Unless you are an accountant, you most likely didn't go into business to spend hours each week doing bookkeeping. Nonetheless, all small businesses must deal with the financial side of its operations and must do it well if they want to stay solvent and in the law's favor. While there's accounting software to help take some of the pain out of the process, it's not always enough. If your books start falling behind or if you find that you're spend more time thinking about your ledgers than your business leads, an accountant might be able to relieve this burden, allowing you to put your talents where they matter most: improving your company and product.
Hiring a professional bookkeeping or accounting service can make financial sense as well. Good accountants have education and skill to get things done right, plus they know the shortcuts. What might take two hours for you, a skilled accountant might be able to accomplish in less than one. Further, it's their job to keep up on the latest laws and statutes. This is especially important come tax time, where a change in law could mean hundreds of dollars in refunds - keeping you safe from audit.
On average, regular accountants charge $100 to $275 an hour, but there are outsourcing companies that can do it at a fraction of that cost. Flatworld, for example, advertises rates as low as $8 an hour. Some companies, like Expertise, charge solely by the hour, but others, like LedgersOnline, charge per month for a particular set of duties. Still others, like Merritt Bookkeeping, prefer to discuss your needs and develop a custom quote. Finally, a few offer specific plans with the option of adding services, TAD does this.
We've looked at ten services that do offsite accounting work using cloud-based technology, phone and email. Because they take on multiple clients on a part-time basis, they can significantly cut their costs. However, most still endeavor to get to know your business before taking you as a client.
Accounting & Bookkeeping Services: What to Look For
Outsourcing your accounting only brings you peace of mind if you are comfortable with the service you hire. Don't rush the exploration process. Most accounting firms arrange a phone conference with you to answer questions and make sure your business is a good fit. In fact, some require it before sending you a proposal. Take advantage of this by carefully examining them for the following qualifications.
Basic Bookkeeping & Additional Tasks
If your company is small, you may only need basic bookkeeping to keep your paperwork in order. Nearly all bookkeeping and accounting companies provide the basics: keeping your ledgers current and accurate, handling accounts payable and receivable, and getting finances in order for tax preparation. Many do not prepare tax returns, although some can recommend tax preparers. If you have a tax accountant you are comfortable with, this may not be an issue, but you should ask what support the accounting service provides.
If you are growing, however, you may need additional services, such as payroll, inventory or invoice processing, which most, but not all accounting services provide. Some accounting firms go beyond the standard to provide even higher-level financial duties that you may need on a part-time basis, such as Analytix's ability to supply a part-time CFO. Others provide investment or business advice. If you have a growing company and think you may need these in the near future, initially hiring a service with the potential for these abilities means that company will be familiar with your business when you need the additional help, which makes it easier for it to give you the best service.
Employee Qualifications & Duties
When hiring a service, it's important to know whether you need an accountant or a bookkeeper. Each plays a different role for a business, but in short, a bookkeeper deals with the nitty-gritty of updating ledgers and making sure everything balances out. Full-charge bookkeepers have experience not just in data entry and ledgers but payroll, financial statements and bank reconciliation. They have a bachelor's degree in finance.
Accountants look at the bigger financial picture: how certain items should be recorded to make the most sense for that particular business, for example. Accountants can also audit books, analyze the flow of money and generate reports on that flow, and prepare taxes. Certified Public Accountants have advanced degrees to provide higher-level advice. They can also represent you to the IRS should you be audited. Most organizations employ all three types of people, but each commands different wages.
Therefore, when looking into a small business accounting service, ask about the duties each type of employee conducts. After all, you probably don't want to pay a CPA to do simple data entry. Similarly, if you have complex finances or have been hit with an audit before, you may prefer to have a CPA take care of your books and tax preparation rather than a regular accountant. You may have a team rather than a single part-time employee. AccountingDepartment.com, for example, assigns you a team with a full-charge bookkeeper, accountant and CPA.
Geographic & Business Focus
One reason for hiring an offsite accountant rather than a local one is that such companies have a broader clientele that lets them cut costs. Nonetheless, the last thing you want is to trust your financial records with someone you can't understand. Fluent English is important, as is the ability to take complex financial considerations and explain them in simpler terms. In addition, your accountants need to know the laws of the country and even state where you do business. Therefore, an accountant firm in Australia might not be able to provide as good a service for a Colorado business as a firm in Phoenix. All of the accounting companies we looked at speak English and serve the United States, although some serve other countries as well.
