We are often tagged in our local community Facebook page whenever someone is looking for a new bookkeeper or accountant. Generally, that person is looking for a new adviser because they are extremely unhappy with either the service they are receiving or price they are paying.

Choosing the right bookkeeper or accountant is a critical decision. The right person will become a trusted partner you can depend on, who offers advice and guidance as your small business grows.

It’s certainly not an easy decision to make the leap, so here are a few tips and points to consider before taking that next step.

What value do you place on service?

Most people require the services of a bookkeeper or accountant because (a) they don’t have the time or (b) they don’t have the knowledge or expertise to do it themselves. Yet price sometimes seems to be the overriding factor people consider when shopping around.

Let’s look at a few other time-based service providers out there in our local community. The hairdresser charges $30 for a 15-minute cut, the electrician charges $80 per hour plus a callout fee, the doctor charges $70 for a 15-minute appointment and the dentist charges $150 for a half hour check-up. Don’t get me started on the lawyer!

The point is, we generally don’t question the price of these services provided they seem normal compared to everyone else. We are usually happy to pay for services that require a specialised skillset when we get the right result. How many ladies out there pay a bit extra to go to the hairdresser that does their hair the way they like it. There is a perceived value attached to the result, irrespective of the time taken to provide it.

Compliance services are dead (or at least dying)

Herein lies the problem with most bookkeepers and accountants – their clients simply don’t value the compliance and tax services they provide. Clients perceive financial statement and tax return preparation as a generic service and a ‘necessary evil’ in order to satisfy the ATO. Tax agents are judged on their ability to generate the biggest tax refund rather than make sure that the return is correct.

In addition, cloud technologies, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have heavily disrupted and revolutionised the traditional bookkeeping and accounting industry. These advancements have placed massive downward pressure on the price charged for compliance work.

Did you know that the ATO has most of your financial data in their system already? It’s why some tax agents can offer $65 individual tax returns by simply downloading this information (although I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just use the ATO’s MyTax for free). The other day, we received an email from an Indian firm offering data entry services at $5 an hour! Xero accounting software already uses predictive data analysis to automatically code expenses to the correct categories.

So, find a firm that has embraced this change and uses the additional time it creates to provide valued business advice. What value do you ultimately place on advice that saves you time and money, enabling your business to grow? Believe it or not, some accountants didn’t enter the industry to do tax returns all day.


So here are our top tips

  1. Meet with them face to face over coffee or via video-conference. It’s important that you feel comfortable and can hold a conversation. The best test is to ask yourself if you would you want to have a beer with them? A great relationship is a win/win for both parties.
  2. Make sure they have the right qualifications and experience. Accountants that are members of an association such as CA’s and CPA’s need to ensure they are across everything by completing additional training hours to stay experts in their field.
  3. Make sure they can provide advice based services as part of their overall package. This might include debtor collection, specialised payroll, periodical reporting, cashflow projections, KPI setting/measurement, growth strategies and cloud based software recommendations. You might not need or be able to afford all of them right now but it’s good to know they can be provided when required.
  4. Ask for examples of businesses and industries they are already working with and specialise in and specific solutions they have provided for clients in those areas. Make sure that specialisation aligns with your own business needs.
  5. Find a firm that can provide an upfront or monthly fixed fee for their services. That way you know exactly how much the services will cost at the outset so there are no nasty surprises. Do they charge by the hour (and are therefore rewarded for being inefficient), or do they charge for the value that they provide?
  6. Ensure you choose a firm that uses cloud accounting software. Do they not only use cloud accounting, but are they able to recommend, implement and support the various add-ons you can use with cloud accounting?
  7. If you need help with bookkeeping, find a firm that can do both your bookkeeping and accounting. It is much more efficient than handing things off to a third-party accountant just to do your tax. Also, bookkeepers often provide the best advice as they can really get to know how your business works at a transactional level rather than just looking at the numbers once a quarter.
  8. Find out how long it will take to get your work done. Three months turn-around simply isn’t good enough. A good bookkeeper and cloud based accounting software should make year-end compliance easy and efficient anyway.
  9. Make sure you obtain an engagement document from them detailing the price, scope, terms and requirements of all parties. This ensures that everyone has the same expectations.

A good bookkeeper and accountant can help your business in ways you never thought possible.