Every business benefits from the professional skills of a qualified accountant, so it is important for owners to establish a good working relationship with a trusted accountant early in the life of their business. Like any other product or service, these skills come at a cost. Just as an astute purchaser would shop around before buying a big-ticket consumer item, so too should a business owner do a “value for money” comparison when choosing an accountant.

To be effective, the relationship between a client and an accountant should be one of mutual trust and respect. There should be room for discussion between the parties and the freedom and confidence to ask questions and exchange ideas. The opportunity is there to build a long-term professional relationship where the owner trusts the accountant to give advice that will financially benefit the business.

None of this comes cheaply, but it also should not be a crippling expense. Accountants are bound by standards of conduct that form the basis for the respect in which most accounting practices are held in this country. While still adhering to these standards, accountants also need to be competitive, and questions about their fee structure should be part of the initial conversation.

If you are a business owner looking for an accounting firm to help you build your business, canvassing your family, friends and professional networks is a good place to start. By asking a few questions, you should be able to short list several possibilities. This is the same fact-finding process most of us use when we are looking for a service provider for anything. Word-of-mouth recommendations are still powerful, even in this internet age. You could also go online and check the Australian Accountants Directory or contact CPA Australia or other similar professional bodies.

Once you have a shortlist, contact each one for an appointment, either in person or by phone, to discuss your needs and their services. Another important thing to ascertain apart from the cost is that the accountants you are considering have experience in your type of business. By comparing their services and fees, you should be able to decide what is fair and reasonable and what is either outside of your current budget, or simply just exorbitant.

Some accounting firms such as Carbon Group offer fixed price agreements that operate on the basis that before any accounting work begins a clear agreement should be established. The accounting firm put forward a proposal that sets out the services to be provided, the price and the payment terms. The client signs off on the written proposal after discussing any concerns before entering the agreement.

Fixed price agreements put the client in control and provide them with certainty. They know they can contact their accountant at any time for advice in relation to the services agreed upon, knowing there will be no extra fees. This is a very popular option for small business operators who, in these uncertain times, need the advice of a competent accountant more than ever if their businesses are to survive and thrive.