We'll start with some uncomfortable reading.
Your accountant, nice enough... the chap (?) you (maybe?) see once a year, who tells you what you did, more than one year ago, who you don't really want to see because a) you'll get a few sheets of paper accompanied by an invoice with a request for a signature and without explanation b) (s)he'll also tell you how much tax you owe or worse, c) (s)he'll tell you that you don't owe anything at all because you haven't made a profit for another year running and it's not because of some clever tax scheme. There's a small bit of good news in fact. You are owed money. By your business. Because you keep having to pump money into it. The bad news is that the business can't pay you yet and (s)he'll also tell you who else is waiting to be paid by your business, but that's nothing that you didn't already know. And there's still a invoice. Due now.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
A good accountant is someone who is close to your business. They should know it (almost) as well as you do, warts and all. An unofficial business partner. One of the good guys. So how do you make sure that your accountant is right for you and your business? How do you make sure that you are getting the most out of them, their brain and their access to great business practice?
As with any relationship, connection and communication is key. Whilst it feels safe to use an accountant recommended by a friend or relative (or even someone offering to do it for free) proceed with caution. Meet (online or in real life) two or three and see how easily the conversation flows. Are they easy to chat to. Do they seem passionate about helping you not just be statutorily compliant but keen to help you get the most out of your business? Do they support other companies in your industry? Do they have a team or work alone? If the latter, what happens when they are on leave?
Whilst getting value for money is of course, essential, choosing your accountant because they are the cheapest is nearly always a bad move.
Worried about additional contact costing more? Once you've discussed the level of service you'd like from them, get yourself onto a fixed fee. Even better, pay for it over the year in monthly instalments. They will soon tell you if something is going to cost more. Make sure that this is done in advance of starting any work. There's nothing worse than a surprise bill.
A good accountant will keep in contact with you throughout the year. It's a two way thing. Don't wait for them to call you. Call them. Drop them an email and let them know how it's going, good and bad.
A good accountant will help you to see the wood for the trees. They can do this because they aren't right inside your business, like you are. They are on the outside looking in. They will also help you to keep on top of current figures and without breaching confidentialities, share good and bad business practices, perhaps introduce you to something you hadn't thought of, steer, discuss the pros and cons, decide & take action. And you'll do what you told yourself (and them) that you'd do, because you know it's for the best. You'd be mad if you didn't, because it was a calculated decision. And you'll most likely be better off for it, either in the mind or the pocket or both.
The best accountants are the ones that are well versed in the latest accounting and business operations tech and this is because, quite simply, there's so much that can be done automatically, it's a waste of your money and their time and brains if they don't use it. Excel spreadsheets have their place occasionally, but there are much, much better ways now of conducting business and managing your books using cloud software like Xero and other associated apps that can do SO much more and really shift the needle in your business.
It goes without saying that a good accountant is usually qualified (look for FCA / ACA / FCCA / ACCA) and keeps abreast of changes in laws and regulations. But it's more than this. A good accountant is passionate about business, about maximising values (whatever these may be) and if you are an owner managed small business person, may be the biggest asset your business has. Use them wisely!