Without a doubt, a good bookkeeper is the backbone of every successful interior design business. In an industry where moving parts are plentiful, financial transactions are complex, and cash flow fluctuates, a good bookkeeper can truly make or break your future. Because the interior design business model is so uniquely intricate, hiring a qualified bookkeeper with the knowledge and experience to support your interior design business requires a trained eye to find the right talent. We sat down with one of the industry’s most trusted bookkeepers, Monica Luca of Luca Resources, and the Designer CPA himself, Peter Lang, to find out which qualities define a great bookkeeper, and how to find and properly vet bookkeeping candidates to make sure you find the best fit for your interior design firm.
Find a Bookkeeper Who Knows the Business
A bookkeeper is one of the first people you will hire to support your interior design business. The industry business model is unique, the bookkeeping duties are strenuous, and the stakes are particularly high with clients’ money on the line. While for other businesses it may be acceptable to hire a bookkeeper without previous experience or specific knowledge of your industry, it is absolutely essential for interior designers. You want to hire a bookkeeper who will not only carry out their core duties of recording financial transactions, updating statements, and checking financial records for accuracy; you want to hire a proactive financial manager who will spot problems early and help you solve them before they become disasters.
Monica Luca, founder of Luca Resources, operates one of the top bookkeeping services firms specializing in interior design, and she exemplifies the qualities an interior designer should look for when screening bookkeeping candidates. She explains,
“We are a professional bookkeeping service; we are not data entry people. We look out for our clients and help them manage cash flow, making sure they collect money before paying off their vendors. We help them be aware of their operating costs, and in some cases, advise on how designers should be billing for certain projects so they can set up all of their projects to make money. We can also look at completed projects to assess their financial success and recommend different procedures for similar scenarios in the future.”
A bookkeeper who understands why Design Manager is the right software choice to support an interior design business’s integrated accounting and project management needs is also must. If the candidates you are screening have experience with or knowledge of the industry, chances are they are already well versed in Design Manager and can help you optimize how you use its features, tailor your profile to match your specific accounting and project management procedures, and assist you reading the financial reports Design Manager can produce for you.
Monica, who has been using Design Manager from the early days of establishing her bookkeeping business, says, “You can run reports every which way with Design Manager. From a bookkeeper perspective, I love all the project management reporting and accounting breakdowns by project. You can't support an interior design business in QuickBooks, it just doesn't work. When you need to see what's going on in your individual projects, Design Manager has it all mapped out.”
So, where can you find bookkeeping candidates with the industry specific knowledge and software experience that would best support your interior design business? When we asked Peter Lang, who is known as the Designer CPA and is an expert accountant who works exclusively with design clients, his first suggestion was to check the Partners section on the Design Manager website. Explaining further, he says, “you can search for people that offer bookkeeping services and the results will show how many years of experience that person has working with Design Manager.” He also suggests reaching out to your trusted network, including online communities. “If you belong to any Facebook groups for interior designers or Instagram pages, or something similar where you're part of a community, ask if they can refer any good bookkeepers who have experience with interior design.”
Ask the Right Questions and Assess Your Rapport
Once you have found a handful of qualified bookkeeping candidates, it’s time to take your hiring process to the vetting phase. It’s normal to work with bookkeepers on a virtual basis, but good communication is so important to how well you work with your bookkeeper. Try to interview candidates in-person if you can, or at least virtually face-to-face (using video conferencing, Skype, FaceTime, etc). “A bookkeeper has to be trustworthy,” says Monica. “You have to have a good rapport and trust with your bookkeeper because they have access to everything.”
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Monica explains,
You want to find out how this bookkeeper operates from the inside, how detailed-oriented they are, and what systems they use to stay organized. You really have to be diligent when you're doing design accounting. What, when, and how will they collect information from you as the business owner? Ask them to describe their process in detail and to give examples when you need more clarity.
Peter also stresses the importance of having good communication with your bookkeeper, reiterating the importance of the position to your firm. “This person will be working on your most sensitive business information, so if that means that you have to interview double the amount of people and ask double the amount of questions, don't be afraid to do so to find the right person. It's just like when you're hiring anybody else, you want to make sure they're a good fit.”
He also stresses the importance of hiring a bookkeeper that will communicate with and work alongside your CPA. He explains, “Some bookkeepers will be super close to the CPAs. I work with a few bookkeepers that are great communicators who will call me, and we talk all the time. Then I work with others that get defensive if I make a suggestion to them. You want to find a bookkeeper who is going to be a teammate. That's the key.”
Set Your Relationship Up For Success
Once you have found the bookkeeper who has the experience and knowledge to support your interior design business, plus a personality that fits with your team, you’ll want to make sure you start your relationship off on a solid foundation. “When a principal decides to go forward with a bookkeeper, both parties need to define a clear set of expectations of what the bookkeeper can do, and what the principal is really looking for,” says Monica.
Remember, a good bookkeeper will be proactive and help guide you financially, so be willing to listen and learn from the expert you are bringing onto your team. After going through all of the trouble to find the right fit for your team, don’t take the position for granted. As a CPA who works with many design clients, Peter is in a position of authority to say that, “good help is hard to find.” Going through the extra effort is well worth it. Just think, with the right bookkeeper and industry specific software support from Design Manager, you will be better equipped to set your sights on the creative horizons you became an interior designer to explore.