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Bookkeeper or Accountant – Who is Right for Your Small Business

Ralf F Heyer, EA

For many small business owners, tracking and analyzing their finances is a painful exercise. Poor financial management is one of the major reasons for many small businesses to fail within the first few years of establishment.

Not tracking their finances diligently at every phase can lead to:

  • Improper allocation of money
  • Unnecessary expenses such as paying late fee on bills
  • Not collecting money from customers on time
  • Money theft by dishonest employees
  • Not having money in hand when needed

Here are some common things every small business needs to track

  • Payroll: Employees are the highest expense in any small service-oriented business. It’s very important for a business to track labor costs including taxes and other perks, and process the payroll on time.
  • Accurate and timely billing: The business should bill the customer the moment it sells a product or a service. If it is delayed, the cash flow of the business will get affected. And at the same time, if the billing is not accurate, it may either affect the profitability of the company or the customer experience.
  • Timely cash collection and bill payment: The business needs to maintain a standard accounts receivables and payable to collect all bills on time and to pay vendors on time.

Need of professional help

Doing all these things on your own, working on your core business activities, can be hectic and time consuming. Hiring someone to take care of these things can really be a life-saver. But, who will you hire for your small business – a bookkeeper or an accountant? They both have the ability to drastically influence the success of your business.

On the high level, they both seem to be similar, but each one’s job role is unique. You need to be aware of some key differences between them before you hire one.

Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers maintain accurate records of your business’ day-to-day financial operations. Though the scope of their work may vary based on the size and type of industry they are working in, they generally

  • Record sales transactions
  • Document business expenses
  • Process payments
  • Process the payroll in a timely manner
  • Balance the books at the end of the month
  • Purchase supplies and equipment
  • Track accounts payable and receivables
    • Pay right amount to vendors
    • Pay invoices on time
    • Send out invoices to customers
    • Record payments
    • Contact clients who have bills outstanding
  • Maintain the petty cash fund
  • Issue financial statements

Accountant

While bookkeeping focuses on transactional perspective, accounting generally takes a much broader view. Accountants generally

  • Manage financial data – Ensure financial records are in compliance with the law
  • Analyze books to look for discrepancies
  • Analyze sales trends, expenditure trends and revenue expectations and offer strategic advice
  • Prepare financial statements
  • Help in loan applications
  • Handle tax filing – ensuring you are in compliance with the tax laws

Whom to choose

It depends on the size of your business. If your’s is a small company with a few employees and modest sales revenues, a bookkeeper would be enough, from the cost point of view. As your business grows, the complexity of your financial transactions increases, you may then need an accountant to oversee your financial matters.

You may need an accountant when your business is in the startup stage too. An accountant can help you choose proper business structure and establish a record keeping method.

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