10 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Bookkeeper
27 June, 2019
Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

8 minutes

Congratulations! It’s time to hire a bookkeeper!

Your business is growing, and you’ve now made the wise decision to outsource your bookkeeping so that you can focus your time and energy on growing your business.

“I’d say as soon as you know you have a real business, start to delegate everything you possibly can, so you can focus on growth. Delegating bookkeeping should be one of the first things.” ~ Dan Norris, Co-founder of WP Curve

So, what would you ask a bookkeeper before you hired them to make sure that they were right for you and your business?

This was the question that we posed to several business owners whilst doing research for this post, and whilst a handful of responses does not make for a conclusive sample size, the responses we did receive highlighted a few interesting points:

“I wouldn’t have questions. I tend to go on either recommendations or work with people I’ve got a relationship with.”

“I’d dig through friend and peer recommendations, reviews online (although you can’t always trust them ) and also how they seem to handle things re: their content marketing and the like. I doubt I’d even know the questions to ask beyond ‘I need this, can you do that?’”

What it comes down to is that for many business owners they actually have no clue what to ask.

This is not surprising because, for many business owners, qualifying potential bookkeepers falls under their “unconscious incompetence” stage of understanding.

Most business owners simply don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to asking the right questions before they hire a bookkeeper (or change bookkeepers).

The problem is that this is a major risk for your business.

Would you rush into hiring staff or systemising your customer onboarding process without carefully considering what the best choices are for your business?

We sure hope not!

So we wouldn’t recommend that you rush into hiring a bookkeeper without asking them some key questions to determine whether or not they are a right fit for your business.

How Does a Bookkeeper Help Business?

A bookkeeper can help you reach the next level following the growth of your business. Instead of having to focus important time on your accounting, hiring a bookkeeper allows you to focus more on the core principles and strategies of the business instead, so you can keep your eyes on the long term goals of the business.

When you use a bookkeeper for business, things will be much more accurate as well. However, not all bookkeepers are created equal and not everyone can satisfy your unique business needs, which is why these questions will prove to be important as you begin your search for the best bookkeeper for your business.

10 Questions to help you decide if a bookkeeper is right for you or not.

1. What is the scope of the bookkeeping work?

This may sound like a simple question, but there is a big variation between the services that bookkeepers offer. Your requirements will also vary depending on your own skills and the scope of the work your accountant completes.

Some bookkeepers act as management accountants and can help to interpret the figures and other bookkeeper’s skills are limited to data entry.

Consider who will do the following:

  • Reconciling bank transactions (and how often? Daily / weekly / monthly)
  • Entering supplier bills and paying suppliers?
  • Raising sales invoices and following up debtors
  • Checking the coding of transactions to ensure they have been coded to the correct account and with the correct tax treatment
  • Lodging / filing sales tax, GST or VAT
  • Prepare reports such as Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet
  • Help to interpret the reports and tell the story behind the numbers
  • Prepare a budget to monitor performance against
  • Prepare a cash-flow forecast to help plan cash inflows / outflows in the future
Not all bookkeepers are created equal. So get clear on what you want them to do. Click To Tweet

2. Are they registered and qualified?

You will find that some bookkeepers will have a diploma, accounting degree or may even be Chartered Accountants or CPAs.

If your bookkeeper is going to be lodging your BAS in Australia then, at a minimum, your bookkeeper should be a Registered BAS agent. BAS agents are registered with the Tax Practitioners Board.

The qualification and registration requirements differ from country to country. Be sure to ask your bookkeeper what their qualifications are and whether they are registered to lodge / file sales tax in your country.

Remember, some bookkeepers are specialists while others are more generalists. When hiring, you need to determine the specific needs of your business to ensure that whoever you hire can handle the workload. If there are more challenging or difficult aspects to your bookkeeping, you will want a more specialized bookkeeper on your payroll.

3. What is their level of expertise?

You want your bookkeeper to process your accounts accurately and on-time and to communicate with you in a way that doesn’t take up much of your time. You don’t want to get to the end of the financial year and have to pay your accountant to clean up a mess.

You probably aren’t an expert bookkeeper, so sometimes it can be hard to work out what level of expertise the bookkeeper you are engaging is.

A good bookkeeper processes transactions accurately, but a great bookkeeper can go back and review their own work to identify errors and then correct them.

You could also ask to talk with one of their clients or an accountant that they work with.

Some may also be looking for a more detail-oriented bookkeeper while others may want someone who is more strategic.

So, depending on your business style, this is another thing you will want to keep in mind. It never hurts to really dig into their expertise and work experience to find out where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

A great bookkeeper can go back and review their own work plus correct errors. Click To Tweet

4. How familiar are they with your industry?

If the bookkeeper is unfamiliar with your industry there may be a learning curve while they familiarise themselves.

