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How to Become a Bookkeeper
Bookkeeping is a popular profession in Australia. It has all the advantages of being a semi-professional ‘white collar’ career. At the same time if offers you opportunities to start your own business, work from home and have a long term career in the bookkeeping and accounting industry.
Barriers to entry are relatively low. Starting your financial services career as a bookkeeper is much less daunting than the 3+ years of university required for many professional accounting roles. At the same time you can still provide valuable business services as a professional bookkeeper. As you build on your experience and skills with more qualifications, your opportunities for work continue to grow:
- • With one year of relevant experience and a Certificate IV in Bookkeeping or Accounting, you can become a registered BAS Agent and provide valuable BAS services as a contract bookkeeper.
- • With two or more years of experience and a Diploma of Accounting qualification, you can become a registered Tax Agent and do tax returns for individuals and businesses.
- • With a degree in accounting, you can take on more challenging roles in the industry and ultimately get certified by a professional accounting association – then the world really is your oyster!
How to Become a Bookkeeper
There are no formal qualifications needed to be a bookkeeper.
There are two common ways people become a bookkeeper: experience and training.
Pretty much anyone with general administration duties like a receptionist, office admin or people working in a small business with “all-rounder” duties will have done some basic bookkeeping. Recording payments, processing receipts, entering data into a computerised accounting system – all basic bookkeeping tasks.
A number of bookkeepers have started their career this way – starting in a role with some exposure to bookkeeping, then taking on more responsibility and learning new skills to do the job.
Getting trained in bookkeeping is a shortcut to starting your career in the industry. You will learn the skills and knowledge required to start out in the industry and have a formal qualification to show to potential employers.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands of basic bookkeeping courses available so where do you start? Vocational courses are relatively short but at the same time are nationally recognised and accredited across Australia, so you can be confident they’ll be accepted.
Vocational bookkeeping and accounting courses include:
- • Certificate III in Accounts Administration
- • Certificate IV in Bookkeeping
- • Certificate IV in Accounting
- • Diploma of Accounting
Certificate IV level courses are very popular starting qualifications because they fulfill the training requirements for BAS registration (explained later) while teaching a lot of essential skills. They are also pre-requisites to study the Diploma of Accounting now, though you can study the required units from the Certificate IV as part of the Diploma.
There are other courses that include some bookkeeping training but aren’t dedicated bookkeeping courses, such as:
- • Certificate III in Business Administration
- • Certificate IV in Business Administration
Experience and ability are usually the essential factors employers consider when hiring a bookkeeper. Having said that, to really pursue a career in bookkeeping (employed or self-employed), you will almost certainly need to earn qualifications at some point!
So what do you actually do as a bookkeeper?
Common bookkeeping duties
At the core of bookkeeping are a few simple functions:
- • Recognising work the business does and making sure the customers are billed
- • Issuing and recording invoices to customers
- • Ensuring the customer pays their invoice
As a bookkeeper, you can be responsible for:
- • Tracking how the business spends money
- • Monitoring cash payments by getting relevant documents, working out what the payment was for and recording it.
- • Determining whether an invoicing system is required and how it should be set up
- • Receiving supplier invoices, checking they’re valid and scheduling payments
- • Paying suppliers and recording the transactions
- • Calculating payroll and ensuring employees are paid on time and in full
- • Establishing processes for how business money should be spent and recorded
In most cases bookkeepers are hired for one reason: to do the BAS!
Among the most essential functions a bookkeeper performs are BAS services. BAS stands for Business Activity Statements. These are tax documents that businesses need to submit to the Australian Tax Office throughout the year.
They’re often too complicated or time consuming for business owners to prepare themselves, and there can be penalties for misreporting them.
Bookkeepers need to be registered BAS Agents to get paid to prepare these statements. You can find a full rundown on how to become a BAS agent in our article, How to Become a Registered BAS Agent.
Many small businesses are too small to employ a full-time or even part-time bookkeeper of their own, but professional accountants are too expensive to hire for relatively simple jobs like preparing BAS.
Contract bookkeepers have evolved to fill this niche. Many people get their bookkeeping qualifications and register as a BAS agent with the goal of becoming a contract bookkeeper.
There are definite benefits to becoming a contract bookkeeper. Typically contract bookkeepers run their own small businesses and can often work from home or office. This makes it an ideal career for stay at home parents, people wanting to set their own work-life balance or who find working for someone else too restrictive.
For more information on how to become a contract bookkeeper, check out our article: How to Become a Contract Bookkeeper
Bookkeeping is no dead-end career. You can build on vocational qualifications like the Certificate IV in Bookkeeping or Accounting with a Diploma of Accounting. From there you can go to university to complete an accounting degree.
Eventually, you can become certified by a professional accounting association like Certified Practising Accountants (CPA) which opens up many new accounting and financial services career options. If that isn’t enough, there are post-graduate and even doctoral studies to do!
Bookkeeping is a solid career path with real options. Becoming a bookkeeper is just the start of your journey. The more you work at it, the further you can go – either through developing your skills and becoming a big-shot Chief Finance Officer or CEO, or building your bookkeeping business into a major company. If you just want to enjoy a healthy work-life balance and be there for your family, that’s fine too. With bookkeeping, it’s up to you!