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How to start a bookkeeping business

Why not?

The benefits of starting a bookkeeping business are hard to deny. You can choose your own schedule, decide how much you get paid, and be selective about who you work with.

Plus, with intelligent technology, it’s getting easier to set up. So why not jump in? Here are seven tips for starting a bookkeeping business.

1. Design your business model

Understanding why you want to be a bookkeeper and why you want to work with a small business is essential. This will form the foundation of your business model. Ask yourself:

  • Who do I want to serve?
  • What solutions am I going to provide?
  • How am I going to deliver these solutions?

Consider your end goal: are you building a business to sell on? How many employees do you want? Do you want your business to go global?

Knowing where you eventually want to end up is helpful when you begin planning. It will guide how you do business, if you wish to hire anyone, what kind of clients you want to take on, and how hard you’ll chase new business.

It’s also helpful to develop a contingency plan in case you’re unable to work for some time. Whether this is due to illness or a family matter, it’s beneficial for your brand if you’re able to offer your clients a suitable alternative.

2. Getting set up

With the right software and apps, it’s easy to work with people wherever you are in the world.

You don’t need a massive amount of infrastructure to get started. Get a computer, a mobile and then get online.

Online accounting software will let you look at accounts at the same time as your client. This means you can talk through their questions over the phone, reducing the number of meetings you have.

Intelligent accounting software will also allow automatic data entry, daily bank reconciliation and payroll.

You should also consider practice management software. These tools enable you to manage workflows and get your business in order. They come free with some accounting software and are getting smarter all the time.

Shop around for your software, and don’t just look for in-product features. If the provider has a partner program, it will help you grow your business.

3. Narrow your focus: who is your ideal client?

Accounts payable, bank reconciliations, inventory management, tax returns? What are you going to offer as in your newly started bookkeeping business?

Maybe you’ll focus on serving a niche like real estate or construction? By positioning yourself as a specialist, you’ll be able to target your marketing and talk specifically to one audience.

It’s tempting to offer everything in an attempt to attract prospective clients. But if you cannot deliver on what you promise, you could get yourself into trouble. Start small and don’t over-promise what you’re able to do.

Once you’ve identified your ideal client, then you can put specific solutions together for them.

Combine relevant services into packages and offer them to your client that way. This allows them to choose the general service level they want. You can then work together to customise the package to their specific needs.

Present the packages in person or on a call so that you can walk your clients through them. Once you’ve agreed on a package of services, set the fees upfront. Don’t advertise fees on your website – remember, it’s about pricing the client and not the service. 

Offer your clients multiple convenient payment options, such as credit card, Stripe, or electronic transfer.

4. Build a digital presence

Think of your website and digital presence as your shop front. It should communicate clearly who you are and what you do.

Your website should be clean, uncluttered and informative. Think about the kind of information you’d want to see and consider what you’d leave out.

Make your website personal. Show your passions and personality. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client. Why would they want to contact you over another bookkeeper?

An excellent social media presence is as essential as a good website. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can all help you reach prospective clients. Set up a Facebook business page that clearly outlines the services you offer.

5. The importance of networks

Setting up a bookkeeping business as a sole practitioner can be a little isolating. Connect with your peers.

Networking opportunities exist through social media channels and industry organisations. With online networking, you can find like-minded bookkeepers who use the same software, serve the same industries, or work in the same area.

6. Have confidence in yourself

One of the biggest challenges that people face when starting is confidence and motivation.

Give yourself confidence in your abilities by being your best client. Keep your books up-to-date and in order. It will make you feel good about your work.

Stay motivated by referring back to your plan. What are your goals? What’s driving you? Keep these in mind when you’re faced with decisions like taking on an extra client, increasing your fees, or hiring your first employee.

7. Remain open-minded

While you’ll set yourself up to succeed, you need to be willing to admit when things go wrong. Learn from your mistakes, adapt your plans, and change them if required.

Open yourself up to new ways of working, too. Take advantage of apps that can:

  • Take advantage of courses and training to learn new skills and expand your service offering. 
  • Don’t be afraid to increase fees as your capabilities grow.

