SMEs looking to hire a bookkeeper for the first time or those seeking a new bookkeeper will no doubt have a list of questions they will want answered before they commit. To save you time and prepare you for your initial consultation, we’ve asked a seasoned bookkeeper for the answers to the most frequently asked questions by SMEs when they meet a bookkeeper for the first time.

How much will your service cost?

This is the number one question people ask when they meet with us, however it’s often not something that can be readily answered at the first meeting, as it will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • What type of accounting system the prospective client is using. It will be much easier and quicker to migrate the client’s financial data if they are already using cloud-based accounting software as opposed to traditional systems such as Excel spreadsheets.
  • How up to date their paperwork is. In the case of a recent client, their bookkeeping system consisted of three trestle tables piled high with receipts, paid and unpaid invoices and statements. The scope of engagement for this type of job involved extensive reconstruction of the financial history of the business, as nothing had been formally documented. In a case like this, we would usually suggest an hourly rate, as it is simply too hard to determine how long it will take to complete the work.
  • How complicated the client’s industry and business is. Each industry and business is different and things such as the number of daily transactions that occur within the business or how many suppliers the business has will affect the amount of work required.
  • What level of service they require. While many clients just require basic data input and analysis, others are looking for assistance with payroll, BAS returns and even banking.

The key point of advice here for SMEs is to be upfront and honest about their business needs at this initial meeting. That way the bookkeeper has the information required to determine what the service may cost. Keep in mind, however, that if you engage a bookkeeper on a fixed-fee basis and they later discover that there is more work than you indicated, they will be likely to review the pricing structure.

What do you bring to the table to help me with my business?

SMEs asking this question are looking for information such as a bookkeeper’s qualifications and experience, both as a bookkeeper and in previous roles, if bookkeeping is not their first career. It’s all about finding a cultural fit, both with personal values and industry experience.

In a general sense, a crucial role of a bookkeeper is to free you up to focus on tasks that are more valuable to you and your business. Many SMEs will spend up to three hours a day on bookkeeping, when this time could be spent more wisely growing their business and/or achieving a work/life balance. I always say to prospective clients that if they are billing their time out per hour out at a certain amount, which will usually be much higher than what a bookkeeper will charge, they are wasting time and money doing bookkeeping tasks themselves.

Bookkeepers have the experience dealing with accounting system suppliers and the ATO that will save you wasted time sourcing accounting product solutions or sitting on the phone with the ATO. By providing a second set of eyes over your business, a good bookkeeper will manage your reporting deadlines without you having to think about it and save you money lost through inefficiencies.

How available are you?

As bookkeepers, we want to add value to our clients’ businesses and I have found that this is generally best done via the cloud. Clients who want their bookkeeper to sit in their office for extensive or regular periods or have them do administrative work are not making the most efficient use of their bookkeeper. If your business requirements mean you need to have someone doing the books for you five days a week, then you need to hire a full-time bookkeeper and not a consultant bookkeeper.

Again, this comes down to having an open and comprehensive discussion with a prospective bookkeeper about your business needs, defining their role and your expectations.