We recommend asking whether they have any other clients in your industry (past or present) and ask them to give a few examples of common bookkeeping issues that come up related to your industry and how they would resolve them.

5. How do they communicate with their clients?

Processing the day to day transactions in your accounting software is one element of bookkeeping. It is likely that you are going to be communicating regularly with your bookkeeper, especially in the first few months of working together.

As a business owner, your time is valuable and working with a bookkeeper who takes up hours of your time with ineffective communication will slow down your business growth.

What are they like to communicate with? Are they clear and concise, and speak or write in language that makes sense to you?

Make sure to ask how they normally communicate with their clients. This will usually be via phone or email.

If you prefer phone calls, then ask whether your bookkeeper offers phone support. If you prefer email correspondence, then reflect on the emails you’ve received from them so far.

Also, keep in mind that the bookkeeper you initially interview may not actually be the one who will be working for you. There are some firms that go through different clients and establishing a point of contact may sometimes prove difficult. So, determine if you want to go through an independent bookkeeper or a bookkeeping service.

Working with a bookkeeper with ineffective communication will slow down your business growth. Click To Tweet

6. What can you expect around delivery times and response times?

A common complaint about bookkeepers is that they can be slow to respond to emails and that the bookkeeping isn’t completed to a set schedule.

Ask about what you can expect each week / month from them and what the expected response times are you to your questions.

Here at Bean Ninjas we are currently focused on streamlining our operations in order to improve our response times.

Related reading: Top 7 Bookkeeping Frustrations For Business Owners

7. Are you hiring the bookkeeper directly or working with a bookkeeping business?

If you hire a bookkeeper directly who isn’t part of a bigger team, then ask questions about a back-up plan. What will you do if this bookkeeper is sick or has an accident? How will you make sure your team and suppliers get paid, and your customers are paying you?

Working with a bookkeeping business with multiple staff

Hiring a bookkeeping business rather than an individual bookkeeper helps spread the risk. However, with a bookkeeping team, it is likely that the person you are scoping out the bookkeeping job will be different from the team member who does your processing.

In this case, ask about what quality control and internal review procedures they have.

For example, at Bean Ninjas, all client work is reviewed by a Team Leader or Manager before going to a client.

8. How do they protect their clients?

You are sharing your financial information with a bookkeeper, so you need to feel like you can trust them. You will probably get a feel for this during the initial scoping process.

Ask about internal controls and segregation of duties.

The term ‘segregation of duties’ means that rather than having one person responsible for every aspect of a role, split the responsibilities among multiple people.

We recommend that you create a segregation of duties between the role of the person completing bank reconciliations and the person raising invoices or paying bills.

Further reading: How to protect your business from fraud using Xero

Great bookkeepers protect their clients. Click To Tweet

9. How do they price their services?

How will the bookkeeper charge? Is there a fixed monthly fee, or do they charge by the hour?

The trend in bookkeeping is to charge a fixed rate. If this is the case, make sure you are clear about what is and isn’t included in that fixed rate.

Related reading: The Future of Cloud Accounting and Financial Services

10. Who will own the Xero subscription?

This is important! We recommend that the business owner holds the subscription in their own name and then invites the accountant and bookkeeper into the Xero file.

There have been instances of accountants refusing to give access to Xero, where there have been disputes over bills. We believe clients ‘own’ their data and recommend they hold the Xero subscription in their name.

When to Outsource Bookkeeping Tasks

Still not convinced that you need to hire a bookkeeper or getting cold feet now that you know what kind of information you need to gather when hiring a bookkeeper for your business?

Professional bookkeeping services are always ideal as your business grows. Simply having someone there to help with customer billing questions and account questions can help immensely.

Just take your time to do your research and make sure to ask all the right questions before hiring a professional bookkeeper and beginning the onboarding process. The interview process will prove to be very advantageous and will help ensure success during the hiring process.

The sample interview questions we have included above are just a few ideas and are there to offer you a starting off point as you search for professional bookkeepers.

Depending on your industry, you may want to find ways to personalize the questions even more to make them make more sense for your industry. Take the time to find someone professional and qualified, and one that best fits your company vision.

Finding the Right Bookkeeper

In summary, the right bookkeeper for your business is one that possesses the technical knowledge needed to complete the job successfully, one that is considered an expert in your particular industry, or even one that is ready and willing to learn.

They should be passionate about what they do, and this will reflect in their work, and they should fit within the culture of your company while also aligning with your goals and objectives.

So, there you have it, 10 powerful bookkeeper interview questions that you can ask your potential bookkeeper to ensure that whoever you’re about to hire is credible, qualified, knowledgeable, and has your best interest in mind.

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Posted By

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur, and surfer! The Bean Ninjas mission: Creating freedom for entrepreneurs through stress-free business finances.

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