As much as it pains us to admit it, not every small business needs an accountant.  In the early days of a start-up, when there are not a lot of entries to be made and cash flow is still in a vulnerable state, it’s not unwise for owners to take on the bookkeeping duties themselves and save some money.

Of course, assuming all goes well, most businesses reach a place where they do need to hire an accountant.  The trick lies in knowing when you have gotten to that point.

We have identified five simple signs that your business is at that point.  If you see yourself anywhere in the following list, it might be time for you to start searching for an accountant.

1.  When you’re presenting your business.  This is an easy one.  Everybody knows that you need pristine books whenever you’re opening your business to inspection.  Whether you are applying for a loan, interviewing a potential partner, or looking to sell, you want to showcase your business in the best possible light.  Preparing your financial statements for close investigation entails a lot more than running a few reports.  If accounting is not your area of expertise, this is really a time when you want to “leave it to the professionals”.

2.  Before you’re in over your head.  Like most other varieties of disaster, bookkeeping disasters are much easier to prevent than they are to fix.*  If you’re falling behind on your reconciliations, or guessing at balancing entries, you’re probably already in worse shape than you realize.  Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to figure it out as you go along, or do some extra studying in your spare time.  You’re a business owner – “spare time” is a myth.  (You do still require sleep and social interaction, after all.)

*This is not to say we aren’t willing to work with you to fix disasters after they happen; we just greatly prefer identifying problems before they become disasters.

3.  When something seems…”off”. There’s an old joke (you may have heard it) that, “The definition of an accountant is, ‘Someone who solves problems you didn’t know you had in ways you don’t understand.'”  This somewhat feeds into entry #2 in that, by the time a bookkeeping layperson realizes something is wrong, it’s probably very wrong.

If your cash flows don’t seem to be accurately reflecting your revenue, or if your expenses are running unexpectedly high, it’s good to get a second set of (highly-trained) eyes on your books, to identifying current and potential problems.  In addition to the fact that identifying and correcting problems is core to an accountant’s job description, it’s also good to have an outsider who can take an objective look at your financials and identify issues you may have overlooked.

4.  When it’s taking time away from other things.  Maybe you just need to hire a bookkeeper because your business is doing so well that your attention is required elsewhere.  If accounting is not your forte, and doing it yourself is sucking time and energy away from areas of your business which better suit your skillset, outsource it.  There is no logic in toiling away at something you dread when you could focus on growing your business.  When your business needs you marketing, or training employees, or meeting with clients, and you can’t because you’re mucking through bookkeeping, hire an accountant.

5.  When you’re sick of it.  Chances are, you didn’t start your own business to work hard doing something you hate.  If you loathe doing your bookkeeping, you are going to have a very hard time doing a good job at it.  Distaste for a task compels the doer to procrastinate, or rush through it.  In accounting, this can very quickly lead to huge errors (particularly if it’s already not a subject of familiarity for you).  If keeping your own books is making you miserable, then delegate it.  After all, you’re the boss for a reason.