Making The Relationship Work

Now that we’ve been in business for over two years, we’ve run the gamut of client-bookkeeper relationships. Backyard Bookkeeper has helped in several situations where a previous accountant or office assistant defrauded, stole from, or otherwise messed up the books of the business. We have also dealt with some difficult situations of our own. Based on these experiences, I’d like to make a couple observations and offer some advice for dealing with your own bookkeeper or clients, as the case may be.

First, the key to having a good, productive relationship is COMMUNICATION between the bookkeeper and the end user of the financial information, usually the business owner. As a bookkeeper, it is extremely difficult to provide good service to someone who rarely gives you feedback. I realize this is hard for some business owners, because in their minds, the point of having an accountant is to take the bookkeeping out of their hands, and they would rather not have anything to do with it. However, you need to be available somehow to answer your bookkeeper’s questions and look over your financial statements. And the bookkeeper needs to make an effort to provide information to the business owner on a regular basis, at least to reassure them that they are getting their money’s worth. Without an open line of communication, it is easy for the client and bookkeeper to become suspicious or distrustful with each other, and you can’t afford to let that happen when your business is at stake.

Second, there are certain things that need to be communicated: (1) the exact division of duties between the bookkeeper and the client, (2) what the final product is that will be provided to the client, (3) the expected budget, and (4) the timeline for completion. It is essential that the bookkeeper and the client agree on these in advance. I got myself into a situation early on in my career where the client just said, “fix it,” and I proceeded to spend several days fixing problems in the previous year’s data, only to find out much later that the person who told me to “just fix it” wasn’t the actual decisionmaker, and the decisionmaker really only needed me to work on current year data.

Whether you are an independent bookkeeper or a business who has retained or would like to retain a bookkeeper, you must clarify these points before any work is completed, and once work has begun, you need to communicate with each other about the progress of the work.

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