Most small business owners know what a bookkeeper is; they take all of your receipts and magically organize them in an accounting system. Most will provide you with financials on a monthly basis, but they are primarily entering the data you give to them.
So, what is a contoller?
In small businesses, the controller is often in charge of finance, accounting, bookkeeping, information management, information technology, human resources, and administration of 401k and benefit plans. If the company has an internal bookkeeper, the controller will oversee their work while performing other accounting functions. The controller usually also acts as a liason with the company’s outside advisors such as the CPA firm, attorney, and bankers.
A controller usually has a degree in accounting and will provide GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) based financials. They will help you with the internal business operations. A controller is a leader and an advisor.
In my business, I act as both the bookkeeper and controller for many of my clients. I hope that, at some point, they’ll need more than me and will hire a bookkeeper to do the hands on daily work while I continue to support their higher level finance and operations needs (and eventually, they’ll need someone full-time and we’ll part ways…such is life).
Most of these clients still call me their "bookkeeper" because that’s the term they understand. I’m not big on titles, so I don’t correct them. My job is to take the internal business chores off of their plate so they can focus on the reason they started a business in the first place.
Note: If you have a controller, as described above, they’ll appreciate it if you stop referring to them as the "bookkeeper".