What Are You Looking for in an Accountant?

I’m a sole practitioner, which means that I work alone. Someday I’ll have an assistant or two. And maybe I’ll even get ambitious enough to hire an accountant or take on a partner. But I’m not sure about that. I worry about losing the quality of my service and my work. Really! That is my biggest concern with expanding and growing.

choosing an accountantWhile I would love to have the extra income that comes with this kind of growth, I know that it has the potential to change my business, whether I want it to or not. And so I’m careful about that and want to make sure that I do whatever I can to minimize this. Which brings to me another concern: what people look for in an accountant.

It’s tax time. Or at least the beginnings of it. And that means that I’m starting to get calls from people who are looking for an accountant. And every single one of them, so far, cares only about one thing: price. But price isn’t the main factor in having an accountant. Sure, I know at my prices are lower than most professional firms. And for most things, even lower than H&R Block. But most of my clients are small business owners. They want an upfront quote. I’ve been trapped with that before, so am reluctant to give it. Why?

Imagine, if you will, being a small business owner ready to give a basic quote. Now imagine that you’re a home contractor. How would you give that quote? Would it be one price and one size fits all? Or would you want to know exactly what the potential client needs? Most people call me and ask, “How much to do my tax return?” It depends. It really does! Do you need some advice on how complete your bookkeeping first? Or do you need me to do the bookkeeping for you? A lot of potential clients refuse to answer even these basic questions. What if the bookkeeping training takes me two hours? Six hours? What if there is thirty-five hours of bookkeeping to do? And you want me to do it? And how complex is the tax return? Are you a sole proprietor or a corporation? So how am I supposed to give a quote without knowing what I’m doing? And that is the biggest issue in quoting. Usually I don’t charge for phone calls or answering questions via email. But are you going to call me every day, interrupting my work, with a tonne of questions? If so, that might cost a little extra, too. After all, if you’re that needy, then you’ll be interrupting my work for other clients. And that would mean that I have to work more evenings and weekends to meet deadlines.

Yes, there are firms that will quote you a really low price for your return. But you had better have everything in order and not expect any feedback whatsoever. Because you sure won’t get it. Or at least you won’t get anything worthwhile. Most of my clients have come from other accountants or companies that are like that. They’re willing to pay a reasonable price for getting things done right and the extra service I provide. And I’m still less costly than a bigger firm. I want to remain that way, because of the business model I am following.

As for my business concerns, I like to be able to give a little extra. Most of my clients are happy that they can call me at anytime (yes, I’ll even answer my phone on the weekend or evenings, as long as I’m not busy doing something else urgent, in a movie, the shower, eating dinner, or doing something else that prevents me from answering). And I don’t charge for this, as long as it’s not unreasonable, like calling me six times a week. And I get back to emails and phone calls quickly. Information is free. I even have one client who needed to save money, as he had a bad year, so I walked him through doing his own return (for a reduced fee). He appreciates that he learned this, and as come right out and said that if the next year is better, he doesn’t want to do it, and would be happy to pay my fee. These are the kind of clients I want!

And, hopefully, there are more people out there to want me as their accountant. I guess it really depends on what they’re looking for. Do you want someone cheap? Or do you want inexpensive who will give you better service and do things right? I’m that second choice.

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