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Does earning $60 an hour sound appealing? How about the freedom to work remotely while helping others succeed?
Those are the perks of working as a bookkeeper, says , a certified public accountant and business owner who teaches others to become virtual bookkeepers.
And no, you don’t have to have a CPA to be successful in this business. In fact, all you really need are decent computer skills and a passion for helping business owners tackle real-world problems.
It’s a great opportunity for moms who want to work part time, millennials who are just out of college and anyone who wants to bring in real money while working from home.
We talked to Robinson about what it takes to become a virtual bookkeeper, as well as tips and advice for making this career track work for you.
Ben, can you share a little about your background? What’s your bookkeeping experience?
I’ve been a CPA since 1999. From 2001 until early 2015, I owned two accounting firms.
One of my main focuses within those firms was helping business owners take care of their bookkeeping. A lot of — actually most — business owners struggle with keeping accurate and up-to-date bookkeeping records.
I knew I needed a team of great bookkeepers to get the work done. What I soon discovered is that great bookkeepers are hard to find. And, when I did find a great bookkeeper who owned their own business, they were buried with clients and had a waiting list of business owners who wanted their books done.
Not being one to accept defeat, I set out to train my own great bookkeeping staff. For over 10 years, I developed a program that helped raise up great bookkeepers. Matching these business owners to great bookkeepers is something I really enjoy doing.
After I sold my firm in January 2015, I decided my life’s business purpose was to help train and equip an army of 10,000 great bookkeepers who want to own their own business and — more importantly — determine the path they will take in life.
Do you have to have a CPA to be a bookkeeper?
In fact, none of the great bookkeepers I have trained have even been accountants, much less Certified Public Accountants.
The work an accountant or CPA performs and the work a bookkeeper performs have some overlap. If I were given the choice of training a CPA or someone with no experience to become a great bookkeeper, I’d choose the inexperienced candidate any day.
But this inexperienced person does need to have certain personal characteristics to set themselves up for success as a great bookkeeper.
What characteristics and skills are you referring to?
Compared to a CPA, bookkeepers are more transaction-oriented and more often in contact with clients on a day-to-day basis. Bookkeepers are more involved with the granular details of the business, whereas CPAs are typically more involved in the strategy.
To be a great bookkeeper, you need real-world skills. If you go through a traditional bookkeeping course, you’ll probably learn a lot of theory. That’s important to understand, but there’s no practical application.
For example, when I went to school and got my degree in accounting, I thought “Yes! I can conquer the world.” But my first day working as a CPA was a real shock — I could figure out earnings per share, but I couldn’t do simple tasks that business owners need, like reconciling a bank account. The best bookkeepers can navigate those real-world problems for the business owners they work with.
You also need to have decent computer skills. Since all the work you perform as a virtual bookkeeper is done in a virtual environment, you must know how to communicate effectively and efficiently through technology, and feel comfortable using those tools.
What are the benefits of doing this kind of work?
Goodness, where do I begin?
My favorite benefit is the freedom a bookkeeping business affords. As a virtual bookkeeper business owner, you have the freedom to choose where you work, when you work and with whom you work.
Think about the power of being in control of these three factors in your professional life! The impact is tremendous and liberating.
My second favorite benefit is the income potential. As a great bookkeeper, you command great rates. Business owners value the service you provide and are willing to pay you for this value because of the results you help them achieve.
The third benefit is that bookkeeping is always in demand. All businesses are required to maintain bookkeeping records, which means there are always people and companies hiring for these positions.
You mentioned income potential. What’s the going rate for bookkeeping services?
The average full-time bookkeeper earns about $40,000 per year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. However, that is as an employee in a typical work setting. As a freelancer or contractor, you can actually earn a higher hourly rate while working fewer hours.
I teach my bookkeepers that they should target at least $60 per hour as their goal. You must know how to provide true value to clients — that real-world problem-solving we talked about — to command this kind of income.
What tools do quality bookkeepers use nowadays?
At the heart of a virtual bookkeeper’s toolbox is accounting software. For example, the one we often recommend is . We also encourage our students to use . These tools take care of the vast majority of tasks you need to perform great work as a bookkeeper.
Other tools are basic and probably already available to you, such as a computer and a high-speed internet connection.
Say I wanted to start a bookkeeping business. What would my startup costs be?
This is one of the best aspects of a bookkeeping business: low startup costs.
You can start your bookkeeping business for less than $1,500, assuming you have a decent computer and basic office supplies.
The biggest part of the investment, both start-up and ongoing, is in yourself: learning! It’s in developing your own skills and becoming a real craftsman at the art of bookkeeping.
As your bookkeeping business grows, you’ll need to continue to invest in new technology and supplies. Again, however, you must continue to reinvest in your own learning never being satisfied with where you are in your learning.
This is the mark of a real professional. I’ve been doing this for more than 16 years and I spend — at a minimum — 40 hours per year learning new skills and improving existing ones.
Your Turn: Do you have any questions for Ben on how to become a bookkeeper?
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Maryann Akinboyewa is the Assistant PR Coordinator at Taylor Media.