How to Start a Bookkeeping Business
The accounting and bookkeeping industry generates over 150 billion dollars annually in the US. A chunk of that is from the big accounting firms but a lot of it comes from small bookkeeping companies providing services to local businesses.
If you like working with numbers and have some accounting skills, it could be the perfect business for you. Let’s look at how to start a bookkeeping business.
Get Yourself Certified
The first step in setting up your new bookkeeping company should be to become a certified bookkeeper. While this isn’t necessary, you’ll have a much easier time finding clients willing to pay good rates if you’re certified.
There are two primary organizations that provide bookkeeping certification in the US – the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB). While both offer certification, they have somewhat different requirements.
AIPB certification requires 3,000 hours of work experience and you must pass their certification exam but there’s no formal education required. NACPB requires you to pass an exam and to submit proof of having received an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
Once certified, both organizations let you use their certification credentials on your resume, business cards, website, and other promotional materials. This can create trust with your potential clients before they ever speak to you.
Write Your Business Plan
The next step is to write your business plan. The size of your bookkeeping firm doesn’t matter here – you should have a business plan whether it’s a part-time side-hustle or you want to build it into something bigger.
A formal business plan will help you get financing if it’s required and it may be necessary to open bank accounts and get other necessities in place. But aside from the practical uses, it will also force you to think about the business you’re starting.
It can be exciting to start a new business but if you don’t plan properly, you may find yourself struggling to keep it afloat.
Should You Incorporate?
One of the decisions you’ll have to make is whether to incorporate the business or run it as a proprietorship. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Incorporating will add additional start-up costs as well as extra red tape in the early days. But it also creates a layer of protection between you and the company so if something goes wrong, you may have less personal liability.
A proprietorship means you’re personally responsible for almost everything the business does but you can be up and running quickly, with minimal up-front cost. We recommend you rely on an expert’s advice for this decision. Speak to a lawyer or another professional who can give you advice on which choice is best for you.
Setting Up Your Infrastructure
Once your new bookkeeping business is underway, you’ll need to set up some basic infrastructure before you can start working with clients:
- Business bank account(s)
- A mailing address
Don’t default to the bank you normally deal with. Shop around a bit to find the best deal. You could save money on fees or get better rates on financing so it’s worth spending a bit of time to research your options.
If you’re planning to rent office space, that may work fine for your mailing address. If you’re working from home, however, you don’t want that address to be on all your promotional materials. In that case, a business mail center can be a good solution. It’s really a mailbox but you can use their address as your own.
Insurance is important as well. You want to make sure you’re protected against any liability claims from clients, either through the work you’re doing or more general things like someone slipping and falling on the walkway into your office. Even if you’re careful not to do anything wrong, bad clients can make false claims to try and damage your business so you want to protect yourself.
What Software Do You Need?
Another part of your infrastructure is the software you’re going to use to run your business. Accounting software is the most obvious application to start with. Quickbooks is one of the most widely-used software packages but there are others. You may end up working with clients that already use something specific but you should settle on a standard package that you use with most of your clients.
If you’re going to provide tax preparation services, you’ll also want to buy tax preparation software. There are several options to choose from here as well. Make sure you choose one that has good support and gets updated every year. It should have government certification for submitting tax returns over the internet.
Finally, consider a file sharing service like Dropbox. This lets you exchange files and documents with your clients without having to be there in person. You can even do it through a mobile app on your smartphone if necessary.
Get Your Financing in Place
If you’re looking for start-up financing to get your business up and running, you’ll need to apply through the bank that you’ve chosen. This is when you will most likely need a solid business plan to help convince them you know what you’re doing and won’t squander the money they lend you.
Keep in mind that you’ll most likely have to use personal assets like your home or other investments as collateral for the loan. Being brand-new, your business likely has no real assets in place yet.
If you aren’t looking for start-up financing, you should still consider getting a business credit card. This will help you keep your business spending separate from your personal spending. You may also be able to find a card that offers rebates or points of some sort that you can “reinvest” into your business.
Setting Up Your Office
One of the decisions you’ll have to make when starting a bookkeeping business is where to set up shop. Are you going to work out of a home office or rent office space?
Consider whether clients will be coming to your office. If so, do you want them coming to your home? It may be worth the extra cost to rent office space if it helps separate your work and home life. You may also want to consider co-working space. Most co-working offices have meeting rooms that you can use for client meetings but the monthly cost is much lower than dedicated office space.
You’ll also want to consider what equipment and services you need. A computer is the most obvious piece of equipment but what type? Is a laptop or desktop more suited to your needs? Do you need a printer? How about a scanner?
Another consideration for your office equipment is whether you should buy the equipment outright or lease it on a monthly basis. Leasing can be more affordable when you’re first getting started since it’s a small monthly payment rather than a lump-sum up front.
Marketing Your New Business
Once you have all the infrastructure in place, it’s time to start finding clients. If you’ve done work for clients in the past, that should be your first stop. They’re already familiar with your work and are predisposed to work with you again.
There are plenty of free marketing tools available so you don’t have to spend a lot of money getting your name out.
You should set up a website for your business as well as pages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. You may want to do some advertising on those sites as well to find your first clients. You can target very specific groups of people so your ads will only show to the people most likely to need your services.
Networking & Learning
Another good way to find new clients is to join your local Chamber of Commerce and start being active at meetings and other events. You’ll meet lots of potential clients and you may also find companies that provide services that you need. Chamber members often try to work with other members, so it can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
You should also consider attending bookkeeping conferences and becoming a member of one or more professional bookkeeper associations, like AIPB or NACPB. This is a good way to stay up to date on changes in the industry as they happen.
Planning for the Long-Term
It might be the last thing on your mind when you’re getting started, but you should also think about the long-term potential of your new business. If you want to be a single-person operation and never grow beyond that, you’re creating a job for yourself, not a business.
If you want to create a successful business, you should have your eye on a future where it will keep running whether you’re there or not. You’ll likely hire employees or sub-contractors that can do most of the work for you while you oversee the operation. Start documenting the processes in your business from day one, even if you’re the only employee at the moment.
Think about your exit plan. What will you do in 10 or 20 years if you want to retire? Will you sell the business or hand the day-to-day management over to someone else while you enjoy life? Having an idea of your ultimate goals will help you set things up properly in the early days.
How To Start a Bookkeeping Business on the Side
If you’re thinking about how to start a bookkeeping business but don’t want to give up your day job, you’ll have a few other things to think about. You may not be available to meet clients during normal working hours so you might have to work strictly through email or another service like Slack.
You may also need to look at marketing solutions that will run on auto-pilot while you’re working. And make sure you consider how your employer will react if they find out you’re running a bookkeeping business on the side.
Whether you’re looking for a nice side income to help pay the bills or you want to be the next KPMG, these tips will help you get started on the right foot. Be sure to check out some of the other articles on Smashed Success for more helpful information on starting your new business.