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What Defines a Professional Bookkeeper?

Nov 4th 2016
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In accounting, when asked to define your brand, bookkeepers are not typically known in our industry to be professionals; however, per the definition, an office worker is a professional. Looking at the key ingredients of what makes a professional, I decided to perform a comparison to give a bit of perspective on the trends of professionalism in the bookkeeping industry.

First, look and see where the bookkeeping profession will need to transition:

Bookkeeper Chart

The essence of a true professional is not only having all the above items but being able to hold yourself to a set of standards. When you refer to yourself as a professional, you are indicating to your clients and yourself that you have attained a level of achievement, continual educational, and industry standards of quality.

Most bookkeepers fail to recognize themselves as a “professional” because they have not self-identified with a profession. The accounting profession has not acknowledged the bookkeeper as a professional, and thus the lack of validation perpetuates a self-devaluing image.

As you can see, there are similarities in a profession. The past has not held bookkeepers to any of these standards regarding becoming “professionals.”

A professional membership organization is a key component in helping lift the visibility and the standards of the professionals. Examples of professional organizations that raise the standards in the profession are the AICPA for CPAs, American Bar Association for lawyers, and ICBUSA for bookkeepers.

A common misperception is that social groups, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, are a replacement for the professional organization. These communities are lacking the professional requirements that help to define the profession.

Client Perspective

The perspective is that most clients don’t care if the bookkeeper is certified or not. The ability for a customer to identify with a professional or not is critical.

General perception is that the bookkeeping industry does not offer standards. The client is not aware of the standards, and thus not offered a choice when they hire a bookkeeper.

The bookkeepers need to inform the clients on why they should pick a professional as a bookkeeper, allowing the customer to make a choice on using a professional versus a nonprofessional.

Gaining certification in bookkeeping will help support your skills as an individual who met the standards of the industry. Given the choice to use a doctor that is licensed and monitored versus an unlicensed physician, I would guess that most individuals would choose a licensed doctor.

Mindset Shift

The time to make yourself indispensable is now while you can gain ground on the early adopters. Decide to differentiate yourself as a bookkeeper who is a certified professional. Look to an organization that wants to support you and grow your community.

Choosing to be a professional in a community now before the technology storm hits helps to increase the likelihood that you will continue to grow. There are many credentials out there to signify that you understand technology.

But in the above grid, the core of the professional is the industry education. Technology will continue to shift, but the underpinning basics of your core profession separate the strong from the weak. Accounting principles have not changed for more than 500 years and are the basis for all CPAs, accountants, and now bookkeepers. To be the strongest professional you can be, you will need the education in accounting, the continual technology education, and the certification.

Being a professional not only requires the above items described but is also a change in mindset. Shifting from the idea that there are no resources or voice available for bookkeepers to engaging within the bookkeeping professional organization is a necessity.

I will leave you with one final definition: “Professional” is participating for gain or for livelihood in an activity that is often engaged by amateurs, via Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I attend many conferences and most of the bookkeepers I engage with are NOT amateurs but professionals.

Change your mindset, change your voice, and begin showing your actual credentials. You are a professional; a bookkeeping professional. Act like it, show it, and believe in yourself!

Replies (11)

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ingrid edstrom
By Ingrid Edstrom
Nov 8th 2016 18:31 EST

Great article, Jan! Thanks for this useful information. I especially like your focus on the importance of ongoing education as the bookkeeping industry grows and changes. Check out the following link for another great article continuing this discussion.

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Replying to Ingrid Edstrom:
Jan Haugo
By Jan Haugo
Nov 17th 2016 23:22 EST

Thank you Ingrid!

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By KFGmichelle
Nov 10th 2016 10:29 EST

Really enjoyed this post! For years I have felt that as a Bookeeper for over 15 years I should have the respect as a professional. I continually learn, I belong to associations, I am certified in accounting software. I'm so happy to learn about ICBUSA and I look forward to learning more about you. We do need to educate the public the value of having an informed educated bookeeper. Thanks for sharing!

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Replying to KFGmichelle:
Jan Haugo
By Jan Haugo
Nov 17th 2016 23:23 EST

KF - agreed and so happy that you enjoyed the article. Education about our industry is so needed.

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Jody Linick
By Jody Linick
Nov 10th 2016 11:12 EST

I decided to become an AIPB Certified Bookkeeper the same year I started my practice. I like how the CB distinguishes me from others who have not spent resources to become certified. Maintaining certification requires CPE credits, so the education is ongoing. I appreciate that this year the AIPB has partnered with Accountex to have a Bookkeeper track at the conference. The recognition is appropriate, and long overdue!

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Replying to Jody Linick:
Jan Haugo
By Jan Haugo
Nov 17th 2016 23:28 EST

Jlinick - You are so right in that recognition is appropriate! Way to get your CB designation when you started your business. Being forward thinking in your education is a key to being a strong bookkeeping firm.
Thank you for your feedback.

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nonprofit tax, consulting, training and education
By carolinguini
Nov 10th 2016 17:54 EST

excellent article thank you for sharing your insights

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By msliz
Nov 16th 2016 18:58 EST

I like the information here, and I expect to share it with my QuickBooks classes.

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Replying to msliz:
Jan Haugo
By Jan Haugo
Nov 17th 2016 23:29 EST

Thank you for sharing. We can only grow stronger and improve our community by sharing and educating.

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By Mcnealas37
Feb 9th 2017 16:45 EST

"Bookkeepers are not known in our industry to be professionals". I totally disagree with this statement, and it's not the first time I heard or read this type of sentiment from an CPA. There are no state or federal requirements in becoming an Bookkeeper, but there are those that take the extra steps in education & certifications. I attended an Vocational Business College and earned a 4 year degree in Accounting, I also joined the NACPB (National Association of Certified Bookkeeping Professionals) and became certified and licensed in payroll. I also plan to seat for the FPC exam though the APA (American Payroll Association). In addition to that I'm an Quickbooks Proadivisor and certified in XERO software. In addition to my accomplishments I have came across several bookkeepers with similar backgrounds that are running their own Consulting firms. I also plan on running my own firm one day. I definitely consider myself an "Professional" in the Accounting field.

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Replying to Mcnealas37:
Jan Haugo
By Jan Haugo
Feb 23rd 2017 14:11 EST

I appreciate your comments. The sentiment comes not only from within our industry but from the SMB's that employ us. The goal with this article is to change the perception and get our industry to gain more education and step up. The increase in knowledge along with certification will go along way to helping step up our industry.
I applaud you on all you have achieved! If you need to support of ICB please let us know. We are a community of professionals!

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