Bringing in and nurturing new talentSep 06, 2023
We've got to think differently about recruiting for and supporting talent in the bookkeeping industry.
At one end of the spectrum we've got growing bookkeeping businesses who are finding it "slim pickings" when it comes to finding new, experienced team members.
Whilst it's not always the case, experienced bookkeepers are either self-employed to the point of being at capacity, or they're running their own bookkeeping businesses. So this pool of available talent is not very wide.
At the other end of the spectrum we've got a pool of the willing and (mostly) abled but lacking in any relevant experience and/or accounting education. These people often need a significant investment of time by the bookkeeping business owner or senior team member for training.
In the middle is a pool of intermediate bookkeepers who can do a lot of what’s required but need support, ongoing training and relevant experience to progress their skill level and to thrive as bookkeepers.
There are 6 main issues that I see:
When you're a bookkeeping business owner ready to recruit you're often at capacity yourself and time poor. This can lead to delays in hiring or rushed hires that, far from freeing up your time, result in more time and frustration with skill gaps and rework.
When you’re at this stage, you really need someone who can hit the ground running. You don’t have the time nor the headspace to train a junior, or even an intermediate in some cases. To free up your time you’re looking for another you and you are a unicorn.
The capacity vs demand quandary means that there is an ideal window of time where it’s ideal to recruit, and that is when you are not over capacity yourself, and where you have the time and energy that’s needed to onboard a new team member well.
Unlike the pathway to becoming an accountant where the usual first step is to get an accounting degree, the path to becoming a skilled, professional bookkeeper is less clear.
Many bookkeepers learn on the job and can pick up extremely valuable bookkeeping and business knowledge doing so, especially if they're supported by others in the industry for questions and training.
You can also pick up a lot of bad habits and in the absence of any mentoring be doing what you think is right but is not.
There are bookkeeping and accounting courses that give you valuable technical knowledge and I strongly advise any bookkeeper who doesn’t have foundational accounting knowledge to undertake this type of education.
Knowing and understanding double-entry accounting, your debits and credits, how to read financial reports, and concepts such as materiality and the matching principle are essential.
What formal education doesn’t necessarily prepare you well for is working unsupervised on client accounts. There will always be something you don’t know, something new to learn. I am still learning even after a lifetime of experience.
I would love to see some form of apprenticeship scheme where there is a clear education pathway and bookkeeping businesses are incentivised to take apprentices on. That way, new bookkeepers get the education, experience and mentorship that is so important.
There are 2 important qualities to look for in a new team member; attitude and aptitude.
An aptitude is a component of a competence to do a certain kind of work at a certain level.
In my vast experience over the years I have seen a very wide spectrum of skills and experience from people who call themselves bookkeepers.
Unfortunately, there are some bookkeepers who are not doing great work. In many cases this is simply because they don’t know what they don’t know, and with mentoring and education coupled with a growth mindset, they have the potential to become great.
The important ingredient in this scenario is that they have the aptitude to be a great bookkeeper. This is different from skills and knowledge.
I am not naturally talented at art and painting, and whilst I could learn to draw and to paint, it’s unlikely that I will ever produce something of beauty. I don’t possess the aptitude.
To be great at bookkeeping requires an aptitude for numbers, processes and systems.
In some cases, when even after months of support someone is still making mistakes, causing rework and stress, and they just don’t seem to be getting it, it just may be that they do not have the aptitude for bookkeeping.
In those cases, your business, your sanity, and their confidence is at risk, and it may be best to let them go.
Margins are usually lower in bookkeeping businesses than they are in accounting businesses, and the business is often bootstrapped by the bookkeeper owner who needs an income too.
Additionally, many bookkeepers are undercharging so they’re not making even the best-practice margins.
This issue also plays into the capacity issue. If you as the business owner are not charging enough to provide at least a 40-50% gross profit margin, then you may struggle to justify bringing on a new team member.
It’s a chicken and egg scenario where a few things may need to happen to fix - pricing, workflow management, systems, and perhaps most importantly, mindset - but it is fixable.
Bookkeepers are risk averse
It can feel like a big risk to build a team but it goes without saying that to build a business past your own capacity then that's what you need to do.
Often the fear of “what if,” of what could go wrong, is what’s stopping you.
- What if I don’t have enough work for them?
- What if I can’t afford to pay them?
- What if they’re not good enough and it turns into a nightmare?
Confidence in yourself and your ability as a leader is another reason that might be stopping you.
- I don’t know how to be a good boss
- I don’t even know where to start
- I’m not “ready” (not that you know what ready looks like)
Yes, it is a risk. Things may not always work out as you plan nor expect. But there are also things that you can do to mitigate and lessen the risks and give yourself the best possible chance of finding a good-fit team member who will free up your time and help you to grow your business. If this is where you are at, get in touch and let’s talk.
Mentorship and Peer Support
I mentioned this as a vital part of the Pathway issue, but I believe it needs it’s so important that it needs its own mention too. Nobody progresses in their chosen career or sport without some form of mentorship and support.
The most obvious forms of this type of support are from other bookkeepers, accountants and industry professionals. This might be through associations and industry events, and from clients’ accountants who guide you as to how to code things.
In some cases, that mentorship is from afar, and in some cases your mentor may not even know you. There is so much information, support and mentorship available to us online. In fact, it’s probable that you are following someone, or maybe you bought their course, and they don’t know you but you hang off their every word. Heck, maybe that’s even me.
Mentors may not even be bookkeeper-specific like me. You might have mentors who specialise in wellness, mindset or money, for example. You learn from them in some form or fashion.
As a mentor myself, I publish a bunch of my content at low or no-cost so that bookkeepers who are not ready for coaching have some help and support along the way, and I assist newer bookkeepers with technical questions where I can.
If we keep doing the same old thing, we’re going to get the same old results. We are in an industry that is evolving fast and if we want our industry to thrive we’ve got to start thinking outside the box when it comes to bringing in and nurturing new talent.
Interested in working with me?
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