Nathan Alexander is well positioned to see what happens without quality bookkeeping.

Alexander is a certified public accountant and partner in the Keene firm Ferguson & Alexander who primarily does tax work. Poorly organized books, he says, can leave business owners wondering what they’ll owe to the IRS next year, prevent struggling entrepreneurs from pinpointing what’s wrong and create headaches for accountants come tax time.

“If you have the proverbial shoebox [of documents], you may not even find a CPA who wants to work with you,” he said.

But there’s a problem: A good bookkeeper can be hard to find.

“It’s really hard to find people to do this very, very critical service, and we need their work product,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s not the only member of the local business community thinking about this issue. The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene is working on ways to bolster the ranks of local bookkeepers. Alexander and other accountants are supporting those efforts, said Julianna Dodson, director of the Radically Rural summit at Hannah Grimes and a part-time bookkeeper herself.

Dodson said the region doesn’t seem to have enough high-quality bookkeepers to meet the demand, partly because longtime professionals are retiring and not enough younger people are replacing them.

“That really impacts all aspects of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. “If a business doesn’t get started on the right foot with their books, then it can really not only impact the effectiveness of their business, their profitability. It can also impact greatly their compliance, which can cause issues down the road with the IRS or the state.”

The Hannah Grimes Center is talking to Keene State College and River Valley Community College about establishing a certificate program for bookkeepers, she said. The center is also hosting a forum on Jan. 14 for people interested in the issue.

Another goal, Dodson said, is to create a network of mentors and peers that can support bookkeepers as they get into the field and grow. Having people she could go to with questions was very important to her own career development, she said.

For Alexander, one crucial task will be simply understanding who is already doing bookkeeping work in the area, their capabilities and specializations, and how they might want to grow their businesses.

“We don’t necessarily know there is clearly a critical shortage of bookkeepers,” he said. “What we know is that there’s not a clear place to find and refer them, and that is important. Because there could be plenty of bookkeepers right in this area, some of whom may want more work and growth, but we’re not connected with them.”

He has relationships with some bookkeepers, but they can’t always take on new business or meet particular needs. Having a “clearinghouse of who’s out there,” he said, would help him refer clients with the right services.

“The phone calls keep coming,” he said. “It really is a critical need.”

Alexander and Dodson said they’re also trying to spread the word that bookkeeping is an in-demand profession with good earning potential. A bookkeeper can make anywhere from $30 to $75 an hour, according to Dodson.

“This is a continuously needed service that the whole business community will be promoting and encouraging,” Alexander said. “You won’t be without work.”

Bookkeeping has always been a need, he said. But he thinks it’s become more common for small businesses to seek outside help in recent years.

“So many businesses rationalized just doing a lot of this themselves, without realizing that this is a great, easily accessible resource that’s reasonably priced, and the value to their business is so many more times what they pay in the hourly rate,” he said.

He encouraged people who are interested in bookkeeping to contact the Hannah Grimes Center.

Dodson said bookkeeping may not be “glamorous,” but it’s extremely rewarding.

“It’s just like anything else that you learn, where if you have a certain skill set — like you’re organized, you’re reliable, you’re honest, you’re willing to learn — then once you apply those skills to this particular area, you’ll realize how much of a puzzle it is and how much fun it is,” she said.

It’s also impactful, because you’re helping create the conditions in which businesses can thrive, she added. And seeing how transactions flow through companies lets you get to know the local economy in a new way.

“You develop really good relationships with businesses that you work with, and it’s not just numbers,” Dodson said. “ ’Cause every single number reflects something real and true about their business and about the choices that they’re making.”