Thinking of becoming a bookkeeper?
Side Hustle Show listener Kate Johnson started her bookkeeping business in 2017, and now serves several recurring clients. She targets an effective rate of $70 an hour, and is able to work from home.
With her youngest starting preschool, Kate found herself with an extra 9 hours a week. “I wanted to be a good steward of that time,” she explained.
Tune in to this episode to hear Kate explain:
- Why she decided to start working as a virtual bookkeeper
- How she landed her first clients
- How she’s grown her client base with little marketing
- The surprising new side hustle this work has spun off
Why Become a Bookkeeper?
Although she’d never been paid to do accounting or bookkeeping in the past, the business appealed to her. She knew she could learn the necessary skills and software, and thrive in a “behind-the-scenes” role.
“Lots of small businesses are really good at their craft, but they’re really bad at the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Kate said. “And I’ve always been a great number two person.”
On top of this, being married to someone in the Navy and never being fully settled in one place, Kate really wanted a virtual job.
Becoming a virtual bookkeeper checked both of those boxes.
How to Get Started as a Bookkeeper
The first step to getting started is making sure you have a proper education and understanding of bookkeeping and accounting rules.
In Kate’s case, she’d taken some accounting classes in college, but those high-level courses weren’t necessarily great preparation for starting an actual bookkeeping business.
Bookkeeping Educational Resources
To learn the ropes, Kate enrolled in a premium course called Bookkeeper Launch. If you click here, you’ll be able to check out a free preview of the course — and you can check out Kate’s full review here.
Before investing in a course though, it might make sense to work through some free resources, like these at AccountingCoach.com. Most free courses will give you to baseline technical education to feel comfortable doing the work, but won’t cover the “business” side of becoming a bookkeeper.
That business side includes:
- Thinking beyond “debits and credits” to help business owners achieve their financial goals
- Marketing yourself to get clients
- The systems and processes to run an efficient and compliant bookkeeping practice
Still, these skills are learnable at your own pace. A paid course may accelerate your progress and give you confidence, but there’s always a way for bootstrappers to get started on the cheap.
Don’t Rush It
“You’re really talking about people’s livelihoods here,” Kate explained. Passing a Quickbooks exam isn’t enough. You need to learn the fundamentals of accounting, as well as how to use bookkeeping software.
She also added that there are a lot of bad bookkeepers out there, and the difference between a good and a bad bookkeeper can have a huge impact on a business.
This isn’t a side hustle you can learn in a week or even a month, Kate told me.
What Certifications Are Required to Become a Bookkeeper?
In the US, there are no formal certifications required to call yourself a bookkeeper.
(The rules may differ elsewhere.)
Still, Kate added that all of the major bookkeeping software providers have their own certification programs. By taking these, you can demonstrate you’re proficient in using their software. But you’ll still need a foundational education on the rules of accounting.
In Kate’s case, she earned an Advanced Pro Advisor certification from Quickbooks. She recommended aspiring bookkeepers either gain certification in Quickbooks or Xero, as these are the two most popular online accounting software programs.
How to Get Your First Bookkeeping Clients
One challenge with any freelance business is how to connect with clients. Kate employed a few different tactics to fill her client roster.
At the same time Kate took her bookkeeping course, she was also interested in real estate investing.
Her monthly real estate meetup group was hosting a speed networking night. Kate decided to go along and hand out Post-it notes — she wasn’t prepared enough to have business cards — introducing herself as a freelance bookkeeper.
It turned out that one of the other attendees needed some bookkeeping help, so Kate got the gig. And with that, Heritage Business Services was officially in business!
Since this first client was local, Kate met with her a couple of times in person. But she said it’s not necessary; you can onboard clients remotely via Zoom and every accounting software has a built-in permissions to let 3rd party bookkeepers access it.
Bookkeeping Matchmaking Services
Early on, Kate signed up for a service called Paro.io. They act as a kind of matchmaking service for bookkeepers and small businesses.
To get accepted, she had to take a 5-hour test of bookkeeping tasks. Once in, Kate said their sales team worked to find small businesses in need of bookkeeping services to introduce her to.
Kate also recommended a couple of other companies that offer similar services, although she hasn’t used them himself yet:
- BELAY – A virtual assistant company specializing in virtual bookkeepers.
- Quickbooks Live – A service that matches Quickbooks customers with qualified remote bookkeepers.
