From the moment you start your professional organizing business, you’ll deal with the movement of money into and out of your company. Even if you are good with numbers, tracking all of your financial transactions may take too much of your time – especially as your business grows. Hiring a bookkeeper will allow you to focus on building your business instead of dealing with the mundane details. Below are tips on hiring the right bookkeeper.
Bookkeeper vs Accountant?
You will probably need both experts on your team. A bookkeeper handles the day-to-day financial transactions of your business. They invoice clients, pay bills, record receipts, etc. An accountant provides high-level business advice, strategic insight, prepares and files taxes, etc. based on your bookkeeping information. Therefore, having a good bookkeeper is essential.
Types of Bookkeeping Services
There are two basic types of bookkeepers: freelancers and bookkeeping firms. Freelancers are usually the most affordable for solopreneurs and small businesses. Typically, you have a one-on-one connection with the person who is working with your financial information. Unfortunately, that means when they aren’t available (caretaking, surgery, vacation), you may find yourself with no support.
Bookkeeping firms are more expensive and usually have employees with a variety of experience that can handle your account without interruption. But you may not be dealing with the same person all the time. Firms can be a better option for businesses with many monthly transactions.
Determine Your Bookkeeping Needs
Before hiring a bookkeeper, determine your needs. Here are some things to consider.
Paper vs Digital: If you have a mostly paper-based business (paper invoices and receipts), you may want a bookkeeper in your local area who can pick up and drop off documents. If you have digital records, it is less important that your bookkeeper works in your local area.
Budget: What is your budget for a bookkeeper? Look at how much time you are spending doing your own bookkeeping. How much could you earn if you spent that time with your own clients?
Accounts List: Create a list of accounts your bookkeeper needs to access (e.g. bank, NAPO, PayPal, Amazon, business credit cards, etc.), including those with repeating automatic payments. This will help your bookkeeper establish how much time they will need to manage your business.
Task List: Think about the tasks you need the bookkeeper to do. For example: Do you need to reconcile your accounts weekly or monthly? Do you want them to invoice clients and pay your bills directly? A task list will help you prepare questions when you interview bookkeepers.
Finding a Good Bookkeeper
A good bookkeeper helps keep your business on track, so working with someone you trust is essential. Here are a few resources for finding potential bookkeepers for your business:
Accountants: They often work with bookkeepers and can attest to the quality of their work from an accounting or tax filing perspective.
Colleagues: Colleagues in your profession and related professions have likely similar bookkeeping requirements. They may know a bookkeeper who provides the services you need.
Local Networking Groups: Your local business networking association or Chamber of Commerce may include bookkeepers. Using a local company means a face-to-face interview and in-person meetings. In addition, a local bookkeeper would understand taxation regulations for your city and state as well as IRS requirements.
Online: The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) has an easy-to-use directory of freelance bookkeepers.
Questions to Ask a Potential Bookkeeper
What services do they offer?
- Do they work with paper or digital (or both) receipts and invoices?
- What transactions do they manage (cash, checks, credit cards)?
- Do they prepare invoices and follow up with unpaid accounts?
- Do they pay your suppliers?
- Are payroll services offered? You might need this service as your business grows.
- How often do they reconcile your accounts?
- Do they prepare reports for taxes, long-term planning, etc.?
What is their schedule like?
- How many days after month-end and year-end will they provide reports?
- Are there periods in the year when they are busy?
- What happens if they unexpectedly cannot work? (e.g. accident, illness)
Are they familiar with your industry?
Ask if they have any other clients who are professional organizers or in a similar industry. You can also ask them to provide examples of some bookkeeping issues that might arise and how they would solve these problems.
What type of accounting software do they use, and which version?
Ideally, your bookkeeper should use software appropriate to small businesses–and one that you are familiar with. Some software only runs on a PC. If your computer is a Mac or tablet, make sure your bookkeeper can provide reports you can view on your system.
How will they communicate with you?
- Do they want to meet in person, or will phone calls and emails be sufficient?
- Do you understand their explanations of technical terms? Are they clear and concise?
- What is their usual response time to phone calls and emails?
- How do they communicate on urgent issues?
- Will you be dealing with the person you meet, or will you work with an employee or sub-contractor?
How do they protect their clients?
- Do they have insurance? They should have both comprehensive and professional liability (Errors & Omissions) insurance.
- What internal systems or cross-checks are used to catch errors and reduce the likelihood of audits?
- Do they develop standard operating procedures that they can turn over to another bookkeeper in case of emergencies?
- What computer security systems do they use? Do they have controls in place to prevent hacking and cyber-attacks? Do they use encrypted file transfers?
- How do they protect passwords for banking, PayPal, etc.?
- Are their computer and cloud backup systems encrypted?
- Do they use subcontractors, and if so, what reliability checks do they use?
How do they handle challenging situations?
- Have they ever had a client audited? How did they support their client?
- Do they have experience cleaning up disorganized records and accounts?
- Have they worked with collection agencies?
- How do they deal with urgent issues? (e.g. lost/stolen credit cards, accounts locked down, computer crashes, etc.)
- What mistakes have they made, and how did they handle them?
What training and experience do they have?
In the United States, bookkeepers are not legally required to obtain a license, but the best ones have formal education and considerable experience. Many participate in voluntary certification programs, including continuing education offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB). A bookkeeper who has an active membership in a professional group stays current on best practices.
A bookkeeper keeps track of your finances. Don’t be shy about asking for a copy of their training certificates (confirm with their school too). If they are QuickBooks certified, they should be able to provide you with a link to their QuickBooks ProAdvisor listing.
Do they have references?
Your candidates should be able to provide you with a list of satisfied clients and accountants they have worked with. Contact the references and ask what tasks they did for that client? Ask if the work performed timely and accurately, and if they were happy with the service provided?
What are their fees?
Most bookkeepers base their fees on how complicated your accounts are, the number of transactions per month, the number of employees you have, etc. If you have already defined your needs, listed your accounts and created your task list, a bookkeeper can provide a better estimate. Here is a list of questions you can ask about rates and fees.
- Is there a fixed monthly fee, do they charge by the hour, or is it per transaction? If there is a fixed monthly fee, make sure you know what isn’t included.
- Is there a new client set-up fee?
- If they have to bring your books up to date or import past work into their system, is there an additional, one-time charge?
- What are the fees for services you might need that are outside the scope of your contract? (e.g. one-time mid-month report).
- How will they communicate increases in their fees?
- If you transfer to a different bookkeeper later on, are there any transfer fees?
Bookkeepers offer a vital business service. Because they handle your daily financial work, they save you time and make your accountant’s job more manageable. Also, if your books are up to date, you can make better decisions to develop a thriving business.