Is Your Bookkeeper Holding Your Business Back? Time for an Upgrade?

Now before you jump to your bookkeeper's defense and indignantly exclaim “that’s my mum / dad / wife / husband / best friend you’re talking about!” …

… here’s where our story begins. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with many tenacious business owners who, from humble beginnings, have built empires of success that the world is all the better for having. It is in those ‘humble beginnings’ years that we are grateful for the support of friends and family as we launch our idea out into the universe. 

Enter your mum, dad, wife, husband, etc.

I want to make it abundantly clear: this is a GOOD thing. Starting your entrepreneurial journey surrounded by those who you feel you can trust only makes the going easier. 

BUT – as you may well know if you’re reading this – the road to business growth is paved with hard decisions. Often those decisions mean saying goodbye to the things that got us to Point A when the road to Point B calls us to level up. 

But if you’re experiencing growing pains right now and you feel something is holding you back from hitting that next level, I’m asking you to remove your rose-coloured glasses for a moment. Switch exclusively into your CEO brain and objectively assess whether you’re currently in one of the following situations:

It might be time to let the missus, or your mum, retire from being your bookkeeper.
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It might be time to let the missus, or your mum, retire from being your bookkeeper.

Not wanting to be sexist here; I understand that this can also be dad, hubby, your best mate, maybe even a sibling. But typically – from my experience – it’s mum or the missus getting the onerous task of organising that jumble of receipts, invoices and quotes to follow up when you’re just starting out. 

In my early days of accounting, the wife ‘doing the books’ was actually a very successful model, especially for tradies and sole traders. But this was in an era where more of us could run our families on a single income, and so this was something that was more sustainable around the demands of running a family and a home. 

Now, both with the costs of living and greater opportunities being made available to women, it is far more likely that she will have a full-time job, if not a career they are eagerly developing. 

They’re a trusted confidant, an advisor, who may also be ‘great with numbers’ and hey, they’re probably free at this point! But you must be realistic about the needs of your business as well as their personal needs (which they might be hesitant to bring up for fear of letting you down). 

Don’t make this decision from a place of “can I really afford a paid bookkeeper?” because if you’re getting the job done for free right now, the answer will immediately be ‘no’. Instead, I encourage you to think about it this way: “In order for my business to grow and reach greater potential, can I really afford to not have a professional bookkeeper?”

A Secretary or Virtual Assistant is NOT a Bookkeeper.
Image courtesy of Unsplash:

A Secretary or Virtual Assistant is NOT a Bookkeeper.

Do you have an administrative jack-of-all-trades currently handling your bookkeeping? Are they also helping manage your inbox, respond to enquiries, perhaps they’re posting stuff on your social media account in between answering phone calls?

Is it realistic that someone can be doing all those things to a high standard?

This next bit is going to be a bit of tough love from Liz, so brace yourself: if you’re allowing this to happen, you don’t fully appreciate how complex and critical the role of the bookkeeper is. And you need to fix that, fast.

Bookkeepers can be an incredible asset in your business, and often have an approach that is the complete opposite of entrepreneurs (which makes them a great complimentary brain to have around!)

They’re meticulous, detail-oriented, highly organised and often have a wicked recall for obscure facts and figures. If you’re a high-functioning entrepreneur flying around like a human cannonball as ideas need actioning and opportunities need seizing, it can be a real relief having a calm facts-and-figures person in your space to offer their point of view. 

And this is the other critical factor: a trained bookkeeper who knows their stuff is far more likely to speak up if something is amiss – if anything, they’ll be obligated to do so. 

However, your secretary / VA / jack-of-all-trades may not have the skills to notice if something doesn’t add up. Or worse, they may spot something going wrong and, thinking they are to blame through sheer lack of training (and let’s be honest, unrealistic expectations) they allow it to fester for fear of your reaction.

You might be ready for a pro bookkeeper, rather than a newbie.
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You might be ready for a pro, rather than a newbie.

You may have already dipped your toe into the idea of having a bookkeeper, but in order to keep costs down you’ve opted for a newbie, someone with fresh qualifications who is eager to get started. 

This is a GREAT way to give a budding bookkeeper the chance to develop. I applaud you for giving them a chance. But there is a lot to be gained from years of experience you’ll never get in a TAFE course. 

Similar to the secretary situation, an experienced bookkeeper will know how to have tough conversations with you if the situation leaves the rails at any stage. A bookkeeper with more experience – even one who specialises in your niche – brings with them a wealth of knowledge gained in other businesses. They’ve seen things before, good and bad, that you could benefit from. They’ll know when to flag something early, offering ways to streamline and improve. 

Again, ask yourself: in order to create the business you want, what kind of day-to-day account keeping support do you need? Rather than looking at what your business can afford today, work backwards from what your ideal enterprise of tomorrow needs to get there.

This is not about sacking your bookkeeper, but rather ensuing they have the support & guidance they need to succeed.
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Step 1: Don’t sack anyone.

This is NOT a call to clean the decks and start fresh, by any means! If you now feel you’re in the position where a professional bookkeeper is required, there’s a number of ways you can handle this tactfully. 

Your gun secretary who seems to pick anything up and run with it, or your newbie bookkeeper eager to learn, can still have immense value inside your business - even after you relieve them of the pressure of high-level bookkeeping. So it’s important to make this clear to them so you don’t inadvertently get them offside.

  • For your secretary:  this can be put to them as an opportunity to lighten the load they carry so diligently in your business. By sourcing more specialised support, you’re allowing them to focus on their strengths, making it more about quality of work rather than quantity. 
  • For your newbie bookkeeper: Do your homework first. Rather than hiring a whole other employee, you may be able to find an experienced bookkeeper who can offer guidance & regular check-ins. You can work with the pro to get your house in order, laying the groundwork for your young gun to develop. 

As for your dear parent or partner, who has been your biggest supporter from the very beginning. Throw them a heartfelt retirement party: a delicious meal, a weekend away or something extra special to show them how much it’s meant to have them on your team. 

Celebrate the fantastic milestone you reached together – the business you built is maturing, and it’s ready for the next stage of growth. I know that the conversation, whichever situation you’re in, might feel like the toughest one yet. But you might be surprised: you may be met with a HUGE sigh of relief!

The big takeaway: this is about YOU.

The BIGGEST thing you need to keep in mind when working with a bookkeeper is that this is about you: making your financial records clearer for your reference so you can gauge the performance of your business and make informed decisions moving forward.

The bookkeeping landscape - how we organise, summarise and scrutinise our financial information - has changed dramatically over my time working in the accounting space. The tech can seem daunting, and the rules & regulations can feel like constantly moving goalposts. 

Which is why it’s even more important to keep your needs as the highest priority. There are plenty of experts and support people who can help you with the tech, setting up software and ensuring your reporting is an accurate representation of your business. 

The ideal scenario: that, at any moment you can easily access reports that elegantly & clearly show you the state of your business today. 

Need a hand getting started?

Getting your financial sh*t together is my zone of genius. There’s nothing better than taking a business owner from flustered and confused to focused and clear. Whether that’s diving deep into your accounts or getting your tech stack and accounting people on track. 

Just book a free introductory chat with me at a time that works for you: 

Disclaimer: These are yuck and boring but unfortunately a legal requirement for professionals in my industry. So just a reminder, the information contained here is general in nature and you should seek financial and business advice tailored to your own personal circumstances. Which, by no small coincidence, I can help you out with - simply book a free 30 minute chat with me to get started.

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