It's also important that the individuals helping with your finances can speak the language of your business – someone in the health field has a different vocabulary than someone running a bike shop. Restaurants in particular have unique financial considerations. Several of the small business bookkeeping and accounting firms we looked at list the fields they have specialties in: Bookkeeper.com can handle restaurants, while Bookkeeping Express works with spas. Some also focus on stages of business, something to consider if you are a start-up seeking financial advice as well as bookkeeping.
Communication & Security
You want an accountant that you can work with and who works for you: someone you can call with questions or concerns, someone who understands your business and is able to respond to an emergency in a timely manner. The best companies take time to discuss your business needs with you before taking you on as a client and provide you a point of contact that you can reach during your business hours. This is especially important if you decide to work with a company that outsources to other countries. While it's great to send off your books at the close of day and find them completed when you return to the office in the morning, it might not be worth it if you have to wait until midnight to call your bookkeeper.
Communication also involves sending your financial data. Each company has its own method, but these can include snail mail, faxing, emailing, uploading to a cloud storage system or sharing a cloud-based accounting system. Some even use remote access software to work on your own computers from their location.
Finances aren't always fun, but they are the backbone of your business. Therefore, you want to be sure they are safe. Investigate how the firm protects your information – levels of encryption, redundant systems and personnel security. Many, like Bench, offer bank-level security: 256-bit encryption, redundant power supplies and background checks on employees. Communication lines need to be secure as well.
Not everyone is born to work with numbers, but when you are running a business, you can't run away from the bookkeeping and accounting. You can, however, hand it off to someone else who has a talent for tracking the income and expenses of your company. With a competent accounting and bookkeeping service, you can free yourself of this duty so you can turn your attention to the things that grow your business and your success.
AccountingDepartment.com provides accounting and bookkeeping serviceswith a specialization in helping fast-growing small businesses develop efficient procedures for keeping track of income, expenses, payroll and inventory. It takes a methodical approach in getting to know your company's needs and tailoring its service to you.
When you sign up with this accounting service, you first meet with the management team for a two- or three-hour conference about your company and its accounting and bookkeeping needs. They ask about your procedures, employees, products or services, and other special considerations that might affect your finances and taxes. Over the next few weeks, the accounting team calls you a couple of times a week for short consultations to get the infrastructure set – gathering bank account information, setting you up with software you'd been meaning to get, and discussing procedures for gathering and sharing information. At this time, the accountant also gets all your existing accounts in order, including transferring data to new programs as needed.
Finally, it presents you with a client procedures manual. This document contains detailed instructions for capturing all your daily financial activity and for conducting monthly, quarterly and annual closings. The procedures aim to streamline your daily practices in order to let you concentrate on the sales and service side of your business.
The AccountingDepartment.com team consists of CPAs and AIPB-certified bookkeepers as well as other bookkeepers who don't have degrees but do have certifications in accounting software, especially QuickBooks and Bill.com. Your personal team consists of a full-charge bookkeeper, an account manager or controller, and an accounting software specialist.
You can hire this accounting service at three levels. The full accrual level tracks prepaid expenses, accrued expenses, accrued payroll and deferred revenue. The modified accrual level includes accounts payable and accounts receivable, banking and credit card activity, and payroll. Finally, the cash basis level keeps up on receipts and disbursements, banking and credit card activity, and payroll.
You need to call the company to get a consultation and quote. At that time, they demonstrate the process. If you are interested, you sign a non-disclosure agreement and the team reviews your data and presents you with quotes for several options, all at fixed rates. You can find client testimonials on the website.
AccountingDepartment.com works with your business to provide accounting and bookkeeping services that are geared to your particular needs, with a personal team of a bookkeeper, accountant and software specialist working on your accounts. You can hire them at three levels of involvement; regardless of the level you choose, the management team contacts you personally to ensure it gets you the services you need.
