Five questions to ask when hiring a contractor accountant

With the cost of living rising and the tax landscape evolving rapidly, the need for independent workers to engage a trusted accountant – one capable of ensuring compliance and tax efficiency – is paramount.

But where do you start? How can you separate the good accountants from the, well, bad? And how can you be sure a particular accountant is suitable for your needs?

Here, exclusively for readers of ContractorUK, Joanne Thorne at SJD Accountancy tells us five key questions to ask before hiring a contractor accountant:

1. What will I get for my money?

Some accountants offer full-service packages for one fixed monthly fee. This service includes pretty much everything you need to run your business from an accounting perspective – from bookkeeping and payroll to filing obligations, self-assessment, VAT and corporation tax support. Other accountants provide all these services but charge individually every time they provide them.

There’s no right or wrong path to take here. The full-service model is perfect if you want clarity over your annual accountancy fees. If you freelance ad-hoc and need services occasionally – such as the annual self-assessment and perhaps a little bookkeeping here and there – engaging an accountant and paying for services as and when may work better.

All that matters is that you clearly understand the service you need and the one provided by your potential accountant.

2. What level of service can I expect?

Most accountants will claim to provide outstanding customer service – who wouldn’t?

So this question you need to ask as a limited company contractor before settling on your contractor accountant, is more about understanding the specifics.

For instance, will you be appointed an ‘Account Manager’ – your point of contact – whose job it is to understand your personal and business needs? Can you call or email your account manager whenever? How long will it take your requests, on average, to be dealt with? And, crucially, how long do customers stay with this accountant?

With clarity on some or even all of the above questions, you’ll get a strong sense of whether this accountant is the right fit.

3. What’s the switching process like?

Switching accountants can be long, complicated, stressful and – if you aren’t careful – expensive. So you’ll want to learn about the switching process.

For example, some accountants charge for ‘onboarding’ – by this, we mean the work required to transfer you away from your existing accountant. You’ll want to know this upfront to avoid any nasty surprises.

It’s also worth gauging how long the switching process will take and what your potential accountant will need from you to ensure a smooth, seamless transition.

4. Do you specialise in any areas?

Independent workers – whether freelancers, contractors, consultants or even sole traders – are ‘micro-businesses,’ often with unique needs. This calls for an accounting expert who understands the landscape and the key issues impacting your business.

You might find that some accountancy firms mainly support bigger businesses whose requirements differ from yours, for example. Or they may specialise in the creative or media industries. Others, like SJD, have spent decades supporting one-person businesses.

5. Which qualifications do your accountants hold?

Now, this may sound like a question you’d be asked in a job interview! But it’s an important one to put to accountants.

In a field as complex and as fast-changing as taxation, being confident that your new accountant has the skills and expertise to navigate this environment is crucial.

Some notable qualifications are; ATT, AAT, CTA, ACCA, CA, ACA and FCCA. It’s also worth discovering if the firm partners with relevant industry bodies, such as in the contracting sector -- IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals the Self-Employed) – an essential stamp of approval in our view.

In summary…

The above five are just a handful of the key questions to ask when looking to engage an accountant. There are plenty more – from which accounting software they recommend using to how they can help you grow your business. But with a handle on the basics, you’ll be in a position to hire your next accountant with confidence.

Wednesday 15th Mar 2023
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Written by Joanne Thorne

Joanne Thorne, Technical Compliance Manager at Caroola Accountancy (formerly SJD Accountancy), has more than ten years of experience supporting contractors with proactively and compliantly organising their tax affairs.

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