Month: March 2011

It pays to avoid the BBBs (Bargain Basement Bookkeepers)


Violent Storm Strikes Western Europe
Is a storm brewing over your books and records?

I am writing to relate a story based on true events which came to light last week when one gentleman came into one of our offices and spoke to me. To keep matters confidential, I won’t say the country – the same can happen in any country – or identify anything about this company the gentleman had – even the sector. It can happen to many sectors.

This gentleman had given his company bookkeeping and tax affairs to an outsourced book-keeper for his business in that particular country. He used outsourcing back home in his own country (I’m not saying where that is either) and he appreciated the benefit of being able to have his bookkeeping professionally handled by experts without needing to employ anyone, worry about holiday cover, etc etc.

Some time ago this gentleman had included our firm in his search, and we gave him a price entirely fair for a company with our niche in the market, that is, internationally trained people, with English, with proper quality assurance, supervision and back-up.  In other words,  a peer-reviewed, branded service tailored absolutely to the needs of West European businesses in the middle tier coming to start up in East Europe, and also very good for businesses not exactly in the middle tier and from places outside West Europe.

That means that the fee offered was not nearly as high as a Big Four service would cost, but certainly higher than a purely local service.

Now I’m not knocking the purely local services – many of them are very good, but for purely local clients as they don’t tend to be claiming proficiency in foreign languages or have the ability to engage cross-culturally with the client (a source of just as many miscommunications as the language barrier on its own). They are not a great fit with the international client, and often their cheaper price becomes a false economy as frustrations rise on both sides of the desk.

The problem in this case wasn’t lack of English – this gentleman’s chosen bookkeeper spoke English, apparently.

But she was in business just on her own. With no back-up employees, probably very little insurance, probably very few resources to turn to, and very few overheads hence enabling a price no quality firm could ever compete with. That was the price that tempted this gentleman to take her bid over mine.

But since then, it became apparent that this bookkeeper was not entirely what she seemed to be.

Neither this gentleman nor myself are qualified psychiatrists, and we could only speculate on what might have gone wrong, or been wrong all along with this person. The fact is, though, that mental illness happens in the human population. We’ve probably all had employees or acquaintances who have had a mental illness, and in a larger company they quickly get noticed by colleagues, and steps taken to look after them and safeguard the clients’ affairs. When they are on their own, no such controls exist.

Suffice it to say this lady no longer was answering emails or picking up the telephone when he was calling, and when he rang from another number she didn’t know, she put the phone down when she heard his voice – the person entrusted with his company’s books and records and processing a VAT reclaim for more money than she would normally earn in many years. As you can see, the situation is now much harder – and therefore more costly – for us to repair than if he had simply given us the work in the first place.

It simply doesn’t pay to use these Bargain Basement Bookkeepers. You know what you get if you pay peanuts, and if a price looks too good to be true, it probably is.