It’s more than just “getting it done”
Bookkeeping is a critical function for any business. High quality financials are valuable to ensuring that you’re using the best available information to make decisions about your business. But it’s often difficult to determine what “quality” looks like when you have endless options for bookkeeping services whether it’s freelancers, an in-house bookkeeper or a CPA firm.
Keeping these four things top-of-mind will have you equipped to honestly assess whether your bookkeeper is doing a good job and when it might be time to look for a replacement.
1. Bank Reconciliations
This is the most basic requirement. At the end of each month (or at least quarterly), your books should accurately reflect the balances in your bank accounts. With more progressive accounting systems like QBO and Xero offering bank feed integrations it is tempting to enter in the bank transactions brought in by the feed and call it a day – but the job doesn’t end there.
A proper bank reconciliation also involves comparing the cash balances to the bank statements and clearly explaining any discrepancies. Bank feeds tend to be prone to duplicates or even skipping transactions, which makes this final check an important piece of the puzzle.
The bank accounts are reconciled, and cash is accurate. What else? The value of bookkeeping is much more than just having an accounting file ready for preparation of a tax return. Done correctly, the books provide a valuable source of information on how your business is doing and a basis for making decisions about the future. The problem is, the further into the future you get, the less relevant your historical records become.
If you’re looking to make short-term decisions about your business, you’ll want to have that information within a reasonable timeframe. We recommend having the prior month closed within 2-3 weeks of month-end, but the earlier the better. With that in mind – in the trade-off between speed and accuracy, accuracy wins. Bad data leads to bad decisions.
3. Is it Useful?
It’s a few weeks after the end of the month and your bookkeeper sends you a note letting you know that the bookkeeping is complete. You should be able to drop into your accounting system and be able to understand what happened and easily access the information you want.
At a base level, this can come down to simple details like contact being labelled correctly and consistent coding. But a great bookkeeper will go beyond that. Part of the bookkeeping process is moving out of the transaction view and taking a high-level perspective to investigating what changed from month-to-month. This will bring errors, inconsistencies and necessary adjustments to the surface to ensure that you’re working with quality data that you and your investors can rely on.
Your financials tell a story, and a good bookkeeper will make sure that they’ve got the story straight so you can glean valuable financial insights on the state of your operations. Your books aren’t worth much if you can’t use the information in developing your business and you can’t use it unless you understand it. It’s your bookkeeper’s job to make sure it all makes sense.
As with any relationship, maintaining clear and open communications with your bookkeeper is vital. A good bookkeeper will be responsive in answering any questions about your books (it shouldn’t take a month for your bookkeeper to get back to you). More importantly, they should be proactive in communicating with you on their findings.
A good bookkeeper will keep an eye out for discrepancies and flaws in your workflow and actively suggest ways to improve. If there’s an error or an unusual transaction, you should hear about it. With outsourced bookkeeping, there is often a division of responsibilities where some elements of the back-office are maintained in-house (invoicing is a common example). A good bookkeeper will also be evaluating the outputs of these internal tasks and providing feedback.
Whether it’s for a performance review, investor report or tax compliance – keeping good books will take you a long way. A great bookkeeper will be proactive and ensure that your financials are accurate, timely and useful.