The Myth About Bookkeeper Credentials and Education

[Note: This article was originally published in October 2011, but since it is still such a prevalent belief, I have revised and added some additional info as of the above date]
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There's a BIG myth that most freelance bookkeepers believe about bookkeeper credentials and education, and it's time to set the record straight. It's actually one of the key reasons the vast majority of bookkeepers (and even accountants) struggle to get more clients!
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Here's the common belief: If you get more and more credentials, and more and more education, then you ‘ll automatically attract more and more clients.

It doesn't work that way!

Yet this is what bookkeepers and accountants believe without even giving it a second thought. In fact, I've heard it said repeatedly at  level accounting seminars by industry leaders (who profit by running these seminars) that if you get more education, more credentials, you will grow your business. And when they do, the audience says, “Amen!”

What?

That's just not true.

It's time we stop unquestioningly drinking the Kool-Aid that's, at best, holding you back from growing your business much more quickly!

So where's the disconnect? In a word, communication.

The way to grow your business and get more clients is to communicate the skills that you have that will benefit your clients. Clients don't care about the hours you've spent attending training sessions to get a technical credential. They are attracted to you for what you can do for them. But they will NEVER come to you unless they know that we exist.

Now, it is true that if you provide high quality services to your existing clients, they might talk to other clients and then you might get referrals. That can happen, and does happen often.

But to effectively growing your business, more important than the number of letters after your name, is your marketing ability. You need to have a good marketing system in place to send you a stream of the kind of clients that are looking for the skills that you have to offer them.

So, yes, we do need the technical skills to provide the services our clients want. But marketing is the linchpin to growing your business consistently. This is especially true in the early years of your bookkeeping business.

So now you know the truth about how to use your credentials (service clients) AND what's really needed to get more clients consistently.

If you've already got the bookkeeping skills you need, but have been struggling to find more clients (which validates the truth of what this article is about), then it's time to learn how to improve your marketing communication skills. That's the kind of education that can REALLY grow your freelance bookkeeping business starting right now.

My Freelance Bookkeeper Marketing System is popular because it shows you the most effective marketing methods that work for us and how to get more clients in 30 days or less.

But I'd be interested to hear what you seasoned bookkeepers have been doing and what YOUR best sources for learning how to market your services has been.

Please share your experiences in the comments below!

Freelance bookkeeper, trainer and consultant who works with internet savvy business owners and bookkeeping professionals to maximize cash flow and build true win-win relationships.

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18 Responses to “The Myth About Bookkeeper Credentials and Education”

  • Val Barschaw on October 21, 2011

    You are right on! Clients don’t want us because of what we ‘know’ – they hire us because of what we can do. We can make their lives easier, more powerful and just plain more simple. It doesn’t require a certificate to do that; it takes a core competence WITH a commitment to help others.

    I believe that part of the reason we are in this industry is because we thrive on processes; and quite likely we HATE selling. Therefore, we hesitate to consider ‘marketing’ because we think it will equal selling.

    But if we are in this industry for the ‘right’ reason (which to me is helping others) then I have to know in my heart and soul that the only way I can help more people is to get my message out there. Marketing isn’t a want – it is a MUST. To do any less would mean that I am not helping as many people as I can, because they just plain don’t know I exist.

    Thank you for putting your time and energy into producing a webinar that will help provide the processes; because, like I said, processes comes easily for us to understand.

    Oh – to answer your question on what I do as a seasoned bookkeeper: I remind myself everyday that selling sucks and I am not a salesperson… I am a problem solver! And, as a great problem solver I need to implement the processes (aka marketing) to be able to reach more people so I can have the privilege to solve their problems too.

    • Gabrielle on October 23, 2011

      Great point, Val!

      Yes, if we just remember that by just communicating the ways we solve problems for our clients on a regular basis (aka marketing), everyone wins! 🙂

  • Mike on October 22, 2011

    Val, I couldn’t agree with you more! After working and managing my dad’s retail business for 18 years, I would still cringe when I saw salesmen come in the door. My dad sold his business this summer, so I’m looking for new work.

