Tips for Choosing a Bookkeeper
I know it shouldn't, but it still surprises me as to how many small business owners I speak to on a regular basis who either…
Keep their own books (and – no offense intended – they are doing a terrible job at it), or
Keep paper documents and bring those into their tax preparer each year.
I imagine that it must be as frustrating for these individuals as it is for their CPA, accountant, or tax preparer.
Well, did you know that – if you fall under either 1) or 2) above, then you will actually save money in the long run (i.e., cutting your accounting / record-keeping expenses by at least half, and sometimes MORE) by having someone keep your books current on an ongoing basis than waiting until the last minute each tax season to get your finances organized?
You do? Well that's great! But you may ask, "How do I go about choosing the right person who's the best fit for my business' needs?"
Well, fortunately I can help with that! Here are some tips for choosing a bookkeeper to work with on an ongoing basis. Your ultimate goal is to make sure that it's a good mutual fit all around. These relationships have a tendency to last YEARS, so taking the time in the beginning to do your homework is crucial in making the best choice for you and your business.
At the very minimum, your bookkeeper should possess these skills:
They should be knowledgeable with the platform that you want to use. For example, you can check Intuit's Find-a-ProAdvisor site (http://proadvisor.intuit.com/search/index-standalone.html) and start your search within a 10-mile radius of your location to generate a list of QuickBooks experts closest to you. Start with 3-5 of those listed to conduct an initial phone interview – have your questions ready beforehand, and ask the same questions of each candidate. If you don't click with those individuals, then expand your search – you can search in increments of 10 – up to a 50-mile radius. Also remember that If you are open to working remotely with someone, it doesn’t matter where they’re physically located – and with today’s technology, you can connect virtually via a variety of platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx just to name a few (and with QuickBooks Online (OBO) being in the cloud, there’s no need to travel to an office – OBO can be accessed from anywhere, anytime!).
An Important note: Don't limit yourself by considering only the top-rated individuals. Several factors work together to elevate peoples’ rankings on the Find-A-ProAdvisor list - including certification levels, such as basic vs. advanced certifications in either/both Desktop/Online (the more certs they’ve earned AND if they are also advanced certified, the higher their rankings) and number of reviews recorded in the ProAdvisor's profile (the more reviews listed, the higher their rankings). Read through the entire profile listing, then read the reviews left on their ProAdvisor listing. Also be sure to check out any outside reviews - read testimonials published on their website; also check out testimonies left on their LinkedIn Profiles - to see if the individuals’ skill sets match what you need. As stated above, you can always expand your circle if the first few candidates you talk to do not seem to match what you are looking for.
A few notes about searching for Xero “Advisors” … Xero Advisors are referred to as “Partners” – and “Partners” with “Bronze-Level” and higher rankings are the only ones listed in their official advisory directory (https://www.xero.com/us/advisors/find-advisors). This means that “Basic Partners” – those folks who may be just as familiar with the software and are also Xero-certified – aren’t listed at all! MY recommendation (and this is strictly MY recommendation – primarily given to streamline your process) is to use the Intuit’s Find-a-ProAdvisor site as described above to find your top 3-5 candidates … and as you’re interviewing them about their QuickBooks expertise, ask them about any Xero experience that they may have. Chances are, these QuickBooks ProAdvisors are also Xero-certified or Xero-familiar (Xero is an intuitive product, so there’s not a huge learning curve – a primary advantage of using Xero). If – and ONLY if – you strike out using this suggested method, then feel free to search the Xero advisor directory for candidates.
They should have a good foundation in basic bookkeeping skills. Knowing the accounting platform is one thing. But if the person you're considering doesn't have a solid knowledge of bookkeeping basics, they're not going to understand how to fix things that go wrong or to be able to set-up or clean-up your accounts properly. I've fixed more messed-up client files that I can count … and it’s NOT a quick or easy process. That’s one of the main reasons why set-up/clean-up work is considerably more expensive than ongoing record-keeping work!
They should have an onboarding process that makes sense. For example, a professional worth his or her weight in gold will offer to perform a file check-up procedure as part of their onboarding process. They will charge a nominal fee upfront for this process (normally between $300-$1,000). This process is to identify set up issues and data entry issues, along with gauging the health of file issues for desktop users. This process allows the professional to diagnose the current status of the company file and provide a realistic assessment of the time and cost involved in the initial catch-up/clean-up/ongoing work. Many professionals will rebate all or part of the cost of this service in the form of a discount applied to any follow up work done within a certain time period - usually 2-3 months from the date of the completion of the check-up work.
They embrace technology, but they will work with you at your level. With all the talk of technology adoption being the future of accounting and bookkeeping, there will be certain individuals who will be slow to adopt or will not do so. The ideal fit for those of you in this situation would be to find someone who will work with you at your level. These professionals embrace technology on their end to simplify overall processes for all parties involved. Considerable time is invested at the beginning of the process to set up apps on your end to “push” needed data to your bookkeeper; afterwards, you are left “hands-free” so you can devote the extra time you’ll gain to focus on more important tasks to grow and sustain your business. Please note that these professionals may charge a bit more for their services because they will have to adopt and implement the technology on their side to make the processes easier for YOU... but you may determine that the value of the free time you enjoy as a result of the bookkeeper's implementation of these technologies to be well worth the extra money spent.
They do not charge by the hour, but rather their rates are based on the value of the services provided. Hourly fees for accountants and bookkeepers are going the way of the dinosaur and are being replaced by flat fee billing. The advantage of flat fee billing is that you know each month precisely what you owe for the ongoing services you receive and can set up recurring payments for these services on a regular schedule (such as the 5th of each month). For initial services, you will be quoted flat fees, and everything is spelled out by a written agreement outlining the scope of services to be provided as well as the responsibilities of each party in meeting the terms of the agreement. The pricing is fair all around because you as the client will be paying for the added value of what the bookkeeper brings to the table as well as the time that it frees you up to do other things related to growing and sustaining your business.
As stated earlier, taking the time in the beginning to do your homework is critical in making the best choice for you and your business in regards to your ongoing bookkeeping needs. If done thoroughly and thoughtfully, you’ll save time, money, and headaches as your bookkeeper becomes your valued and trusted partner now and for years to come.
PS: So you know, I offer an initial free phone consultation for all of my services. If interested, you can schedule your initial phone call here.