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Setting up a business in your 50s. What to ask your accountant at your initial meeting

Elaine Clark accounting tipsArticle by Elaine Clark

If setting up a business in your 50s or becoming self employed for the first time, appointing an accountant can be daunting. Elaine Clark, our newest expert on the Fabafterfifty panel,  has drawn up a useful list of questions to offer some structure to help you decide who is the right accountant for you.
A question often asked by a new business owner is:

“I have arranged an initial consultation with an accountant – what should I ask?”

These days this consultation can take place face-to-face or virtually, via phone, Skype or other electronic means.

Whatever the method, there are a few essentials that should not be neglected when you have your meeting.

Fact Finding

It is best to start off with some very simple fact finding questions. We’ve prepared a check list – just add / change / delete to your circumstances:

How many of you in the firm?

What qualifications do you have?

Do I get assigned to one person or is it call centre based?

Are you or is the person that I am assigned to a qualified accountant?

How many years experience do you / they have?

How many clients like me do you / they deal with?

What happens if you / they are not available?

Can you / they give me some client testimonials or for the names of clients to contact for a reference?

How do I contact the person?

How quickly will I get a response?

Will you / they advise me on the latest tax changes that are specific to my circumstances?

What are your fees?

Be clear about your accountant’s  fees

What is included in the fees?

What is excluded from the fees and how are excluded items charged?

What accounting system should I use?

How much do you charge for this?

If it is included in the fee – how much is the system and how much am I paying for the accountant?

Do you ensure that everything is sent off to the authorities on time and in the right format?

What do you think I will need to file?

When do I need to file things?

How do you make sure that I do not miss a deadline?

How do you make sure that I never incur a fine or penalty?

Are you regulated by a professional body? Who?

Do you have professional indemnity insurance? Ask for the name of the provider and the amount of cover.

What is your complaints procedure? Who are complaints escalated to if not resolved?

Specifics about your business

Once satisfied with your initial fact finding then you can move onto the specifics about your business. The questions that you ask would depend on your business structure. For example, a sole trader or a limited company.

Again here are a few questions – select the ones suitable to your needs as not all of them will apply to you:

What is the best business structure for me?

How much should I pay myself from the business?

How will I know how much profit I have made?

How much tax will I pay?

When will I pay it?

What about national insurance?

What costs can I claim?

Can I claim for mileage, phone, using my home as office etc?

Should I register for VAT?

What about the VAT flat rate scheme?

Of course, these and many other questions are covered in our free guides:



Any professional accountant will be more than happy to discuss these items with you – generally the initial consultation should be free of charge, whether by phone or face-to-face.

Don’t be lazy – pick up the phone

We do suggest a phone call though, so that you can start to form a relationship with your accountant.

Don’t be lazy and bombard many accountants with a standard list of questions on an email as this will not help you to achieve what you are looking for in your accountant selection process.

Whilst you do not need to meet the accountant face-to-face you do need to talk to them to establish how they answer your initial questions, how confident are they in their responses, do you feel comfortable with the response and so on.

Use the way that the accountant answers as part of your assessment into which accountancy supplier to use. Remember that they are your supplier – so they should very much value you as a potential new client, be responsive to your queries and treat you as an important individual!

Good luck


Elaine Clark

About Elaine Clark Elaine Clark is Managing Director of the Award Winning national accountancy firm, CheapAccounting.co.uk. She was named Woman in Finance by the Network of Aspiring Women in 2011. She has made several appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box with Paul Lewis and is frequently asked by newspapers, magazines and websites to provide expert comment about tax, finance and other issues relevant to small and medium-sized businesses in the UK.

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  1. Elaine Clark

    March 5, 2013

    I agree on some things that you have mentioned but I have to say that I too have found businesses where the best advice has not been forth coming either for the reason of keeping accounting simple or for the person doing the accountants not having sufficient knowledge or experience to know otherwise.
    The most appropriate business structure has to be sleeted on specific circumstances and reviewed regularly – it is not a “one size fits all” answer by any means.
    As for the new rules from April 2013, as usual I would urge extreme caution with these. There are a couple of hollers in there that sole traders need to be aware of – loss relief and mileage claims.
    For some I would suggest that a comparison of the tax due under the new and existing rules will need to be done to ensure that the new rules are the best option for the business.
    The rules apply only to sole traders. Again I would strongly urge sole traders not to jump straight in and opt for accounting under the new rules.

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