Small business owners and start-ups often don’t have the time or financial skills to handle their company’s bookkeeping. If you don’t have the resources to employ a full-time, in-house bookkeeper, hiring a third-party bookkeeper or bookkeeping firm is a cost-effective way to get the support you need to ensure your books are accurate, take the stress out of managing cash flow and save lots of time.

When you’re searching for the right bookkeeper or bookkeeping service for your business needs, evaluate them the same as you would a potential employee. Carefully evaluate their education, experience, and accounting software expertise and review what their references and past clients say about them. Other top qualities you should look for in a strategic partner are schedule flexibility and communication skills.

Bookkeeper Certifications and Education

Bookkeepers and accountants share common goals, but there’s a difference between these two professionals, including education and certification requirements. Accountants generally have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance and pursue Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designations. Bookkeepers aren’t typically required to have formal education, but professional bookkeepers should have post-secondary education in the accounting field. Education can include an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university or a bookkeeping certificate from a community, career or technical college.

Good bookkeepers also demonstrate their superior qualifications through national certifications offered by professional organizations. Certifications have specific educational and work experience requirements, and applicants usually must pass an examination. Consider bookkeeping firms whose bookkeepers have earned certified bookkeeper designations from organizations like the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers or the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.

The right bookkeeper will also have experience using the accounting software your company already utilizes. If your company isn’t currently using accounting software, an experienced bookkeeper can help you set up a system that’s user-friendly yet offers the depth and flexibility to fit your business needs. QuickBooks is the #1 accounting software platform for keeping track of all your financial data, especially for small businesses.

Bookkeeping Experience

Great bookkeepers also have years of experience and should be well versed in handling bookkeeping for all aspects of your business. The type of experience they have is also highly important. You want someone with experience working for organizations that are similar in size and complexity to yours. You also want someone who’s worked with companies at similar points in their business life cycle, because the books for a high-growth start-up are much different than those for a well-established company that’s hit its peak.

The best bookkeepers have comprehensive experience in all aspects of keeping the books for your specific type of business. They accurately perform data entry, recording and categorizing financial transactions, including debits, credits, accounts receivable and accounts payable. They maintain and balance general ledgers, anticipate cash flow requirements to maintain business stability, perform bank reconciliations with credit card transactions, help businesses prepare for IRS tax season and assist in compiling financial information in reports like balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements. Outsourcing with the right bookkeeper ensures all those day-to-day and weekly bookkeeping tasks are expertly taken care of for you.

Online Reviews and References

One of the best ways to find a potential bookkeeper is to ask for referrals from someone you trust in your industry. If you already use an accounting firm, ask if they offer any day-to-day bookkeeping services or know a bookkeeper or bookkeeping firm that offers outsourced bookkeeping solutions. You can also read online reviews and testimonials and ask for references from third-party bookkeeping companies you’d like to consider.

Online reviews can be helpful, but don’t rely solely on these as they aren’t always accurate. However, it’s a good source to find recurring issues or other red flags and to learn how a company handles complaints, if they have any. Check out a bookkeeping firm’s Better Business Bureau rating and ask for references from current or previous customers. While a bookkeeping company isn’t likely to give you a reference that’s going to say something negative about them, you can learn lots of useful information, such as the type of services the company provided to see if they match up with your needs, what their communication skills were like and if they offered flexible scheduling. You can also read LinkedIn profiles to confirm a bookkeeping firm’s credibility and get background information on its employees’ education and experience.

Schedule Flexibility

When you’re debating between outsourcing to an individual bookkeeper or a bookkeeping company with a team of bookkeepers, consider schedule flexibility. If you only need part-time support or plan on keeping some tasks in-house, you may decide a single freelance bookkeeper is all you need. However, service gaps could arise if this individual becomes ill, takes leave, wants a vacation or has some sort of crisis that prevents them from working for an extended period. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter service gaps when using a firm because another bookkeeper can take up the slack if something occurs and prevents your regular bookkeeper from working on your books.

Bookkeeping companies provide the flexibility of in-house or outsourced services, short-term or long-term options and part-time or full-time scheduling. They typically have flexible schedules, so they’re available when you need them and can ramp up services as your transaction volume expands or your business finances become more complex. Outsourced bookkeeping services have the scheduling flexibility to work around things that come up unexpectedly. They also have the capacity within their team to cover all your accounting needs, such as managing the surge in workflow at fiscal year-end when you need to close your books and prepare for IRS requirements.

Communication Style and Frequency

Outsourcing doesn’t mean you relinquish all control and never talk to your bookkeeper. Working with an outsourced provider requires that provider to have solid communication skills and be as responsive as someone working in-house. Advancements in technology make it easy to communicate over a variety of applications, including face-to-face interactions over video chat, group emailing or conference calling.

Before hiring a provider, ask about their communication styles, frequency and methods to ensure you can reach them when and how you want. You may prefer quick phone calls over lengthy emails or prefer to skip interruptions from phone calls and handle emails at your convenience. Confirm you’re outsourcing with a firm that offers your preference for phone or email support. As a business owner, you also don’t want to waste hours of your day due to ineffective communication, so make sure your bookkeeper communicates in a clear, concise manner.

Reliable Bookkeepers for Large or Small Businesses

When you’re looking for a reliable bookkeeper to handle time-consuming accounting tasks, Navitance fits the bill. We assist companies in the Greater Boston area and across the nation with cost-effective outsourced bookkeeping services that keep your books balanced and let you take care of more important aspects of your business.

Navitance’s team of financial professionals has decades of experience across sectors. Our bookkeeping services offer comprehensive financial management solutions to help businesses of all sizes and industries stay on track and on budget. Navitance founder Laura Glennon is a QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor, and our staff members are experts in all versions of QuickBooks.

We specialize in fast-growing start-ups and nonprofits, but we’re experienced in providing accounting services to for-profit businesses both small and large. Contact us at 978-809-3282 to learn more about how we can help you with all your bookkeeping needs and improve the financial health of your company.