If you’re organized, like numbers, and enjoy helping people, a career in bookkeeping might be an excellent fit for you. Bookkeepers help companies maintain accurate and balanced financials by tracking income and expenses, verifying receipts, depositing cash, checks, and other payment types, handling payroll, preparing invoices, maintaining an annual budget, and keeping track of overdue accounts. You can work from home, either full- or part-time. And it doesn’t take a significant investment to get your business off the ground.
Why Starting a Bookkeeping Business is Worth It
The best thing about bookkeeping is that there’s always a demand. As long as there are businesses, there will be a market for people who can help them track their money. Although technology has reduced the need for human attention to some bookkeeping tasks, it has increased the need for people to operate these new systems. Plus, there is always a need for smart people who can make connections across different business areas and find creative ways to save money.
And while certification is useful, it’s not necessary to get started, nor is a college degree in business or accounting. In fact, you don’t need a college degree at all. If you can help a business stay on top of their books and ahead of problems, they’re not going to care about the schools you went to.
Bookkeeping is also flexible. If you’re not ready to go all-in as a full-time, self-employed bookkeeper, you can start slowly by taking one or two clients as a side hustle. That gives you the chance to make sure that bookkeeping is really for you before quitting your day job to hang out your shingle. Similarly, if you just want to work part-time hours, you can do that, too.
Finally, as we’ll talk about below, startup costs are manageable.
Bookkeeping certainly isn’t the right path for everyone, but if you’re looking for a well-paid job you can do from home that doesn’t require a huge upfront investment, keep reading!
The Investment Needed to Start a Bookkeeping Business
Fortunately, the startup costs for a bookkeeping business are fairly low, especially if you work from home. And if you start your business as a side hustle before going full-time, they’ll be even lower.
We suggest pricing out the following before you get started:
Training and/or Certification
If you don’t have any formal training or work experience in bookkeeping, it’s smart to take some classes so that you understand the concepts, are familiar with current regulations, and have the skills necessary to do the job. Training also gives you a chance to make sure you actually enjoy the work. If you already have some experience, certification can give you a little extra boost of professionalism. (We’ll go into more detail on certification and training in the next section.)
A laptop and printer are enough to get started—you may even have both already. A scanner can be helpful if you’re dealing with numerous receipts. Also, consider a filing cabinet, desk, and great chair for your dedicated workspace. As long as you have a space to work and a way to keep things organized, you’re good to go.
Errors and Omissions Insurance
Bookkeepers handle sensitive data for their clients, and an error on your part could be costly. Worst-case scenario, it could result in you getting sued. Errors and Omissions insurance protects you and your assets if that happens. Anticipate $300 to $1000+ in annual premiums.
There are tons of bookkeeping and accounting software tools available. Don’t base your decision on cost alone. Look for licensing that will allow you to keep the books for multiple or unlimited companies and consider any needs specific to your industry niche.
Quickbooks online is a fantastic software for small businesses, as it is one of the most widely-used accounting tools available. It is scalable, has tons of integrations, and includes a responsive mobile app for working on the go.
In addition, Quickbooks has a huge knowledge base and resources to answer questions and learn more about the tool. It also has a 30-day free trial for you to test it out and then is affordable, with monthly plans starting at $12.50 per month.
In addition to bookkeeping software, consider file-sharing, client management, and document signing software. You want to make the entire process seamless for your clients. You can get started with Google Drive for file-sharing and organization for free with any Gmail account.
Office phone and internet service
It goes without saying that you’ll need an internet connection. Less obvious is a business phone line, but unless you want all your clients to have your personal cell phone number, it’s a really smart investment.
Website Creation and Hosting
A website isn’t a requirement, but it makes it easier for clients to find you and your contact information online. Your site doesn’t have to be complicated—a single page with your name, what services you offer, contact information, and some testimonials is plenty. Consider the costs of having a site created (if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself), web hosting, and domain registration. Check out our guides to the best free website builders and cheap web hosting for a great place to start. Some website builders even include domains and hosting.
Registering your business and/or business name is an important step. The cost can range from free to several hundred dollars, depending on your state and the type of business structure you choose. You can use a business formation service to help you decide which structure is appropriate for you and file all necessary paperwork with the state.
Many business formations services will also help you set up a website and email for your company. [email protected] sounds more professional than [email protected]
Once you decide to go full-time, make sure you have funds to cover your expenses for at least three months. Six months is ideal. Take your business expenses, like internet and software subscriptions, as well as your personal expenses, such as food, rent, and utilities, into consideration when deciding how much you’ll need.
6 Steps to Starting Your Own Bookkeeping Business
Now that you understand the fundamental startup costs, let’s look at the steps you’ll need to take to launch your new bookkeeping business.
Step 1 – Research your market
Every business is different, so don’t assume you know what companies are looking for in bookkeeping services. Spend some time talking with business owners. What specific services do they need most? Do they need a bookkeeper all year round or mainly at tax time? Do they want someone familiar with a particular software? How much are they willing to pay?
