As a brokerage owner, it can be tempting to try and do all your own bookkeeping.
After all, you’ll save money doing it yourself, right? And how can anyone else possibly learn the financial ins and outs of your business?
Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case. There are some things that are best left to the experts, and this is one of them. By hiring a bookkeeper, you’ll be ensuring that everything gets done properly, leaving you to get on with what you do best – mortgage broking. It’ll save you time and money in the long run.
But before you bring a bookkeeper on board, you need to make sure they know what to do. If you want your company to be profitable, it’s important that you set some expectations for your bookkeeper. Good financial records are vital to the success of your business so you know where you’re headed.
Here’s our advice for setting those expectations with your bookkeeper so they can provide the service your business needs:
1. At the very least, your bookkeeper needs to have a basic understanding of bookkeeping processes and terms. They need to be qualified and experienced in bookkeeping principles and have appropriate qualifications. If they’re registered with a professional organisation who’ll support them, that’s even better.
2. They must be computer literate. It seems obvious, but the days of doing bookkeeping with a pencil and a ledger book are well and truly gone! Businesses use a number of different bookkeeping software packages now, and your bookkeeper should be familiar with the software program that your brokerage uses. Or they should be able to learn your program quickly and easily.
3. They must have attention to detail. It’s so easy to get lost in spreadsheets and data entry. A simple typing error – be it a wrong number or a decimal point in the wrong place – can have huge consequences at the end of the month or quarter when you’re getting your reports together. A bookkeeper must be able to focus on the details and pick up small errors as they go.
4. They must be organised and have your brokerage’s monthly financial statements available on time and when you need them. If you set deadlines with your bookkeeper for statements and reports, it’s expected that these will be ready on time.
5. They must be able to work unsupervised. To-do lists, questions and tasks need to be followed through to completion, without you having to check up on your bookkeeper to make sure they’ve been done. You’re there if they need you, but you need to be able to get on with your work and not have to babysit your bookkeeper.
6. They need to be able to see the big picture. Can they set up an asset and liability account? If your brokerage makes a large purchase, would they know how to allocate the payment to interest expense and liability principal reduction? These are skills that a bookkeeper would be expected to have.
7. They must have a basic understanding of your industry. This is something that can be learned on the job; however, if your bookkeeper already has experience working in your industry, you’ll be off to a great start. While basic bookkeeping principles are the same for all business types, the mortgage broking industry does have some specific requirements that need to be learned.
8. They must have good communication skills. If your bookkeeper doesn’t understand something, they must be willing to ask for help or clarification. Also, if they need to explain something to another person, there’s an expectation that they’ll be able to explain things in a clear and concise manner.
9. They must be willing to commit to your business. It takes a fair bit of time to teach your bookkeeper how your brokerage works and what you expect them to do on a weekly basis. If you go to all the trouble of training them only to have them leave after six months, you’re back to square one. If your bookkeeper works part time from home, you also need to be able to trust that they will stick to their deadlines.
10. They must be interested in continuing their education. Accounting principles and tax laws change frequently, and if your bookkeeper hasn’t done any further education since they graduated from their bookkeeping course in 1993, they’ll fall behind with their knowledge. Regular short courses to keep their skills up to date are essential.
Setting expectations for your bookkeeper results in a better working relationship for both parties. Good financial records are essential for any business, and you need to be able to rely on your bookkeeper so they’ll be a successful part of your brokerage.
James Steer, chief executive, Commission Flow
James Steer is a real estate finance expert with nearly 25 years' experience running businesses involved in the sale, management and development of residential property. As CEO of Commission Flow, James applies his deep understanding of real estate operations to helping real estate agents manage their cash flow and create the financial freedom to grow.