Solo Operator Blues: Finding Bookkeeping Help

Here’s another “in the field” post about the struggles of being a solo operator. Today I’m writing about the struggles of finding bookkeeping help.

Small businesses need bookkeeping help, but most don’t want to pay for it. That’s just a fact. Most of these small businesses are working with small accountants and tax pros, such as me. So us small fries are stuck with bookkeeping from clients that is a total disaster.

I used to say client bookkeeping was a dumpster fire. But anymore, I describe client bookkeeping this way: remember those rivers and lakes back in the 1970s that were so polluted that they started on fire? That’s a good description of the bookkeeping of a typical small business. “Flaming, roiling garbage heap floating down a polluted river.” And so your small practitioner has to put on a hazmat suit and attempt to pick out salvageable items from the flaming trash heap.

I have fought against this for years. Very few clients are willing to pay for bookkeeping help. For those who are willing to pay, I struggle to deliver the service, especially as my practice has grown and I have so many other responsibilities.

Struggle Finding Bookkeepers

I have tried for years to find a good bookkeeper to partner with. The few bookkeepers I know have either gone out of business, or they’re not taking new clients.

Sometimes well-intentioned friends or clients will say “oh, you should talk to so-and-so, they can help you.” And “so-and-so” is ALWAYS someone who kept the books one time for a church or a club, and has no idea how to actually do bookkeeping for compensation. When I say that to the friend or client, the response usually is “well, you could train them.” Yes, in my free time I’ll do that.

The Field is Broken

Here’s another example of how the field is broken for us solo operators. The bigger firm has a full-time bookkeeper on staff. Probably more than one. Each is probably a Certified Quickbooks Professional. If I could pay full-time wages and benefits, I could find someone like this too. But I can’t pay that. 

So I’m stuck doing it myself while dealing with lots of “so-and-so’s” contacting me and saying they can help because they kept a spreadsheet of finances for their church or their kid’s soccer club for a few years.

And more and more, I simply tell clients I don’t do bookkeeping. This saves me the stresses of doing monthly bookkeeping, but it means I then deal with the flaming garbage floating down the toxic river at tax time.

On the client side, you have two distinct groups. One group wants bookkeeping help, and I can’t deliver the service effectively, and so the client loses. The other group doesn’t want to pay for bookkeeping help, so they do it themselves, knowing that the risk associated with that flaming garbage heap is actually quite low (because the audit rates are so low).

But for me, I can’t look at things in light of “audit risk” because I have ethical standards I am required to uphold, so the garbage heap is not a big deal for the client, but it IS for me.

It’s another example of how us solo operators feel the squeeze when it comes to serving our clients. It really is a big firm game anymore, in so many ways.