A great accountant should be helping you grow your business. But, how do you find such an accountant rather than one who just does your bookkeeping and fills out your tax returns?

Start by talking to other entrepreneurs. You want to find someone who specializes in businesses of your size or a bit bigger. If your business is conducted only in New Jersey, you want an accountant who is familiar with federal and New Jersey state tax laws. If you operate in multiple states, you want someone whose clients are also conducting business in more than one state. If possible, you want someone who knows your industry. Asking your family and friends may not be as good a source of prospects as asking your competitors and other entrepreneurs.

Once you have a list of about 3-4 names, start your research. Go onto the internet and look to see if each of your prospects has a website. Check to see if there is other information about him/her on the internet. If your prospect has a website, click through and read each page. Is your prospect a certified public accountant (CPA)? Does the website talk about small business or only about tax returns or other specialties that you don’t need?

After you do an internet review, call each prospect and ask if they are willing to meet with you. Remember, this is a relationship that you hope will be long-term and your accountant will know a lot of information about you and your business. You want to feel comfortable with whoever you hire.

When you do meet with your prospects, ask them about the other small businesses that they have as clients. Ask about how they helped those businesses either save money or grow their profits. Give them a hypothetical situation and ask how they would solve a particular problem similar to one you’ve been having. Ask them about their use of technology in terms of your bookkeeping, coordinating their work with your financial records, and communication with you. Ask them about their other business clients and what types of services they perform for them. You should also ask about billing practices – do they bill by the month or on an hourly basis? Will you be charged extra for photocopies, for travel time or other extras? Ask your prospects who they network with, especially if you want to be introduced to a good banker, lawyer and financial planner. You may also want to find out if they know of possible new customers, vendors or angel investors.

It can be time consuming to a great accountant. And if you discover that your accountant is not living up to your expectations, you should let him go and find one that is more a planning partner to you than a tax form completer. A great accountant is worth the time and effort to find her.