What to Expect from A Small Business Bookkeeper


A friend running an agency reached out to me and was beating herself up for missing a 40% spending increase in one of her department. Like many agencies, she had a one-person bookkeeping team who she relied on to keep her books, pay the bills, and she wasn’t quite sure what her expectations should be.

“What can I expect from my bookkeeper?” She asked me on the phone, “Is it simply data entry? Or can I expect them to point out anomalies like these?”

My answer: this was simply too much to ask from a bookkeeper. Here’s a break down of what your expectations could be for the following accounting roles:

What to expect from a small business bookkeeper

A bookkeeper records events that have already happened. They are after-the-fact historians who focus primarily on data entry. The budget for bookkeeping starts as little as $500 per month for a $1mm company. Don’t expect too much from these guys as they may not even know what’s going on from an accounting, let alone the business, perspective.

What to expect from an accountant

An accountant actively participates in some of your business processes; unlike a bookkeeper who simply “records what had happened,” they actually help create some of these events. For example, an accountant creates bills to be paid, routes them for approval and payments, generates invoices, records payments, etc. A good accountant is who you can expect to be noticing issues on a transaction level. They should be letting someone know if we’ve double paid, missed a payment, or are not collecting fast enough.


What to expect from a Controller

A controller or accounting manager makes sure your accounting team is doing things correctly and, more importantly, prepares your financial reports. An average controller does the reports according to accounting standards and leaves you to figure shit out yourself. A GREAT controller presents numbers in a way that make sense to you, notices anomalies on a business level (like trends that are not immediately obvious,) and sits down with their CEOs at least once a month to set the records straight. “Is the business operating the way the CEO ‘feels’ like it is?” or “I’ve noticed X and Y, does it make sense to you (CEO)?”

What to expect from a CPA

Tax accountants are usually 3rd party firms that help the company take their operations (hopefully accrual based) books and get it ready for tax reporting. These are the typical “CPAs” people talk about. You shouldn’t really expect much of business metrics, strategy, or analysis from these guys because they don’t know it. What you should expect is conservative tax preparation and (for the better guys) sound tax planning.

What do you think? Have you hired the right role for the job that needed to be done at your agency? Or perhaps you have a different experience on what you can expect from your bookkeeper? Share with us below.