The Freelance Bookkeeper’s Credentials
One of the most common questions I hear about becoming a freelance bookkeeper is, ‘What credentials do I need?’
The real answer to that question has more to do with the type of freelance business you want to build. But for the purposes of this article, we will assume that you are focusing on handling the month-to-month bookkeeping of your clients as their sole bookkeeper.
You’ve Got Choices
I’ve found that most freelance bookkeepers are concerned with the technical skills needed to provide quality service. Of course, that is a good place to start.
So, if you’re starting from zero, the first step is to learn the ropes academically. Here are a few choices to consider:
the basics you need may be available locally in a classroom setting. Check a nearby community college or continuing education programs to see if there are any live classes offered for bookkeeping certificate programs.
If that is not available in your area, or you can’t fit classroom training into your schedule, you may want to consider self-study training courses available online. Penn Foster Career School offers a couple of choices for self-paced training that are good quality. You can either get a Certificate in Accounting or take their Bookkeeping program.
Universal Accounting’s Professional Bookkeeper training is another option.
This training is a self-study program that takes the traditional paper-and-pencil approach. It is a course that centers on small business bookkeeping, designed and taught by a CPA. It also includes a module on practical steps for starting your freelance business.
Are You Certifiable?
If you already have a good understanding of bookkeeping principles, but want the credibility (and confidence) that comes with a few letters you can add after your name…
AIPB’s Certified Bookkeeper training which provides the CB (Certified Bookkeeper) certification is probably your most economical and recognized option for a professional bookkeeping designation. This is a thorough self-study, traditional debits-and-credits approach from the oldest industry association for our profession. I suggest that you pursue this after you already have a good, basic understanding of bookkeeping under your belt. You will also need some on-the-job experience in order to qualify for the certification.
NACPB’s Certified Professional Bookkeeper training provides the CPB (Certified Public Bookkeeper) designation. This is another self-study training option geared toward those who wish to start their own bookkeeping business, created by a CPA.
Of course, the best training, after you have the academics down, is real-world experience. But you can only get that kind of “training” by actually doing client work.
There are a variety of ways to get that hands-on experience, which range from offering to do the books for a friend or two who own businesses, to subcontracting from an established freelance bookkeeper, to working directly for an accounting firm. Working as an accounting temp may also give you the opportunity for varied experience, if you can land gigs with small businesses. (Experience with large corporations will be of little help in running your freelance bookkeeping business.)
Of course, it goes without saying (though I’m saying it here), you will also want to set up your own set of books and keep good records to apply what you’ve been learning AND see how it feels to be a business owner!
Finally, when you’ve got the bookkeeping principles and practices firmly ingrained, there will be one other major learning curve to tackle in the freelance bookkeeping puzzle. You must learn to use QuickBooks. The vast majority of small businesses use this software, and you will need to learn to use it correctly and well. Just knowing accounting principles does not mean you know how to use this “user-friendly” software accurately.
There are many bookkeepers (as well as CPAs!) who think they can just “fake it” with QuickBooks. That is certainly not the case, and those who do, often cause their clients frustrating problems rather than providing quality services.
So in my next article we’ll tackle this topic – Which QuickBooks credentials and training do freelance bookkeepers REALLY need?
In the meantime, if you need to brush up on your bookkeeping know-how, or start pursuing a certification program, for credibility and confidence before starting your business (or to enhance your existing services), then check out the options above and take action this week. Then let us hear about your success!
Remember, in tough economic times, small business actually need clean books more than they do in fat economic times. Opportunities abound right now for qualified freelance bookkeepers.