Choose Your Small Business Accountant by the Numbers

accountant hiring tips
Image by Nils Geylen / Flickr
While you run your business from your garage, you can manage all your accounting with a pocket calculator and a spiral notebook. As your tiny enterprise evolves into a local powerhouse and ultimately a multi-national corporation, however, your accounting needs will evolve with it.

For a while, you will get along with hiring a small bean-counting firm to manage your payroll and taxes. Finally, when you finally stand right at the edge of becoming “a major player” in your market, you must choose your own in-house accountant.

Make sure you choose exactly the right person crunch your numbers and manage your money, because your small business accountant will have more intimate knowledge of your affairs than anyone else on the planet. As you choose, you must have consummate faith your accountant will use her knowledge only for good.

Seven essential attributes in a small business accountant

Common sense suggests that, if your “bean counter” shows up every day and crunches the numbers into neat tidy columns so that the bills get paid and the people get their paychecks, everything ought to be just fine. In order for your small business to thrive, though, you need more than a human abacus. Look for seven essential attributes:

1. Commitment

Given a choice between an accountant at a big firm or your very own in-house person, you always choose the in-house accountant so that she will share your dedication to growing the business and driving it to the top of your industry. You need a money person who will cherish every precious penny as much as you do, a prudent and parsimonious money manager who will cut your energy costs, reduce your overhead, make the vendors compete for your business, and wring every bit of productivity from every hourly-wage employee. You need an accountant who will go to war with the IRS and win. You need a trustworthy, loyal, helpful and obedient accountant who always demands answers to her relentless one question, “How can we make more and spend less?”

2. Communication

Of course, a profession is not really a profession unless it has jargon, and accounting comes with an exceptionally thick glossary of economic, financial, and regulatory terms. If, however, you wanted jargon, you would hire a college professor. You need answers. You need the accountant who can translate obscure accounting terms into every day language, the person who can translate the variables in a formula into the products on your shelves and the people on your sales floor. You need the nerd who can peel off her thick-rimmed glasses and help- everyone see clearly.

3. “Critical Capacity”

You probably will make your accountant a shareholder, but you absolutely must make her your business’s very best friend. Because you own and manage the business, you have a personal and professional obligation to remain upbeat and optimistic. Your accountant, therefore, must be the eyes, ears, and voice of reason. Your number-cruncher must complement your cheery good nature with the cold-hearted capacity to drill deep into the numbers, identify problems and their causes, and suggest workable solutions. Your accountant must see patterns in the numbers that promise to become growth trends or threaten to become downhill slides, and your right-hand go-to numbers person must know how to manage both. Most of all, your accountant must keep this information in her mind as well as her laptop, having it ready for prompt recall at a moment’s notice. She also must have the rare capacity to put away all the numbers, close her notebook and share a good joke.

4. Qualification

Make sure your “certified public accountant” really is properly certified; check the documents. Real qualification, however, consists in your accountant’s ability to assess what your business needs right this minute and how meeting that immediate need will lay the foundation for something bigger and better tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. A good accountant will show you respectable numbers. A great accountant will know how to read and work the numbers so that your business thrives and you become both the envy and the enemy of your biggest rivals.

5. Consistency

All day every day, your accountant must deliver exceptional work exactly as the business’s own life cycle demands. Your accountant need not comply with arbitrary deadlines if she can feel the enterprise’s pulse and keep it beating steadily through every stage of its development.

6. Consummate command of technology

First, look for the person who can make Excel or an even more high-powered spreadsheet program do all the tricks you see in television commercials. Look for the person who can make 3-D pie charts and bar graphs appear before you even know you need them. Look for the person who can compare and contrast your gross marginal return on investment with your simple growth rates. Look for the techie who can synch-up all your systems, store your stuff in your very own cloud, and download everything from the office to your smartphone apps. Especially look for the quick-minded and nimble-fingered IT-savvy accountant who can reinstall, calibrate and personalize your personal electronics to the point where, when you ask, “How can I find the”¦?” she will say “press here” before you complete your sentence.

7. “Chemistry”

You and your small business accountant will spend more time together and endure more extreme stress than you and your spouse. Therefore, you must find a person who remains cool in crises, draining the emotion from them and facing them simply as problems to be solved, equations to be balanced. More importantly, if you are the “ideas person,” then your accountant must be “the numbers person” who complements and supplements your vision, telling how much it will cost and what it will take to make your dreams come true. If you have imagination, the your small business accountant must bring intellect. In general, your accountant’s talents and temperament must interlock with yours exactly as puzzle pieces connect to make the whole picture.

Do what it takes to hire the best

The person you want probably already has a satisfying, rewarding job. After all, look at the qualifications and skills she brings to the workplace every day. Because your accountant will promote the growth of your business in ways you barely can imagine, be prepared to offer a spectacular salary and benefits package. More importantly, though, be prepared to offer your new accountant a substantial stake in the company’s growth. Most importantly, be extra well prepared to offer emotional and psychological rewards that normal number-crunching never delivers.

About the Author: Brittany Babb writes for financing web sites and blogs nationwide. She writes for where you can find out more about using an accountant for your business.