Pursuing a career in bookkeeping? Here’s what you need to know
The demand for good bookkeepers is high when it comes to small business owners and accounting firms. There are more than 28,000 open positions on ZipRecruiter in the United States!
COVID-19 accelerated the already-hot transition to cloud-based accounting applications, so many businesses now realize their accounting support and staff can be remote. This is great news for people considering a flexible career as a bookkeeper.
Given this, let’s dive into two questions:
- What kinds of skills, training, and experience do you need to have a successful career as a bookkeeper?
- What should you look for in an education/coaching program?
What kinds of skills, training and experience do you need to have a successful career as a bookkeeper?
The first two steps are for people who are seeking a job or want to build their bookkeeping career as an entrepreneur. Steps 3 and 4 are just for those who are aiming to be a bookkeeping entrepreneur and build their own business.
Step 1: Learn accounting
You would think this shouldn’t need to be said, but sadly, it does. Bookkeepers have to know accounting fundamentals to be successful.
At the most basic level bookkeeping is accounting with regular intervals, such as daily, weekly, or monthly. It takes a long time to learn accounting, but it is learnable. While you don’t have to know everything there is to know about accounting, you need to know enough to STOP when you encounter a complicated or confusing situation in a business’ books.
AccountingCoach.com is my favorite resource to recommend for anyone who wants to begin to study accounting. You can access all of the instruction for free. I like them because they are time-tested (formed in 2003) and have tests you can opt to take for a small fee of $99. Your confidence will SOAR when you pass those exams.
Intuit® has also just released a brand-new training in accounting fundamentals, and if you complete the requirements, you will be an Intuit Certified Bookkeeping Professional. For more information, you can watch the interview below.
Step 2: Learn bookkeeping software
I like to call this step “learn to do back flips inside a bookkeeping software” – and don’t be fooled. Acing an accounting test in school or having a CPA, EA, or MBA credential or designation after your name does not mean you know the slightest bit about how to navigate bookkeeping software. This is a separate skill set.
Personally, I recommend focusing on one general ledger software. That will be the quickest way to learn to do those “backflips.” If you dabble in several programs, you won’t get exposed to enough of the use-cases or tricks nearly as quickly.
Step 3: Set up your bookkeeping business
A bookkeeping business is first and foremost just a business, and needs all the same things any business needs for the jurisdictions in which it operates. You’ll need to do all the boring tasks, such as obtaining a Federal Employer Identification Number, determining your legal structure, opening a bank account, registering with your city/county/state, and other tasks. You’ll also need to do the more exciting things, such as picking a business name, building a website (maybe), getting a logo (maybe), learning how to use graphic design apps such as Canva, thinking about which services you will offer, and knowing how you’ll price your services.
Just as you will advise all your prospective clients to implement good business processes and systems, you should do the same. It’s easier to implement processes at the beginning than trying to put out fires when you get too busy.
Step 4: Get your first client
If you don’t ever get paid to perform bookkeeping services, then you have a hobby, not a career. Getting that first client can be difficult, but I have found that every subsequent client is either a little easier to obtain or a better client than the last one. Sometimes, they are both easier to obtain and a better client!
You have to think about what steps to take, so that when a small business owner thinks, “Gosh, it would be nice to have help with my bookkeeping,” your face, business, and brand pops into their heads.
There is no best way to get clients, but I’ll propose five questions for you to consider:
- Do you have a strong existing personal network of small business owners? Is your professional network more local or more virtual?
- Do you have an expertise, or an affinity, toward one social media platform that you can start to learn how to use for business development? I have seen examples of bookkeepers doing a fantastic job building their business on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.
- Do you have an expertise in a particular type of business or industry, and can talk their business lingo like an insider? Do you have access to places (local or online) where those business owners gather?
- Do you know that you strongly dislike marketing, or have no time for it, and want to immediately invest in hiring a marketing agency to bring in leads for you? Do you have the existing funds to pay for that fast-track method?
- How fast do you want to acquire your own clients? Can you bring on 1-2 per month, or 10-20 because you plan to hire employees or contractors to help?
Answering these questions will help you formulate a marketing plan that is unique to you.
Marketing is difficult, but it is a skill that you can improve upon. Think about your own natural inclinations, and start to educate yourself about the best practices to turn those innate abilities into a lead generator.
What should you look for in an education/coaching program?
Here are my best tips about how to select an education program:
It’s not magic. Remember there is no secret magic code for guaranteed success in building a bookkeeping career that you are proud of. Learning accounting fundamentals and developing a bookkeeping software expertise isn’t easy, but it is learnable. I say this as an encouragement to those who know they would love to have a long career as a bookkeeper, but are paralyzed by which education program to pick. There are A LOT of bookkeeping education programs. Many are very good – though not all. However, no program is going to do the enormous load for you.
Stick to it. When you finally do pick an education program and a “coach,” stick with them. Give them a chance. Put blinders on for at least 6 months, and just do all that your chosen instructor tells you to do as fast as you can do it. Spend your time building a solid foundation on all that they are teaching you, and quit looking over your shoulder at all the other ads and social media posts from other coaches promising better, faster, and richer results. Any time you find yourself wishing you could just find that person with the magic code, tell yourself to stop it, and get to the work that your chosen instructor tells you that you need to be doing.
Develop your community. If you plan on working and learning virtually, remember that the fellow students in any course are going to be sort of like your “colleagues.” Connect with those potential colleagues ahead of time. Watch how they behave online. Find a group of the kind of people that you resonate with and that you know will motivate you the most. We all have our personal preferences. Would you rather be with people your own age or the same gender? If you want a large seven-figure firm, then don’t invest in a course that is full of people who are content with small solo-practices who are serving just a handful of clients. The people you interact with will affect the direction your life takes. That is true in business and education, too.
Here are a few additional ad-hoc tips to successfully pursue a career in bookkeeping:
- Be tech-curious. Follow trends in automation and new applications. Don’t be afraid to open trial accounts for apps to see how they work and how far you can push them.
- Never stop learning. This industry moves very quickly! There are so many options for free education if you just schedule and take advantage of them. I recommend these two as a good place for free training: QuickBooks ProAdvisor Learning Portal and org.
- Don’t underestimate the value of a strong support system. When making big, bold decisions in life, if you know deep in your heart that you want to build a successful bookkeeping career – whether as an employee or entrepreneur – make sure you have people cheering you on. If that encouragement isn’t in your own home, then make sure you find it wherever you can. Get those nay-sayers out of your mind, FAST. Don’t underestimate how much of a successful career is psychological. You are more than welcome to join us on our Facebook group: Bookkeeping Side Hustle.
Having a career in bookkeeping isn’t for everyone, but it is rewarding and you get to work with a wide variety of people. Good luck!
Editor’s note: This article is largely adapted from the “Bookkeeping Side Hustle Guidebook” by Kate Josephine Johnson, with an inspirational foreword by Hector Garcia. The Guidebook is an actionable guide to beginning your career in virtual bookkeeping; for much deeper elaboration and links to numerous resources, check it out today.