An agency bookkeeper or a freelance bookkeeper?

Having transitioned from the recruitment industry into the bookkeeping market over the last few years, there are a few things I have observed when speaking to bookkeepers and clients about their bookkeeping needs.  One of the major things I’ve seen is the many tools now available to bookkeepers allowing them to do their job much more efficiently. The landscape of the bookkeeping market is changing.  Having spoken before about the difference between bookkeepers and accountants, there is also a difference between bookkeeping services; the freelance or independent bookkeeper, and the agency bookkeeper.

Freelance bookkeepers

The bookkeeping market in New Zealand is dominated by freelance bookkeepers. These freelancers have varying amounts of experience, skill and qualifications, some obviously better than others.  They are also mostly qualified by experience although there are more and more with bookkeeping certificates from various accounting and bookkeeping schools in New Zealand. If you do a search for bookkeepers you will find hundreds of people out there doing this as it allows them the flexibility to work to their own schedule.  If they are not a member of the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association Inc (NZBAI) then there is no need to maintain an ongoing training regime and often they can work from home or on the clients’ site. This makes it an attractive proposition for both them and their clients as they can work as much or as little as they like.

Agency bookkeepers

A bookkeeper working within an agency can often have a different outlook for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, they don’t have to go out to look for their own work as it is given to them by the agency and they know if they want more work, they can get it. Alternatively if they want to drop some hours they are able to do that too. This enables them to be focused on being the most efficient bookkeeper they can be. Depending on the agency, they can get a lot of support in the form of someone who oversees the work and can help them if there is an issue they are not sure about.  Here at The Back Office Company we also provide training every two months where we get all the bookkeepers together for various training from Xero, MYOB or any one of the many different add-on partners.  These partners are keen to come in and talk to our bookkeepers about the current changes and updates that are available with their products.  As the bookkeeping market is changing very quickly, we see it as vital that we keep up with changes to ensure we are doing the job in the most efficient way.  The other benefit of meeting every couple of months is that it gives our bookkeepers an opportunity to catch up and share things they have learnt and they can pass on tips to the rest of the team. They also enjoy this time to just catch up as part of a team and we believe this is very important in order to retain them and keep consistency of our bookkeepers with our clients.

The Agency

Here at The Back Office Company we are keen to raise the bar in the bookkeeping space and to do that we only hire bookkeepers who are keen to continue learning and become the best bookkeepers in the market.  In doing this our emphasis is on ensuring we are doing our job the most efficient way we can which means:

  • less time spent on each job (and a saving for the client)
  • client confidentiality, even within our team
  • developing an environment of continued professional development, and
  •  ensuring a good relationship between bookkeeper and client. 

Over and above this is the assurance of another level of oversight for our clients bookkeeping and the knowledge that if their bookkeeper was to leave or go on holiday, the agency will ensure a smooth transition to a new bookkeeper (no more recruitment)!If there are any problems then the agency is there to address any issues giving the client peace of mind.Here at The Back Office Company, more than half of our work is referred to us by chartered accountants. We also ensure a close working relationship with our client’s CAto ensure the information we provide enables them to give our clients the best possible advice on the most up to date information.

There is a perception that agency bookkeepers are more expensive, and yes, generally the hourly rate is higher however in most instances they will do the job quicker and more efficiently.  This can be down to having more training and an assurance they can get more work if they ask for it as opposed to the independent bookkeeper who has to go out to find their own new clients.  There is also not a lot of incentive for independent bookkeepers to finish a job quickly as that just means they may have to get more clients.  This is generally not a part of the business they like to do.

As I run an agency I am obviously a little bias towards that model and perhaps I am being too critical towards the freelance bookkeepers but I should note here that most of our bookkeepers have been freelance bookkeepers before they joined us so they see the benefits also.  That however is a whole new topic that I will cover in another session.

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