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Guide to starting a bookkeeping business

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If you’re considering starting a bookkeeping business, look no further. We have all the tips and tricks you need to take your dream from start-up to success.

Whatever your reason for wanting to start a bookkeeping business, or however big you wish to grow it, these steps will help you lay the foundation to creating a fulfilling and successful business.

Start with a qualification

When working with people’s finances, they usually prefer that you have a qualification that certifies you as fit to perform that role. If you don’t have any bookkeeping experience or qualifications, now is the time to gain industry knowledge and training.

While there are numerous courses available online, you can also look to the following organisations for more formal qualifications:

The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and Accountants (ICBA) and several other organisations offer various bookkeeping courses designed to fit your lifestyle. ICB students may apply for membership to the International Association of Bookkeepers (IAB), depending on their qualifications.

There are three qualification levels.

Most bookkeepers carry out Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications before setting up their bookkeeping practice, preferring to add capabilities as they progress in their careers.

The ICB will provide you with a membership number, the licence you require to practice, and guidance on setting up a practice, including policies and procedures, insurance, branding, etc.

While you may want to become a certified bookkeeper, it is not necessary to set up your bookkeeping practice. You should, however, ensure that you continually upskill yourself and your staff. You want to be at the forefront of the latest bookkeeping trends and practices so that you can alert your clients to any changes or challenges before they happen. This is one of the best ways that accountants can add value to their clients’ businesses.

Know the rules

Once you’re qualified, you need to comply with a series of rules and regulations. This includes registering with the ICB (not registering could result in a fine), applying for a practice licence, and complying with professional conduct regulations.

You will also need to comply with anti-money laundering regulations because, as a bookkeeper, you have a legal obligation to limit the risk of your clients laundering money.

The professional conduct regulations are set out in the ongoing duties to the ICB, and there is a disciplinary process that is followed, should a member breach the rules.

Get insured, be protected

You’ll need business insurance for your bookkeeping firm. This will help you manage your business’s risks and cover you in the event of losses incurred during normal operations as well as any losses within the scope of your policy.

You can also take out public liability insurance, which covers you for damages you are legally required to pay due to an incident in your business or on your premises. Your liability also extends to the actions of any employee, director, or partner that represents your business.

Get yourself set up

Once you’ve passed your exams, registered with the ICB, arranged insurance, and are compliant with all the policies and regulations, you’re ready to set up shop.

You will need to register your business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). First, decide if you would like to operate as a sole proprietor or a private company. It is essential to consider which business model suits you best in terms of your goals, but it is advisable to separate your company’s liabilities from your personal ones.

You’ll then need to decide whether you’d like to work in an office or from home. Setting up in an office means you’ll have higher operating costs, such as rent, phone or internet lines, parking bays, etc.

If you’re setting up at home, be sure to create a designated workspace. You can use a spare room or section off part of another room, as long as your space remains constant. You will also need somewhere to store your clients’ paperwork and data in line with the new Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) regulations. Working from home also has additional tax benefits.

If you don’t already have one, you will need to buy a laptop or desktop computer and accounting software. You’ll also need business stationery and a business bank account.

Create your business plan

When starting any business, it’s critical to do your research and draw up a business plan that you can refer to as your business grows.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who will your clients be?

Who are you looking to service? Are you going to stay small and niche or service bigger businesses?

  • Where will you find these clients?

A basic marketing strategy can help your business through the start-up phase. Strategies for finding clients could include asking friends and family to refer you to someone who needs bookkeeping services, and advertising in a local paper, area-specific WhatsApp group or Facebook page, or by word of mouth.

  • What services will you offer?

The services you offer will depend on the size of your business, as well as those of your clients. It could include recording cash receipts, making bank deposits, paying supplier invoices, maintaining annual budgets, managing payroll and VAT, handling compliance reporting, etc. Your services will depend largely on your clients’ needs.

  • How do you plan to work with clients?

Will you be working on retainer or offering a once-off service?

  • What does success look like?

Does it mean hiring more staff? Increasing turnover? Be clear about what you want and what milestones you’ll need to achieve – and by when – to reach your goals.

Map out how these will look in a year from now and then in five years. Revise your business plan often to ensure that you’re on the right track.

Let’s talk money!

How will you charge for your services? This is one of the more challenging questions to answer. You want to be careful not to undercharge and devalue your service, but also not to overcharge and alienate much of your client base.

There is, however, no set answer on what you should charge. You’ll either charge an hourly or monthly rate (although we advise against this pricing model), or you can set retainers based on consultation with your clients. When determining your rates, you should consider the services you’re offering, your clients’ needs (and size), and your level of experience.

Software for better business

Accounting software can be of great use to you in your bookkeeping business. It can help you calculate VAT returns, balance your books, collaborate with your own accountant and clients, manage and process payroll, and accept multi-currency payments, all while remaining legislatively compliant, on any device, from anywhere.

If you’re using a cloud accounting solution, you will be able to work with your clients in real-time, monitoring their numbers and helping them make better decisions based on real-time data. You will also be able to access their numbers and create updated financial reports whenever necessary.

That’s a wrap

Building your own bookkeeping business can be rewarding. Setting your own hours is a great lifestyle choice, and being able to choose your clients will have you wondering why you didn’t do this sooner.

Give yourself time to learn and grow, and be sure to keep your finger on the bookkeeping pulse so that you are always ahead of the game.

Lastly, enjoy the satisfaction of helping others grow their businesses by assisting them to run smooth and efficient operations.

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