Where to start

Starting a bookkeeping business will take a lot of effort, but the barriers to entry have never been lower. There are great tools to work with, and there are plenty of people to support you. Bookkeepers have an incredible community.

How to grow your bookkeeping business.

Growing your business can seem a bit like the chicken or the egg scenario: What comes first, the clients, or the investment in your business so you could get more clients. Well, according to some of our most successful bookkeepers, who have grown their franchises into large companies, it’s up to you to steer the growth of your enterprise!

After numerous request for business growth tips, we compiled the 4 top tips we’ve received after interviewing some of First Class Accounts most significant operations.

 1.Think big

We can sometimes be our own worst enemy when it comes to big goals, thinking ‘I can’t do that or ‘I don’t know how.

However, you need to take away the negative self-talk and focus on your big dreams for your business, and then you can work backwards from that. It’s not out of the question to have 20 staff working for you or turn over $1 million a year.

It’s all achievable; you just have to dream it up in the first place! For First Class Accounts Bookkeeper of the Year Renae Pitargue, it worked with a business coach that got her thinking about the future and helped her figure out what she wanted from her business.

Says Renae, “I get accountability with a business coach, it’s about knowing what I need to do and someone keeping me accountable…he helped me get the ideas out of my head and into reality.”

2. Hire early

It’s often the case that small business owners feel like they need to have the work before hiring the staff to do it. But this walks an excellent line. Having too much work and looking for team at the same time can put too much pressure on your fledgling business. If you want to grow your business, know you can’t do it alone and plan your first hire early. 

As Maria Jowett-Horth of Busy Bookkeeping Eastern Suburbs explains, “I started with office space, so clients had somewhere to come to, and employed my first staff member after about three months.” She was then free to focus on expanding her business rather than working in the industry.

“People want to see success,” she told us “[hiring staff] allowed me to showcase the business and focus on bringing in new clients… I now have around 21 staff”.

3. Let people know about your plans to grow.

One of the best ways to grow your business is to utilise your current networks. Whether it’s being active in your local networking group or offering your clients referral incentives, word of mouth is a great way to let people know you’re growing and ready for more work.

And one of the best sources of bookkeeping work can come from accountants. Finding an accountant with whom you work well doesn’t just make your job easier; it can also be the source of more clients. Leading software company Xero agrees.

bookkeeping business

They recently held an education day in Melbourne for First Class Accounts, discussing ‘Bookkeepers and Accountants, a united team. Their panel of experts focused on ways to improve relationships between accountants and bookkeepers and how the relationship is mutually beneficial, for not only smooth work processes but for client retention and expansion as well.

Chat with your accountant network about your plans to expand and let them know you’re available to take on more clients. It can also help land you the type of clients and work you want, rather than random clients who may not be ideal for your business.

4. It’s not about you

Making yourself the centre of your business can not just be bad for your productivity, but it can also be bad for business. If people associate you with your business, it can make it challenging to sell the company when it comes.

It also means you are stuck in the day-to-day running of the business, which makes it hard for you to take time off, hard for your staff to make urgent decisions, and lead to unhealthy work/life balance. Focus instead on great work, done by great people, where everyone can help out on tasks.

 As Maria Jowett-Horth explains, “I made the conscious decision to step back from the daily running of my business. I let someone else handle the enquiries, and made sure my clients felt safe with my staff…I set systems up so I could work remotely, and I took on a more advisory role so I could not only cut back on my workload but put the business first.”

Enabling your staff to make decisions and manage their workflow means you are free to ensure the future and security of your business – and maybe even take that holiday you’ve been dreaming of, knowing everything will run smoothly in your absence.

Starting your own bookkeeping business and being your boss is a dream many people feel is out of their reach – but for our 200+ franchisees, it’s a reality. Maybe it’s time to create a new goal and grow your business to enable a brighter, more prosperous and carefree future for you and your family

Ten ways to go “beyond accounting” in 2016

What does it mean to go “beyond accounting?”

It means taking full advantage of the automation tools available. It means using them to streamline business practices. As 2016 is an election year, it’s even more critical for accountants to understand the tools available to help the economy grow by keeping the small business thriving.