Analytix works with small businesses, from start-ups to established businesses in transition, to provide scalable accounting and bookkeeping services, including services as various as simple payroll management and part-time CFO assistance. The scalability makes it a good choice for seasonal businesses or companies that expect a surge of growth in the future.
This accounting service has qualified accountants who can work in programs like QuickBooks, Peachtree, Great Plains and Intacct. In addition, it has higher-level employees who can perform controller and CFO duties. This is useful if your business needs these services on occasion but not often enough to hire a full-time employee. It can work with other CPA firms and says many of its clients were referred to it from other CPA companies.
The bookkeeping services include accounts payable and receivable, managing inventory and reconciling bank statements, among others. The Controller duties can include supervision and review of your internal accounting staff; reconciling, adjusting and closing account entries; and preparing financial statements. CFOs can handle strategic duties like budgeting and forecasting, special reports, financial modeling, and interfacing with other financial and legal professionals on your behalf.
Analytix has experience in over a dozen industries, such as architecture, finance, medical, retail, restaurants and, technology. It begins its relationship with you by learning your specific company's goals and objectives. It prepares a statement of work, with a list of deliverables, a timeline and costs for you to review before you sign the contract. Next, it makes an action plan with checkpoints, milestones and suggestions for tools to make your bookkeeping work easier. The first goal is to remove inefficiencies from your practices so that maintaining the accounts is easy.
When you have a surge in activity, such as during a high-volume season or because your company has the chance to expand, Analytix revs up its services to meet your needs without extra charge. Similarly, in slow times, it slows down with you (but at the same fees).
Analytix can offer assistance in IT solutions, internet marketing (such as PPA campaigns and website building) and data entry. If you are a startup, it can package these solutions so you can work with one company to set up your business. Like most accounting and bookkeeping services, you need to call for a quote.
Analytix offers scalable accounting and bookkeeping resources, such as basic data entry and part-time CFO services. In addition, it provides non-accounting services, like IT solutions and marketing assistance. It's a good choice if you are looking for a single company to service multiple needs.
Bench is a basic bookkeeping and accounting service that concentrates primarily on bookkeeping aspect, although it can provide payroll services; track multiple revenues and reimbursements; and account for loans, leases or lines of credit. If necessary, the bookkeepers can catch up your books when you first open the account with them. There may be an extra fee for this.
This online bookkeeping service works through a custom app that connects you with your bookkeeper. You can load documents into the app with a simple drag and drop, communicate with your bookkeeper through the app and see your reports online. You can take photos or scan your receipts and send them to your accountant through the app. You can have documents shared by FedEx, and Bench can scan them in for you.
The app provides reports, and you can access your bank statements and other documents online to get further details. Bench makes sure your documents are organized and searchable.
This bookkeeping and accounting service does not prepare taxes, but it can get your accounts in order for the tax accountant and works directly with him or her on any questions or concerns.
It can also recommend a service for automating your payroll system, and it works with multiple invoicing and time tracking partners to get a system that works for your business.
Bench is concerned about maintaining security. The app is secure with a 256-bit encryption, which is above industry average for financial institutions. The bookkeeping staff is recruited in North America and undergoes a background check. The company uses Amazon storage facilities, and access to your records is limited to only those with a need to know.
This service has a blog on its website that covers business lifestyle and personal issues as well as financial ones.
Bench offers four plans depending on the extent of your bookkeeping needs. Each plan comes with one or more options for customization. If you have questions about Bench, you can contact the sales team by live chat.
Bench offers online bookkeeping and accounting with an eye for security. It handles the basic financial tasks and can recommend other companies to help with other aspects of the business, such as payroll.
Bookkeeper.com is a full-service accounting and bookkeeping company for small businesses. In addition to the usual accounting and payroll services offered by most companies, it can prepare taxes, advise on investmentsand assist with insurance. It takes clients online or in person for those in the Waynesboro, Virginia, area.
It provides bookkeeping services through its portal online, which incorporates Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, Peachtree and other common accounting software, allowing you 24/7 access to your accounts. The online portal has a virtual desktop, document storage, an employee time tracking tool, and other tools to help you track and store important data your accountant may need.
If you prefer a more traditional approach, it can keep your books offline, but you lose immediate access to your books. Bookkeeping includes paying bills, making deposits and preparing statements. This service also handles payroll.