The more you can find out about what your future customers are looking for, the better you’ll be able to serve them, and the less time you’ll waste getting your business up to speed.
In addition to researching your potential customers, dive into your competitors, too. Are there a lot of bookkeeping services in your area? How much do they charge? How are the reviews of their services? And most importantly, what can you do to stand apart from your competitors?
Step 2 – Get training and/or a certification
If you don’t have them already, you’ll need to have a solid grasp of bookkeeping principles. Fortunately, there are several ways you can learn, both online and in person. Your local community college is a great place to start. Virtually all community colleges offer bookkeeping courses. The cost per credit hour is generally much lower than a traditional four-year college, and you can attend full-time or part-time, depending on your schedule.
Certification isn’t technically required, but it’s useful because it reassures your clients that you have the knowledge and experience needed to manage their money. Most certifications require at least one year of experience as a bookkeeper in addition to successfully passing one or more tests, so you may need to work for a while before they’re an option. Study the requirements and track your progress toward meeting them.
The two best-known certifications are the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB). Both these organizations offer classes that can help prepare you to take their exams. Many community colleges also offer programs designed to help you get formally certified.
Step 3 – Create a simple business plan
It might sound intimidating, but a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated or even all that formal. It’s simply a chance to organize your ideas around your business and put them in writing. That way, it can help guide your decisions about your business as you move forward.
Your business plan should answer the following questions:
- What specific services do you offer?
- Who are your ideal clients? (if you service a particular business niche or company size, for example.)
- What will you charge (consider having hourly, monthly retainer, and package rates)?
- What is your marketing strategy?
- What are your startup costs? (Get as detailed as possible! You don’t want to overlook small costs that add up or be blindsided by unanticipated expenses later.)
If you ever want to get a bank loan for your business, you’ll probably need a more formal business plan. For now, the important thing is to walk yourself through the steps you’ll need to take to be successful.
Step 4 – Register your business & business name
The exact process and costs for this vary from state to state and depend on the type of business structure you choose. If you decide to go into business as a sole proprietor, you can simply hang out your shingle and start working. However, registering as a limited liability company (LLC) gives you more liability protection.
This is a situation where it might be worth paying an attorney for legal advice and to help draw up the paperwork needed to register as an LLC if you decide to go that route. Errors and omissions insurance is a good investment regardless, but it’s especially important if you choose to work as a sole proprietor.
Step 5 – Get a business bank account and credit card
Regardless of the type of business structure you choose, you should open a separate account for your new business. The biggest reason is to prove to the IRS that you have a real business, not just a hobby (the IRS frowns on people who take business deductions but can’t prove that they’re running a real business). A business bank account also makes it easier to keep your financial records organized, makes it easier to file your tax returns, and helps protect your assets. Plus, it just looks more professional.
While you’re opening your account, make friends with your local banker—they could be an excellent source of referrals for your business!
A business credit card isn’t necessary, but it can be very useful. Having one that’s dedicated to business use only will help keep your personal and business finances separate. If you end up using your personal credit card for business expenses, get into the habit of reimbursing yourself. It may seem silly when you’re just a one-person business, but again, it will help if you ever have to prove to the IRS that you take your business seriously.
Remember to connect everything to your accounting software to stay organized.
Step 6 – Market, market, market yourself
Being the best bookkeeper in the world won’t help you if no one knows who you are or how to find you. Marketing your services is just as important as setting up the business in the first place, but exactly how you market will depend on various factors, including your budget, your location, and your niche.
Most of your marketing will involve a combination of advertising or networking. Advertising could mean anything from paid Google ad placement to sponsoring your local Little League. Networking could mean physically going to conferences and joining relevant Meetups, or it could mean meeting people through social media.
Don’t exhaust yourself or your bank account by trying everything at once. Start with two or three affordable strategies and work your way up to more expensive ones. Track your results from each carefully, so you know what’s working and what isn’t.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Tell your friends and family that you’re starting a bookkeeping business and ask them for referrals.
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce.
- If you’re serving a niche industry, consider joining its industry association and connecting both online and in person.
- Cold-call businesses in your ideal niche and let them know how you can help them.
- Incentivize referrals by rewarding current clients for referring new ones.
- Create professional social media accounts (be most active on the channels where your ideal clients are most likely to see you).
- Network with business owners. The more business owners you meet and talk to, the more likely you are to get hired or referred. Don’t just pitch your services. Take the time to get to learn about their businesses and get to know them as people.
- Network with accountants and other bookkeepers. Accountants often work closely with bookkeepers, especially at tax time, and fellow bookkeepers can be an invaluable source of information and advice.
- Learn how to advertise online (Google, Facebook, etc.).
- Ask clients to leave testimonials for you on social media and include put testimonials on your website.
Following the above steps will help get your bookkeeping business off to a good start, but don’t rest on your laurels. Keep up with changes in the industry and continue to evolve your skills. Once you’ve established yourself as a bookkeeper, consider getting training and/or certification in accounting, which will allow you to offer more services at a higher price point.
And be sure to check out the following guides, which can help you get started: