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How to find the right accountant for you

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Dating in your 20s, but make it fiscal. 

One thing certain in this life is tax. Whether you’re on payroll or work for yourself, you’ve likely visited the ATO in the last month, or have been putting it off. I used to be a professional at the latter, blissfully unaware at the ripe age of 18 that once you have an ABN and earn money through it, that money isn’t all yours.

Who would’ve known! I sincerely failed to realise that a percentage of my earliest sole trader income was not mine for keeps. That, my friend, is on being very street dumb and oblivious to the harsh realities of life.


For more content like this, browse through our Life section.


Adulting has taught me many things, but one of my proudest accomplishments in the last year or so has been my skyrocketing organisational levels with my small business accounting. As I’ve gotten a bit older, gone are the days of crying in the club and the tax office.

I’ve realised my old accountant (more on that rigmarole here) wasn’t the right match for me. You see, you have to treat finding an accountant the same way you do in finding a romantic partner. You must chat, catch up, keep in regular contact and see if your interests align. Are they into the same things you are? Or in layman’s terms, do they specialise in your realm of business? Do you feel confident asking them questions?

I’ve worked my naive booty off to understand tax, learn from my past financial year mistakes and become a better operator in my first six or so months of (nearly) full-time solo business. I have a new system of tracking income and expenses, am navigating things like GST and am paying quarterly statements to the ATO in order to avoid huge lump sums of tax debt.

I’m gradually paying off my HECS debt and learning how all this big scary money stuff works. It’s suddenly less daunting, but there’s always room for improvement.

Recently, I found a brilliant new accountant who works with fellow creatives and understands my situation really well. It’s been a breath of fresh air. His name is Chris Cassar from Lume Accounting in Melbourne, and he’s agreed to step into my field of work for a hot minute to help you find your perfect match.

Tell us a bit about what Lume accounting does.

Lume Accounting is a full-service accounting firm with a dedicated focus on the creative industry. We work with creatives from the start-up phase right through to the business sale stage in some cases. We work with creatives of all sizes ranging from sole trader photographers to multi-city and multi-entity design agencies.

We do however much or little the client wants – some people just want year-end tax return lodgements done, while others want us to also do their bookkeeping and BAS lodgements. Some clients want one-off advisory work such as a review of a potential agency purchase, and some want more regular assistance with things such as a review of their pricing or discussions on how to continue to grow their creative business.

How important is it to find an accountant that aligns with you, and understands your field of work?

I think the most important thing is to find an accountant you feel personally comfortable with, that you aren’t afraid to reach out to when you have a question, and that communicates with you in a way that you understand. Look for someone that has an interest in your business and has a portfolio of similar clients to yourself. This will help them benchmark what you are doing (pricing, expenses, business structure etc.) against your peers.

What tips would you give to someone who’s dissatisfied with their current accountant?

  • Try to have a conversation with your current accountant about what it is you are dissatisfied with (cost, response time etc.) to see if they are willing/able to change anything to better suit your needs
  • Talk to multiple (2-3) other accountants about their offerings & what you need from them — to help the accountant size your work be prepared for questions such as “how many monthly transactions per month do you have, what is your estimated annual or monthly sales, are you GST registered, how are you keeping your records (Excel, Xero etc.),” and so on
  • Ask potential accountants about their fee structure – do they charge a fixed-fee per piece of work (tax return, BAS Statement etc.) or is it an hourly rate & what those are & what they expect your fees would be for what you need
  • Get data points from your industry friends as to who they are using or what they are paying to understand where your accounting proposals fit versus what you are being offered. 
  • Think about who you felt the most comfortable with as accounting relationships can often last a long time so consider who you would like to work with over the life of your business.

Talking to a small business owner

I also took this opportunity to catch up with the co-founder of local sexual wellness brand Figr (and dear friend) Eloise O’Sullivan. She’s spoken on her business partner, Eloise McCullough’s, behalf to answer a few ‘quickie’ questions on finding your perfect match in the unglamorous realm of tax. 

As she explains, “There are only two of us that run everything here, and accounting is one thing that we’ve had to learn along the way. Neither of us is confident in that area, so an accountant’s expertise is definitely needed.” 

What has your journey with tax and accounting been like?

For some reason, tax has been something very scary and confusing and I think that’s to do with how it’s not something you’re taught in school. So, when it usually comes to tax time, it gets avoided until the last minute… but not this year.

Are you happy with your accountant now?

We found Julian from Mauro and he has been our absolute lifesaver. He doesn’t make you feel like an idiot, explains things simply and is just the coolest! 

How did you find the right accountant?

We stumbled across Mauro on social media. They work with similar people in our field. They are proud to work with people who don’t have the usual streams of income (for example OnlyFans), and small businesses, which creates such a comfortable environment.

Any other tax and accounting tips for small biz-owners or sole traders?

We know small businesses are frugal (like us). However, if you’re not confident with the accounts side of your business, definitely pay an accountant to take it over for you. It’s worth every penny and takes all the stress away! 

For advice on how to successfully manage your money, try this.

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