This is always a topic that I am asked, and so it is a two-part blog post. In Part 1 of hiring a bookkeeper I discussed some of the considerations when hiring a firm or individual. In this post I will continue with further thoughts when choosing a bookkeeping vendor.
Does an Accountant Review Their Work?
Having a good work process system in place for any type of work is a good thing for any field, and bookkeeping is no exception. So what is their process? For instance, if the accounting function is separate from the bookkeeping function (and it should be), does the accountant review the bookkeeper’s work on a regular basis, or just once a year?
What type of software do they use? Hopefully they know more than one software package. Two or more packages allow them a broader scope to your business challenges. Also knowing different packages will help them with integration procedures if they’re necessary.
What are they doing to ensure security and privacy measures to preserve confidentiality of financial information? Do they use a cloud-based system for data storage? Do your financial records get backed up, if so, where and how often? Computers invariably die, and the horror of having to recreate your accounting and bookkeeping records is not something you want to experience.
Get Money Questions in Writing
Beyond what they typically bill for the bookkeeping service, what about all those little extras that they may be charging you for? Are there any extra charges for filing, photocopying, pickup and delivery for instance? They may or may not be significant, but most people don’t like surprises especially of the money kind. It’s better to have all money issues spelled out in your contract.
Do they bill by the hour or provide you with a flat monthly rate? Although it may seem that you are further ahead with an hourly rate, it does mean that you never know what your bill is going to be until you get it. A recent new client of ours told me the horror story of getting a $3000 bill for their bookkeeping services one month because the bookkeeper had to spend some extra time researching how to post some entries. Flat rate fees ensure that you know how much you are going to pay each and every time.
Do you Have Access to Your Data?
For a lot of business owners, the bookkeeping is done away from their place of business, which means that the financial records are stored on the bookkeepers computer. Do you have the ability to access that financial data, or run reports when you want to? In this day and age of cloud accessibility it could be an important consideration for you.
Do Your Accountant and Bookkeeper Get Along?
And finally don’t forget the ability to play well with others.
If you do employ a bookkeeping service that is separate from your accounting service or have your own accountant, they had better get along. The bookkeeper you hire should be open to advice and have a willingness to learn and grow and not come across as a “know-it-all.” This is especially true when you consider most accountants’ knowledge is greater than a bookkeeper’s. Your accountant will have considerable expertise and experience that they can share with the bookkeeper, to everyone’s benefit.
One thing that I always recommend is to separate your bookkeeping from your tax preparation. Especially if your bookkeeper is a solo service, the potential for fraud is always greatest if there is no oversight on the bookkeeping. Separating the two functions helps to alleviate some of the concern and ensure that everything is above board and correct.
What is their communication style and how quickly do they get back to you? Think about how you like to be dealt with and ensure that your new hire is able to work with you. How do you like to communicate? If you are strictly an email type and they are a phone person this could lead to delays and increased costs to you.
Is Your Bookkeeper Certified?
Do they have membership in professional groups or associations? Although bookkeeping certification is not mandatory in Canada, (a personal beef of mine, but that’s a whole other series of blog posts ) memberships and certifications generally show a higher degree of competence and willingness to stay on top of current developments in the profession.
Check Their Work References
This is always a personal dilemma for me. If I ask a potential new employee for a reference, are you going to EVER get the name of their worst client? Of course not. They will only ever give you the names of people who love them. A way to bypass that is to ask for names of Accountants that they have worked with for some of their other clients. The Accountants will have a good working knowledge of the quality of the work they produce. If you do go the more traditional route of checking references, – some of the questions to ask about your potential bookkeeper :
- How happy are they with the service?
- Are they accurate and on time?
- Do they provide any value added services?
- Would you recommend them?
And where possible get recommendations and testimonials from colleagues. They will likely give you a more honest appraisal than people you don’t know.
Do They Provide You with Some Sort of Guarantee?
If you were buying a shirt, and you weren’t sure you loved it, you would check if there was any kind of a return policy. Although it isn’t common in our industry, ask if they offer any kind of guarantee on their services. What happens if they don’t live up to their end of the contract, are you just out of luck and start all over again?
Plan to visit the bookkeeping office to meet the staff and tour the facilities. This is where you’ll get a better feel for the people, the culture and type of company you’ll be working with.
What has been your experience with a bookkeeping service? We always appreciate your comments and feedback. Do you have a question that you’ve asked of a bookkeeper that I’ve missed?