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What to Look for in Hiring a Bookkeeper

As your business grows, you will reach a point where you need to seriously consider hiring a bookkeeper. Unfortunately, bookkeeping is still a very un-regulated industry. Anyone can market his or herself as a bookkeeper, and it can be very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.


Obviously, your needs will be very specific to your company. However, there are a few basic things you can look out for to help you make the best decision in hiring a bookkeeper.


Look for certifications AND references.

Some people are very good at test-taking, and can certifications easily in an afternoon. (For instance, some lower-level QuickBooks certifications can be very easy to obtain with a minimal amount of studying.) But if they are difficult to work with, or don't do a great job of taking care of clients' books, they will likely not have many positive references available.

Some bookkeepers are very social and, at least on the surface, can impress clients. (Or, at the very least, they're good at getting friends and family to provide them with references.) However, if they do not have the accounting knowledge and technical skills necessary, they won't be good bookkeepers.

When seeking help, prioritize bookkeepers who have both certifications and a significant amount of references. Beyond client reviews, also look for reviews from partnering businesses, such as CPA firms. A good CPA appreciates working on financials that have been prepared by a good bookkeeper.

You can also ask your potential bookkeeper for references from current or prior clients in a business similar to yours.


Check their business registration.

Most legitimate bookkeeping firms will have officially registered their company. Depending on their state of registry, you can look up such information as how they are structured, how long they have been in business, their company officers, whether they have every faced dissolution, etc. (In North Carolina, where we're based, you can check the Secretary of State website for business registrations.)

There's nothing wrong with hiring a newer company, but you might want to consider a bookkeeping firm which has been in business for a few years, first. You can also look at things like whether they have a physical office space, or if the company ownership has changed hands multiple times. (And if they have been administratively dissolved in the past, consider it a major red flag.)


Heed the red flags.

There's a great quote from the show Bojack Horseman which goes, "When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags."

Considering the high importance of your bookkeeping being done accurately, you do not want to ignore any red flags in your search for a bookkeeper. Being slow to respond, having little web presence, or being too eager to jump into working with you can all be red flags. If they are setting off your alarm bells during the initial search, consider how much worse things can become once you have hired them.

Ask about their experience with companies like yours, and with services you might need (such as their systems for managing payroll, sales tax, etc.).  Ask about their policies on client communication, and how they prioritize time-sensitive tasks. Most importantly, particularly if they are a 1-person shop, ask about their plans for who can back them up on your account in the event of an emergency, where they might be unexpectedly unavailable.


Make sure THEY ask YOU good questions.

A few months ago, we met a prospective client for a free 1-hour consultation. She was upfront about the fact that she had scheduled interviews with other bookkeepers, and would be following up with us later. A few weeks later she let me know she would like to hire us. Her reason for choosing us, over other companies was, "You actually asked me questions and looked at my system. You were the only one who did that."

Be leery of a bookkeeper who swears they can handle your business financials without first establishing exactly what that entails. Not every client is a good fit for every bookkeeper (and vice versa). We maintain friendly relationships with our local competitors, so we have a good alternative to offer when we meet with a prospect and realize they would not be a good fit for us. Likewise, our competition sends us referrals, as well.

In your initial meeting with your potential bookkeeper, make sure they are trying to learn about your business, and not just sell you on theirs.


Find someone who understands accounting beyond record-keeping.

There is a misconception that a great bookkeeper is just someone with exceptional data entry and organizational skills. However, there is a lot that a real bookkeeper can do to help save money on taxes, identify areas of risk, or even improve profitability. Something as simple as how an owner's cash contribution to the company is recorded can have a massive effect on tax liability. A good bookkeeper can also locate missing accounts receivable, or locate credit balances with vendors. There's so much more to it than entering transactions from the bank feed.


Hiring a bookkeeper is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business. Be sure to take your time and be intentional in your search.