What Does a Bookkeeper Do?
Bookkeepers ensure that all of a company’s expenses, income, and transactions are recorded in the company’s books and reconcile the company’s financial accounts, typically on a monthly basis. Bookkeepers might also help with financial statement and financial report preparation. Although bookkeeping can be in-house staff position, most businesses employ bookkeepers on a freelance basis.
Bookkeepers can wear many different hats depending on what a business needs. That said, most bookkeepers nowadays use business accounting software to do their work. Plus, there are a few things that almost every bookkeeper can take care of for your business. Though the role of a bookkeeper is multifaceted, there are some core tenets to what bookkeepers do.
If you’re wondering what a bookkeeper does, then chances are you’re probably also wondering if you need one. We’ll explain the tasks that a bookkeeper can take care of for you, the going rate for a bookkeeper, and where to find a good bookkeeper.
What Does a Bookkeeper Do?
There’s no one simple way to answer this question. Just like any other field of work, bookkeeping can look different from business to business. However, these are the most common tasks that bookkeepers tends to tackle:
- Record financial transactions
- Reconcile bank accounts
- Manage bank feeds
- Handle accounts receivable
- Handle accounts payable
- Work with your tax preparer and assist with tax compliance
- Prepare financial statements
- Take on some payroll and human resource functions
- Make technology and process streamlining recommendations
Here’s a closer look at what a bookkeeper does:
Reconcile Your Bank Accounts
The most important task for any bookkeeper is to reconcile your financial accounts. Account reconciliation ensures that transaction details in your accounting software match transaction details on your bank account statements, credit card statements, and other financial account statements.
It’s important to regularly reconcile your accounts to avoid overdraft fees, fraudulent charges, or incorrectly recorded transactions. Accounting software makes reconciliation pretty easy, but a human touch is still required to make sure all transactions are accurately recorded.
Manage Bank Feeds
At a basic level, your bookkeeping service or bookkeeper should be managing the transactions brought in through your accounting system’s bank feed. Bank feeds link up your accounting software with your business bank account, allowing you to see each transaction in real time.
The accounting software, depending on how effective it is, should be able to automatically categorize certain transactions. For example, a credit card transaction from an airline can be automatically categorized as a travel expense. Bookkeepers keep an eye on these transactions and make sure they are being categorized correctly.
Bookkeepers might also have to manually add any transactions that aren’t included in the bank feed. The transactions that need to be added will most likely be transactions generated outside of the accounting system, such as cash payments or handwritten checks. It could also involve matching deposits as customer payments to help manage accounts receivable or outgoing transactions as payments against vendor bills.
Handle Accounts Receivable
Accounts receivable management can take on a few forms. As mentioned above, the small business staff might be entering their own estimates or invoices, and they might be receiving payment against the invoices.
However, there’s another option. The client uses an industry-specific estimating program to calculate the job, then provides the bookkeeper with the total. They then enter the estimates into their QuickBooks Online account and create or progress invoices as the project moves along.
Creating invoices, sending them to customers, providing statements, and assisting in collections is all part of the A/R services we provide for our clients. The customer lets the bookkeeper know when they’ve been paid, we enter that payment in QuickBooks Online, and then we create a deposit to match what the client takes to the bank.
Handle Accounts Payable
Along with accounts receivable, many bookkeepers also handle their clients’ accounts payable. That means the bookkeeper will handle all of the vendor bills that the company receives. Bookkeepers will note payment deadlines from each vendor, early payment discounts if available, and submit payment to the vendor. As a company grows, bookkeepers can add on an additional approvers to give the thumbs up for payments. Properly managing your accounts payable is important for maintaining relationships with suppliers and keeping positive trade credit terms.
Work with Your Tax Preparer
One of the services that many bookkeepers fail to mention is that, by default, they’re going to serve as a sort of translator between you and your certified public accountant or enrolled agent. Because bookkeepers have a much more intimate knowledge of your books, it’s sometimes easier to have your bookkeeper contact your tax preparer when you’re about to file your small business taxes.
