Bookkeeping and Technology: Part 2: My Setup

This is the second post in my series about bookkeeping and technology. Last time I wrote about the early days of moving my business online. Today I'd like to talk about the tech I use and how it has changed the way I run my business. For the sake of brevity we'll stick to what I use for client bookkeeping.

My basic criteria:

If my client is going to be using it, I want the interface clean and simple. There should be as little industry jargon as possible.

Is this a slight on my clients? Of course not.

My job as a bookkeeper isn't just to record business data and generate reports. My job is to make that part of an owner's business as simple as possible. I want my client to worry as little as possible about entering data so they can get back to doing what they do best.

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Should bookkeepers be certified?

bookkeeper certificate

I know I have mentioned this at least 153 times…but I’m Canadian. And, as a Canadian, we bookkeepers don’t require any type of official certification in order to start working. Sadly, you probably don’t even need to know how to spell bookkeeper before you start charging people to do their books. Let’s not forget the fact that I was hired as a bookkeeping clerk before I was old enough to drive.

I suppose that’s true in a lot of professions. I don’t think most people ask for a list of academic achievements from their plumber while the broken pipe continues to fill their basement with water. They have a need, they find someone who seems to fit the bill, and the subsequent work (if done correctly) becomes their certification.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to become certified as a bookkeeper in this oft frozen tundra I call home; or to receive other types of designations that can help prove your worth. I haven’t done exhaustive research, but I know of a couple different sites where I can sign up, take some tests, and become a “certified professional bookkeeper”.

IPBC (Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada) - As of the date of this writing they've got a promotion on where you can become a member and pay for your certification test for $395.00. That covers your exam and the first year of membership. It appears that it's $295/year afterward to maintain your membership.

The certification process requires you to complete a 2-hour exam. You receive prep materials with your membership. In order to qualify for the membership and test you need a letter of recommendation from a client/employer showing you've been employed as a bookkeeper for at least 2 years. Once you've proved this, you take the exam at a local Academy of Learning (or similar). The test is online, and you need at least 75% to pass.

CIB (Canadian Institute of Bookkeeping) - The certification process is quite a bit different than with the IPBC. The yearly membership itself is based on how long you've been in the field. If you're new you'd be a Student Member ($156/yr). Associate Members ($192/yr) have been bookkeepers for at least 5 years but have not yet completed the certification courses. Finally Certified Bookkeepers ($240/yr) have at least 3 years of bookkeeping experience and have completed the required courses.

Unlike the IPBC's certification, this one requires the completion of 9 college-level classes. These can be taken online or at your local college...just depending on availability. Enrollment in the program is $50. Once you are enrolled you have 5 years to complete the classes. Registration for each class is $30 ($40 if you're not a member). If you sign up as an Associate Member (5+ years experience) you may be eligible for up to 4 course exemptions, so you might only need to take 5 courses if you've been working for a while. It seems like the registration fee is in addition to the actual cost of taking the course.

So, why bother?

This one's a bit tricky. In most professions getting a certificate or degree usually comes with more specific benefits. Become a journeyman electrician and you are safe in assuming your hourly rate just went up. On the other side, see how many hospitals hire you on as an ER doctor with "I've seen every episode of House" as your list of qualifications.

The immediate benefits of being a certified bookkeeper aren't as obvious.

Both sites have their list of benefits. They both offer discounts with businesses they have partnered with. They also indicate you should be able to increase your rate of pay because of your certification. That’s a very interesting idea, and on some levels I can definitely see it. I know if I was going to start paying up to $300/yr to be a member of one of these organizations, I’d want to be able to see a return on that investment.

I guess the part that I’m struggling with is how different both paths are…because they both get you to the same certification. I can spend $400, some time studying, and 2 hours taking a test to get my certification. Or...I can spend $200, then $50 to enrol, $30x9 for registration, then __x9 for whatever the college actually charges for each course, then spend however long it will take to complete 9 college courses, pass a test, and get the same certification. Am I missing something? Perhaps there's something my self-taught brain is too small to process that allows this to make sense. At the moment it feels the same as if doctor's were given the option to either spend the better part of a decade in school OR 6 months at night school to get the same PhD.

