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How to Become a Contract Bookkeeper
Do you have a head and an eye for numbers?
Do you have an analytic mind with keen attention to detail?
Do you want to work flexible hours so you can have time for other commitments?
If you answered yes to these questions, then Contract Bookkeeping might be for you!
So, are you wondering what a contract bookkeeper is?
Contract bookkeepers are self-employed bookkeepers who run small businesses that provide bookkeeping services to other businesses or private individuals.
Their primary clientele are small businesses that do not have professional bookkeepers and accountants in-house. These bookkeepers provide them with targeted solutions under a contract and at reasonable rates.
Here are some of the jobs done by contract bookkeepers:
- • Preparing and lodging Business Activity Statements (BAS)
- • Recording the transactions of a company
- • Maintaining payroll systems
- • Keeping asset and inventory records
- • Maintaining financial records for up to five years after they are prepared or obtained, or after the transactions are completed (required by the Australian Taxation Office).
In most cases, a business hires a contract bookkeeper to keep necessary records and to prepare the business activity statements (BAS) required by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
They can also provide other BAS services like setting up computerised accounting systems for calculating GST and generating tax invoices for customers; providing advice on BAS-related issues; or representing clients when dealing with the ATO.
Steps to Becoming a Contract Bookkeeper
1. Register as a BAS Agent
Registering as a BAS agent is an important step in starting your own contract bookkeeping business.
It is not strictly essential and there are ways around it, but BAS-related services are one of the most in-demand services bookkeepers provide. Getting registered as a BAS agent allows you to legally provide these services for profit.
To meet the requirements for BAS agent registration, you must successfully complete the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping course; complete board-approved GST/BAS courses—which can be included as part of your bookkeeping course; and work for a number of required hours.
More information (and in detail!) on how to become a BAS agent in this blog here.
2. Get an Australian Business Number
If you think your contract bookkeeping business will be turning over more than $75,000 a year, then you will need to register for an Australian Business Number (ABN).
Getting one is worth it anyway, because having an ABN makes it easier for other businesses to pay you for your services. If you do not have your own ABN, your business will be vulnerable to fraud and unethical practice.
3. Get Insurance
Getting a Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) gives professional bookkeepers a ‘safety net’ in case mistakes happen. This insurance indemnifies bookkeepers from losses suffered by their clients or other third parties due to negligence, mistakes, error, or failure on the bookkeeper’s part.
As the Tax Practitioners Board website says, the PII is “a consumer protection mechanism.” It will provide compensation for clients if they suffer any losses due to an “act, error, or omission as a result of the BAS services” provided by a BAS agent. It also pays the costs of defending a legal case a client makes against you and your business.
Having and maintaining a PII is required for all registered BAS agents; plus, it must meet the requirements of the TPB. Failure to maintain one will result to termination of your BAS agent registration.
4. Buy Your Equipment
If you want to start a Contract Bookkeeping business, then you will need to invest in a good computer and in accounting and bookkeeping software.
Working with the right hardware and software makes bookkeeping so much easier—managing and maintaining financial records become more efficient and creating financial reports becomes faster. Of course, some of the calculation involved will be automated through a bookkeeping software.
Membership in professional associations like the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers gives bookkeepers easier access to software like these; plus, you’ll be given support too (from other bookkeepers of course!).
There are also bookkeeping courses from financial services firms that specialise in software training. This will help you become formally qualified in using your chosen software, helping you get better at what you do.
5. Find a workspace
Contract bookkeepers can do their jobs from their own homes, especially if they are providing remote online services for their clients. This makes contract bookkeeping one of those careers that allow for a healthier work-life balance.
The technology available to finance professionals today has made it easier to do bookkeeping remotely—with raw data from companies simply sent by email or uploaded to the cloud and sent back to them after processing and analyses.
This fact has become even more evident this year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced professionals to work from home.
Another option for contract bookkeepers is renting an office space. Having a formal workplace is the better and more professional choice if you have regular physical meetings with your clients.
