Maintaining the books of accounts is an art and a science at the same time. If you’re looking to work as a consultant, you need to be up to speed with the current International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and updates in the industry.
At the same time, you should fully understand the rationale behind these standards and each action’s effects on the accounting books. It is a must to handle this giant task.
Two clients are never the same, so your next one may have pretty different needs from the previous one. While most of the work is the same old routine, you do not want any major surprises that can leave you in trouble in the longer run.
It can especially be troublesome if your client neglected the bookkeeping basics in the past. The best way to avoid unwanted surprises is to ask your potential clients questions about their business. There is a mix of some general and some very specific questions.
Once your questions are answered, you can understand your potential client’s business trajectory and if you should take their business at all.
Let’s discuss this in a bit more detail below:
1. Tell Me a Little About Your Business
This is an open-ended question that works well to break the ice. It will also help you understand the general mindset of your client about the business.
Heads up! Keep the conversation frank and let the client do all the talking. The more they talk, the better idea you’ll get about the business and help you make an informed decision.
At the same time, the potential client will feel at ease and may find you as someone trustworthy. There is nothing like building a solid rapport early on, especially if you end up saying yes to their offer.
2. What is Your Nature of Business?
This will be a more detailed inquiry about the structure of the business. Smaller businesses are typically sole proprietorships or partnerships. The firm could also be registered as one of the many options on the limited liability company side.
- Accounting practices are similar for different structures, but there are specific differences with LLCs. Be sure to brush up on your accounting skills if you decide to join the client.
3. What is Your Current Tax Payment Status?
It is a somewhat direct but necessary question. Many companies fall behind on their tax payments for one reason or another. You should know if you will need to make adjustments for future tax payments.
- Keep in mind that you may even need to represent your client in front of tribunals as their accountant if they’re not paying taxes on time.
- All this adds up to extra work and most certainly higher fees.
- On the flip side, if the client is currently making timely payments, your work will be very smooth.
4. What is Your Invoicing Procedure?
There are multiple options in this area for businesses. If they generate physical invoices or use something like MS Word for them, you will probably have your hands full if you join the company. The use of proper accounting software, meanwhile, will be useful.
- MS Word generated invoices need to be recreated and entered into the more thorough accounting software, so keep that in view.
5. Do You Report Sales Tax?
Whether your potential client needs to report and pay Sales tax depends on the nature of the business. Not all companies need to pay it. However, if your client is paying sales tax, you will have a different tax side to look into.
Be sure that you’re well adept at the rules before taking up such a client. It will probably require you to brush up on some basic skills.
6. Who Takes Care of the Payroll?
Payroll management is an entirely different side of things that requires separate attention, and most accountants or bookkeepers already have their hands full.
The owner or a third party should take care of the payroll issues. Unless there are only a handful of employees, it is a real hassle. Why?
- It isn’t easy to track hours for dozens of employees and ensure that each employee is treated correctly in the books.
- Employees request corrections all the time and it can break the flow of your everyday tasks.
- The treatment for full-time and half-time employees is different. A mistake can lead to their status being updated and even can affect their insurance coverage. It’s best to leave it to the experts.
7. Are You Satisfied With Your Workforce Performance?
The question sounds unrelated, but it isn’t. This will help you understand the current workforce scenario. In many places, unions are alive and kicking, and they maintain an influence. Their presence means some issues are bound to rise.
- Unions can lead to workforce-related issues as unions are often pushing for higher wages and other labor disputes.
- At the same time, your opinion will likely be sought after to fully understand the financial implications of demands made by the labor union.
- You may be pressured to join forces with the union and support their cause.
- If you are good at negotiations, you may be a valuable resource for talks with the union.
8. Are There Any Significant Issues Currently with Your Accounts?
Asking about the current condition of accounts may be a little blunt, but it is the right thing to ask. Just be sure to ask politely so no one gets offended.
Books of accounts are not always perfect. It is entirely possible that the people who kept the books may have messed them up.
Get an idea of what you may be looking at should you say yes. Minor issues aren’t a big deal, but major goof-ups can take you weeks, even months to fix.
9. Do You Face Any client-related Issues?
Clients are just people like all of us. Some are fantastic; others may be a pain. Businesses understand this and deal with them accordingly. However, you do not want clients that create financial issues such as delayed payments, unnecessary complaints, and the like.
If the company has some of those troubling clients, you will expect to see the effects on the books. While it is not the most unusual scenario, it is ideal to know about it beforehand.
10. What do You Feel are Your Areas of Strength?
All businesses have their strengths and weaknesses. Some products and services are the primary earners, while others struggle to break even.