Conceptually I really like the idea. I have either taught myself or learned on the job about 99% of the skills I've obtained since I turned 19. I am a huge fan of learning sites like Lynda.com, and at least 75% of the written words I consume are instructional in nature. So, the idea of learning a bit more about my profession AND getting to add a proper certification to my resume is very enticing.

Other options

There are also smaller, more targeted types of certification. These are usually app specific, and sometimes have different levels of certification. Being a bookkeeper usually gives me access to an accountant/bookkeeper specific version of all of my bookkeeping software. Here are a couple of the ones I'm part of:

QuickBooks - If you're a bookkeeper and you use QuickBooks, you're most likely signed up with their ProAdvisor program. Being a ProAdvisor on its own requires nothing more than paying to join. It's either a monthly or yearly fee. It used to include a copy of the desktop software, which is why I signed up. Now, since QB is (at least based on their marketing) determined to get you away from their desktop software and onto QuickBooks Online, there are ProAdvisor memberships that are free but don't include any software.

In Canada, you can also become a Certified ProAdvisor. You take an exam and, if you pass, you become certified. The US ProAdvisor program has 6 different certifications. You can get certified in QB Online, Desktop, Enterprise Solutions, Point of Sale, and Advanced. These are all separate tests and give you different certificates. All of these tests are included in the cost of your membership.

FreshBooks - With FreshBooks, I am part of their FreshBooks Accountant Network. This actually means I get to show off my FreshBooks Certified Accountant badge. Unfortunately just because FreshBooks calls me an accountant doesn't let me charge accountant rates. If only, right? They recently added a really nice Accountant Center that lets me get reports for all my FreshBooks-using clients in one central hub.

How about you?

First off, I'd love to hear from other bookkeepers here. Are you certified? Do you plan to? Let me know why you've decided to join (or not join) a professional group like the ones I listed.

For the rest of you, tell me about your experiences. Does your industry offer similar certifications? If so, what made you decide to get (or not get) certified?

I look forward to hearing your opinions.

5 Things You Give Up When You Move Your Bookkeeping Online

I made a big jump back in 2010. I decided to try out a few online bookkeeping services...just for fun. I had never considered them a viable alternative to my QuickBooks, but thought it would be an interesting experiment.

Fast forward almost 4 years and I'm using Xero, Freshbooks, Kashoo, and Wave every day. I still use QuickBooks, but it doesn't represent the majority of my time anymore.

That's not to say this change didn't come with some trade offs. Working almost entirely online is very useful, but there are going to be some features and conveniences you will give up when making the switch.

Before you make the jump, here are a few things you'll need to be prepared to give up or change.

  1. Data entry speed
    This one isn't maybe. If you do a lot of data entry in a desktop app like QuickBooks, you are going to find it slower working online. The app you have installed on your computer doesn't care if your internet is slow. You can work at home or at a campground and you'll get the same performance. Unless you're running a seriously old computer, you are going to find working online slower than what you're used to. This is especially true for bookkeepers and accountants. If you're used to ripping through a stack of receipts like it was nothing, you are going to feel the difference. I've tried a ton of bookkeeping services, and no matter how good their interface is, they just can't replicate the speed of a local application. Some of the reasons are found in my second point.

  2. Keyboard shortcuts
    This will be more for the power users out there. QuickBooks has a few really useful keyboard shortcuts to help you speed through large stacks of paperwork. Once you learn them, you will really miss them when you move online. Some online services incorporate them. So far, Kashoo is the only one to incorporate my favourite...Ctrl+Enter. In QuickBooks, when you're ready to save a bill or invoice, you press Ctrl+Enter and it saves the invoices and starts a new one. I hate having to take my hands off the keyboard to click the Save and New button. If you enter one or two bills into your software every day, it's not a huge deal. If you have to get through hundreds of bills each day, it quickly takes a toll on your productivity...not to mention the RSI issues. So, if you're used to hitting Ctrl+W to write a cheque, or Ctrl+Del to delete a line...I'm sorry to say those days are now behind you.

