As you begin building your small business, there are a number of logistical and administrative matters to sort out that lay the foundation for your future growth. You need to get a good handle on your financial situation and budget, and doing so requires you to familiarize yourself with a whole host of potentially new terms and processes. For example, do you know the difference between bookkeeping vs. accounting?

While you’ve certainly heard these words before, you may not have a complete understanding of what they are and how they relate to one another. Can you accurately describe their relationship and differences?

If not, don’t panic—you’re certainly not alone. In this article, we’ll explore each term to discover exactly what each is, as well as where they overlap and diverge. Read on to learn everything you need to know about bookkeeping vs. accounting.

Bookkeeping vs. accounting defined

Although there are a number of similarities between the work of bookkeeping and accounting professionals, and the terms are often incorrectly used interchangeably, they are distinctly different tasks. So, what is the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?

Put simply, a bookkeeper is responsible for overseeing and accurately recording a business’ transactions—gathering invoices and receipts to construct a complete picture of all money coming in and going out of a company’s accounts. An accountant, on the other hand, works to analyze and verify this information in order to ensure a business is operating lawfully, efficiently, and in compliance with all rules and regulations relevant to their industry.

What is the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?

Now that we have a basic understanding of the overall responsibilities of bookkeeping vs. accounting, let’s dive a little deeper into each profession in order to learn exactly what their roles are, the types of clients they work with, and where they are similar and different.

Bookkeeping responsibilities:

  • Generate invoices for customers and clients
  • Record all transactions so all money coming into and leaving business accounts is clearly documented
  • Maintain a complete record of all business transactions—while some bookkeepers still use a physical ledger, most businesses today prefer to use a digital bookkeeping system, like QuickBooks or Xero
  • Pay invoices in a timely manner
  • Reconcile and close the books each month
  • Oversee staff payroll

Accounting responsibilities:

  • Audit financial documents and transaction history
  • Complete monthly, quarterly, and annual closings
  • Reconcile accounts payable and receivable
  • Analyze financial statements to determine a business’ financial liquidity and overall health
  • Ensure a business is in compliance with all relevant financial laws and regulations
  • Generate budget forecast
  • Prepare tax returns and pay

It’s easy to see why these two roles are so commonly confused. Both are critical roles for a business striving toward establishing and maintaining good financial health. Similarly, each makes essential contributions toward tasks like keeping your books in order, ensuring you have funds to cover important business expenses, and preparing and paying your taxes each year.

But it’s the differences between these roles that really become important when establishing your understanding of them. Here are the three key differences in accounting vs. bookkeeping:

  • Administrative vs. advisory roles: While both roles are important, a bookkeeper provides administrative support to ensure you’re keeping organized and thorough records, while an accountant uses these records to provide advice about how to improve your business in terms of earnings, operations, or compliance.
  • Degree of involvement: A bookkeeper does year-round work to ensure your daily financial transactions are recorded, kept up to date, and bills and payroll are paid in a timely fashion. An accountant, on the other hand, steps in at regular intervals—most likely monthly, quarterly, or annually—to verify, reconcile, and analyze the data generated by your bookkeeper in order to make assessments of and projections for the future of your business.
  • General focus: A bookkeeper focuses on recording the day-to-day financial operations of your business, while an accountant works to verify this information, ensure legality, and analyze numbers to provide insight about the future—that is, they focus more on the big picture of your business’ finances.

Who do bookkeepers and accountants work with?

Another common question that often comes up for small business owners is: what types of clients do bookkeepers and accountants work with, and is there a difference between those groups? The answer is that small business owners and multimillion-dollar businesses alike in almost every industry work with individuals in one or both of these categories.

If you run a business, whether it’s a small freelancing operation or a massive manufacturing company, you’ll have important financial information to keep organized, laws and regulations to remain compliant with, and annual taxes to navigate. By hiring a bookkeeper and an accountant, you’ll be able to delegate these tedious, often confusing tasks to professionals that are experts in handling them with the utmost care. And since these professionals are so highly sought after, no matter which industry you work in, you’ll be able to find one that has the insight and expertise to navigate any unique challenges your industry may present.

Having read through this section, hopefully you feel like you now have a stronger understanding of bookkeeping vs accounting. But considering your specific business, how do you determine who you should hire in order to keep all your daily and big-picture business operations running smoothly?

Accounting vs. bookkeeping: Which do you need?

Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult parts of being a business owner is knowing where to invest your effort and your money. Growing a business means there is always an important budget line calling for more. But surely if you are disciplined and dedicated enough, you can keep track of things yourself, right?

While it may be tempting to overlook hiring these financial support roles in favor of investing funds somewhere that feels more important, take a hard, realistic look at your circumstances. It’s likely that you’re going to need expert assistance in one or both of these areas in order to get yourself on the right track and ensure you’re not overlooking important, potentially expensive things along the way. Maintaining detailed records can be difficult if you’ve never done it before, so bringing in a bookkeeper to help you learn the ropes is a smart investment.

And while you’ve probably done personal taxes before, navigating them as a business owner can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming—not to mention risky for your business if you happen to make an error. Get comfortable with your blind spots, and invest in the support you need before you find yourself in a hard situation that requires more attention than it would have initially.

Find a bank that can support your unique needs

While you’re working to determine your financial support needs as a small business owner, remember that who you bank with can have important implications for you in the long term. North One’s small business bank accounts were designed with you in mind and come fully loaded with tools and resources that will make you a more competent and confident business owner.