The success of your small business in the early days depends almost solely on you. Your good ideas and your ability to sell those ideas are what will get your business off the ground. The moment you start to hire other people for your business, however, things can get messy.

Starting out successfully is up to you, but growing your small business is up to your employees and those who you hire for specific tasks. Accordingly, having the right person doing your accounting in the early days of your business will set the tone and trajectory for years to come.

Unless you have a background in accounting, however, you may not know where to start in terms of vetting candidates. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind as you hire your business’ first accountant:

  1. Know what you need. Some businesses are more complex than others from an accounting perspective. Identify what tasks you need an accountant to handle. Is it just taxes? Are there regulatory or compliance issues you need to deal with because of your industry? Knowing what services you need will inform your choice of accountant.
  2. Start with a referral. Your accountant needs to be someone that you trust. Simply turning to Google to find an accountant can be dangerous. You might wind up sitting at someone’s kitchen table being charged his full rate while he tells you about his teenager’s dating shenanigans. Talk to trusted friends and colleagues, and see if you can’t get a business accounting recommendation.
  3. Check references. If you do need to pick an accountant cold, make sure to ask for references. Call those references – more than one or two if possible – and get a real feel for how he’s going to do business. Ask the references whether they believe he’s helped them save money over the long haul, and whether he’s made any costly errors.
  4. Your accountant needs to be agile enough to jump into your business mid-stream. In an ideal world, you’d already have a strong relationship with an accountant, even if that simply means using them on a monthly or quarterly basis. If you started your business without any accounting help, you could have a real mess. Make sure your prospective accountant is comfortable meeting you where you are, and that she’s willing and able to take a peek back into your business’ past in order to properly build for the future.
  5. Personality matters. You’re going to be working closely with your accountant, especially at tax time. You need to be able to tolerate being around this person. Your accountant doesn’t have to be your best friend, but you need to choose someone with whom you can get along and that doesn’t grind on your nerves.
  6. Know where your company is headed. If your company today is a sole proprietorship, it doesn’t mean you will be in 5 years. Make sure your accountant is experienced with the type of business you are today as well as the one you hope to be tomorrow.
  7. Your accountant should be able to adopt the same vision for your company that you have. This is true of all of your employees, but it’s especially true for your accountant. If you’re a growth-minded individual, you need to make accounting decisions that support the growth of the business, for example. Likewise, if you want to play things conservatively in terms of risk, your accountant needs to be on board with that as well.
  8. Push them hard in the interview process. You need to thoroughly vet accounting candidates. Ask them some questions to which you already know the answer. Have them take a look at a previous year’s tax return, and ask what they’d do differently. Get a real sense as to whether this person truly instills confidence.
  9. It’s OK to take a test drive. Try a new accountant out for a quarter. Get a feel as to whether he’s a good fit for your business. Just because you’ve hired an accountant today doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with the same one three years from now.
  10. Consider complementing your accountant’s services with a bookkeeper. Your accountant isn’t there to simply track expenditures and income; she’s there to make your business run better. Consider having someone else handle all of the QuickBooks data entry, receipt tracking, and more. You’ll save money by doing so.

The accountant search process can be challenging. Keep these principles in mind and you’ll have the best chances of getting an accountant who’s a good fit for your business.

About the Author: Dominique Molina is President of the American Institute of Certified Tax Coaches an organization of tax professionals who are trained to help their clients rescue thousands of dollars in wasted tax. In addition to her blogging and speaking engagements, Dominique provides tax training and CPE for CPAs as a registered educator with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

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