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The high price of a cheap bookkeeper

Marty Koenig //March 28, 2011//

The high price of a cheap bookkeeper

Marty Koenig //March 28, 2011//

Every small biz I’ve worked with has one thing in common: They aren’t so good at keeping good books. I’ve looked at hundreds of companies and their books. It has simply never happened where I walk into a company and everything in their accounting/finance department is perfect. Not that perfection is the goal, but 99.9 percent of the time there are serious issues with the way they run the accounting functions.

Here’s the problem: There are lots of people that call themselves bookkeepers or accountants, but most of them aren’t very good. They may know how to enter data, reconcile accounts, do invoicing, etc., but there’s so much more to managing business finances. Just because they say they’re QuickBooks Certified, Peachtree Certified, whatever, does not mean they are an expert bookkeeper. Geez, I was QuickBooks Certified and you wouldn’t want me as your bookkeeper.

Here’s a story on a recent client whom I’ll call POA. When I arrived as their part-time CFO, I dug into their books and their bookkeeping practices, workflows and data flows in and out of the accounting system. I looked at the “what goes where, when and why.” I looked at how well they manage their cash cycle.

POA had five bookkeepers in three years. The current one then, I’ll call her Sherry, was a contractor from a local CPA firm that offers small biz income taxes and bookkeeping services.

Both biz owners knew there was something wrong with the books. They had seen the reports every so often, but they kept wondering if the numbers were really true. They had no trust in the numbers. Neither did I!

The owners had continued to go along for several years, wondering about the numbers, and making spending and hiring decisions based on bad data. They believed that if they paid a bookkeeper $40.00 to $50.00 an hour, the bookkeeper should know what they’re doing, especially if the bookkeeper was recommended by their CPA.

When I started with POA, I led meetings with the owners, meetings with Sherry the bookkeeper, meetings with the CPA firm, just to try and make sense out of the mess.

I spent some time trying to teach the bookkeeper how to put data into the right places, and why. I tried to teach her to go back and clean up the books. After some time, it was taking too long. I couldn’t do my job as their part-time CFO and I just couldn’t help the company by telling them the story behind the numbers. Nor could I craft for them the cash story of the future. I started looking for a more qualified bookkeeper.

After a bunch of phone interviews, I found one that I thought was competent. I didn’t tell the owner what her hourly rate was, just that for the first month or two it would cost more to get the books cleaned up, and that it was not an option not to get that done. Then it would cost about the same as they had been paying, just with much faster work, and better quality, with a bookkeeper that knows what she is doing.

When I brought in Susan Commins from All About Accounting, LLC to meet my client, they recognized each other. Three years prior, the owner said he had interviewed her and liked her, but her hourly rate was too high. He had gone with someone else because she had a cheaper hourly rate.

Zoom forward three years, and guess what? That low hourly rate cost the company a bundle. Have you heard of negative return on investment? That’s what POA had experienced. The money they had spent on bookkeepers over the years was like they threw money out the window. Sherry, and the “cheaper” bookkeepers before her, had made such a mess that it was now going to be very expensive and time-consuming to get things right.
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