Great bookkeepers’ value isn’t in dollars, but sense

James McGrath from MYOB shares his thoughts on the value of bookkeepers. ~WizeOwl

Bookkeepers aren’t glorified data entry people – and paying them accordingly risks missing out on insights which can take your business to the next level.

Bookkeeper Kelly Berger runs a successful bookkeeping business. She also started Bookkeepers Support Group Australia, a space where bookkeepers gather to discuss developments in their industry and generally shoot the breeze.

She told The Pulse that one of the themes running through the industry at the moment is the rise of businesses viewing bookkeeping as an expense rather than something that can return a business significant value.

This has led to some businesses trying to outsource bookkeeping services to others, often below market rate, which has twin consequences.

As well as short-changing local bookkeepers, it robs the business owner of the insight a professional and experienced bookkeeper can provide.

“A lot of business owners still don’t understand what a bookkeeper does, and assumes an accountant can do it or they can just outsource it on the cheap,” said Berger.

“Some business owners seriously undervalue us. We’re seen as data entry managers and they think they can get anyone to do it – but that’s just not the case because we’re so much more than that.”

The secret sauce

The reason experienced bookkeepers provide value to a business beyond just ‘doing the books’ is because they’re in the numbers. They can see threats and opportunities before the business owner does.

“We can see what’s going on within the business. It’s not just what the figures are telling us, but also about human resources and processes,” said Berger.

“We can look from an outside position and say: ‘I don’t think that’s really working, I think that’s unproductive’. You can assist with those aspects in the business advisory role.”

Sam Walton, who founded mega giant Walmart is famous for encouraging those at the coal face to contribute ideas to take the business forward – because they offered a perspective those in the boardroom couldn’t have.

“Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys”. – Sam Walton

Berger said the role of the bookkeeper is shifting towards a business advisory role, harnessing the insights they provide by forensically looking at the numbers to offer a unique perspective.

But if business owners treat bookkeeping as glorified data entry, they risk leaving truly unique perspectives on the table.

The business therapist

Berger said the expanding role bookkeepers were taking on meant that they were becoming counsel for business owners.

“I do think that we’ve almost become business therapists,” said Berger.

“I have clients that I’ve been working with for six years and I get to know them and their personal life, their struggles and triumphs.”

For example, Berger said thanks to continuing face-to-face meeting with clients they got to know her as well, which helps to build trust.

“They know things like I’m gluten intolerant, so they have gluten-free cookies ready for me. We get to know each other quite well,” said Berger.

She said the ability for business owners to simply talk things out with their bookkeeper, knowing that the bookkeeper could see their books remotely, provided immense value to the business owner.

Stymying the next generation

Berger is worried, too, that a rise in business owners outsourcing bookkeeping work for the lowest possible price could keep young bookkeepers out of the game.

“The biggest impact of that I see is on Australian jobs, because I see so many young people coming through their Cert IV expecting to get a job – and it’s not happening,” she said.

For young bookkeepers to get the experience which enables them to provide so much more value to a business they need to start at the bottom.

If bookkeeping is treated as data entry which can be done for the lowest possible price, they won’t get that experience.

“There’s a perception that Australian bookkeepers are too expensive to employ, but it’s not the case,” said Berger.

“If you have enough work coming in, you should be able to employ.”

Putting bookkeeping in the ‘procurement bucket’ not only risks the livelihoods of the next generation of bookkeepers, but robs business owners of insight into their business.

“We have a really unique perspective because we’re really at the coal face, and we have that relationship with the business owner,” said Berger.

“If you take away those things, you lose the value a great bookkeeper can provide.”

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