Many people in our profession are reluctant to use the b-word, but over the last 17 years I’ve built a successful practice exclusively offering bookkeeping and accounting to a wide range of clients. There are a total of eight people working in our firm and we are all female. When I started the business, I was looking for educated and experienced accountants who were interested in part-time work. I had very high standards, requiring 10 to 15 years of work experience and a degree. As a result, my applicants were all experienced moms who were taking some time away from full-time employment.
As the practice grew over the years, we evolved to hiring full time staff. Our recruiting advantage includes offering reasonable hours, while maintaining a high expectation for work ethic. The staff we hire seem to love the variety of work and the deep client connection provided through each engagement. They also enjoy the fact that we are a team oriented business and even have a huddle every day! It’s a very high energy and joyous office. The industries we serve include professional services, manufacturing, retail, not-for-profits, as well as high-net-worth individuals. As with all accounting related services, there is consistent change and so much to know that you can’t become stagnant. We keep our knowledge fresh through activities such as my involvement in the PCPS Small Firm Networking Group, which provides great networking opportunities and allows me to be on the leading edge of practice information.
Although we focus on certain services, we do not serve a narrow niche. We have clients from sole proprietors up to $25 million companies. The larger companies have their own accounting departments, but they don’t have employees beyond a clerk level, so we come in once a week and act as their outsourced controller. We put our arms around their entire internal accounting process. Our marketing advantage is that we keep their costs down and their expertise high and we are more cost effective and more objective than an in-house controller.
There’s a basic idea that CPAs should only work on high-level engagements and the b-word should only be associated with non-CPAs. However, accounting and bookkeeping are foundational services for CPAs. Because bookkeeping and accounting are very rule-oriented, it makes sense that these services be done by a CPA with the knowledge of tax implications, labor laws, business entity considerations, and who can represent clients in an audit before the Internal Revenue Service or prepare information to help a client be successful with a banker.
Due to our specialized services, we have faced hurdles in the past in helping others see our value. For example, once we have a client for three months and have cleaned up and systematized their accounting records and processes, it’s not unusual for them to say something like, “great, now my wife can take this over.” As a result, in the last two years we have changed how we operate. We now host clients’ books on our private server in the cloud, but clients do not complete any transactions except invoices. We explain to clients that it’s best to have someone with deep accounting and software knowledge in charge of the entire process. We also set up reports for clients so they have access to their financial information whenever they need it.
Due to these types of advancements in cloud technology and the ability to easily deliver reports, many firms are now seeing bookkeeping and accounting as a new revenue stream. I believe that’s a good thing due to the value of CPA involvement. I’ve recently had two local firms contact me for advice on how to break into the bookkeeping market. Because I’m a runner, I provided these firms with the same advice I’ve given friends who want to begin running. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to run a 5K race and you can’t run in flip flops. You have to build your knowledge base, know what equipment you need and understand how to pace yourself during the race. The same is true of any new practice area. Bookkeeping and accounting services have enabled me to build a strong practice that attracts top-quality professionals and allows us to provide clients with the critical information they need to run their businesses. We have been successful in the bookkeeping sector by articulating the importance of what we do and emphasizing the value that CPAs offer. CPAs who recognize the foundational value of accounting and bookkeeping services and are willing to utilize modern technology should definitely consider adding this line of service to their practice.
Debbi C. Warden, CPA, CGMA, MBA, is the founder of The Business Manager, LLC, a small firm in Greenwood Village, Colorado.