If you need help with your financial records, payroll or compliance, an accountant can be useful.
We reveal how to find the best UK accountant for your needs.
If you run a small business or are self-employed, having an accountant can bring many advantages.
At the most basic level, an accountant can free up more time by handling key functions such as tax returns.
Above all, a good accountant provides you with the financial information you need to make key decisions, helping your business to grow faster while saving you money.
What’s the difference between an accountant and a bookkeeper?
Bookkeepers tend to focus more on daily activities and making sure your accounting is up to date, as well as flagging unpaid debts and managing your payroll.
Accountants offer a wider range of services and focus on compliance, as well as flagging issues with your accounts or highlighting opportunities.
An accountant may also be helpful when it comes to auditing or if you’re considering financing.
When you’re considering if a bookkeeper or accountant is best for you, it’s worth compiling what services you need help with. You can use both if you choose.
Do I need an accountant for my small business?
Unless your business remains very small, its accounting requirements will quickly become too much for you to handle alone.
Furthermore, if you are not a trained accountant, this can be costly both in time and money, as you will take longer and may make costly mistakes.
Broadly speaking, if you find you are spending more than four hours a week on the accounts, or have plans for growth, then it is time to engage a professional.
What can an accountant do for my business?
Having an accountant frees up your time so you can focus on what you do best. It also cuts the risk to your business by reducing the likelihood of errors in tax, financial reporting and compliance.
An accountant can also actively save you money in many areas by increasing tax efficiency, improving cash flows and sourcing funding.
In addition, he or she can provide invaluable general support by offering general business advice, discussing your ideas and stress-testing business plans.
Here are some of the services your accountant can provide.
- Helping you pay the right amount of tax
- Improving tax efficiency
- Financial compliance
- Creating / developing your business plan
- Sourcing funding for growth
- Growth management
- Extracting value from your business
- Exit planning
Find out more about accounting services.
How to find an accountant
There are two ways to find an accountant on Unbiased.
The first way is to use our Match tool. Give as much details as you can about what you need, and our system will match you with the nearest accountant that’s right for you.
The second way is to use our search tool. Enter your postcode to see a list of accountants nearby. You can then refine your search, if you want to find an accountant with specialist expertise.
Is this accountant right for me?
It’s a good idea to meet your accountant in person. As you will be working closely together, a strong connection is important.
You should ask about their range of services to ensure they can meet your needs, as well as talk about their qualifications and experience.
You should also discuss your accountant’s fees. An accountant’s job is to save you money (while protecting you from certain risks), so ask them to explain how their services will deliver value.
How much you pay your accountant will depend on the services they provide you with.
Your method of paying may vary. Some services, such as annual accounts and bookkeeping, involve a regular monthly fee, while others, including tax planning advice, may be charged by the hour.
If you are being charged hourly, see whether there are any easy tasks like data entry you can do before handing over more complex tasks to your accountant.
The size of your business is also a factor, with larger businesses potentially paying more.
Find out more about the costs of accounting services.
Should I choose a small firm or a larger firm?
Consider carefully if the size of your accounting firm is right for your needs. Broadly speaking, you should match like with like.
So, if you are a contractor or sole trader, then a small firm will probably suit you best, but if you are a fast-growing startup with a big vision, you may want to consider a similar-sized firm to match.
Should I talk to multiple accountants?
Absolutely! It’s a good idea to talk to a few accountants to decide which one is the right fit for you, including whether they can add value to your business and help it grow.
Get several quotations and negotiate
Accountants can charge you in a few different ways, so it’s worth getting a written quotation from any accountants you interview and a strong understanding of how their fee structure works.
Also, consider whether the fees and charging structure will work if the business grows – you could ask them to consider a different method of charging based on how big your company is.
A good accountant will be happy to offer references, which you can call to confirm anything and find out more about the service they provided.
It’s worth asking about how the client worked with the accountant, their relationship and how they added value.