There are clients as well who prefer that you to go to their office to fulfil your bookkeeping duties. They may ask for you on-site to provide services that require a bookkeeper’s presence and expertise, such as setting up bookkeeping software in office computers, checking and signing confidential documents, and sorting through physical transaction records.
As mentioned though, bookkeepers and clients alike might be more reluctant to conduct business face-to-face nowadays and in the future because of the pandemic.
6. Set your bookkeeping rates
Setting your price appropriately is extremely important.
Charging the same rate you’d be paid with if you were working for someone else sounds reasonable, right?
While that may be the case, running your own business costs more.
Unlike being an employee, you need to think about your overhead costs once you start running your own business. You need to pay for good equipment, for stable internet connection, for workspace rent or for a workstation set-up, and of course your PI insurance.
You will also need to pay your own taxes (do not forget this!), make superannuation contributions for yourself, and cover any holidays you want to take. All these should be considered before publishing the rates for your bookkeeping services!
Forgetting to account for all client expenses is a big mistake for any bookkeeper, so always remember to check on yours as well. Of course, you do not want to lose money out of your own pocket!
7. Find clients
Probably the single most important step in starting a contract bookkeeping business is of course having clients to provide your services to.
Perhaps you are thinking that this should have been the first step, correct? At the same time though, don’t you need equipment and training and everything else before you even think of who you’re providing bookkeeping services to?
It’s a bit of a catch 22.
Anyway, going back to getting clients…
Pull in favours, pick up the phone and start doing cold calls, offer bookkeeping services to family and friends, advertise your business offline and online, use your networking skills!
Whichever promotional effort you do, work hard at building a solid customer base as soon as possible!
Why do clients need contract bookkeepers?
Contract bookkeepers are in demand because they fill a valuable market niche.
For many business owners, doing their businesses’ Business Activity Statements is too complicated, and yet, it’s too simple a task to employ a full-time bookkeeper or accountant for.
They look for contract bookkeepers because they want expert bookkeeping services for their businesses without having to worry about long-term employment.
Why small businesses love contract bookkeepers
Paying a miscalculated BAS or paying late will incur penalties for the business:
- • Pay too little and the business will be issued a tax bill and can be fined by the ATO
- • Pay more than required and the business suffers, hampering its growth
The upfront cost of paying a contract bookkeeper may seem intimidating to small business owners, but it is significantly cheaper than miscalculating the payment due on a BAS or employing a full-time bookkeeper with the same expertise.
Degree-qualified accountants can also perform BAS services if they have the right registrations. However, they usually charge higher rates than contract bookkeepers because they have additional training and qualifications.
Contract vs “employed” bookkeeper
Unlike contract bookkeepers, employed bookkeepers are employed directly by an organisation for their full-time service. They are not required by law to be qualified, to be a BAS Agent, nor to have any experience.
As a bookkeeper, employment is a great way to develop experience. It’s good for learning about the situations and problems that you may encounter when you become a contract bookkeeper.
To get a job as a full-time bookkeeper though, employers might still ask if you have professional experience or qualifications. Bookkeeping courses that can help you start a career in financial services include:
- • FNS40217 Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping
- • FNS50217 Diploma of Accounting
These courses include units on GST and payroll principles with an option to take a Tax Practitioner Board-approved exam. Successfully completing one of these bookkeeping and accounting courses can certainly help you get your BAS Agent registration in the future.
Moreover, the Diploma of Accounting can also be used for Tax Agent registration, which opens a whole new range of career opportunities!
Here’s a short rundown of what it takes to become a Contract Bookkeeper:
- Register as a BAS Agent; start by taking up the Cert IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping course
- Get Your Own Australian Business Number and make paying for your services easier
- Apply for Professional Indemnity Insurance to protect yourself and your customers in case of an error or omission
- Buy your Equipment; get reliable hardware and software for your business
- Create a Workspace – you can even do it from your computer at home!
- Set Your Rates, and make sure your rates cover more than just your expenses
- Find Clients – expand your network and build a customer base
Get started today and give Contract Bookkeeping a go!