Prepare Financial Statements
Most bookkeepers will prepare three major financial statements for your business—the profit and loss statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. It’s a good idea to have updated financial statements every month, and then again at year end. The profit and loss statement shows your business’s bottom line and operating expenses. The balance sheet shows your business’s balance of assets and liabilities. The cash flow statement shows the cash flowing into and out of your company. Accounting software allows bookkeepers to prepare these financial statements and share them with your accountant and tax preparer.
Bookkeepers also, at times, fulfill payroll and human resource functions. Your bookkeeping service might have a payroll offering, or they might assist you in the processing of paychecks or tax payments and forms. They might simply input payroll data into your accounting system after your payroll service provider has submitted reports to you, or they might import the data from a file provided. Bookkeepers might also help you manage timesheets for hourly employees or overtime.
Make Technology and Process Streamlining Recommendations
Bookkeepers are also pretty good at keeping up with the latest and greatest technologies. It’s not unusual for your bookkeeper to find a new app or solution specific to your industry, like self-employed accounting software, for example, especially if many of their clients work in the same space. Or maybe there’s a way to help you cut labor costs. Bookkeepers like to search for efficiencies and make your back office run as smoothly as possible. In this way, they can be a very valuable partner to your business.
How Much Does a Bookkeeper Cost?
Freelance bookkeepers typically charge between $30 to $50 per hour for basic bookkeeping tasks. Prices can be lower than average if you just need someone part-time to do simple tasks like data entry. However, if you’re looking for someone with accounting or tax preparation skills, be prepared to spend more.
All of the following factors can affect the cost of your bookkeeper:
- Types of tasks you’d like the bookkeeper to do
- Complexity and volume of your business’s financial transactions
- Bookkeeper’s experience
- Number of hours worked per month
- Whether you use any accounting software and what type (most bookkeepers prefer QuickBooks Online)
- Your business’s location
Bench is a bookkeeping service that balances your books on a monthly basis. They reconcile transactions, prepare financial statements, and provide you with a year-end financial package to make tax filing easy. They will also work directly with your tax professional.
Bookkeepers vs. Accountants
A bookkeeper has training in recording, categorizing, and reconciling financial transactions. Most accountants have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and are skilled in interpreting financial records to make business recommendations.
Many people are confused about the difference between bookkeepers vs. accountants, and the truth is that some bookkeepers also perform accounting tasks. For example, accounting software now makes it pretty easy for bookkeepers to prepare financial statements, a task that was traditionally reserved for accountants.
It helps to think of a bookkeeper as the chef who prepares the meal. The bookkeeper prepares the books and makes accurate financial records available. The accountant is like the food critic. The accountant will dig deeper into the financial records and analyze the business’s finances. An accountant can advise you on ways to conserve costs and increase profits and help you understand the financial impact of business decisions.
Bookkeepers Help You Get Back to Business
There you have it—all of the main skills that a bookkeeper can bring to your business. Your bookkeeper isn’t just consulting an accounting book and doing simple data entry—there’s so much more that goes into bookkeeping than many small business owners realize.
The next time you find yourself wondering, “What does a bookkeeper do?”, you now know that the answer can be anything from reconciling transactions to processing payroll—the answer can even be managing all of the above.
At the end of the day, the answer to this question will ultimately depend on what you and your small business need from your bookkeeper. Either way, having a bookkeeper keeping track of your small business’s finances will free up the time and energy you need for growing your business.
Stacy Kildal is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Stacy Kildal is owner/operator of Kildal Services LLC—an accounting and technology consulting company that specializes in all things QuickBooks. From 2012 to 2017, Stacy has been named one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women In Accounting.
Stacy is one of the three hosts for the QB Show and has also been featured frequently on Intuit’s Accountant Blog, Community “Ask the Expert” forums, at various Intuit Academy To Go podcasts, as well as hosting a number of Intuit Small Business Online Town Hall sessions.
She is a big fan of working mobile and has been recognized by Intuit as being an expert on QuickBooks Online, having written Intuit’s original courses for the U.S., Singapore and Canadian versions.