Former banker Geoff Young has little doubt about the vital service offered by bookkeepers.
He sums it up like this: “I see my role as maintaining accurate financial records, that can be inspected at any time and assisting the business owner to run a profitable business by flagging up any issues or concerns that may have a detrimental effect.”
Geoff switched to bookkeeping after 32 years in banking. He believes his HSBC career has added a valuable extra dimension to his new role. Before leaving the bank, the father-of-three could not envisage doing anything else.
But when a hotel owner invited him to be his personal assistant, he discovered that what they really needed was a bookkeeper.
Suddenly, doors opened and Geoff began to discover an interesting new opportunity. At first, he had to come to terms with a crucial difference between banking and bookkeeping. “A credit in the banking world is a debit in the book-keeping world,” he says. “It’s all the wrong way around. But it’s still about numbers that have to balance. If they don’t, there’s a reason and you have to find it.”
Geoff, 59, went to night school to study for IAB qualifications and after two 12-week courses, felt he knew enough to get going. He is now an enthusiastic member of the IAB and the Sage Professional Bookkeeper’s Club.
Geoff’s hotel role demands a wide range of bookkeeping skills – checking that sales have been completed and recorded properly; ensuring till rolls and credit card machines balance; checking purchase invoices to guarantee that suppliers are “not ripping us off”; and providing vital management information.
Timely management data was routine in the bank. Now he offers it to his clients to help them know precisely where they are financially, aware that he is usually in the best position to spot creditor strain or other potential concerns.
“I produce management figures on a monthly basis – what we’ve done, how we’ve done it, what it looks like if we continue in the same way, and pointing out any deficiencies such as margins not holding up, amongst other criteria.
“It’s about flagging up the main issues and giving the client the opportunity to do something different so the business can continue to be successful. That’s what a good book-keeper should be doing – looking at the numbers, advising and warning so the client can act appropriately.”
Geoff says that, ideally, books should be maintained regularly but a smaller client provides them to him half-yearly. “Further down the line, it would be good for them to do it more frequently as well, as it would highlight any issues sooner, making rectification much easier.”
At financial year-end, Geoff works with a client’s accountant to finalise the figures, look at possible allowances and produce draft accounts. “Then we’ll sit down with the boss again to make sure he is happy before they get signed off.”
He loves bookkeeping because “you can make a real difference. Clients may have been given figures in the past but often have no idea about their correlation with the previous month or year, nor the margin they are making.”
He is especially pleased when he saves them money by finding they have paid twice for the same thing; or overpaid by failing to check a delivery note against an invoice.
As for the fees paid to a bookkeeper, Geoff believes it is money well spent because of how it can help a client. “Don’t forget that HM Revenue and Customs can come round to do snap inspections and if you are deemed not to be keeping your records adequately, they can slap fines on you. A lot of small businesses don’t understand or realise that.”
He has this clear message for small business owners who have yet to hire a bookkeeper.
“Concentrate on the things you’re good at, and leave somebody who’s good at the other things to do them for you. You can be really surprised what can come out of it. I can help you run a more successful and profitable business.”