    I’ve considered starting my own bookkeeping and payroll business because the job market is not so great now. The biggest obstacle I see is marketing my service. I’m wondering how to get started and get enough clients to keep from having to dip into my IRA. Working from home is not really an option, because I don’t have access to broadband internet.

    I wonder if there are people out there who have their own freelance marketing businesses?

    • Gabrielle on October 23, 2011

      Hi Mike,

      As you know from working in your dad’s business, it does take some time to build up a reputation and get the word out. The good news for our type of business, though, is that many new clients will come from word of mouth, so the best first marketing strategy for attracting new clients is simply to contact the people you already know and let them know about the problems you solve, just asking them to pass along your name if they hear of anyone who is in need of your help. I would guess your dad probably has some great business contacts as well.

      Point is, with word of mouth, you never know who all your contacts know and especially this time of year, you could very quickly pick up a few clients who want the work done on-site (since Internet access is not practical for you). Temporary contract work might also fill in some of the cash flow gaps in the beginning.

      As far as people who do freelance marketing, yep, marketing consultants, especially those helping local businesses to improve their online presence are popping up everywhere. But sadly, many of them really don’t understand local business… they just know some aspects of online marketing (and may be pure opportunity seekers). So if you were considering working with a marketing consultant, do make sure they walk their talk and have good, solid references.

  • Brenda on October 24, 2011

    I was glad to see this blog. I have been wearing myself down to get all the letters behind my name even though, in the past, I had a bookkeeping and payroll service for over 30 years – and, yes, I did study accounting for two years with a 4.0 GPA. But, no lettters behind my name.

    So I joined Association of Bookkeepers, have all their study books to take the certification tests, have the book from Fast Forward Academy to prepare for the certified tax preparer exam, and have become a certified Quick Books proadvisor. That is another story – you just pass one QB certification and then another one comes along.

    My head is rolling with information! I am certifiably exhausted and I haven’t even started my business yet (the re-start of my business).

    I have the opportunity to do work for several churches but I have been thinking I have to do this and I have to do that – FIRST! I never doubted myself in the past. Why am I doubting myself now? All my past clients were referrals from CPA’s.

    Thanks for the tip. I will start the marketing process right away. The only test I really have to worry about right now is the tax preparer exam.

  • Gabrielle on October 24, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Brenda! I’m sure many of us know how it feels to keep chasing more education and wondering when we’re going to start making some MONEY!

    Sounds like you are definitely ready to get your business rolling and snag those first few clients!

    We’re cheering you on! 🙂

  • Becky Olsen on November 8, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I can’t wait to share this with my bookkeeping friends.
    -becky

    • Gabrielle on November 11, 2011

      Always happy to hear that the blog is relevant and helpful. 🙂

  • Kgosi Johnson on May 16, 2012

    Speaking of marketing, is it advisable to put an email address on our websites and business cards? Some colleagues I talked to say to make sure to give people whatever ways to contact you. Others say do not give out email address because of spam.

    • Gabrielle on May 16, 2012

      Great questions, Kgosi!

      Yes, without a doubt you should have your email address on your business cards! And yes, it is good advice to give people multiple ways to contact you, but I also agree that you should NOT put your email address on your website. It is far better to use a contact form instead. Your colleagues are right! If you put your email address on the web publicly, there are what are called “spam bots” that will “harvest” your email address for those who use the data gathered to send spam and sell your email address to others who send spam. You will get TONS of spam. To help prevent this, you are well served to use a web form instead to get messages from those who visit your website.

  • Kgosi Johnson on May 18, 2012

    Gabrielle & Val mention excellent point about being a problem solver and communicating that message. When I meet someone face to face, I can listen to a potential client and then explain to them how I can solve their problem. However, how do I specify being a problem solver with other forms of marketing?

    • Gabrielle on May 19, 2012

      Great question, Kgosi, as usual.