Bookkeeper.com can also prepare your taxes and advise you on tax planning for the future. Not every accounting service does this. It does tax return preparation for businesses, individuals, gift and estate returns, and startups. Its website contains several articles on tax planning and tips.
This bookkeeping service has a special focus for restaurants to address their specific accounting needs. It can help you monitor and control weekly labor, food and liquor costs as well as manage tip reporting by credit card and cash.
If you are looking for assistance with health insurance, life insurance or investment planning, for either your company or yourself, Bookkeeper.com works with other companies to assist in this. Shenandoah Management Resources is its partner for health insurance, while Financial Management, Inc. provides investment and long-term financial advice. It has a page where you can put in information to get a life insurance quote.
This company's website contains many pages for business and financial education, including basic tips on common financial issues and tax concerns and a library of over 100 calculators for determining issues as various as pension payouts and the future value of taxable vs. tax-advantaged savings. You can sign up for Bookkeeper.com's regular newsletter or check out its blog. The blog contains advice and news concerning personal and business finance.
Bookkeeper.com has a broader range of services than most of the companies we looked at. Not only does it handle basic bookkeeping and accounting, but also tax preparation, financial planning and insurance assistance. It can provide you a quote for its services and refer you to its affiliate companies for additional work.
BookKeeping Express Review
BookKeeping Express works with small businesses in all stages of business, including the not-yet opened and the well established. It provides accounting and bookkeeping services, such as simple reconciliation of your books, expense management and bookkeeping training. It has industry-specific specialists in the four main areas but may be able to work in other industries.
This California-based company has clients in the health and wellness industry, which includes gyms, salons and spas, and the home services industry, which include plumbers, electricians and other repair services. The professional services it works with include real estate and insurance agencies as well as financial advisors. Finally, it has accountants who understand the unique financial needs of quick-service restaurants. If you are in a different industry but are still interested in this accounting service, you can contact it to see if it has an employee on the team who is experienced with your field.
Regardless of industry, BookKeeping Express specializes in small business bookkeeping and accounting, and it offers three packages geared to where your company stands. For those who are starting out and may not have even opened their doors, this service offers the Opening Soon Plan, which deals with quarterly financials and reconciliation of the books, document collection and storage, accounting software setup, and training. The monthly fee includes the accounting and expense management software. The In Business Plan has everything from the Opening Soon Plan with monthly reconciliations plus expense management and payroll reconciliation. Finally, the Winning plan for businesses that are growing or have greater needs provides all the services from the In Business Plan plus weekly reconciliation and financials, job cost allocation, and electronic bill payment.
This service can sync your accounting software with your POS system, create industry-specific ledgers and streamline your billing process. For home businesses, it can assist you in tracking home office deductions and expenses. It does not prepare taxes but can refer you to a qualified service.
Unlike many bookkeeping and accounting services, BookKeeping Express charges a flat rate per plan, but it can create a customized program for you. You can speak to a sales rep via phone or live chat or request a free consultation by filling out the form on its website.
If your business works with health, finances, home services or professional services, and you need basic accounting, BookKeeping Express has people who not only understand accounting but also your business' unique needs. It has monthly plans based on where your business stands.
Expertise offers the most important bookkeeping and accounting servicesonline using qualified US-Based bookkeepers, accountants and CPAs. It charges for its services by the hour rather than a monthly fee, and the rates are determined by the qualifications you need in your accountant rather than the work provided.
This accounting and bookkeeping company offers five basic services. Bookkeeping includes following up on invoices and bills as well as making sure your books are current. Data entry includes client information and keeping things organized. It's a time-consuming task, and many businesses find contracting it out frees them to do the more important and profitable activities that grow the business. Financial statement preparation is done by accountants or CPAs and ensures your balance sheets are in order in event of an audit. Accounts Receivable/Accounts Payable management includes following up on unpaid invoices. Finally, this company can conduct an internal audit on your company to ensure you are meeting objectives and performing at your best.
This small business accounting service has 31 accountants and 11 CPAs for 104 clients. All the clients of Expertise have this company do their bookkeeping and financial statement preparation, while most use the firm for tax return preparation as well.
