So: you’ve realized you need to hire a bookkeeper to help manage your company’s financial records. This leads to a new question: how much is it going to cost, and what kind of bookkeeping service can you afford?
Getting answers on the cost of bookkeeping is often less than straightforward. There’s a lot of different information floating around on cost, and it’s not always clear what might apply to your particular situation. There are also several different ways to approach getting a bookkeeper, which can make it tricky to do apples-to-apples comparison.
There are three main ways to go about getting your books done professionally: hiring someone in-house, engaging a traditional brick-and-mortar bookkeeping firm, or hiring an online bookkeeping service provider. Let’s break down costs and considerations for each.
Hiring an in-house bookkeeper means bringing in a full-time employee to handle your books. The most obvious cost for this option is salary, which can vary a lot by location.
To get you started, we’ve collected a chart below of the average hourly wage for bookkeepers in each state. Keep in mind that these are averages, for the entire state – in large, diverse states, local salaries might vary a lot from the statewide average. For example, salaries in San Francisco or Los Angeles are likely to be significantly higher than in Redding or Bakersfield, even though they’re all in California.
That said, being outside a major metro doesn’t necessarily mean low salaries. Rural bookkeepers can sometimes charge a premium, because there are fewer local providers with their skills and expertise. For the same reason, if you need a bookkeeper with very specific industry knowledge or experience, costs may be higher than for a bookkeeper with a more general background.
So you now have an idea what to expect to pay for an in-house bookkeeper’s salary, with some caveats. Hourly wages/salary costs, however are not the full story for an in-house hire.
When considering hiring an employee, remember to also take into account the cost of benefits such as health insurance or other perks, increased admin costs that come with higher payroll, and the recruiting costs of sourcing, interviewing and onboarding. A common rule of thumb is that the real cost of an employee is 1.25 – 1.4x their salary – and possibly higher, depending on your local market conditions.
Is hiring in-house right for you? If you want a high degree of control and direct oversight over how your books are done, hiring an in-house bookkeeper might be the way to go. With a direct employee, you’ll have control over their day-to-day and can dictate how things are done.
Traditional bookkeeping firms are located all over the US. Most often they’re a small group of accountants or bookkeepers that serve a local geography, often with an additional team overseas.
A traditional bookkeeper will usually charge you an hourly rate to do your books each month. The total cost will depend on how long it takes them to do the work. For this reason your costs with a traditional firm can vary a lot, even between months.
When you hire one of these firms, the usual process is that they’ll give you a quote estimating how many hours it will take them to do your books, and what the cost for that will be. Keep in mind that this is often not binding – meaning it might take a lot longer than they think it will, which means your costs would be a lot higher than the quote.
If your books are more complex than initially estimated, or if unexpected issues arise in your books that need extra attention, your monthly bookkeeping cost might spike considerably.
It’s a good idea to keep some extra cash on hand, so you aren’t caught flat-footed if a bookkeeping bill comes back higher than expected.
The level of review and interaction with your bookkeeping team can also vary by provider. Make sure to ask about anything important to you, so that both you and your provider can know what to expect.
Is a traditional firm right for you? If you want your books to be taken care of without direct management by you, outsourcing is the way to go. If you have simple books with few transactions, and don’t need specialized industry expertise, it may be most cost-effective to contract with a traditional bookkeeping firm who can give you a few hours each month at an affordable price.
Like traditional bookkeepers, online bookkeeping services (like Pilot) employ a number of professional bookkeepers to provide their clients with books service. Unlike many traditional firms, online providers aren’t usually restricted by geography, so their services are available anywhere in the US.
Most online bookkeeping providers charge a certain rate per month, usually based on your expenses, with some additional costs for special services like AR/AP (for example, Pilot starts at $599/mo for businesses with expenses up to $30,000). Quoted rates at online providers offer the advantage of predictable costs, avoiding unexpectedly high hourly fees.
Is online bookkeeping service right for you? Like a traditional firm, an online provider puts your books in expert hands, without requiring you to spend time on direct oversight. If you want to have your books handled by a professional with regular, predictable costs, consider working with an online provider. For businesses with more complex structures or more than a handful of monthly transactions, this can end up being significantly more cost-effective than the hourly-cost variance of a traditional firm.
Another potential advantage is specific industry experience. Because of their scale, online bookkeeping providers are able to build expertise in certain industries or verticals by preparing the books for a large number of similar companies (for example, at Pilot we’ve done books for hundreds of startups). If you need or want specific experience with a wide range of companies similar to yours, an online provider might be the right place to start looking.
Engaging with a bookkeeper is an important milestone for young companies. Regardless of the solution you choose, you’ll be taking a big step towards getting your time back, and building a financial foundation to help your business continue to grow.
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