I think that I am in a unique position: I provide bookkeeping services to clients and I've been handling the financials for my own bookkeeping company. I too am about at the point of handing the latter over to someone else.
My clients are small business owners who are in the same predicament you are in: they need to save time and money. I think everyone who has answered your post agrees that paying a CPA to do what a bookkeeper can do is not wise. For perspective, it's like paying lawyers prices for legal assistant work.
The tasks that a bookkeeper performs have to do with keeping your financials. The time invested by the bookkeeper depends on the need of the small business. Whether the accounting method is cash versus accrual is another consideration. For instance, accrual accounting requires more documentation. Excel spreadsheets are used to track accruals, prepaid expenses, etc. and the adjusting journal entries are part and parcel for the accrual accounting method.
Having a bookkeeping managing and maintaining your business' financials is easier all the way around. If there is a yearly financial audit, the bookkeeper makes sure that guidelines and processes required are followed and performed throughout the year. This way, issues don't go unattended resulting in fines, penalties, interest and other negative consequences.
To get started with a bookkeeper, you would need to do as you are doing. Getting information about the benefit of having a bookkeeper and already having a working knowledge of your financials. This way, you know exactly what you'd want that person to do. You are already ahead of the game. My experience is few business owners take time to consider these things. They get overwhelmed and just haphazardly hand things off.
No, a bookkeeper and a CPA is not the same thing. I think my lawyer comparison above makes that pretty clear. CPA's tend to handle tax return filings and services that that require higher accounting knowledge and carry a higher liability. There are some CPA firms that employ bookkeepers. That might be convenient, but I would compare if there is a cost savings for doing it this way versus hiring a standalone bookkeeper who can consult your CPA when needed. This way, the bookkeeper is more accessible and generally more flexible.
In fact, I don't take an account where there is no CPA accountability. First, checks and balances are a part of GAAP (generally accepted accounting practices) and legitimate CPA firms must carry professional liability insurance due to the liability associated with the profession.
Bookkeeper rates are not one size fits all. For instance, a bookkeeper in New York probably has a different price scale than say a bookkeeper in eastern North Carolina. I have found that my customers are willing to pay for great services. They have learned that it is better to invest in a good bookkeeper than to cut corners.
I hope this has been helpful. If you'd like to talk further, contact me. I wish you the best.