We recently shared five questions a small business owner should an ask an accountant before hiring them. But in some cases, a business owner might need someone to help them get their finances ready for their accountant. This someone is a bookkeeper. And guess what! Just as we did for accountants, we've got five questions to ask a bookkeeper that will help you make the right decision.
First, it bears repeating: a bookkeeper isn’t an accountant. While a CPA will file your taxes and offer insight and advice about financial strategy, a bookkeeper is there to help you out with the day-to-day activities. (Think bank reconciliation, invoicing, report generation.) In reality, a bookkeeper is someone who is going to be able to be your second pair of hands in your accounting system. (Hint: Bookkeepers love Kashoo!) So why would you need a bookkeeper if you've already got great accounting software? Time is the main reason. Bookkeepers free you up to do what you do best: run your business.
Now on to the five questions to ask a bookkeeper...
Just like when you hire an accountant, you need to review credentials. However, unlike accountants, bookkeepers aren’t required to have a license to practice, although a license is available in some jurisdictions. It’s a good idea to choose a bookkeeper that is certified by the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers, the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, or the Canadian Bookkeepers Association. Bottom line: be sure to ask about their training, experience and certifications.
There are some basic things a bookkeeper must know how to do, such as reconciling bank accounts, processing payroll, handling both accounts payable and receivable, and tracking that information appropriately. Those items are pretty obvious. However, you also need a bookkeeper who is an effective communicator and is able to generate easy to understand reports. Lastly, you need a bookkeeper that understands and is comfortable using the accounting system your business uses.
Experience In Your Industry
While there are some universal elements to bookkeeping, there are definitely industry-specific skills and knowledge. For example: a bookkeeper who specializes in photographers is going to have a slightly different bookkeeping skillset than a bookkeeper who's great at working for general contractors. Ultimately, a bookkeeper who is experienced in your field might be a better option than a generalist.
Hiring a bookkeeper is not a set-it-and-forget-it move. You want a bookkeeper who engages with you on a regular basis to review transactions and discuss what's late or what's coming up. Does they respond quickly to email? Do they call their clients back quickly? This is also where you want to get a sense of their rates. What are their hourly bookkeeping rates? Are there different rates for discussion/consultation? Hiring a bookkeeper is going to be an expense: know what you're getting in return!
This is so important. Your bookkeeper has access to your business' financials. Trust is a must. In fact, you should absolutely address non-disclosure and privacy issues when you are ready to hire a bookkeeper. (Talk to your lawyer about that.) But before you get to that point, you need client references. Get them. And if a bookkeeping candidate doesn't have them, move on to the next. If you can get references who work in industries similar to you, that's even better. Talk to the references not just about the bookkeeper's bookkeeping skills, but also their accountability, their ethics and their commitment. We can't stress this enough: good references matter!
Are these the only questions to ask a bookkeeper? Of course not. But hopefully they'll get you close to where you want to be!
As always, nothing in this post should be considered legal or financial advice!