- Ask about the more cash bringing areas of the business since it will guide you about what you will mainly deal with.
- It will also guide you about the areas where more action for improvement will take place.
11. Are You Planning on Seeking Business Expansion Soon?
Business expansion is a natural process, and successful businesses look to increase their portfolios. Ask about it as it will help you in a couple of ways.
- Firstly, it will give you an idea if your workforce will be enough for the client or need additional resources in the near future.
- The second reason is that you will be better able to negotiate with the client. Be sure to have clauses that allow for a proportionate increase in your remuneration as the workload increases.
12. Is Your Company Facing any Regulatory Challenges?
Expansion plans may lead to regulatory issues at the city, state, or federal level. Such problems are generally local in nature, and some discussions can help in solving them. As an accountant or bookkeeper, you can help the company in getting the clearance.
Once you are at home with the books, you can understand if there is any lacking and work with management to fix this. It will undoubtedly show the organization you value, and you’re more than likely to be retained in the longer run.
13. Are You Up To Speed With Local Tax Laws?
Whether a company is looking to expand or facing regulatory challenges, or both, knowledge of local tax laws can help. An accountant or a bookkeeper can help the company with their expertise on the subject.
- This question may allow you some extra wriggling space if you choose to work with the company as they will need your specific skill set on local laws rather frequently.
- You may also need to represent the company in front of the local tax authorities occasionally as well.
14. What is Your Debt to Equity Ratio?
The debt to equity ratio simply compares a company’s total liabilities to its shareholders’ equity. Businesses with high debt to equity ratios are generally in trouble.
The acceptable debt to equity ratio varies with each industry, and you will need to study the standards for that particular industry your potential client works in.
If the number is high, you should carefully consider whether you want to take the company’s accounting work or not.
15. How Current Are You on Debt Payments?
Debt retirement is simply paying the debt back. Debt financing is a regular part of most businesses and there is a payment schedule pre-decided for all obligations. Financially healthy companies make their payments on time.
- If the business is late on payments, do inquire why?
- It could be as simple as a naturally slow business period or the business not doing well in general.
- Why did the company not maintain reserves, allowing delays in debt repayment?
Learn as much as you can before you decide whether or not to join.
16. Have You Experienced Any Extraordinary Delays in Receiving Payments from Your Debtors?
A lot of the business takes place on credit, and people pay back for the products or services delivered as per a specific schedule. Such is the norm for most businesses globally.
Payments receivable, however, can have impacts on the business if they are not received on time. If the company is facing delays in receiving payments from the creditors, you, as an accountant, may need to follow up with them.
It is an added hassle but one that must be undertaken to keep the finances in order. This will mean extra work.
17. Do You Think any Significant Issues Need to be Resolved?
Businesses can face numerous issues. Financial troubles are one side. There can also be legal ills as well as regulatory troubles. It would help if you learned about any such problems as they may directly impact your work. You might even be required to find solutions for them in the longer run.
18. Did You Have Any Issues With Your Previous Accountant/Bookkeeper?
Know your predecessors and how the company feels about them. Learn about any issues that the company faced with them. Did they leave on their own, or were they shown the door?
This information will help decide whether you should work with this organization and, if you do so, what practices can lead to trouble with the management. You will also understand if the practices your potential client wants are clean or corrupt.
19. Would You be Interested in Cross-Referral Business?
Referrals are an excellent way of getting business. If you have a new practice that you wish to expand, you can check with your potential clients if they are interested in referrals.
You can bring them some business, and they can return you the favor. Nothing helps a business more than word of mouth.
20. What Kind of Value do You Think We Can Add to Your Business?
Knowing how you can add value to the company is extremely important. Anyone working in a business has to add some value. While your work as a consultant may be to look after the accounts, adding value beyond that can benefit the company and yourself.
Show them the value you can add! It can be in the form of better accounting practices, better tax knowledge that can help the company with annual savings, or your negotiation skills that can help in just about every kind of dealing. They must know you have the skills and you can be more than just their accountant.
The work of a bookkeeper or an accountant can be pretty thankless. If you inherit neatly done accounts, you will have lesser trouble settling in. However, if the previous accountant was shown the door, you probably can expect some long nights at the office for a while.
Many of the questions above are meant to help you gauge the quality of the work. At the same time, you can understand the company’s plans and how they will affect your position in the foreseeable future.
Once you understand the entire scenario, see if you feel comfortable. Remember that you, too, should be a good fit for the job. If all the right boxes ticked, you should go for it.
There is nothing wrong with bugging people at your potential client’s place to save unwanted hassles in the future for both parties.