My first accountant was a friend of my parents’ and grandparents’. She was nice, as well as knowledgable about most things. But she was set in her ways: every process for how she worked with clients didn’t account for selling anything online. This particular accountant wasn’t equipped to help someone who primarily sold products online.
There are a lot of issues that are unique to selling online, like the question of how to handle sales tax. If you’ve established a business where even a portion of your sales are online, you’ve got to have an accountant who understands what you’re dealing with. It’s a minimum requirement for an effective accountant these days.
It’s Time to Ask Questions
Before you even agree to work with a particular accountant, you need to know that he’s going to be able to keep up with what you’re doing. You’ve got to ask questions about his experience with online sellers. Ask about:
- The types of businesses he normally works with
- If his other clients sell primarily online or off (he won’t be able to give you specifics, but he can give you a general idea)
- His own technology use (as an insight into his personal understanding and to tell you if he’ll be easy to work with)
- His opinions on issues that have impacted your business (personally, I’m currently using the question of how to respond to PayPal’s recent user agreement changes)
Your accountant doesn’t have to have the same opinions you do, but you need to be sure that he’s worked with online sellers and has a well-educated approach to the current issues. You don’t have an obligation to be your accountant’s first tech-savvy client.
Where Are You Looking for Accountants?
If you’re having difficulties finding an accountant who gets what your business needs, consider how you’re finding candidates. If you’re getting referrals from friends or family who have been in business for decades (or aren’t particularly web-savvy themselves), their recommendations may not have been vetted about technology. Most people find a good accountant who meets their current needs and then avoiding switching until someone either dies or goes out of business.
Look for referrals specifically from your contacts who also sell online. Since it’s generally considered a good idea to work with someone local, that can be tough. When I was first starting out, I had just moved to a new area — all of my friends who also operated businesses online were located out of state. But I was able to quickly build some new connections (including with a great accountant) by getting on Twitter and looking at who was active nearby.
It’s a good general rule that an accountant who uses Twitter is going to be up on the issues that go along with selling online. You still want to check out anyone you’re considering working with to make sure he’s good at the business side of things as well, but if you go back and forth online with a candidate, you can see that he knows about ecommerce.
Look at a Prospective Accountant’s Online Presence
If you’ve got a recommendation for a new accountant who you aren’t familiar with, it’s a good policy to add reviewing his online presence to the due diligence you do to make sure that person will be beneficial to your business. A simple web search can tell you a lot, as can a visit to the website of the local state credentialing organization for accountants. But don’t ignore Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Such sites can give you a better idea of how an accountant operates. You can get a view of how an accountant interacts with clients, at least in a public forum and gather a few more opinions about how effective the candidate in question is. You want to be completely comfortable with any accountant who you are considering hiring: this is a person who will have access to both your personal and your business financial information. You need to be able to trust such a person completely.
A Side-Benefit to Tech-Savvy Accountants
In addition to getting help from someone who understands how your business functions and may have some ideas for growing it, an accountant who is up to date on technology will be a lot easier to work with.
There are accountants out there who still require their clients to burn CDs of their bookkeeping data or *shudder* print out reports on actual paper. In this day and age, when we can securely send files electronically or, better yet, just give our accountants login credentials for our bookkeeping tools, I can’t imagine spending that much time just transporting records.
Make sure you sign on with an accountant who will let you handle all paperwork online. You’ll want to meet in person on occasion, so that you can discuss options for your business and get ideas on how to move forward. But you shouldn’t ever have to drop off a big thick pile of documents, as long as you have a scanner on your end. A modern accountant should have a process in place for securely sending documents. You may have to jump through a few more hoops than just attaching a file to an email, but security is a good thing when we’re talking about your business’s financial files.
Your accountant should be making your business run more smoothly. That means giving you sound advice on any issue that comes up and being easy to work with.