I Majored in English, You do the Math

Buy This T-shirt at Zazzle.comMost creative types hate numbers. Unfortunately, being a freelancer means running your own business–which means dealing with numbers.

But before you throw up your hands and run for cover, here are some info from Anna Raddatz who is both a bookkeeper AND a freelancer, based in Asheville, NC. Check out her site: www.annaraddatz.com.

Jargon Writer: Can you tell me a bit about what you do?

Anna Raddatz: I think people are often confused about what a bookkeeper does. To clarify, a bookkeeper is NOT an accountant. Some bookkeepers are certified CPAs, but bookkeeping functions are really focused on maintaining and preparing your financial information so that an accountant can quickly and efficiently prepare your tax return at year-end, and so you have a clearer understanding of your business’ financial status, which allows you to make more informed decisions during the year. A bookkeeper can also help you organize your financial life, pay your bills, invoice your clients, and just generally keep an eye on your money and bring any red flags to your attention. Hiring the right bookkeeper will save you innumerable headaches, hours and hours of time, and, in the long term, a bunch of cash. It’s a great step toward organizing and growing your freelance business.

JW: Once a freelance has decided to hire a bookkeeper, how can they find a good one?

Raddatz: In my experience, what people usually do is ask their friends or professional contacts for a reference, and hire the first bookkeeper that comes their way. Sometimes this works out, but often that person is not the best fit for your business. No matter where you live, there are probably more bookkeepers out there than you think. Try posting an ad on Craigslist (or look through the Services/Financial section), or use Intuit’s online search tool to find a local certified Quickbooks Advisor (http://proadvisor.intuit.com/referral/). Take the time to learn a bit about what a bookkeeper does, outline your company’s needs — and definitely do interviews!

JW: What kinds of questions can freelancers ask to ensure a good fit, since freelancing is slightly different from many other types of businesses?

Raddatz: Bookkeeping functions are very different for service-related businesses (which is probably what most freelancers fall under – consulting, design, etc.) than they are for retail businesses (those that sell a product, keep inventory, etc). So make sure your bookkeeper has experience in your sector. If they are proficient in different bookkeeping software systems, ask them which one they think would be best for your business. You want a bookkeeper who will be proactive about solving problems, so ask them for examples of problems they have solved for other clients in the past. Also try to hire someone who has had long-term clients and always call references — this person will have access to your bank accounts and other personal financial information, so you want to know that they are trust-worthy and experienced.

PW: What information will a bookkeeper need to know, and what should freelancers bring with them when they meet with a that person?

Raddatz: It’s helpful if you’re prepared to discuss the following: what kind of service/product you offer; what tasks you would like help with (paying bills, invoicing, monthly reconciliation, creating new organizational systems, etc); if you need help with a backlog (i.e. you haven’t filed your taxes in a couple years) or want to start with the current year; how you have been keeping track of your finances to date; whether you are incorporated or a sole proprietor; how many bank and credit card accounts you have; how many transactions go through each of those accounts each month; how often you pay for things with cash; and how involved you personally want to be with the bookkeeping tasks. If you are already using a bookkeeping system — whether it’s a big box of receipts, or a Quickbooks file that you started — it’s helpful for the bookkeeper to take a look at it to see what they’ll be starting with.

PW: How often will the two need to meet?

Raddatz: This really depends on the type of business you have, how many transactions (checks, credit card charges, deposits, etc) you have each month, what tasks you want your bookkeeper to perform, and personal preference. My freelance clients range from 1 full day per week, to 3 hours every other week. However, if you want to learn how to keep your own books and just need someone to set up the file and teach you how to use it, you could just have the bookkeeper take a look at your books quarterly and confirm that everything’s in the right place. After you meet with a bookkeeper and give them some idea about your business (i.e. can answer the questions in #3 above), they should be able to give you an idea of how long the tasks should take each week or month.

JW: Is it possible to hire someone virtually (someone who isn’t local), or is it essential to be able to meet face-to-face?

Raddatz: This is definitely possible, and with online bookkeeping software the virtual aspect is becoming easier. But again, it depends on what tasks you want your bookkeeper to do. I have one client who pays his own bills, maintains his own files, and just emails his bank and credit card statements to me monthly; I then enter all the transactions into Quickbooks and reconcile the accounts. At the end of the year, he reviews the books and I forward them to his accountant. However, most clients I’ve had want someone to come to their home/office/studio, open the mail, pay bills, sort receipts, and maintain paper files, in addition to using bookkeeping software. They really like having someone who takes that scary pile of paper in the corner and makes it nice and tidy.

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