January 2


What Accountants Want SME Business Owners to Know…

By Patrick Millerd

January 2, 2023

SMB accountants, SME accounting, SME business, SME support

SME business owners often complain about their accountant. Unhappy with their service and lack of attention they make comments like:


  • “They rarely provide support”,
  • “It seems they have limited industry knowledge”,
  • “They make me feel like I’m a low priority”,
  • “They're not up to date with the latest technology”,
  • “My accountant is unresponsive” 
  • “We don't get enough value”.

But like all opinions there’s two sides...

So for another perspective here’s the accountant’s side of this story.

Views about clients from some SME accountants  

Many accountants feel that the SME business owners just make excuses and are looking to find someone else to blame for their own shortcomings. 

In an email survey done by Peter Carruthers in South Africa there were some interesting comments that SME accountants made about their clients ... and from my experience many are universally true.

Tell us everything. Don’t lie.

Don’t ask us to risk disbarment. Our career (and lifetime income) is worth more than your short-term cash flow challenge.

We know more about tax than you do.

This knowledge is valuable so pretend that we are like your doctor who charges each time you visit. Just because we are paid to do your accounting, we do not provide free tax consulting.

Give us all your paperwork.

Every claim and every tax deduction needs proof. We may believe you but If you can't prove it with paper, we can't prove it to the tax authority.

You are not our only client.

Don’t bring us your work at the last minute and expect instant service. We have clients ahead of you in the queue. Many of whom pay us without complaint. And some who actually pay us on time.

We do history, not fortune-telling.

Our job is to match your 12-month-old pile of paper to meet the onerous tax authority needs. We don’t do your financial planning, AKA fortune telling.

Your job is to forecast cash flows.

To pay your suppliers on time you need to get payment from your clients on time this will ensure you have enough cash ready when the government sends its bills.

That’s why you run your own business and make all that money. It’s your job to do enough planning and bookkeeping to achieve this.

 A reminder: Bookkeeping is what you do to keep your paperwork in order. Like keeping track of invoices (in and out) and cash flows (in and out)

Read every piece of paper

... before you throw it in a box. That way you see issues before they're a looming crisis. At the very least, reconcile your bank statement every month.

If you want advice,

... ask first. Before you act. And tell us everything. It takes time to consider all your angles. Expect to pay for this time as we don't provide free business resuscitation services after you’ve done the damage.

We do numbers better than we do people.

If you want a warm relationship, get a dog. Please treat your dog better than you treat us. We also don’t do imagination. Tax authorities don’t like creative and you don’t pay us enough to risk you getting an audit.

Your bank statement is not a cash flow statement.

You are not a government! This means that your business won’t survive if more cash goes out than comes in. Nobody cares if you're unprofitable. But miss one payment and the world notices. Survival means getting the cash in faster than paying the cash out.

We don’t work for the government.

We don’t make the rules and spend years learning to adjust to each new government foible. And then swathes of time afterwards. Our job is to keep them off your back. We know how violently you'll complain when you get audited.

Do not pay personal bills from your SME business bank account.

Or vice versa. That complicates our work. It demands more resources. That means a bigger bill. The simple solution is either stop complaining or start doing it right.

Ignorance is not bliss.

If you want to own your own business you should know what rules define the game. The government defines those rules. Lots of rules, which keep changing. Many of those rules have nothing to do with accounting.

Don’t yell at us each time you trip over a new rule.

We invest time and money staying current with our profession and its rules. You should read a newspaper, newsletter or whatever you need to stay current with yours.

The Take Away for the SME Business Owner

Communicate. A better understanding of each other’s positions will go a long way to creating a more productive relationship. Both parties understanding that this is a relationship with expectations and obligations on both sides.

With the hope that it helps:

  • Better understanding the relationship with each other.
  • Agreeing on what you expect from each other,
  • What service levels to expect,
  • Your respective deadlines,
  • The scope and price of these services.

The SME business owner and the accountant will then have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities... with less griping about each other!

Patrick Millerd

About the author

I support small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners to drive profitability and cash flow, managing the financial health of their business through understanding and using their numbers.
Helping them build a complete management system that puts them in control.

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