeper and then use a local CPA, so there are a lot of ways to set this up that could work for you.
PSA: You Don’t Have to Be an Expert at Everything
You’ve probably heard this before, but please remember you don’t have to be an expert at everything in your business.
There’s a good chance you’re already acting as the founder/CEO, lead service provider, full-time customer service rep, marketing director, SEO manager, and wearing a gazillion other hats while trying to actually run your business…you definitely don’t need to be acting like you have an accounting career as well!
So here’s your permission to give yourself some grace and hire a professional when it comes to your taxes and accounting. You’re not meant to know everything. You cannot be every single expert in your business. And when it comes to your legal and financial affairs, I highly recommend you hire a professional.