It’s hard enough hiring the right person for your bookkeeping needs when you had a stack of 100 resumes to review. Now you've got people spread out across the globe vying for your attention through email marketing, websites, social media... the list goes on. And it’s entirely true that when it comes to the physical tasks of bookkeeping, geography doesn’t matter much anymore. So with that said, how do you make the right choice in selecting a remote bookkeeper for your small business?
To help you navigate, here are a few criteria to consider...
Location, Location, Location
This sounds strange, right? Remote, by definition, means not nearby. But hear me out. In this case, it's not so much where your potential remote bookkeeper lives, but when they live. Take into account time zones when deciding on a new remote bookkeeper. If you know you'll need to talk on the phone, or are likely to request a report any given morning on short notice, will they be available (read: awake) when you need them?
References and Reputation
For bookkeepers, it's no longer good enough to include a "references available upon request" note. Your new remote bookkeeper should have a good track record, and should be able to connect you with their other remote clients.
It's also a plus if they have a good online presence. Does your potential bookkeeper blog? Is he/she active on social media in a way that’s relevant to their business? Do they have endorsements or recommendations on their LinkedIn page? Have they traveled to industry events? Since you won't be face-to-face very often, insight into how they interact with their community is a good indication of how they'll treat you as a client.
Obviously, the person who does your remote bookkeeping should know how to keep your books. But what I’m talking about here is knowledge specific to your situation. Do they have experience in your industry? Do they know the specific laws in your province, state, or country? Have they worked with the online accounting software you use? Are they comfortable with cloud accounting? You might have tax write-offs that are specific to your industry. Are they familiar? Hiring a remote bookkeeper who has worked with companies like yours and with the tools you use will help ensure you're getting the expertise you need to run a successful business.
Cutting to the core of it, you need to make sure that your new remote bookkeeper communicates well and in the channel that suits your style, preference, and industry. If you loathe talking on the phone, but your potential remote bookkeeper constantly tries to schedule a phone call despite your clear preference for email, the relationship might not be a fit. The same can be said for the bookkeeper who responds to email three days after the fact.
Collaboration also falls under communication. If working through your books collaboratively and in real time is important to you, your remote bookkeeper should have options for you like cloud accounting software.
Every small business is unique — we all know that. Thus, you need a remote bookkeeper that's willing to adjust to your specific needs. Want to establish a flat monthly rate? Prefer to collaborate with Google Docs? Do you rock Dropbox?
Within reason, your remote bookkeeper should be flexible enough to work within your current workflow and processes. Their job is to provide services that help you run a more efficient business. Forcing you to buy and learn a new application or learn a new systematic approach when you have a good system in place isn't improving efficiencies.
All in all, we're in a very interesting time in bookkeeping and entrepreneurship. Never before have business owners had their pick of so many skilled professionals to help them grow their business. So take these five criteria into consideration and choose wisely.
Eric Matthews is a bookkeeper, tax preparer, and small business consultant based in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He is the publisher of ThatBookkeeper.com and a self-admitted tech geek. Follow him on Twitter at @ThatBookkeper.