  3. Powerful, customizable reports
    QuickBooks, at least the version I use, has spoiled me on reports. If you really fill in all the details into every bill or invoice, you can pull out some really great information for yourself or your clients. And, what you can't do directly from a one-click report can be achieved by combining the results of a couple in Excel and working some magic. The point is, QuickBooks lets you track a lot of details. One big example is Class Tracking. If you want to split up your company into departments, and track each one's profitability, you won't find that in many of the online options. Xero has a version of it, which is nice, and Netsuite (more suited to bigger businesses) also has the feature. It's out there, but just don't expect that it will be the norm. Most online options will give you a list of reports you can pull...some better than others. The big problem you'll come across is that most of them aren't as customizable as the one's you'd find in QuickBooks.

  4. Backup I've got all of my client's QuickBooks files set to backup automatically whenever I close the app. It keeps the last 10 (date stamped) versions of the backup somewhere safe, and that folder gets backed up automatically each day. Of course, the reason for that is that QuickBooks used to have a problem with data corruption...especially on large client files. I haven't had a big problem in years, but it's nice to have those backups just in case. Online, your backups are handled by the company hosting the service. I don't get a backup file saved locally from FreshBooks or Xero. And, to be honest, I've only had to deal with an issue once where I needed something restored. I do wish I could have those local backups though. If there was ever a problem, or if the service shut down, I would prefer having a file on my computer that I could restore from. Maybe there are some out there that provide that option...I just haven't come across it yet.

  5. Accountant workflow
    This isn't a loss, but more of a change. If you (and your accountant) are used to sending them a copy of your QuickBooks file at year end, this new system will be different. There's no "file" to send. In this case you can either download reports or give them access to your account. More modern accountants won't have a problem here. Some accountants are fine with this change...others aren't. Make sure to speak to them before making the change so you know how to handle year end.

"There's no free lunch"

Gaining the ability to collaborate in real time with your clients and their data is incredible for both sides. Bookkeepers don't get a frantic call on the weekend demanding that reports get sent over from the local QuickBooks file. Owners don't have to remain in the dark until the next meeting with their bookkeeper. And, with the ability of many services to download your bank transactions automatically, you gain a lot by going online.

I just want to make sure you're aware of the cost you pay for this convenience.

If you know of any other points that you found when making the change, let me know in the comments. I'd also love to hear from companies offering these services if you have been able to address all (or some) of these issues.

Tell Me About Your Bookkeeping System

Today I come to you, my readers, with a question.

I have spent the last 3+ years testing out different cloud-based bookkeeping options. Sometimes I just give them a few days "test run". Other times they have impressed me enough to be added to my official bookkeeping toolbox.

At present, I have 4 main services that get daily use. They are, in no particular order.

  1. Freshbooks
  2. Wave Accounting
  3. Kashoo
  4. Xero

There are others that I like, but just haven't had the free time to truly test out. I'm really interested, for example, to give the 2 big names a shot. QuickBooks Online hasn't been particularly powerful up here in Canada compared to its US counterpart. And, since it's not part of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor program up here like it is in the US, it's not an extra expense I can justify given the fact that I don't have any clients using it. I also just found out that Sage has a cloud-based option too. Not sure how I missed that, but I guess I don't deal with Sage all that often.

If either of them have something worth talking about, I'll be sure to let you all know.

What I'd really love to know is what you use. Don't stop at cloud-based options. If you're using QuickBooks, Sage, Excel, or a good ol' ledger book, I'd love to hear about it. And, beyond that, let me know if you're happy with your current system.

You can leave a comment right here, or contact me directly instead. If I get enough responses, I'll write up a follow up post with a summary of what you've told me. Don't worry, no personal info will be shared...just a list of what seems to be popular out there.