Q: My small business client has a successful business but awful accounting records. He blames his accounting system, stating that “it doesn’t work right, and it constantly produces errors.” I realize that the true problem is he doesn’t know accounting, but how do I convey this criticism without upsetting or losing my client?
A: Many small business owners start off wearing many
hats, including that of bookkeeper, despite having little or no
accounting experience. Running an accounting system is complicated,
and as the business grows, so too does the complexity. It has been my
experience that the key to implementing and operating a successful
accounting system is based less on installation and setup procedures
and more on end-user training. To solve the client’s problem, either
your client must become better trained in operating his accounting
system, or he must turn the reins over to someone more
I have observed that many brilliant business owners make lousy bookkeepers simply because they lack accounting knowledge and experience, and closer scrutiny usually reveals that they insist on keeping the books to maintain control over the company. While this objective has merit, owners typically serve their company better by devoting their time, energy, and brilliance to running the business while allowing an experienced bookkeeper/accountant to manage the books. I find the key to convincing the client of this strategy is to implement additional reporting and internal control measures to allow the owner to properly monitor the results of operations and to help prevent financial errors or irregularities so control is less of an issue. This type of suggestion is usually well-received by the client.