Here are ten ways accountants can stay ahead of the game and become digital savvy, connected advisors:

1. Understand the market

Small businesses spend trillions of dollars and are responsible for job creation, which translates to tremendous opportunities. Small businesses that use Xero are three times more likely to stay afloat than those that don’t. Xero can decrease the average time it takes to get paid by vendors from 41 to 26 days.

2. Implement fixed billing

In the world of accounting, time is traditionally the inventory of a practice. Each staff member has a 1:1 relationship with a client. There’s a limit to how many minutes or hours you can bill when you’re charging out your time in six-minute increments.

Make a move towards fixed billing based on value, and move away from the “time as inventory” model. Clients are prepared to pay for your expertise and the value you bring to their business. This also helps the cash flow planning of a small business to adequately budget for their advisory costs each month.

3. Take control

The move from being an accountant to an advisor gives you control. You can start by moving systems and processes off of desktop software (or filing cabinets) to cloud-based options. People already expect their businesses and services to be available where they are. That means on their phones, laptops, work computers and home computers.

Making this digital transformation allows you to be one step ahead of the business and take control. Leading your clients rather than being led by them. The rate of digital change doesn’t seem to be slowing down, nor does the amount of work clients expect of you.

As a connected advisor, you can achieve a value pricing model by automating the processes in your practice. For example, use online e-sign documents, use Skype or live-chat for your client communications, and rely on software for the real-time syncing of data between vendors and customers.

4. Automate

To move away from inventorying your time to a value-based model, procedures and processes need to be automated. This way, you have more time to build your business and secure more clients. Becoming a connected advisor means that anything that can be automated will be automated.

Despite the automation factor, it doesn’t change your value to your client.  They want you for your expertise and how you can analyse their business numbers, not for how long it takes you to run a calculation.

5. Start small

Despite the very best of intentions, you can’t expect instant results, especially for those with an established accounting practice or system in place. It will take some time to make the digital shift to achieve long-lasting results.  Starting small can help make significant shifts in the long term.

Once you have an efficient model, you can duplicate it with other service lines your offer. Pick one or two things to increase the efficiency between all of the accounting functions in your business, and then move to the following one or two things.

6. Embrace technology

Technology is such an important topic for me; I’m even giving a talk on just this at the Flagg NJ CPA event. Many people have problems embracing new technology because human nature itself often resists change. However, adopting new technology allows you to work smarter, be more efficient and ultimately be more profitable.

It will help improve your collaboration with clients. It will also make the work more enjoyable for you if you can free up more of your time and be more proactive with your clients.

7. Set expectations

Given some of the legacy systems in place, the modernization of accounting takes time. Different people will have their own expectations of value and time. But to ensure these are reasonable, you can help set the right expectations:

  • Management: a business plan is key to managing the right metrics and understanding that the process will take time
  • Staff: help them overcome the fear of change by showing them how the changes will improve both their work and quality of life
  • Clients: explain how cloud-based accounting solutions can help create a win-win revenue model and add value to clients’ engagement with your business in new ways

8. Go next-gen

Millennials now outnumber both Gen X and the Baby Boomers in today’s US workforce. Some reports are saying that there are 2.5 billion of them worldwide. The technology you use has the ability to attract the next generation of talent. It can also attract up-and-coming startups and other small-business clients that will create longevity for your firm.

9. Be a partner

A connected practice strategy allows you to create a win-win model with your clients. Partnering for success means developing a human relationship and marketing yourself as a lifestyle advisor or spending coach. Having your backend technology together actually creates the power of knowledge for you.

10. Understand the data

Understanding the different KPIs in various industries allows you to better explain to clients how they’re doing. New features included in Xero’s Business Performance Dashboard can help by incorporating detailed analytics reporting that, at a glance, can show you simple metrics and graphs that reveal how your accounts are performing.

To modernize accounting you have to leverage technology to work smarter, not harder. It means offering clients more overall value for their money — and not just more of your overburdened time.

It also means that you can go “beyond accounting” and be the strategic partner in your client’s businesses that they need you to be.

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