Stupid questions? No such thing!


You often hear someone ask if he or she could “ask a stupid question” before actually asking the question.  This, without wanting to give the impression that I am the world’s best judge of human behaviour, is mostly done because the person have a very real fear of being ridiculed.

In accounting the only “stupid” thing you can do is to STOP asking questions.

A student asked me, while giving her some training in Pastel, if I wont mind checking something for her without laughing at her.  Since I was on site with her and we were stationed at her desk where she works from, she showed me a few accounts she had set up prior to training in the company’s books.  Luckily I was supposed to check the figures for the company as well, on the owner’s request, so I decided to mix the two functions for a second in order to give some practical advice.

It pertained to an installment sale the company entered into four months ago and she had no initial idea on how to bring in the different transactions, what to do with the interest, etc.

You could see the tension disappear from her face as I showed her the ropes.  Within an hour she completely understood the accounting principles behind every entry, the accounts was neatened up and she was able to run with it indefinitely and save the auditors some time, and ultimately their own money, by handling these kind of transactions herself.

According to her she had sleepless nights as she knew her boss would check her work and he was terrified at the prospect of their auditors looking at what she did and reporting back negatively to her boss (which, apparently, was something they did regularly in order to keep in the boss’ good books).

A few things became very clear to me…

  • You get so many young bookkeepers out there that do a good job at invoicing and following up on debtors and creditors (which is the core of a money spinning company), but have little to no knowledge on how to handle the more intricate entries.
  • If she did not have the guts to admit that she was out of her depth with that transaction, and for some reason it slipped through the cracks, it could cost the company a considerable amount in tax every year for as long as that installment sale would be in place.
  • Once the barrier is broken between the tutor and the student you open up a world of possibilities for the student.  You also got the student to a place where he or she is more likely to ask questions again and seek advice.
  • Trust is vital.  All trust.  Trust between auditor and bookkeeper, auditor and business owner, business owner and bookkeeper, etc.  With the slightest break down in trust you, as the business owner, stand lose thousands.

I would therefor invite every bookkeeper reading this to think of something that is troubling you in your work.  Mail your problem to me at gjames@agbussol.co.za and I promise to get back to you with an answer.  You can remain anonymous and you can attach all sorts of hypotheticals to your query and I promise to keep it confidential.  I will get to every questions, that is another promise.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – ever.

Till later!

G James