What exactly does your accountant do for your business? Is he or she worth the money? Put it this way: when was the last time your accountant came to you with a genuinely valuable idea?

Start-ups have specific needs, from ensuring that they have the right business structure in place, through to working out the best way to negotiate the tax system. You’ve got VAT, PAYE, business tax, annual returns, business plans for attracting investors and all the rest of it to deal with: small wonder most start-ups find themselves in need of a degree of hand-holding – if only to free up valuable time.

Have you chosen well? An accountancy firm may boast an impressive client list, but this in itself doesn’t mean it’s the best option for a small business – especially if that firm seems unwilling or unable to find the time to engage in a meaningful way.

Here are some of the signs that it could be time to start looking for a new accountant for your startup.

1. Your accountant isn’t regulated. 

“I know a great guy who’ll sort out your accounts for next to nothing”. When resources are limited, the temptation is always there to cut costs by going for a somewhat ‘rough and ready’ option – especially if you’re only looking for limited input. He may be cheap. He may seem to get the job done; but can he be trusted to flag up potential problems?

Make sure your affairs are in the hands of a professional covered by professional indemnity insurance for accountants and regulated by one of the accountancy bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) or the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). This way you have the reassurance of protection if mistakes are made.

2. You get an unpleasant surprise each month

Transparency on costs at the outset is key. Many firms offer fixed fees for small businesses – and if this is what you opt for, you should be clear on what exactly is included. In any event, you should expect a general estimate of what the fees are going to be when you enter into an agreement. If the monthly fees are invariably higher than what you were told, it’s an indication that the estimate was flawed. If this is the pattern at the early stage of your relationship, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

3. It costs you money each time you pick up the phone

You cannot expect your accountant to work for free. Equally though, by no means do all accountants charge for routine queries (within reason). You shouldn’t be reluctant to engage with your advisor.

4. You never speak to the fee earner you met initially

Most professional services firms would grind to a halt without support staff. However, if the advisor you thought you were paying for is never available, it could be a sign that you’re way down on his list of priorities.

5. Your accountant never visits

It’s not merely a courtesy thing; it could be an indication that your accountant doesn’t really get what your business is all about. Does he or she know about those new processes you’re devising (and with them, the possibility of R&D corporation tax relief)? Without your accountant having a thorough knowledge of where your business is at and its plans for the future, there’s the possibility you could be missing out on valuable ways to reduce your tax liability.

A great service from your advisor means being able to show you the best way forward without you always having to do the running. Knowledge of your particular sector is important – and so is a thorough understanding of the specific challenges faced by start-ups. If this isn’t what you’re getting, it’s probably time to move on.