Finding the right bookkeeper can make all the difference for your small business. A great bookkeeper can have a positive impact on how you feel about the financial aspects of your business. They can also take care of a multitude of details while you go about running and growing your company.
When it comes to experience and expertise, bookkeepers come in all shapes and sizes. Most bookkeepers do not have formal certifications like CPAs do, and most do not have any college accounting hours. To find a qualified bookkeeper—as well as one that’s a good personality fit for your business—here are a few tips to guide you during the selection process.
Depth and Breadth of Accounting Experience
Some bookkeepers have experience in the corporate world, where they usually become good at one thing, such as matching and processing accounts-payable transactions. Other bookkeepers have maintained books for small businesses and gained experience in all areas of bookkeeping.
Ask your bookkeeping prospects the following to find out how experienced they are:
- “How long have you been bookkeeping, and what types of clients have you had?”
Also, listen for whether they’ve had similar clients or were simply an employee in a similar organization. It’s preferable if they’ve had multiple clients across a variety of industries, including the industry your small business is in, as this indicates they’ve had experience with issues you’re likely to come across. Industry experience is definitely a plus, as this gives their experience the depth you need.
The best bookkeepers have strong technology skills, and one of the questions you need to ask is whether they have experience in your preferred accounting software:
- “My accounting software is ______. Do you have a certification or experience in that software? Which product line and version of that software are you experienced with?“
Further qualify their answer by asking which version and product line they know. QuickBooks, for example, comes in several major lines (i.e. Pro, Premier, Enterprise and Online). Plus, a new version can come out each year, so if they’re working with a three-year-old version, they may not be familiar with some of the new features of the latest. To make sure they can handle your preferred software, be sure to ask:
- “What do you do to stay up to date in accounting and technology?”
You should also ask them how they stay current with new technology solutions in their industry as well as info on training or professional courses they may currently be taking.
By asking your bookkeeping prospects the above questions, their personalities will naturally come forward. What does your gut tell you about your comfort level when working with this person? Trust your gut when it comes to assessing the personality fit of a potential hire.
Also, ask yourself if you are comfortable with their style of communication. Do they explain things well? Can you understand them? Do you feel like you can trust them with your books? These are all questions that need to be satisfied before making your decision.
The Business Side
Some bookkeepers invest in building their businesses and creating processes that make it easier to work with them. Other bookkeepers simply show up and wait for you to tell them what to do. Get a feel for how established and professional they are by asking them:
- “Do you have a process that you go through when you do the books each month?”
If they wing it without an established process, it means they don’t have a lot of controls in place. Bookkeepers should at least have a checklist of items that they work from each month, even if they’ve had the same client for decades. Expand on their business operations by asking a weighted question, such as:
- “What payment options do you take?”
This is convenience to you, of course, but it can also tell you how much the bookkeeper has developed processes in their business. The more of a true business owner the bookkeeper is, the more you can rely on them to help your business. Continue your inquiry with a question regarding their commitment to your needs. Ask:
- “How often will my account be serviced? What if I have an emergency?”
More service for your account means you will likely have to pay more money, but it also means your service will be more supportive and effective.
Finally, see if the service fits into your budget by asking the all-important question:
- “How and what do you charge?”
Fees should be discussed upfront as much as possible so there are no mismatched expectations. About half of all bookkeepers now charge a fixed fee, and the other half charge by the hour. A few bookkeepers are starting to offer packages or bundles of services, which can include the software, technology fees, bookkeeping and other services you need. Ask about pricing options to see what fits into your budget.
Do Your Research
A bookkeeper is a vital part of a growing small business, but hiring the wrong bookkeeper can hinder your operations and eat up much-needed cash flow. Instead, be sure to conduct due diligence to ensure your new bookkeeper is the right fit.
Still not sure what type of financial help your company needs? See our article on the different types of accountants to determine your business’ best option.