Keeping track of your day-to-day financials—not to mention the overall financial health of your business—is crucial, whether you’re a startup, another small business owner, or a large corporation. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details—and rarely more so than when you’re dealing in numbers. To get an accurate big picture and avoid last-minute work, errors, and penalties, it pays to stay on top of bookkeeping with an eye for accuracy. Properly tracking your business’s finances can get pretty tedious, and every receipt matters.
If this sounds overwhelming because you’ve already got plenty on your plate—or, you’d rather not pay an expensive accountant to do busy work like process a box full of receipts—you might consider getting help from a skilled bookkeeper. A good bookkeeper can quickly pay for themselves in their ability to help protect you from fraud, loss, fines, and compliance issues. But what’s the ROI of hiring a bookkeeper, and how much will it cost?
What Does a Bookkeeper Do?
A bookkeeper handles more clerical work than an accountant, although their services do overlap. Bookkeepers will record and deliver the numbers—all of your day-to-day transactions and expenses. The generate the data that gets handed over to an accountant for more high-level analysis. They’ll also help you with:
- Organizing receipts
- Recording expenses
- Paying for everyday expenditures
- Recording forms of income
- Verifying deposits and other transactions
- Balancing bank accounts
- Billing clients directly
- Managing past-due accounts
- Preparing monthly financial statements
- Handling payroll and withholding taxes
Now let’s break down some key factors to help you more accurately estimate the cost to engage a freelance bookkeeper for your business.
Cost Factor #1: What do you need a bookkeeper to do, and for how long?
Clients often scan documents like receipts and tax forms with a smartphone or scanner, and that information is then categorized in a central database for reporting purposes. Do you need expense and income tracking like this, or something more advanced like paying vendors and monthly tax filings? Do you need profit and loss statements generated? Asking these types of questions will help you determine what exactly you’re delegating to a bookkeeper (or what information you need them to provide to your accountant) and will also get you closer to estimating a budget.
Determine types of services you’ll need. A bookkeeper can step in and handle many of the organizational aspects of the business such as generating financial reports, handling payroll, and dealing with accounts payable/receivable, freeing you up to focus on the daily operation of your business and continuing to grow it. Some of these will fall into the weekly or monthly category; others will be daily or quarterly. Make a list of what you need them to do and how frequently you need it done.
The next step in estimating a budget (and also the type of contract) is to determine whether you need a freelance bookkeeper for occasional projects or ongoing, day-to-day tracking of income and expenditures. Depending on your needs, you can hire a bookkeeper on a per-project basis and pay them hourly, or go with a fixed-price. If you need a bookkeeper for ongoing services, you may want to consult your human resources partner or another advisor to verify the worker’s classification. Some other questions to ask yourself:
- Is this for an Ad Hoc project or ongoing accounting operations?
- If it’s ongoing, for how long? Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly?
- What services will they be performing?
- What areas of the work will you delegate to them vs. continue to do on your own?
- Is any specific system access required?
- Do they need to have any advanced accounting skills?
- Do they need to know a specific software?
Cost Factor #2: Experience and expertise
Like we mentioned above, many bookkeepers overlap with accountants, gaining more high-level expertise via certification and on-the-job experience. The nature of the work you need them to do will often demand a higher cost.
Do you need a bookkeeper with advanced training, specialized experience, or an advanced degree? This will also affect their rate and your budget. Some bookkeepers may have advanced training or a degree in a field such as accounting, finance, or business administration. Others may specialize in certain job sectors such as law, healthcare, or automotive, which would give them certain insights that could make them a great fit for your project.
Those with specialized degrees may have a better overall (or more specific) knowledge of advanced work like loan packaging or preparing business plans. Do you prefer any professional certifications? While this isn’t necessary, belonging to an organization like the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers can show a deeper commitment to the field.
Typical Rates Charged by Bookkeepers*
|Type of Bookkeeper||Average Hourly Rate|
|Bookkeeper (Data Entry, Excel)||$10-35|
|Senior bookkeeper (Some accounting skills)||$40-75|
|Bookkeeper and Accountant||$20-150+|
*Reflect rates charged by freelancers on Upwork in North America with over 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.
Cost Factor #3: Complexity of your business’s finances and taxes
Besides keeping business documents organized and generating reports, bookkeepers can handle a number of everyday clerical and accounting tasks. If your business’s tax situation is more complex, for example with numerous vendors, contractors, locations in different states, etc., you might need someone with more advanced skills to navigate them, which could get more expensive. Do you need single-entry or double-entry accounting?
Since bookkeepers can have a wide variety of skills and specializations, it’s important to know the types of experience your ideal professional should have. For example, a bookkeeper who has only worked with large manufacturers may have ample experience tracking accounts receivable and purchase orders, but not much exposure to payroll or generating financial reports. Others might have extensive experience in areas like inventory audits, bank reconciliation, or accounting—all of which may command a higher hourly rate.
Cost Factor #4: Are they proficient in the software and systems that you currently use?
Nearly every accounting software package on the market was designed to help with the most basic bookkeeping tasks you’ll need—and many are very affordable if your needs are simple enough. Does the bookkeeper require access to any specific systems? Does the freelancer need to have expertise in certain non-standard software customized to your organization? If you’re choosing a new software package along with a bookkeeper, note that more complex packages might require more expertise, and command a higher hourly rate as a result.
Cost Factor #5: Location
When given all the necessary access and documents, bookkeepers can work remotely from their own location—and that location can impact their rate vs. other locations with varying costs of living.
When searching for a bookkeeper outside of your region, one of the most important factors to remember is how location can affect real-time communication—especially if your accounting needs are time-sensitive or up against a deadline.