Bookkeepers are qualified to keep your financial records and are qualified in QuickBooks. Accountants can do AP/AR management, audits and statement preparation. They can do taxes, but the CPAs are qualified to represent you should the IRS decide to audit you. CPAs can also provide financial consultations and advice. Of course, accountants can do bookkeeping work, and CPAs can do the work of bookkeepers and accountants, so you don't need to hire an entire team.
This company charges by the hour rather than with a package deal. However, you can upgrade your service as the need arises. For example, you can hire an accountant until you need a CPA – such as for an audit – and then hire the CPA for that amount of time. Expertise transfers the necessary information. This gives you some flexibility of service while saving you the extra time and work of hiring someone new and getting them familiar with your business and needs.
If you have any questions about this service, you can contact the sales team via live chat.
If your accounting needs are sporadic or slight, Expertise may be a good choice as it offers qualified accounting personnel on an hourly basis rather than by month or project. it can handle bookkeeping and accounting needs, such as data entry and tax preparation, and it can increase its services as your needs rise.
Flatworld provides outsourced accounting and bookkeeping services with 5,000 customers across the world, particularly in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Its employees are highly educated, and the company uses multiple safeguards to protect your information.
This service can do a wide range of activities, including all types of ledgers, account receivable and payable, invoice processing, and bank reconciliation. This service also covers cash flow and other financial statements, reports to customers and employees, and event analysis. Flatworld can also store your documents for you. It also has customized services specifically for U.S. customers.
It employs bookkeepers, accountants and CPAs, so you get the right person for the job. You can hire Flatworld services on a full-time, regular part-time or hourly rate. You can also pay by project or for preparing your tax returns alone. You can also mix these; for example, if you need extra work done for a big sales season or for getting your initial accounts in order, you might add hours or even take on a full-time account for a short term. Flatworld lists its pricesas $8 to $15 an hour but specifies that it depends on the complexity and skill needed for the tasks. You need to call for a quote, and it will assess your needs and recommend a plan of action.
You can share your information with Flatworld in three ways. For server-based operations, you load your documents, including scans of paper receipts, via secure FTP, email or fax. An appropriate employee works your books overnight and either emails them back to you or loads them to your server so you have them the next morning. Alternately, you can allow the Flatworld bookkeeper or accountant access your computers via remote access to work the books during business off-hours. Finally, if you are using a cloud application, like quickbooksonline.com, you can give Flatworld your account access information to allow the bookkeeper or accountant to log in and do your accounts there.
The employees of Flatworld are qualified in a multitude of accounting and business programs, such as MYOB, Sage, QuickBooks, PeachTree, Net Suite, Master Builder and Business Works. You can find a complete list on its website. In addition, they hold graduate or post-graduate degrees, and where a particular alternate skill is needed, Flatworld hires people with at least a master's degree.
This service's servers have data security and Protection Act compliance, with redundant power supplies to ensure no loss of data or service.
Flatworld offers secure bookkeeping and accounting services to English-speaking clients across the world. It offers several methods for sharing information and can do your bookkeeping overnight so you can start the day with freshly updated books.
LedgersOnline offers online accounting and bookkeeping services for small, medium and large businesses. Its plans vary by business size and number of transactions rather than by hours or features, and it can provide additional services, including tax preparation.
Its unique pricing structure considers your company's size and workload. Its plans cover 25, 100, 200 and 300 transactions, with a transaction counting as a major step. For example, paying a vendor requires two transactions: recording the bill and producing the payment. The number of accounts and employees in your company also determines the plan you can purchase. If your company does not fit neatly into a plan, you can get a custom quote. You can also get a custom quote if your business fluctuates greatly, such as if your business has seasonal booms.
This service can handle accounts payable and receivable, bank reconciliations, check prep, expense reports, financial statements and tax preparation. It can create reports and assist with tax planning. LedgersOnline works with small or large businesses, so it can grow with your company. It offers bank-level security with 256-bit SSL encryption and firewall protection.
LedgersOnline hires professional bookkeepers, certified accountants and certified public accountants to handle your financial needs. It assigns you a personal bookkeeper or accountant, so you have a single point of contact. You can communicate with him or her via email and share documents via email or courier.
