If you are starting a business, you will need to consult an accountant. If you are running a business and feel you could be getting more and better advice from your current accountant, you may decide to shop around for a new one. Either way, you should start your search with some questions in mind:
* Does the office run compatible accounting software? Without access to your file, the accountant is restricted to using paper copies of your data. If there are problems in the data, you want your accountant to be able to look "behind the numbers."
* Will the accounting file serve your needs? Accountants who insist on you setting up your chart of accounts to make their work easier may impose a system on you that robs you of useful analytical information. Be aware of your informational needs and understand that these needs may be very different from those of the accountant. Bear in mind that your accountant needs your file one day a year to prepare taxes, based on static information; for the rest of the 364 days, your file is a window on your ongoing financial progress. Set up your company to meet generally accepted accounting practices, but maintain autonomy in terms of how specific accounts are handled.
* Are you looking for somebody just to prepare taxes or do you want more from your accountant? If you just want the taxes done, then your field is broader. If you want a financial overseer and planner, then you need to look deeper.
* Is your accountant an expert in your industry? If you're looking for guidance in meeting certain financial goals, or in learning where you are in terms of national averages, you'll need an accountant with some expertise.
* Do you have good rapport with your accountant? You don't have to be best buddies, but if your accountant makes you feel uncomfortable or ignorant, you won't feel free to ask those important questions. On the other hand, if you're seeking advice about getting firmer control over your finances, it won't help to latch onto an accountant who's as easygoing as you are. That won't help your business grow. --Melanie Hodgdon of Business Systems Management, Bristol, Maine, is a QuickBooks Professional Advisor offering organizational and business services to construction companies throughout the United States.