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Even as the nature of business changes, one job that is always in demand is bookkeeping. Bookkeepers are essential for other businesses to thrive, making sure that they’re keeping track of their financials correctly and on the right track to grow.
In this guide, we’ll review how to start a bookkeeping business, including what you need to do to get set up, how to price your services, how to find your customers and how to fund your business if need be.
What does a bookkeeper do?
A bookkeeper is an instrumental part of any business operation. A company hires a bookkeeper to manage and organize its finances, including detailing and categorizing all transactions. They help small-business owners get a handle on their cash flow — one of the most important barometers for a healthy business. They will also often help businesses produce crucial financial statements such as the profit and loss statement and balance sheet.
Keep in mind, though, bookkeepers differ from accountants as they cannot file taxes or perform audits like certified public accountants. Bookkeepers also aren’t required to have an accounting degree. While they can receive certifications through training programs, they can also simply acquire on-the-job experience to establish their bookkeeping business.
Typical bookkeeping services include:
Managing a business’s finances through business accounting software.
Manage accounts payable and receivable.
Help businesses with an overview of their finances to help them understand their habits.
Generate financial statements.
How to start a bookkeeping business in 8 steps
The good news is that learning how to start a bookkeeping business isn’t hard. Follow these steps to launch your bookkeeping business in no time.
1. Pick your market and niche
A bookkeeper’s work is applicable across many different types of industries — after all, every business needs to track and optimize its finances. However, to help market your business and set it apart amongst the competition, you may decide to specialize in a specific industry.
This could help you build credibility inside that segment, as well as help you hone your skills. Additionally, determining your target audience will be simple if you have a specialty. To help determine your niche, you should also research the market to determine what bookkeeping businesses are already established and which industries they serve.
2. Write a business plan
Regardless of the type of business you run, all business owners should write a business plan. That, of course, includes bookkeepers.
A business plan involves outlining your plans for your company in detail. It is a comprehensive document that explains not only your services but also your market and the competitive advantage you’ll have in your business. You’ll create projections and make plans for your growth. This document does tend to be lengthy, but it’s important to do. It’ll help you focus your business and run efficiently out of the gate.
There are two pieces of the business plan that deserve a little extra consideration.
How Much Do You Need?
Choose a business name
Your business name will be the first impression for potential clients, so you’ll want to consider this very carefully. What do you hope to communicate with your name? Is it your expertise, your specialty, your personality?
Before you choose your business name, make sure someone else isn’t already using it, lest clients get confused. Also, run the name by a few people to see the impression they get of it. Once you have your finalists, run the names through your secretary of state’s business name database to make sure it’s available.
As we mentioned above, you don’t technically need to be certified to run a bookkeeping business. You might, however, want to consider becoming a certified public bookkeeper, or CPB, which signals to clients that you have professional-level skills and might be an important part of how you differentiate yourself in a competitive market.
Certification is also available within certain software products, too — for instance, you can get certified in QuickBooks.
3. Register your business and get insured
Once you’ve picked a business name, the next step is to register your business and make things official. The exact process will vary depending on how you plan on structuring your business and where you’re planning to do business. You’ll want to look up the exact rules for how to register your business with your secretary of state’s office.
Choose a business entity
A major part of registering your business and opening up shop is choosing a business entity. This will govern how you pay taxes as a small-business owner, but also what kind of liability protection you have in case something goes wrong and how you’ll structure your business.
If you’re just starting a bookkeeping business, it’s likely that you’ll just be working solo, at least for the beginning. Consider starting your search into business entities for bookkeepers by looking into sole proprietors and LLCs. The latter could be a great option if you might bring in some help down the line.
It’s not compulsory, but you might want to look into insurance for your bookkeeping business. This can help protect you from costly liability in case you make a mistake on your customers’ books — which can be a huge hit to your business and, in some cases, your personal finances — if you aren’t insured. Common business insurance policies for bookkeepers include things such as professional liability and general liability.
4. Choose your bookkeeping software
This one is a no-brainer: Your bookkeeping software will be the foundation of your business. You have lots of options for the best bookkeeping software, so look into them carefully.
