Finding a great bookkeeper can be HARD. Do a google search for bookkeeping, and you will probably have tons of options to choose from. So finding one can’t be that hard, right?
It’s harder than you think. More than a few times I’ve had to break the bad news to a business owner that the bookkeeper they hired (and thought was great) actually didn’t know what they were doing, and the accounting records they had paid someone to keep organized for an entire year were actually a big mess that needed to be cleaned up. It’s one of my least favourite things to do, and it brings me no joy to see business owners having to pay more just to get their bookkeeping fixed.
Which is one reason why I always suggest that your first stop for a recommendation to a good bookkeeper be your accountant. Believe it or not most good accountants, while we usually have a great bookkeeping team available, don’t necessarily ask that you bring your bookkeeping to us. Finding the right fit for your business is actually the most important factor when it comes to your bookkeeping, which is why I’m happy to recommend external bookkeepers when asked. To help with your search, an accountant not only has the right expertise to know what good bookkeeping looks like, but most of the time we actually see what bookkeepers are producing and we know which ones produce the best results that can even help you save money on accounting fees.
Here are some things to look for:
- Experience. A great bookkeeper has the experience to know not only how to put expenses into their proper categories, but how to set up your bookkeeping in a way that actually benefits you. The best bookkeeping isn’t just about keeping your records up-to-date so that you can file your taxes, it’s about providing you with the right feedback information to help you run your business. Do you need to track costs in a certain area of your business? Ideally, your bookkeeper should be able to provide you with the information you need.
- They know how to sometimes find information without asking. Great bookkeepers are also great detectives. Got a visa charge with no receipt, so there is no clue as to what it might be? Google search to see what the business is! A good bookkeeper knows how to ask questions, but a great bookkeeper knows how to form a theory and ask the right questions.
- They have enough business knowledge to understand what you are doing. You don’t want to be schooling your bookkeeper on business fundamentals while trying to run your business. Great bookkeepers understand what goes on in the basics of running a business.
- They know what your accountant needs. You can have great, super useful information from your bookkeeper but still have records that need a whole lot of work from your accountant in order to prepare financial statements and/or tax returns. A great bookkeeper can prepare useful information for you AND your accountant, which can save you significant accounting fees.
- They know what they don’t know. Your bookkeeper is not an accountant and sometimes there are complicated situations that are best handled by an accountant (amalgamations, special reporting requirements, business purchases and sales, etc). A good bookkeeper knows when to ask for help rather than attempting something beyond their capabilities that will only need to be fixed later.
- Problem solving skills. Does your bookkeeper know how to reconcile a GST account that doesn’t match CRA’s records? Or how to fix an opening trial balance that isn’t what it should be?
And remember: cheaper isn’t always cheaper when it comes to bookkeeper hourly rates. Most qualified and experienced bookkeepers know their value, and will charge a higher hourly rate because they can keep things organized and well-run in less time than it takes an inexperienced bookkeeper to go back and solve problems that they didn’t know they were creating in the first place.