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30 Questions to Ask a Bookkeeper Before You Hire (Part I)

Your business is growing, you have an ambitious agenda, and you’re ready to reach the next level. Now is a great time to hire a bookkeeper. As businesses evolve their accounting responsibilities become more complex and time-consuming. Ambitious companies end up spending a lot more time and focus on accounting when they would rather concentrate on core skills and long-term goals instead. Partnering with an outsourced bookkeeper empowers these companies to hand off routine workloads while getting strategic insights from a trusted expert.

Relying on a bookkeeper makes things immediately easier and more accurate too. And working with an outsourced bookkeeper is typically much less expensive than bringing on a specialized employee (click here to read our full blog on outsourced vs. in-house bookkeeping)

But it’s important to acknowledge that not all bookkeepers are created equal. Some commit to exacting standards for quality and consistency, and some, quite frankly, do not. The challenge is identifying which bookkeepers you can trust with your finances before you actually formalize your relationship.

There is lots that decision makers can do to find and vet potential candidates in advance. However, before making any final choice it’s important to interview the leading contenders, either in-person or through digital channels. How you communicate is less important than what information you exchange because the ultimate goal is to determine whether a bookkeeper can meet any and all of your needs. Make sure you get all the answers you require by asking these specific questions:

1 – What is the Scope of the Services You Offer?

Some bookkeepers offer a very limited number of services while others operate like a complete accounting department. Begin by determining what kind of assistance you want and need, both now and down the road. Then look for a bookkeeper who can meet your exact requirements. At the most basic level you will want someone who can reconcile bank accounts, A/R, A/P, and navigate your financial software.

2 – What Sort of Credentials Do You Have?

Technically, anyone can call themselves a bookkeeper. Only partner with someone who can prove they have relevant degrees, certifications, and accomplishments. If you work with Quickbooks you will want to work with a QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor, ideally one who is Top 10 in at least one region.

3 – What is Your Level of Expertise?

Some bookkeepers are generalists while others are specialists. Determining what kind you need depends on your motives for hiring a bookkeeper. A generalist will be able to handle routine workloads, but a specialist can help with the more confusing or consequential aspects of accounting.

4 – How Familiar Are Your With My Industry?

Bookkeeping takes different forms in different industries, and an expert in one industry may be unqualified to work in a different industry. Explore what kind of industry-specific expertise they have, plus whether they have worked with companies that have the same size, structure, or accounting agenda as your own.

5 – How Do You Communicate With Clients?

Trusting an outside bookkeeper with something as important as accounting is a real leap of faith. Bookkeepers must be committed to maintaining open and honest communication channels so that clients never feel out of the loop. Make sure your bookkeeper is communicating in the style you prefer. If you like phone communication best then request bi-weekly check in calls. If you’re addicted to email then make sure they are tech-savvy and won’t waste your time on the phone.

6 – What Service Levels Can You Commit To?

It’s not enough for bookkeepers to offer “stellar service.” Rather, they should be able to clearly articulate what service levels they can offer in terms of delivery times and accuracy benchmarks. They should also articulate what happens if those promises are not met.

7 – Are You An Individual or Part of a Team?

Some bookkeepers are a one-man operation while others work within large and diverse teams. One is not necessarily better than the other, but it’s important to understand the depth and breadth of resources at your bookkeeper’s disposal.

8 – What Security Practices Do You Follow?

Anyone with access to sensitive employee and financial data must guard it aggressively. Find out what  measures a prospective bookkeeper takes to ensure digital security and personal privacy. Follow up by exploring what happens if security is breached for any reason.

9 – How Does Your Pricing Structure Work?

Bookkeeping is a valuable service, but it must still be fairly priced. Learn what pricing structure is in place, and don’t hesitate to bring up hidden costs and punitive fees. Once you have a clear understanding of costs, compare those to the cost of in-house accounting and to the fees of other prospective bookkeepers. Remember that lowering your current costs may be possible, but the overarching goal is to improve accounting.

10 – Who “Owns” My Data?

Bookkeepers create important data for your company, but who “owns” this data if the relationship expires? If the bookkeeper has ownership it could make ending the relationship contentious and disruptive. Don’t let there be any uncertainty about your rights to data and the details of accessing it.

11 – What is Your Accounting Style?

One company may prefer to have a detail-oriented bookkeeper while another company may want someone strategically-minded. Most candidates will claim to be whatever style you need, but it’s worth diving deeper into the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in order to understand his true suitability.

12 – Who Will I Work With Directly?

The bookkeeper you interview may not be the one you actually work with directly. On the contrary, some firms channel clients through a maze of junior associates and complex phone trees. Establishing who your point of contact is helps you understand what kind of service a bookkeeper actually provides.

13 – What is Your Technical Background?

Good bookkeepers know as much about technology as they do about accounting principles. Look for someone with a broad technical background, as well as extensive experience with your specific accounting solution. Having vendor-specific credentials does a lot to demonstrate a candidate’s expertise.

14 – Where is the Work Performed?

Bookkeepers may work on site or from a remote location. Having one on site makes it easier to exchange information and ask questions, but it also eats up office space. Establish where and when the work is performed, plus how you prefer to exchange information.

15 –  Can I Contact Your Past/Current Clients?

Interviewing a bookkeeper is the most important part of the vetting process, but checking their references comes in a close second. Any bookkeeper should be eager and able to connect you with past clients. If they refuse, it raises a definite red flag.

 

Stay tuned for Part II of this blog post – 30 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Bookkeeper.

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