Most, if not all, business owners will need the help of an accountant.
While an accountant is often your best bet for pocketing maximum returns at tax time and can offer you peace of mind that you’re fulfilling your statutory obligations, in an ideal scenario, they can also act as a trusted business adviser and use their expertise and foresight to grow your business.
Paul Sweeney, business growth specialist at Pretium Solutions, shares his advice about the ways in which you can get more value out of your accountant and how they can help you maximise the profitability of your business.
- Your accountant can offer much more than just a tax return
If you are only speaking to your accountant at tax time, it’s safe to assume you are not optimally utilising their expertise.
“A lot of people just go to the accountant once a year for that end-of-year tax return so the advice that can be given at that point is fairly limited,” Sweeney says.
“We’ve probably developed this situation where people would rather go to dentist than go to their accountant. At least with the dentist you know they’re going to fix your teeth, but when you go to the accountant they give you a bill for doing your tax return, and you just walk away thinking ‘well, where’s the value in that?’
“The value has to come from what can they do for the small business owner’s business. And that should be the focus, not compliance.”
- Your accountant can set the direction for your business
To truly leverage your accountant’s expertise, Sweeney suggests you ideally engage them when you’re setting up a business so they can align strategic advice with your specific goals.
“Right from the beginning, we’d be looking at why [a client is] looking at starting up a business. What do they want to achieve, and what does that business need to do for them?” says Sweeney.
“What do they want to get out of it? Do they want to have the time to spend with family, or do they want to have a good reliable income? Do they want to control the amount of time that they work? Do they have a new product or an innovation that they need to launch?”
- Your accountant can help you implement your business goals
In an ongoing advisory capacity, a good accountant will contact you regularly to monitor how your plan is being implemented, and in turn Sweeney encourages business owners to frequently check in for advice.
“What we find is people go into business with all these great ideas about what they want to achieve, and then 12 months down the track the business is nothing like that,” he says.
“When you start a business you don’t just start a business, you actually take on close to 20 different roles… so getting advice on how to actually manage those roles and how to run your business in a better, more efficient way, right from the beginning, that’s essential.”
- Your accountant can keep you answerable to your business plans
Consistent contact with your accountant protects your business as you can both actively monitor whether you are heading in the right direction and steer your business back on course if not.
“We all get busy, we all get distracted. There’s no point finding out six months after the end of the year that you could have fixed a problem with your business. And that’s unfortunately where a lot of small businesses are at,” says Sweeney.
Sweeney also suggests a good accountant will explain how they are tracking a client’s strategic efforts and how this relates back to their wider business goals.
“Once something is implemented, how is it actually measured? Was it actually effective? What does that mean for their financial performance?”
- Your accountant can refer you to specialist advice
While you can regularly count on your favoured accountant, bear in mind that you can’t reasonably expect them to be a one-stop shop for every service.
Sweeney explains that there are accountants with distinct specialisations, whether they focus on a particular type of business or client (e.g. hospitality or medical centres) or have skills in one particular area (e.g. complex taxation, international tax, grants and government funding).
“If it’s something outside of the norm, don’t just accept your current accountant has the skills or the specialisation to do that. If they can’t give you answer then you need to go to a specialist and get appropriate advice there,” he says.
- Your accountant should clearly explain how they will help you shape your business
While you may sometimes need to seek advice from other accounting professionals for complex matters, it’s important that your accountant can clearly articulate how they will help you meet your goals to ensure a mutually beneficial working relationship.
“I think you need to ask how they’re going to work with you. How are they going to help you grow a business that’s going to be profitable? How are they going to make sure you’re going to continue to be profitable?” says Sweeney.
“You don’t want a situation where you hear things through the media or from the tax office and then you go to the accountant and say ‘I’ve heard about this, what should I be doing?’ You want the accountant to be proactive in telling you about these things.”
- Your accountant can give you the best advice tailored to your business needs (but you need to do your part)
In order to enjoy a productive partnership, Sweeney emphasises business owners should aim to communicate with their accountant in a timely and transparent manner so the accountant is in a position to offer the best solutions.
“One of our frustrations as accountants is a client not supplying information to enable us to do the job quickly and efficiently,” says Sweeney.
“Be open and honest as well. Sometimes we come across clients where they’re not willing to provide all the information we need to help them appropriately. Sometimes that can make it hard to actually give the best advice for that client.
“It’s a two-way relationship but both parties need to contribute to it – that communication is critical.”
Western Sydney Small Business Expo is a hub for start-ups, micro and small businesses to collaborate with like-minded organisations who provide practical advice on building success and driving growth within Western Sydney.