Choosing an accountant isn't just a numbers game. Talk to any professional, and they'll tell you it's a complicated matter that shouldn't be taken lightly.

"One of the most important decisions a CEO will be involved in is engaging a CPA firm," notes Timothy Wilson, partner-in-charge at BKD Cincinnati.

Wilson suggests that a CEO should begin the decision-making process by analyzing what the company will need from the relationship with the CPA firm. "For example, a small sole proprietor will most likely be focused on basic tax and accounting needs and will be well-suited to working with a smaller local firm," says Wilson. "In contrast, if the organization has significant and complex needs, the CEO will need to evaluate the capabilities of the CPA firm to meet those requirements. For instance, if the CEO is considering expanding the sales of the company to another state or country, he/she could be faced with the need to understand different and unique tax laws."

Here are 10 tips when searching out accountants or accounting firms:

1. Getting a Name: Choosing an accountant wh'™s right for you from the multitudes out there can be a daunting task. Weigh the reputation of the firm and whether it has a strong profile in the community. See if colleagues you respect know anything about the firm.

2. Research the Candidates: Find out where the key players at any given firm went to college. Karl Dostal, CPA, CFP of Cooney, Faulkner and Stevens LLC in Cincinnati recommends checking out a firm's credentials. How many have their MBA, how many are CPAs or CFPs?

3. Make Time for Q&A...: Cincinnati CPA Bob Benesford stresses that it's important to establish a rapport with your CPA. Benesford says he doesn't speak "accountant-ese" when meeting with potential clients for the first time because it's especially important to take the time to learn the client's needs. Find out right away if you agree with the accountant's philosophy.

4. Choosing Big or Small: As mentioned, high-profile firms may have the resources to match your company's sophisticated needs. But smaller firms might be better suited to deal with sole proprietors on a scaled-down level. "Do the partners meet with the client or leave it to a staff level person?" adds Dostal.

5. Straight from the Source: Check if your prospective accountant is in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which is the national organization for CPAs. The organization provides members with the resources and standards to make them good at what they do (which should include keeping your finances stress-free). Visit them at www.aicpa.org.

6. Get it in Writing: Dostal recommends getting an engagement letter, detailing the accountant's services and hourly rates. It's important to know this information up front, so you can determine if they're worth your time. And your money.

Once an accountant has worked with you for a few months and determined how much work per week they'll need to put in for your business, you can negotiate a flat fee.

7. Saving You Cash is Key: A good accountant should save you enough money that they pay for themselves. Finding tax exemptions that you never even knew about is always good. A solid accountant is worth his or her weight in gold.

8. The More Talented, The Better: Make sure you choose someone who will focus on more than tax minimization.

This is where working with a firm might be more beneficial than a single accountant and especially important if you have a large business. Bookkeeping and less taxes can only take you so far. "There are many unique opportunities that a company may not be aware of such as research and development credits, state and local taxes and incentives, and financing options that a larger CPA firm will be able to assist with," says BKD's Wilson.

9. Think about the Long Term: In the same vein as tip 8, think about all the skills you will require from an accountant, as well as how often you'll need them (hint: not just at tax-time). A well-versed accountant can help with business consulting and assessment, as well as financial planning.

10. The Simple Tip: Finally, a piece of advice that might seem to be a no-brainer: Keep clear, easy-to-read financial records. Otherwise, the relationship is headed for disaster.