One of the rewards of being a contract bookkeeper or registered BAS agent is having the ability to set your own rates and your own working hours. A career as either of these can be rewarding with many Australian businesses needing their services to comply with financial regulations.
Among these valuable services that you can provide is preparing Business Activity Statements (BAS) , which you need formal registration to do. Courses such as the Certificate IV in Accounting and the Certificate IV in Bookkeeping are the common starting points for people seeking a job as a registered BAS agent or accountant.
Once you hold the right qualifications, you can now charge businesses and organisations for your bookkeeping services. Follow the guide below if you aren’t quite sure yet of how high you should set your rates.
Setting your bookkeeping prices and rates
The rates you charge as a contract bookkeeper are much higher than the hourly rate you’d earn working for someone as a bookkeeper. After all, you need to cover all your own expenses. How much should your bookkeeping charge rate be?
The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers offers some great calculations on how to set a bookkeeping charge rate on their website – What Charge Rate for Bookkeepers? At the time of writing, they recommend a minimum price of $45 per hour for bookkeeping services.
However, their calculations are relatively simple and don’t take into account some of the expenses we’ve previously explored in our article, 12 Key Expenses Bookkeeping Business Owners Should Not Forget. Assuming you’ve worked out your ‘cost’ price for services, should you charge more or try to minimise your expenses?
Cost price vs actual price
Once you’ve worked out the cost price of your services, you can use that as a basis to work out the actual price you charge for your bookkeeping services.
To do that, you should see if you’re competitive with other services in your area and also decide if you add enough extra value to your service (experience, skill, speed) that you can demand a premium rate.
Cost price is lower than market rates
Hopefully, your cost price is actually lower than the rates your competitors are charging. This means you have the opportunity to increase your price to the market level and bump up your income or profit margin.
You can also use the price difference as a selling point. This can be a great way to attract customers to your new business. Be careful though. If there are only a few competitors (or a few major bookkeeping businesses), they might undercut you in order to force you out of the market – even if that means operating at a loss for a while! If you set your bookkeeping rates at your minimum price straight away, then you have no margin to play with if you need to lower your prices.
Your cost price is higher than the market rates
If your cost price is more than the market rate, you’re starting from a weaker position. You should examine your competitors to work out how they can charge a lower rate. You also need to revisit your expenses and work out if they’re truly justified.
Try to trim down office costs and shop around for better rates on utilities, computers, software and insurance. You might need to rethink your income expectations too, especially if you’re just starting your business or need to compete on price to get a foothold in your area.
At the same time, don’t immediately assume that you need to cut down your income. There are many valid reasons why you can justify paying yourself a higher income – if you’ve made savings elsewhere, if you have the experience to justify a higher price or if you’re quick and can bill more work than other people each day. So what is the real value of your bookkeeping services?
The real value of your bookkeeping services
Cost price and real value are two different things. There are genuine reasons why you deserve more or can charge more than competitors.
Trust is essential in the bookkeeper-client relationship. Clients are giving you their most sensitive financial data and expecting you to process it correctly and maintain confidence about their finances. As a result, many clients will be willing to pay more if they trust you and your services.
Trust is built over time, but you can also instill trust through the manner in which you present yourself and your business, your qualifications, accreditation, and experience.
Experience is a component of trust, but it goes beyond that. Experience implies you have the skills and knowledge to deal with any situation that may arise. You may be less likely to make mistakes (important for legal financial documents!) and have answers to any question the client might have.
Experience also means you’ve had a great deal of practice, which make you much faster than competitors. If you charge twice the rate of competitors, but only take one third of the time, the client actually saves money overall.
Skills & Accreditation
Skills and accreditation are also useful when you’re trying to instill trust and justify higher bookkeeping rates. Courses and qualifications you’ve completed (like the Certificate IV in Bookkeeping), registration to become a BAS agent and membership of professional associations are all selling tools. These all cost you time and money to complete, so it’s only understandable that you charge more for having them. The client can expect a better bookkeeping service in return.
After that, there are still many ways to stand out. Being in the right location is a big help – people often don’t look outside their local area and will pay extra to be able to drop by when they need to talk.
You could also offer services such as picking up and dropping off paperwork, or set up transfer systems that automatically forward your customer’s data so they don’t even need to think about it.
Being available outside of normal business hours can be a big benefit for business owners. Offering other value, like running your own blog and explaining and answering simple bookkeeping problems, can be a huge help to other people. It can create value for your customers and prompt them to choose your services, even if you don’t charge the lowest price.
Charge different rates for different services
Remember you don’t need to charge a flat rate for all your services. Some tasks are highly complex or require extra training and accreditation to perform. BAS services are one of the most complex bookkeeping services you can provide. On the other hand, data entry work can be done by most bookkeepers or even by small business owners themselves because of the simplicity and power of modern bookkeeping software.
Charging the same rate for these services is silly; you’re under pricing BAS services and overpricing data entry. Adjust your pricing so you’re compensated fairly relative to the complexity and difficulty of the work you do.
Re-evaluate prices regularly
Keeping prices at the same level for long periods of time is good for business. Clients expect prices to stay the same and can resent paying more for the same service they’ve previously received at a lower price.
It creates an incentive for them to look at other bookkeeping services and consider taking their business elsewhere. However, you will need to increase your prices occasionally.
Costs typically increase over time. You may find your income and profit margin starts to get eaten up by increasing expenses.
You’ll need to re-evaluate your expenses and adjust your prices accordingly on a regular basis. Perhaps review monthly or quarterly to start with so you make sure you’re not losing money at the start, then change to a 12 month review cycle when you have a year or more of business data to look back on.
Conversely, developments in technology and bookkeeping processes can reduce expenses or make a service more efficient to deliver. The cost of technology also tends to decrease over time, so you expenses in this area can actually decrease. These can help you keep your prices the same, or even reduce rates to compete on price.
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