Reviews, testimonials and reputation
Sites such as Trustpilot will let you see ratings and reviews for accounting firms listed there.
Look for reviews by businesses of a similar size to yours - if the reviewer is much larger or smaller, their assessment may not be very helpful.
An accountants should also have testimonials from their clients that they are willing to share with you.
Does the location of your accountant matter?
Technically it doesn't matter too much where your accountant is based, since most of their work can be conducted remotely.
However, regular face-to-face meetings are still valuable, and can be much more productive in terms of getting added value from your accountant.
In a face-to-face meeting it is easier to discuss your business in broader terms and benefit from general business advice.
Therefore, if you want more than basic accounting services, it's good to be within easily travelling distance so your accountant can visit in person.
Does your accountant have relevant expertise?
You should seek an accountant that works with similarly sized businesses to your own – and if possible, work in the same sector as they’ll understand the unique challenges and opportunities.
Also, if your accountant has larger clients, this is a promising sign as it means they’ll likely be able to handle your business as the company grows.
Does your accountant use the same software?
If you’re using software, check whether your accountant uses the same one so it’s easy to share sensitive data. And if it’s cloud-based accounting software and encrypted, that’s even better.
But if you can’t find an accountant who uses your software, ask if they would be happy to do so.
You could use social media, including LinkedIn, to see if anyone can recommend an accountant.
A drawback to this is that your friend’s accountant might not necessarily be the best fit for you. For example, the accountant may specialise in a different sector or larger firms, instead of small ones.
Take advantage of networking
It’s a good idea to reach out to voluntary organisations for advice on how to find a good accountant.
You can also attend local business networking events where you can connect with other people, who may be able to recommend someone.
Do some research
If you have an accountant in mind, you could look at their online presence.
It’s worth looking at their connections, how they talk about their services online, their experience and qualifications, as well as any recommendations from clients.
Questions to ask an accountant
1. What do you charge?
Fees are an obvious place to start. However, it’s important to weigh them against what services are included, and what value these might add.
2. What services are included in your fees?
Getting an itemised quote from your accountant will make it easier to compare them with other firms.
3. Why should I choose you rather than another accountant?
Most accounting firms will of course try to persuade you to choose them. But compare their various answers to this question to see who responds with something more than marketing spiel.
4. Will you assign a dedicated accountant / contact person to me?
Generally it is better to have one point of contact with your accounting firm, even if more than one accountant is involved in the work. This provides continuity, builds a relationship and reduces the risk of errors or missed deadlines.
5. How will we keep in touch?
A good accounting firm should be very rigorous about communicating with clients. Decide together how often is it necessary to communicate, and what forms this can take – e.g. face-to-face meetings, phone calls, video conferencing.
The firm should be open to regular meetings even if there seems to be nothing particular to discuss, as issues may go unnoticed until raised in conversation.
6. What issues should we discuss regularly?
Following on from point 5, it is a good idea to get your accountant’s views on the matters that you should be considering on an ongoing basis.
7. Are there any special considerations for my type of business?
Asking this question will help you find out how much industry knowledge your accountant has, as well as being useful in itself. Ideally, you want an accountant with lots of experience of very similar types of business, so they are well versed in the risks and opportunities.
8. What additional services do you provide?
As your business grows, you may want to expand the range of services you receive from your accountants (e.g. funding for growth, R&D tax claims).
Find out in advance whether your chosen firm offers the necessary expertise, so you don’t have to move firms when you scale up. It’s also good to find out how your accountants will add value on a day-to-day basis.
9. What are the most common mistakes your clients make?
This is a good way to benefit from your accountant’s experience of similar businesses, so you can avoid those pitfalls.
Conversely, if they don’t give you much of an answer, it could be that they don’t have the level of experience you’re looking for.
10. How will you make sure I don’t miss deadlines?
Helping you stay on the right side of HMRC is one of your accountant’s most important roles.
An accountant who is on the ball will be ready and eager to remind you of all your obligations, rather than expect you to remember.