If you are overwhelmed, however, or simply want to use the overwhelming favorite, you should consider using QuickBooks Online—this is one of the most popular accounting software providers on the market and is used by many small and large businesses alike. Another popular option is Xero, but there are plenty of bookkeeping apps to choose from. You can get certified in each of these programs, which can not only help you become a power user but can also help you market yourself as an expert.
5. Set up your business infrastructure
When you’re learning how to start a bookkeeping business, you’ll find that there are a few key pieces of infrastructure you’ll need to kick off. Carefully think about setting up the following:
Many clients will look for your website to find out about you and your experience. If you’re specifically running a totally virtual business, a website is extra important since it can demonstrate to clients your skills. And luckily, there are plenty of website builders to make creating your website a breeze.
Client database management
As you grow your client roster, you’ll want to make sure you're tracking them effectively and completely. You can use a CRM and project management tool in which you can set up your own workflow. You can also look into specific accounting practice management software, some of which integrate directly into software such as QuickBooks Online.
If your clients will be sending you things such as receipts or statements, you might want to consider the tool that you’ll use to share files. A popular option is Dropbox, in which you can create a shared folder that both you and your clients have access to.
Business bank account
You’ll also want to make sure that you set up a business bank account to keep your business finances separate from your personal finances. This is crucial for taxes as well as personal liability protection.
Start with a business checking account and, as your business grows, you may also opt for a business savings account to let your excess funds earn interest. Both traditional, brick-and-mortar banks and online institutions offer attractive banking options, so shop around before deciding where you want to park your hard-earned money.
6. Price your services
Figuring out what to charge is any small-business owner’s greatest challenge. Too little and you aren’t fairly compensated for your work; too much and you’ll have a tough time competing with other bookkeeping businesses.
PayScale, a site that tracks salaries and rates, puts the average hourly rate for a bookkeeper around $17 per hour ($10 on the low end and $24 on the high end). You might also want to look into freelance and for-hire contractor sites, such as UpWork or Fiverr, where people list their rates. Find bookkeepers that are similar in your skill set and experience to help gauge what you should be charging.
Remember that the amount that you charge should be contingent on your years of experience, specialization in industries, certifications you carry and your area. And, of course, your rate isn’t fixed — you can always change it if you feel like you’re not priced correctly.
7. Find your customers
Marketing is so important, no matter the type of business you own. The savviest small-business marketers are the ones who figure out exactly who their customers are and advertise directly to them.
You’ll want to think up a unique selling proposition for your business: For instance, are you touting your experience? Your industry specialization? Your focus on local business? This will all help you come up with the most creative ways to market yourself, which may include direct mail or radio ads, social media ads, email campaigns, or any number of other strategies.
Look into our comprehensive guide to small-business marketing, which will cover how to reach people through SEO, search ads, social media and more.
And never forget the power of word-of-mouth referrals — and don’t be too shy to ask for them.
8. Understand your funding options
If you’re starting out small, it’s likely you won’t need a large amount of business funding — you can always explore options down the line if, say, you open a brick-and-mortar office and hire multiple employees.
For now, though, you’ll likely want to get a business credit card to fund your bookkeeping business. This will give you the spending power to set up your company and put all of your business expenses in one place. That’s not only important for separating your business and personal finances, but can help you with your own bookkeeping come tax season.
There are lots of different types of business credit cards to look into, including options with 0% introductory APR periods, so if you have a few startup costs you can’t cover with savings, you can treat this type of card like an interest-free loan. Just make sure you have a plan to pay off the balance before the introductory offer ends and a variable APR sets in.
The bottom line
One final thought on how to set up a bookkeeping business: Make sure that you grow as the businesses around you do, too. That doesn’t mean you have to take on more clients, but rather grow your knowledge and network.
Keep your skills up to date, evolve the depth in which you know your preferred platforms and stay apprised as their features change, as well. You can always attend professional events, too, such as conferences and networking events. Don’t forget that investing in your business means investing in yourself.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.