Turning Bookkeepers into Bridges

Bookkeepers – that mild-mannered, bleary-eyed army of number-crunchers – is a collection of the most powerful, agile and (may I dare say) underappreciated worker bees in the modern workforce.  The accolades are partially due to the difficulty of the technical work they do. More important, however, is how well they manage their slot in the informational roadway between the owner and the accountant. Allow me to take what may seem like a completely disassociated right turn and I will show you what I mean.

Bridges are the staple image for a connection (So is a staple, I guess, but I digress further.). A bridge spans unfathomable unknowns and brings two places together. Bridges can be as simple as a fallen log over a creek — or as massive as the Mighty Mackinac. When we imagine bridges we usually only really think about what they look like — the red, rising towers of the Golden Gate at sunset or the majestic arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge.  But what does it sound like on the bridge?  What does it feel like on the bridge?  I can tell you from multiple trips to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that bridges are noisy, windy, stressful places. They endure massive fluctuations in temperature and – because they are attached to immutable termination points – must bend and flex to keep the connection intact. 

Most folks only have temporary and infrequent encounters with bridges. They whoosh past in their cars, trucks, and RVs – stopping briefly to pay a toll.  They are transfixed by the vision of their destination or distracted by thoughts of what they left behind.  The bridge itself is rarely a consideration.  But if the bridge weren’t there — they’d notice.  

Bookkeepers are bridges. We transport precious financial information from the smokestacks and turbines of commercial zones to the soaring, glass towers of a city’s financial center.  The best bookkeepers ensure a smooth conveyance delivered with confidence, accuracy, and integrity to the business owners and accountants at either side.  Bookkeepers must serve as the bridge’s architect, the maintenance crew – and ultimately function as the bridge itself. 

So how are the best bridges built?  Here is what the best bridge builders are thinking about:

  • The Terrain – What is the ground like on either side?  Is one side rocky and the other sandy? Is there an elevation?  My guess is each side has a different set of needs.  You have to get to know the TWO lands between which you are building the bridge – For a bookkeeper, this means connecting with the owner and the accountant. Each will offer you something unique to connect with.  Whether it is a shared enthusiasm for Microsoft Excel or a preference for very short-to-the-point emails.  By understanding UP FRONT what the accountant and the client need, a bookkeeper only need to deliver on the predetermined goals.  Bookkeepers often shy away from connecting with the accountant during the early stages of the engagement.  Consider introducing yourself before starting.  Ultimately, it will make your job easier and your work better.  
  • The Support – There’s going to be a lot of traffic on this bridge and it needs to stand up to the pressure.  To set yourself apart and have your own cool unique “I’m-not-your-run-of-the-mill-bookkeeper” style – make sure you know what you are doing.  Strong foundational training is essential to your success.  Beyond knowing the accounting software, you have a good grasp on accounting.  Check out the certification offering through ICBUSA (www.icbusa.org) or research classes at a local college.
  • The Span – Understand how far this bridge has to go.  Imagine the transactions as they on-ramp into your sphere of influence.  Does it start at invoice and end at reconciliation?  Is there A/P, A/R, payroll?  Chart the flow of your transactions through the sections of your bridge and make sure they flow seamlessly.  There are A LOT of apps out there — and sometimes it appears that they are all at a big cocktail party but only talking to themselves.  Pick apps that mingle!  Take the time to enjoy how well the apps interrelate without being distracted by a “bling feature” in a stand-alone. It’s the flow that counts here.
  • The Maintenance – It’s always fun and sexy to build or buy something. But then you have to wash it or feed it or pay interest on it.  Not as fun.  But remember maintenance is like brushing your teeth – maybe not the best part of your day, but skipping it has some unsavory consequences.  Test your app connections.  Nurture your relationships with the terrain at your endpoints (your owners and accountants).  Check your support beams with continuing education.  This is the part where you generate legacy and reputation.

It’s a lot of work, you unsung heroes of the 5-minute desk lunch and elegant pivot tables (honestly, I can’t remember how to do one) –  but you’re killing it! Really.  Keep up the great work…the world is noticing.
Beth Melcher is the straight-shootin’ Wrangler of Financial Chaos and Founder of MoneyFit, a small business consulting company specializing in workflow efficiency. She has spent more than 25 years corralling numbers in QuickBooks and spreadsheets. Beth and her family live in Traverse City, Michigan where they can often be found shoveling snow, building igloos and enjoying those sweet 90 days of summer. Beth can be reached at beth@bemoneyfit.com or on Facebook @moneyfittc.