You can also upload documents to LedgerDocs, the company's in-house document management system. This lets you access your books and supporting documents at any time and use the search engine to find specific items. This is especially useful if doing an audit trail.
If you already have a cloud hosting system or cloud-based accounting applications, you can give your accountant your login and share information that way. The employees at LedgersOnline are knowledgeable in multiple accounting applications, including QuickBooks, Xero, Sage and FreshBooks.
LedgersOnline's staff can work with businesses at all levels and gears its services toward bookkeeping and general business accounting, plus tax preparation. The pricing plans cover transactions so that you pay for the work done, not the hours it took to complete it. You can contact this service for personalized plans if the listed ones don't fit your company's needs.
Merritt Bookkeeping is a California-based bookkeeping and accounting service that takes on clients throughout the United States. It works with small businesses including retail, services and the arts.
This company specializes in making things easy for the very small businessperson, and it handles the most basic bookkeeping needs. It uses QuickBooks and keeps all data in a QuickBooks file that belongs to the client. You can access it at will or take it to a separate accountant. Merritt Bookkeeping generates monthly reports, which it sends to you in PDF format. The website has a downloadable sample of what it typically sends clients.
Merritt Bookkeeping does not require you to copy and mail or scan and email receipts; rather, the bookkeepers find and track all the transactions via your credit card and bank statements. You send it your bank statements or give it restricted access so it can gather the information, and it records everything in QuickBooks. It codes all transactions in terms of income, expenses, assets, liabilities or equities. In addition, it does 1099 filing for you for your employees. None of the other services we looked at mentioned this duty, although most likely all can do it for you upon request. This service does not prepare taxes or provide financial or investment advice.
Merritt Bookkeeping is experienced in handling the needs of many kinds of small businesses, such as fitness studios, real estate agencies, consultant firms, restaurants and freelance artists. Its clients include salons, specialty shops, acupuncturists and photographers.
You contact the company via an online form to get a quote. It takes a quick call to determine your needs. It says 15 minutes is usually enough; talking with other accounting firms takes longer, but they also provide more in-depth services.
This is one of the few accounting services we looked at that charges by transaction rather than hour, and its rates can run as low as $50/month. It also offers a 90-day money-back guarantee.
If you are a small business with very basic financial needs, Merritt Bookkeeping can provide a cost-effective approach to keeping your books in order so you can concentrate on doing the part of your business you love best.
TAD offers outsourced accounting and bookkeeping services to small businesses, including transaction recording, financial reports and tax preparation. It offers seven plans, plus additional services you can add for additional fees.
This service has a wide range of tasks it can complete, including scanning and recording bills and receipts, reconciling bank and credit card accounts, handling payroll, and filing sales taxes. It can also take care of online bill payment, itemizing deposits, invoicing and creating industry-specific charts of accounts.
What services you get and how much work the accountant does depend on the monthly plan you purchase. For example, with the Bronze Package, your data (receipts, vendor bills, etc.) is recorded and coded, one credit card account is reconciled, and you get three reports: profit & loss, balance sheet and accounts receivable. You can also contact your accountant by email and expect a response within 48 hours. By contrast, the Gold Package includes all the Bronze services, plus online bill pay of up to 10 vendor payments per month, access to QuickBooks online, a financial control panel to access all your data online, recording of your PayPal transactions and the ability to contact your accountant via phone or TAD's communication program.
If there are specific services you need that are not covered in a plan, TAD offers an a la carte menu. You still need to have one of the packages, but you can then add tax preparation, additional account reconciliation, itemized deposits, payroll, sales tax return preparation, CPA review time and more. Each of these comes with an additional monthly cost.
As your company grows, you can upgrade plans. Sometimes, the accountant suggests specific services. You can also downgrade services or plans.
TAD offers prepaid envelopes for sending receipts, or you can scan and email them. Some plans allow you to load them onto a cloud storage system. TAD encrypts to 128 bits, which is standard for information and finances, but below that offered by some other services we looked at.
TAD offers a large number of plans plus add-ons that make this bookkeeping and accounting service flexible to meet your needs. It isn't as tightly secured as some other services we examined, and with some plans, you can only speak to your accountant via email. However, it does offer some services we did not find with other companies, such as sales tax filing and online bill pay.