Are there any accountant-as-a-service companies that you'd recommend for finding a good accountant? In the past I've always gone through word of mouth, but I'm curious if there's a good service like this - especially for on-demand advising/consulting or specific one-off projects.
Also, what has been your biggest accounting pain?
As a tax pro with an accounting degree, I haven't seen the type of one off advising that you're describing. I think from a liability stand point, doing one and done consulting isn't something I'd consider for a couple of reasons. First, there's a lot of trust and effort that goes into relationship building when you're talking about dealing with advice on how to handle accounts. A good accountant, if they aren't already knowledgeable about your particular field, will do research to figure out how best to help you with what you're trying to do. Think of an accountant like the guy who comes by your house to fix your roof. If you have a problem two years down the road, do you want to be able to find them or will you not care if they've disappeared? And secondly, on the flip side, do I as an accounting person, want to be involved with a here today, gone tomorrow business person who could do something loosely based on something I said, have it go bad and then come back and throw me under the bus? That would be a definite no.
I think word of mouth isn't a bad way to find a good bean counter. Ask those in the same industry you're in as they're more likely to be dealing with professionals who know about your line of work. Look not only for someone familiar with your industry, who can speak your lingo, but someone who can handle things as you grow. You don't need to pay through the nose but definitely don't plan on going with the cheapest person you find... you do get what you pay for and you want someone who is knowledgeable and dependable.
Accounting needn't be painful but the day to day bookkeeping is what causes most folks the biggest grief. They don't know what to do at the start, so they do nothing and next thing they know a year has gone by, it's time to do taxes and they have no idea of where all their money went and no receipts to document their expenses.
For bookkeeping, start with something, anything, that works with your brain and follow that method without fail. Whether it's a pen and notebook, a spreadsheet or a software program like Quickbooks. But keep track of all your money in and all your money out and save your receipts. For $20/month you can use a program like Hubdocs which will retrieve all of your bank and credit card statements and allow you to upload photos of all of your receipts on the fly. You've got your documentation, all in one place and if you've got a digital copy of your receipt uploaded, you don't need to store the paper one in your shoebox. You can grant collaborator access to a remote bookkeeper or tax person so they can view your docs to do their thing. There are a lot of good, knowledgeable folks that do remote accounting and tax work so don't be afraid to utilize technology where/when it's available to make it easier on everyone.
It's late and so I'm stepping off my soapbox now.
I can help you with the tech on this one Chris. firstname.lastname@example.org
I agree with Susan. Referral is been key for me (as are the "to be avoided"). You can start with a 'CFO as a service' shops that have multiple leverage points - 1) they are able to do base level accounting but also add higher level services as you need, and 2) they know eventually they will be replaced, so the drop in/drop out doesn't affect them. They will rely on you for referrals so are incentivized to perform. A third advantage is they often are hired by VCs who need someone to clean up a mess or void a mess in process in a portfolio company, so they also have access to that audience if you need.