      The answer is the difference between being reactive and being proactive. When you listen to the struggles someone is having and then provide them with a customized solution, you are reacting and conforming to whatever they seem to need. When you are proactive, you attract the clients that need the solutions you have to offer. In order to do that, you need to know what your Ideal Clients need most. That is most easily done when you have a specialty. When you know your Ideal Client well and understand what their top 5 most common issues are, you can develop a highly effective marketing message that provides solutions that they have been “looking” for, and they will come to you! That will set you head and shoulders above you competition, since the vast majority of all bookkeepers are reactive and often put themselves in the role of virtual employee, letting their clients call the shots. But as professionals, everyone wins when we take on a proactive role.

  • Ruby on June 6, 2012

    When I was working full-time as a Staff Accountant with only AAS in Accounting, I was so sure that after I earn my BS in Accounting I would ready to become a full charge bookkeeper and possibly working from home. Now that I have received my BS in Accounting, I realized that I am not quite ready to become a bookkeeper. Most companies looking for bookkeepers want payroll skill as well as Quickbooks. Well, the companies I had worked for in the past used different accounting softwares and sent their payroll to specialist.

    Is there anyway I can boost my confident in my credential and education?

    • Gabrielle on June 15, 2012

      Hi Ruby,

      You certainly have enough education on the accounting side. It sounds like you would do well, however, to get some training in QuickBooks, since it is true that most small businesses (in the States) use QuickBooks. As far as payroll, you do not have to learn / offer that service unless you want to pursue it. You can always look for clients to are similar to the companies you worked for in the past – those who use a payroll company, if you do not want to do payroll services. Remember, YOU are creating your own business, so you get to choose the services you want to offer. Also, if the accounting software you already have experience on is used by small businesses (or a specific type of small business, such as software specific to an industry) that may be a way for you to create a specialty in that niche. Yes, QuickBooks is in high demand, but those companies NOT using QB but the software you are familiar with instead may be having a very hard time finding bookkeepers to help them. So, your “weakness” could turn out to be a big asset! You may just need to do some research and reach out to the software companies to see if they may be helpful to you in finding the clients who use their software (think about building a strategic alliance with them)

      Hope that helps. 🙂

  • Quickbooks Girl on February 24, 2015

    I completely agree. There’s merit to getting certifications and credentials, of course, but as you say it doesn’t make sense to assume that will translate directly into more business. If you’re going to spend money on training to help you gather more clients, then the money is better spent on learning marketing. This goes for any sort of freelance business, really. I wish I could print this article out on fliers and hand them out!

    • Gabrielle on March 2, 2015

      Thanks for your enthusiasm! I think the reason most try to side-step marketing is because we feel like we’re not good at it and not sure how to do it. We know how to learn, so it seems a lot easier to take classes on the technical side of things. But as you point out, we’re running a business, and that means we need to get the marketing done!

  • Michelle on February 25, 2015

    I find it’s easier to get Clients via Referrals. All but two of my Clients are from a Referral. I have formed relationships with accountants and business coaches which has provided a steady source of clients. I have tried traditional marketing but I feel most people are not to open to remote bookkeeping, if only because they don’t know my company well enough to trust their money being handled by someone outside their office.

    My thoughts as a seasoned Bookkeeper: If your good, word will get around and you will get clients. I do not have an accounting degree and only 1 of my clients asked what type of formal training I’ve had. I think experience trumps formal training every time.

    • Gabrielle on March 2, 2015

      Thanks for sharing your experience and sage advice, Michelle! I very much agree with you. I don’t have an accounting degree either, and I’ve never had a client in over 25 years in business ask me if I had one! Totally agree that experience is worth more because clients want to know if you can help them get what they want. They don’t care why you know how, just that you do.

      You are right that referrals will come relatively easy if you do good work, and that’s because so few bookkeepers market their services so it is actually HARD for potential clients to find us! They ask their friends and acquaintances because they don’t know where else to turn. So imagine how quickly a bookkeeper could grow her business if she actually did relationship-based marketing!

      I agree with you that much of the “traditional” marketing and advertising methods are not the most effective these days. You are doing one of the most effective ways — building relationships with those who can refer clients to you! Smart lady you!

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