A correct accountant will provide information and accounts that are technically correct – a good one will help you actually understand them as well. And that’s a critical distinction that will help you benefit the most from your accountant’s advice, after all, as well as being there to complete whatever set of accounts and returns are needed for the relevant authorities and legislation, you may as well get your money’s worth and actually see if they can help grow your business and increase profit in various ways.
So here are 3 questions to ask them, ideally face-to-face so they come naturally in conversation. In terms of the timing for these questions, they will naturally come towards the end of the accountant’s instruction when you have something to discuss, although try to bring in at the beginning before actual instruction, maybe based upon previous information so you can discern the true-value of your accountant.
1. What proportion of my income is tax, costs, and profit?
This helps take a step back away from lists of different figures and descriptions and start to see how the most important bottom-line figures actually relate to each other. It’s trying to gain a third dimension into the accounts, what the figures actually mean against each other, and what they then imply.
The total income is what you earn – the sales, the money received from customers, the total income into your business. That’s important to gauge the sheer size of your business, an old yardstick often with salaries in how much income you generate compared to your salaries. You can then gain a perspective on what your three main ‘chunks’ of this income are – what the tax man gets, what your costs are, and then the ever-important profit.
2. Looking at the last few years and any potential changes happening now, how can these amounts and proportions change?
Now you have the current figures, think about changes. You need to look at trends in your figures over the last few years, mix in your accountant’s specialist knowledge, and then predict what can happen in the future. So as an example, can they spot that your tax amount and proportion has been increasing, and that there is a new way to structure your business which means it can start reducing? Or as your income has progressively increased over the last few years, have your costs changed in the same way?
3.What would they do in your situation?
A simple question, but so profound. This places the accountant in your position, and the reality of using real-money, not simply generic advice based upon someone else’s money. It can help focus issues, and what were simply good general ideas before can suddenly change and become more ‘off the record’ to really start seeing where you need to make valuable changes.
Andy Nuttall is from The Website Designer and the BEST range helping source local businesses, with more resources on local accountants at BEST Accountants.