I am the world’s worst accountant. I am serious. I love looking at numbers when someone else prepares them, but I get really cranky, exhausted and headachy (if that is indeed a word) when I have to do the bookkeeping myself.
Early in my business career I learned that a good accountant can make a world of difference. When I was volunteering as the Executive Director of a non-profit arts group in San Francisco, I was saved by an amazing accountant whose services I got for free through a program called Business Volunteers for the Arts. Marco was kind, thoughtful and encouraging and could whip out a balance sheet in less time than it would take me to sharpen my pencil. He helped me to prepare the annual financial statements, reviewed grant proposal budgets and generally cut my stress in half.
Throughout my own business history, I have been helped by a lot of great financial minds that made me feel relaxed and capable right when I needed it. I have also lived through some tremendous nightmares, such as when my husband’s accountant disappeared right during a tax audit by the IRS … YIKES! (That was a good lesson in perception though since the IRS auditor turned out to be kind, understanding and helpful and got us through the audit without the accountant. THANK GOD! I will never say an unkind word about the IRS again)
I think the best relationship you can establish with your accountant is modeled after Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Your accountant’s (Yoda’s) job is to share wisdom, push you (Luke Skywalker) out of your comfort zone, teach you to do things yourself, and always remind you of The Force within. For if you completely abdicate your financial responsibility, you are not watching your business as you should. There are some of you who are already extremely comfortable with numbers and see that as a fun part of running your new business. But for the other, dare I say artsy-fartsy minded entrepreneurs-to-be (like me!), this part scares the life out of you. Here is what to look for when searching out your very own Yoda:
- Respect. I don’t care how messed up you think your finances are, the job of a professional accountant is to treat you with dignity and respect. If your potential accountant is condescending or judgemental about how you have managed your finances in the past, get a new one. Dealing with money is as much about managing emotion as it is managing a balance sheet.
- Mastery. I felt exceptionally good talking with my accountant about my taxes today since I know that he really knows his stuff. He reads up on tax law changes, has full academic credentials and has a healthy business himself with many clients. Make sure that yours is equally as competent to avoid an unpleasant audit (see note above!).
- Discipline. I expect my accountant to plan well, advise me in advance of upcoming deadlines and hold me to a clear plan of action. I have so many things on my plate as an entrepreneur on any given day that I need him to ensure that I meet the rigors of my financial obligations. Don’t trust someone who lets things slide, takes a long time to get back to you or is always losing or misplacing important documents. If he or she misses an important financial deadline on your behalf, YOU are the one who will be held accountable for the mistake.
With my own Yoda by my side (thanks Steve!), even days like today (taxes due!) are pleasant. May the financial Force be with you too!