Hiring a bookkeeper for your small business is the adulting equivalent of finding a primary care provider. It’s a must-have investment that’s important for short- and long-term health.

A qualified bookkeeper can help you with tasks such as budgeting, reporting, reconciling your accounts, running payroll and doing taxes. Having a bookkeeper’s help can keep your business running smoothly – and out of trouble.

Just like your doctor needs to meet certain qualifications and be the right fit for you, there are a few things you want to look for when you’re ready to hire a bookkeeper.

4 Qualities to Look for in a Bookkeeper – and What to Ask to Assess Them

As the owner of SBS Accounting and Advisors, I’ve hired a few bookkeepers myself over the years. I’ve found a few qualities to be the most important when looking for a quality bookkeeper. I’ve also found some questions you can ask when consulting with a candidate to dig in on these qualities.

You may find it helpful to write these questions down and record each candidate’s answers. That makes it easier to review responses and compare candidates later on. Ultimately, you’re interviewing bookkeepers for a critical job in supporting your small business.

1. Knowledgeable

Experience and expertise are the foundation you’ll look for when hiring a bookkeeper. It can be especially helpful for your bookkeeper to have a robust understanding of accounting and taxes. Though bookkeepers don’t need to have any particular degree or higher education, continuing education in accounting, finance and bookkeeping can be a good indicator of their knowledge base.

One way to figure out what a bookkeeper knows is to review their credentials. Some you’d want to see from them include:

Specific experience with your business type can be important, too. You may want to seek out a bookkeeper who’s familiar with your industry, type of services or specific needs, such as managing inventory. Keeping books for a hair stylist, a restaurateur or a manufacturer can look very different.

You’ll also be inviting the bookkeeper in at a certain life stage of your business. If you’re just starting your business, make sure your bookkeeper has worked with other newly formed businesses. If you’ve hit the growth stage, be sure your bookkeeper can handle rapid change. You want to know that your bookkeeper isn’t just an expert in your current life stage, but that they’ll also be able to grow with your business.

What to ask: 

  • How did you train as a bookkeeper? When was that?
  • What certifications do you hold?
  • Have you worked with a business like mine?

2. Trustworthy

Your financial details include sensitive information, so you want to trust that your bookkeeper is handling that information with care. Trust can often come from a gut feeling – which can be great, but it can also make it a hard quality to hire for. There are a few indicators besides your instinct that can help you decide if a bookkeeper has integrity – a core value of ours at SBS.

First, a bookkeeper’s pricing should be clear and straightforward. If you discover ambiguity or hidden costs as you discuss rates, they’re not being upfront and honest with you. As someone vying to help you budget for your business, a bookkeeper should give you a clear idea of what your expenses would be when working with them.

Speaking of prices, the old adage is right: If a bookkeeper’s rates seem too good to be true, they probably are. The last thing you want to find out is that your unbelievably cheap bookkeeper has been skimming bonuses from your business.

Your bookkeeper should also be open and honest. They should be able to provide references and recommendations for their work from colleagues and clients alike.

What to ask:

  • What is your pricing structure?
  • How long has your oldest client been with you?
  • May I speak with one of your clients about their experience?

3. Diligent

Diligence encapsulates not just a great work ethic, but also the conscientiousness that goes into delivering the bookkeeper’s services. Your bookkeeper should go the extra mile to help you be financially responsible today, while also planning for your future.

That involves a respectful, service-oriented perspective that puts the client first. Your bookkeeper should be committed to quality and excellence – both in your books and in the way they serve you. I’ve found that the level of care a bookkeeper provides can make all the difference in a client’s experience.

What to ask: 

  • What is your typical response time for emails?
  • How much time do you spend per client on the services I’m interested in?
  • Do you have availability outside of regular hours for emergencies?

4. Detail-Oriented

Attention to detail is at the heart of accurate bookkeeping.

Start with observation to help gauge this quality. As you’re setting up a consultation, take note of how the bookkeeper communicates and asks for information. Are they thorough in sharing a time and location to meet, and are they clearly conveying all the details you need?

Be sure the bookkeeper’s work is well-organized and easy to understand. Another bookkeeper or accountant should be able to pick up where your bookkeeper left off, without any trouble.

Everyone makes mistakes, so it’s good to know how your bookkeeper ensures accuracy. Ask more about their process, how they catch mistakes and what they might need from you when there’s a red flag. Although finding the documentation your bookkeeper needs from you can be a pain, it’s a sign that they’re being thorough and paying attention to the details. That’s what you’re paying them for!

What to ask:

  • May I see an anonymized sample of your bookkeeping?
  • Do you have your work reviewed regularly?
  • How do you handle missing information? When do you require backup documentation?

Need a Place to Start? Meet With Our Bookkeepers

One of the best ways to find a quality bookkeeper is through a referral – and I’d like to refer you to my team. For 15 years, I’ve made it my mission to build a team that always has our customers’ best interests in mind. They don’t have to be the absolute best talent at the time, but they must show a willingness to put in the time and work, look out for you, and show high character. Integrity, diligence and attention to detail are all a must.

We provide our bookkeepers and account managers with rigorous training and periodic reviews to make sure their work meets SBS’s high-quality work standards. Meet the team to see who you could work with, and reach out to us directly to see if our SBS Accounting & Advisors is a fit for you.