Written for EO by Jennifer Barnes. Jennifer is the founder and CEO of Optima Office and an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in San Diego, California. Her company offers outsourced accounting services to support businesses of every size―from providing entire accounting departments to filling gaps on existing teams. In this article, she offers tips for identifying the right accountant for your organization.
Ensuring you have the right bookkeeper, staff accountant, accounting manager or controller is vital to growing your business. As you focus on sales, customers, strategy and vision to grow your business, a good accounting team will take care of your transactional accounting and oversee other financial aspects of your business.
What to Look For in a Bookkeeper
The right bookkeeper for your company should have these key qualities:
A bookkeeper or junior accountant should have the right experience for your business. Consider the needs of your organization and where in the accounting team this person will fit.
If a bookkeeper previously worked for a large corporation, he or she may only have experience in a specific task, such as invoicing or conducting monthly reconciliations. If a bookkeeper has worked for a small business, he or she may have gained a multifaceted experience in all areas of bookkeeping.
Ideally, look for someone who has experience in multiple industries. That being said, you will want to make sure that your bookkeeper has experience in your industry, or has experience with a similar company. This way, not only will the bookkeeper know the ins and outs of your industry, but will be able to provide greater financial insight.
If simply entering the bills into your accounting software, paying invoices and reconciling banks and credit cards is all you need, the person’s industry expertise may not make much of a difference, particularly if you have a higher level accountant on the team.
We typically suggest that bookkeepers are overseen. For a small company (US$1–3 million), you can likely get away with a bookkeeper four to 12 hours a week and a high-level accounting manager or controller managing this person, providing financials and analytics, forecasting cash flow and budgeting who will also streamline, create processes and improve the overall efficiency of the accounting and finance department. This role may be needed a day a week or a day a month.
Experience With Technology
Technology is integral to today’s bookkeeping processes. Using the right platforms can minimize errors and prevent financial losses. Find a person who is adept with modern accounting technology. When conducting interviews, ask which software they use and if they are proficient in the software your business uses.
Bookkeepers are a key aspect of the day-to-day fiscal operations of a small business and will likely engage with both staff members and outside clients and vendors. So, hire someone whose personality matches your organization’s culture and who can conduct themselves professionally with outside contacts.
It’s also important to find a team who works well together and whom you can trust. You will want to hire an individual or a firm that can explain complex accounting principles in an easy-to-digest manner, which can become a building block of trust as they explain how these principles impact your business.
When hiring a bookkeeper, find someone who will develop best practices and streamline processes to make the accounting process more fluid. You don’t want an individual who requires your constant oversight and direction. This is one reason that even small businesses should consider building an accounting team or working with an accounting agency. Some bookkeepers will not know how to streamline or how to provide the analytics that you need to run the business. Having a higher-level person to work with and mentor a bookkeeper is almost always a good idea.
Establish a monthly checklist for your accounting team, even if they have repeated the same tasks for years. If your entire accounting team were to disappear, make certain a new team can come in and hit the ground running. The right process and documentation ensures thorough organization and will prevent costly errors.
Take Your Time to Research Job Candidates
A bad hire could hinder business operations and financial growth. Make sure that you perform due diligence before bringing anyone in for an initial interview. If you don’t need a full-time bookkeeper (most businesses with revenue under US$5 million don’t), then hire an outsourced accounting firm, which can provide the part-time hours you need from a bookkeeper, while also offering higher-level support when you need it.
Having a one-person accounting team is rarely a good idea. If you can get a team of people putting in 20 to 40 hours a week at your business, for the same price as hiring one in-house person, you’ll find that everyone is performing the role they are best suited for and you’ll gain greater operational efficiencies—with less room for error or fraud and better checks and balances.
Placing the right people in the right positions will be the most effective for your business and save money in the long run, letting you focus on driving your business forward.
Jennifer Barnes is the CEO of Optima Office, which provides outsourced bookkeeping services. Optima Office ensures you’re getting the right accounting support you need, when you need it. Email Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.