Are you thinking of starting a bookkeeping business, but do not know where to look for advice? We have produced a guide to give advice and tips on how to gain clients and how to set up your bookkeeping company.
There are many benefits of starting a bookkeeping business: most bookkeepers work from home and have very low overheads; you get a regular monthly income from a regular set of clients and with good planning it is a fairly easy to manage.
You will need to consider whether you want to set your bookkeeping business up as a Limited Liability Company, a sole trader, or even a partnership with another bookkeeper. You will also need to ensure you have the right insurance cover before starting to practice.
Have a read through our Starting a Small Business section for further information.
When starting a bookkeeping business, it is useful to find out who your competitors are. Call them up and find out about their services and rates. Do they sound professional on the phone? Look through the local newspapers. Are there many bookkeepers offering their services in your area?
Ask yourself what you can do that is different, or better, than your competitors. What value can you provide to your customers that your competitors do not?
Even if you do not need an accountant for your accounts, it can be very beneficial to be able to offer services of an accountant. Being able to help a Limited company the opportunity to deal with all their year end accounts and any queries that may arise will take the pressure off the client.
Accountants can also offer good tax advice and help with any questions you may have. Speak to a few accountants to find the best one to suit your needs. Remember the cheapest firm may not be the best. They can also give advice on starting a bookkeeping business.
When starting a bookkeeping business the rate you can charge will depend on your experience and the services you can offer. You will be able to charge more if you can add value to a company by giving advice as to how they can save money and complete accounts to provide management reports and deal with year end. If you are just doing data input, you are not so likely to be able to charge higher rates.
It is also worth trying to find the going bookkeeping rate in your area as this will change from place to place.
When starting ensure the rates you charge are enough for you to earn an income to make it worthwhile. Don't forget when calculating your fee you need to include all the taxes which will be due.
This will depend on the customer. Most customers prefer a fixed fee, so that they know the fees and can budget for it. If you do work for a fixed rate it can be difficult to estimate how long the work takes, make sure you have an agreement in place to review the rate especially if the workloads change.
If you charge an hourly rate you may still need to estimate the cost as a customer may not settle a large bill when they have not been given a quote for time and costs involved. If you find that the work is taking longer let the customer know as soon as possible, so that you can come to an agreement.
Ensure that you keep a note of all the hours worked so they are included in your invoice.
When starting a bookkeeping business you need to work out the number of hours you can work; you will need to deduct time for completing your own accounts, time for meetings for potential clients, travelling time and research time.
You must also ensure that you do not overload your work at certain times of the year. You may have clients who require accounts to be prepared each month, quarter or annually. If everyone is after work completing at the same time, you will have problems with balancing your time. It is better to turn work away than having to work a 24 hour day or not completing work on time.
Plan for your holidays or time that you may need to take off to look after children: try and see if there is another bookkeeper in your area who could cover some of your work.
If you are planning a bookkeeping home business we have written a short guide including the advantages and some ideas on how to get organised.
Unless you are planning to work at a customer's site, you will need to own a computer. A laptop is useful as you can take it to customer meetings with all the correct information and if they have any queries you will be able to look the answers up, but this is not essential.
If you do need a new computer PC World is a great place to look; they have a good selection at good prices and they offer credit and leasing to new businesses. The TechGuys technical support team can be found in all PC World stores and can get you up and running with your new computer either in store or at home.
Have a look at our software guide. It is better to choose the software package which you are experienced in than trying to learn new software.
Look at the accounts software website which you have chosen, many of them run partner programs and offer accountants and bookkeepers support. This may include getting your company registered on their directory, free software and support for an annual fee.
Many businesses looking for a bookkeeper do not have their own accounting software, and you can earn a useful additional income by selling accounting software to your customers.
You can also earn additional money helping companies who want to run their own accounts but want help setting up their accounting software package.
Each of the accounting bodies expects members in practice to register. There are advantages in registering which can include:
If you have experience in bookkeeping, you can still run your own bookkeeping business, but companies may prefer a qualified bookkeeper. It may be useful to advertise the experience you have. You will need to either register with HMRC for anti-money laundering if you are not part of an accounting body.
There are also home learning courses available leading to qualifications that are accepted by accounting bodies such as the International Association of Bookkeepers or the Association of Accounting Technicians. Look on the internet as there are also home based courses available.
Once you've done your research, it is time to write your business plan. This need not be a detailed document, but does need to establish your targets for the company and outline how you plan to achieve them. Write a cash-flow forecast to make sure you can survive the first few months, and above all - be realistic!
There are some free cash-flow templates on the Microsoft website. Click here
Starting to establish any new company takes time. Don't expect to have lots of paid work from day one - it typically takes 6-8 months from starting a bookkeeping business before you get to the point where you can expect to generate a reasonable income for yourself.
We have written a guide on finding customers, which includes how to find new customers, marketing and networking.
In the meantime, you'll need to get your name known and starting to win new business.
When taking on new customers, there will be a fair amount of up-front work as you get up to speed with your new client, learn about their company and understand their existing accounting methods. You should budget this extra time when taking on your new customer. It can often be worth asking for an upfront payment before starting this work.
Selling skills can take many years to perfect. The chances are that you are not a trained sales person. However, it is worth learning some basic selling skills; this includes your first meeting, writing a proposal, how to win the business. Click Here to read our Selling Skills guide.
Unfortunately, some businesses do not take on a bookkeeper until their company is in trouble - they may already be having cash-flow problems, trouble with the bank or are late on filing accounts.
In many cases, these businesses have already gone beyond the point of no return. Working with these businesses as their bookkeeper is fraught with problems: you'll end up tracking down missing paperwork, working hard to get their accounts completed - and can quite often end up not getting paid if the company folds.
If you are concerned about the financial state of your prospective customer, do not be afraid to ask for bank and trade references. It may be worth requesting payment in stages, which would help both the customer and yourself. Don't be afraid of turning down customers if there is a question mark about their viability.
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