A search for “small business accountant” will net thousands of results, and trying to wade through them all would be a challenge. Start by crowdsourcing and asking other small business owners who they use and trust with their finances. Once you have several names, complete some internet research on their background and experience, and read any available reviews.

Another option is utilizing the American Institute of CPAs’ directory or the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, which allows users to search by state and region.
Reputable small business accountants and accounting firms should have no problem setting up an exploratory meeting to go over your needs, as well as provide several references.

Must-Haves When Choosing an Accountant

First, you’ll need to determine what functions you want an accountant to assist with, as well as how often you’ll require their services. Start by making a list of priorities—the items that need attention right away, and the ones that will need to be addressed within six months. Next, you’ll have to pick if you want to work with an independent accountant or an accounting firm. No matter which you opt for, you’ll want to select someone who has plenty of experience with the type of small business you have and who you feel comfortable sharing sensitive information with.

Accounting Firm, Contractor or Employee?

Most small businesses don’t need a dedicated employee for accounting. Having a member of your team who handles everything financial might seem tempting, but remember to factor in the salary and benefits you would be responsible for providing. Your two main choices will likely be an accounting firm or an independent accountant who you contract with.

If you’re on the fence about the best option, schedule interviews with both and get a feel for how they work. Before making a final decision, think through what exact services you need and what your budget is, along with:

  • The upfront and continuing costs for an accountant or accounting firm
  • Their availability and office hours
  • Their experience working with businesses such as yours
  • Their communication methods
  • In the case of an audit, can they represent you in front of the IRS?
  • Will you be working with the same person all the time?

Red Flags To Watch For

Unfortunately, there are accountants who seem ideal on paper, but aren’t exactly what they appear to be. While shady accounting is never good, it can be fatal for small businesses. You’ll need to take every precautionary step possible to prevent working with the wrong person, which includes interviewing, asking for references and completing a background check. You’ll also want to stay active in your accounting processes and watch for red flags such as:

  • An accountant who tells you not to bother keeping receipts
  • Being asked to sign documents or checks without knowing what they are for
  • Not receiving an estimate for services until after your tax refund has been determined
  • Communication drops off or stops completely