Your Website: An Online Business Card
However, almost all of Kate’s clients have come from word-of-mouth. Just by telling everyone she knew about her new virtual bookkeeping business, she landed enough customers to keep busy.
After about a year and a half, Kate built a “simple 4-page website” for her business. This gave her somewhere to direct people to find out more about what she does.
If you need a website for your service business, here’s the fastest, cheapest way to get one online. While Kate’s experience is proof you don’t need a website to get started, it can make your business feel more legit to prospective customers (and to yourself).
What’s the Day-To-Day Work Like for a Virtual Bookkeeper?
What’s like life as a remote bookkeeper?
“You’re at a desk, you’re at a computer, doing Zoom calls,” Kate explained. “If all of that sounds terrible to you, then you’re not going to like it.”
There are different types of clients with varying demands. Kate has deliberately built her business around clients that allow her to be flexible with her time.
She has a set amount of work to do for each client weekly or monthly, and can fit that in as it works with her schedule.
How Much Do Bookkeepers Charge?
For that first client Kate secured at the speed networking event, she charged $20 per hour.
From there, she steadily increased her rates. “I aimed to make more with each new client,” she told me.
Kate also moved away from charging an hourly rate. Instead, she works out a monthly fee for each new client, based on the complexity of their business in terms of payroll and transaction volume.
She works out a price by estimating how many hours she’ll work for them in a month, targeting an effective rate of $70 per hour.
Growing a Remote Bookkeeping Business
Heritage Business Services is an intentionally part-time operation. “I don’t want a lot of clients,” Kate admitted.
To streamline her bookkeeping work, Kate told me her next steps are to add more processes into her business and outsource some of her monthly work.
She’s already hired one subcontractor in 2020 to help with two of her clients. So far it’s working out well, and she feels great about lifting some of that work off herself.
Protecting Your Bookkeeping Business
Like other professional service providers, it makes sense for bookkeepers to carry a general liability insurance policy. This can protect you against claims of damages related to mistakes in your work.
Check with a service like CoverWallet for quotes.
Helping Others Become Bookkeepers
In an interesting turn of events, her bookkeeping business spun off another side hustle. What started out as offering advice to people in a financial independence Facebook group, turned into a small concentrated group of people in her own Facebook group.
(From the original 15 members, the group had grown to over 7000 members at the time we recorded!)
Kate discovered a passion for helping other people become bookkeepers, but found herself answering similar questions over and over again. Her next step was to create a dedicated website, appropriately named BookkeepingSideHustle.com.
There she shares:
- Reviews of different bookkeeping courses
- Her favorite sites for finding freelance bookkeeping jobs
- The Bookkeeping Side Hustle Guidebook (use code SHN30OFF)
Kate’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation
“Have the long view in mind.”
Links and Resources from this Episode
- Bookkeeping Side Hustle Facebook Group
- Get Kate’s Bookkeeping Side Hustle Guidebook 30% off with code SHN30OFF
- Free preview of the Bookkeeper Launch course
- Business credit cards
- Quickbooks Live
Alternatives to Becoming a Bookkeeper
Remote bookkeeping is certainly a viable and high-value side hustle, but it’s not the only option. Side Hustle Nation is filled with creative ways to make extra money.
Virtual Assistant Service
If you like the idea of working from home, but are less thrilled about learning the language of accounting, becoming a virtual assistant might be worth a look.
You probably won’t be bringing in $70 an hour, especially to start, but many US-based VAs charge $20-40 an hour. My friend Abbey put together this free training on how to get started.
Mobile Notary Service
Several Side Hustle Nation readers have reported great success ($1500 a month and up!) becoming loan signing agents.
Check the link above to learn more about how this side hustle works and why it might just be “the best kept secret in real estate.”
While Kate advised to take the long-view, sometimes we need to make money quickly. One of the fastest ways to multiply your dollars is to simply buy low, and sell high. A couple friends of mine earn a full-time living as “flea market flippers” and put together this free training on how it works.
Teaching English Online
Services like VIPkid connect you with students in China, and pay up to $22 an hour. Teaching English online is something you can do from the comfort of your home, without the additional risks and costs, but there are a few requirements to get started. And because of the time zone differences, this gig usually takes place in the early morning hours.
- Freshbooks.com – Start your 30-day free trial today!
- Ezoic – Get started with Ezoic’s Ad Tester technology for free!
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