Do I need a bookkeeper or an accountant?
Fledgling small-business owners are often told that they should hire a professional to help with the accounting side of their companies, but do you need a bookkeeper or an accountant? Because both bookkeepers and accountants offer services, understanding which one you need can be puzzling.
So what are the main differences between bookkeepers and accountants?
The term “bookkeeper” is pretty literal: A bookkeeper is trained and certified to keep the books and retain documentation for transactions. A good one can also offer advice, especially regarding the timings you need to get all your documentation together and how to collect and store it.
An accountant may also focus on reporting, business analysis and processes, and offer advice. Many times a bookkeeper and accountant work in tandem, with the bookkeeper operating as a “feet on the ground” professional, promoting a stronger relationship between an accountant and a business owner. But small to medium sized businesses may only need a bookkeeper – which can save them time and money.
At the Hollies – we do everything including self-assessment tax returns and can prepare and submit VAT returns. We also have an excellent understanding of CIS, probably better than most local accountants. We can do everything that an Accountant can but we do not give taxation advice.
What training do they need?
Both bookkeepers and accountants can and should obtain certification, if they choose, through a professional organization such as AAT,
Julie, Director of The Hollies has diploma in Payroll Management and a Certificate in Personnel Skills. She started her career in Bookkeeping with a HND in Business and Finance gained at Staffordshire University. She is ICB (Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) qualified and holds a practice licence by, and all her staff have AAT qualifications (Association of Accounting Technicians).
The terms “bookkeeper” and “accountant” can be used without certification, so it’s important to know what qualifications people have before hiring them.
How do small-business owners figure out which they need?
Many times it depends on the industry and the level of expertise required. Questions we ask our clients in order to structure our services include: What industry is the company is in? Do they maintain a number of fixed assets or a large amount of inventory? How many employees do they have? The more complex the organization, the more important it is to make sure that the company’s bookkeeper is also supported by a good CPA who can provide advice as and if needed. It’s a great partnership that keeps communication open and data strong.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to ask for client references and proof of purchase of E&O insurance, which is available to both bookkeepers and accountants.
How expensive are bookkeepers and accountants?
Bookkeepers are, generally speaking, less expensive than accountants, which makes them a great choice for a company that needs day-to-day expertise. A good bookkeeper can also act as the spot something that might need higher levels of advice.
A good bookkeeper is best found through word of mouth, which is happily, the way we have found a lot of our clients.
It’s also a good idea to meet with a bookkeeper or accountant at the onset of the partnership and periodically afterward. Bookkeepers are a great way to manage expenses.
How do you make sure that you hire a qualified bookkeeper or accountant?
Ask for references, look at their websites where it should be listed and call and ask them. A referral means a lot.
What other qualities are important?
Be sure to seek out a bookkeeper and an accountant who can speak to you in plain English. Also, never be afraid to say, “I don’t fully understand what you are telling me. Can you rephrase?” Accounting can be a lot of gobbledygook and is a language all its own. Professionals can be very good at what they do, but they also need to be able to explain concepts easily.
A professional demeanour, friendly personality, and honesty are also important. You want to be sure that if there is something crucial that needs to be discussed, the discussion is timely and isn’t put off.
When should you hire a bookkeeper?
The earlier the better. Many owners will try to sort out the information themselves and then have a bumpy ride when it comes time to transition. A good compromise is to consult with an accounting professional when the business is started and then perhaps touch base periodically, such as once a quarter. Ask for a quote or pricing, and fit in some sort of periodic meeting into your budget. Books that are set up correctly in the beginning can be a strong tool for measurement and growth. Books measure the pulse of a business, and good bookkeeping expands past basic cash expenses