If you are finding that doing your own bookkeeping is taking away valuable time from running your business, or that the service you are using is not producing the results you expect, it may be time to consider the services of a professional bookkeeper. If so, there are a few questions you should ask so you are better informed and get off on the right foot.
First, let’s get the legal requirements out of the way.
Are you a qualified bookkeeper?
A simple yes is not what you want to hear! Since the introduction of the Tax Agent Services Act 2009, anybody providing BAS services for a fee is required to be a registered BAS agent. The Tax Practioners Board (www.tpb.gov.au) provides a search facility and your bookkeeper should be listed. In order to be registered, a bookkeeper needs a minimum of a Certificate IV in Financial Services and must keep their knowledge up to date by undertaking training every year. There are various professional bookkeeping associations including the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) and the Australian Bookkeepers Network (ABN). While not all BAS agents are required to be members of an association, bookkeepers who have a support system providing expert information when required are better equipped to help your business.
Are you insured?
If your bookkeeper is a registered BAS agent, they are required to be insured, so confirming their registration will also confirm their insurance.
What experience do you have and may I talk to one of your current clients?
A good bookkeeper should be able to provide information on tasks they have performed that are appropriate to your business and have a client you can talk to about their experience of the services provided.
Now let’s consider the more practical aspects of your business relationship.
Who will be doing the actual work for my business?
Who will prepare the BAS? Having a dedicated person to do your work and knowing that it will be reviewed will ensure the quality of the reports provided.
Who owns the data file with my business records?
Work can be done on the bookkeeping practice’s own software (which saves you the cost of purchasing software), in a cloud data file owned by the practice, or in a data file owned by you. You need to know where your data is and, if it is not owned by you, the cost of taking over ownership should the need arise.
Where will the work be done and will I have access to the data file in which it is done?
Will someone visit my premises, will it be done in the cloud (remotely) or will the work be done offshore (outside Australia)?
What if you find something that needs to be resolved that applies to the time before you started?
Will you check with me, before starting this work? Rectification of information from prior periods often takes a long time and can result in unexpected costs. Be sure to state up front whether you want everything to be fixed, if you want to be asked before fixing or just have the differences identified for discussion with yourself or your accountant.
Do you provide a comprehensive list of the tasks you will perform?
Too often the urgency in getting the task underway leads to things being overlooked and can create a lot of misunderstanding down the line.
And what do I need to do?
Ensure that you know how the information will be supplied to the bookkeeper and how much you will or want to be involved.
How often will you communicate with my accountant?
How will your accountant charge you for any communication with your bookkeeper? Modern business practice is usually by email. While your bookkeeper should always query any major tax related item with your accountant, do you want them to check with you before talking to your accountant? Do you want your monthly reports to go to the accountant or only 3 or 6 monthly? Open the lines of communication between them by introducing your bookkeeper to your tax accountant so they can work together to provide a great service to you.
Once you have established that the bookkeeper has passed the test and that you think will provide an excellent service to your business, the final question (not the first) will be the cost.
So, what will this all cost?
As with any service, what you are looking for is value for money, not an hourly rate. Ensure that you have identified all you can do to minimise the final cost by providing all the information and responding to any queries as soon as possible. As with all services, the cost will escalate if the same ground has to be covered numerous times before an answer is provided.
Once you have found a bookkeeper you feel you can work with and has the required experience and qualifications, you can’t just sit back and relax. Look at your monthly reports and if anything looks strange or unusual query it.
Some things to consider:
- Is your bank balance around the correct figure? Your bookkeeper should provide a reconciliation reflecting any cheques or deposits not yet appearing in your bank account (a bank reconciliation report).
- Ensure that you look at your outstanding supplier balances and get confirmation that your bookkeeper has confirmed them to supplier statements so there are no surprises.
- Are your customer balances increasing? Do you want to engage your bookkeeper to follow up with your customers on outstanding balances?
A good bookkeeper isn’t just someone to enter your receipts and invoices into your financial system and make sure everything balances. They should be a trusted partner, someone to take care of the books while you take care of your business.
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