So you’re planning to hang your shingle and open your own bookkeeping or consulting practice. I often get calls or emails from people just like you asking me, “What should I do to get started as a bookkeeping professional?” Here’s what I tell them:
1. Get Certified
Make the time to take the tests and become a QuickBooks Certified Pro Advisor, or Xero Certified. Consider one of the industry certifications as well, such as the AIPB (American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers) CB-Certified Bookkeeper, or the Bookkeeper Certification from the NACPB, National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.
Wondering, "Why bother?" Here’s a link to my March 2016 blog post, called, “To Certify or Not to Certify” for more specifics.
2. Your Name Here
Pick a name for your business. You can name it after yourself, or come up with a clever play on words. Once you select a name, find out if you need to register it with your City, County and/or State. As a real business, you may need to file taxes with those entities. If you want to be a legit business, act like one. Warning: When you file with the local entities, your name and address become public record, as you usually have to publish a newspaper notice. Once that happens, trolls will start to send you mail to sell their services. Just wanted you to know.
I also recommend having a logo made. You can hire inexpensive freelance graphic designers at Etsy, Upwork, or other online services.
3. Obtain an EIN
Don’t want your Social Security number stolen? Then don’t put it on W-9 forms, which can sit around your client’s offices in unsecure places line an inbox or an unlocked file cabinet. You can obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number), even if you are a Sole Proprietor. This number is linked by the federal government to your SSN behind the scenes, so you never have to give out your SSN to clients.
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Here is the IRS website link with FAQ’s about Employer ID Numbers.
Here is the IRS website link on how to apply for an EIN. It’s fast, and it’s free.
4. Create a Website
You can create your own website at Wix, Weebly, or a dozen other sites; be sure to pay extra to take the “Wix” or “Weebly” names out of the URL. Domains cost less than $20 a year these days, so cost is minimal.
If you don’t have the time or skills to create your own, hire someone (see #2 above). If you see some small business websites you like, scroll to the bottom and see who created them – you might like to work with that graphics firm.
Your website doesn’t have to be fancy or long, even a single landing page is sufficient. Be sure to include your new business name and logo, how to contact you, a photo, and a few descriptions of the services you are offering. Having a website makes you look more legit, and it is worth the effort. Pay a little extra for some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to get your name to the top of Google searches.
5. You’ve Got Mail
In my opinion, your business looks and feels more professional when you register a domain and have an email address that does not end in @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc. So get a real email address, perhaps [email protected], or [email protected]. Often, you can create a few different emails, if you need or want them, at little or no additional cost.
6. Get a P.O. Box
If you don’t want to put your home address on your business card or website, then get a P.O. Box to use as your mailing address.
7. Get Testimonials
If you already have a few clients, ask them to write a paragraph about you and your services, and request their permission to add their comments to your website. This increases your street cred.
8. Get Covered
I suggest obtaining Errors and Omissions Insurance to protect yourself. Contact your current insurance agent to see they offer such a policy. You may be able to obtain good pricing from insurance carriers recommended by the AIPB or NACPB.
9. Get Networked
Join an industry group, find a local Meetup, and/or attend industry conferences such as Acccountex, QuickBooks Connect, Xerocon, or Scaling New Heights. Networking allows you to meet new people, share ideas, learn about current industry trends, earn CPE credits, and get excited about the work you are doing. I find the people who attend functions in our industry more often than not feel like collaborators, not competitors. There are so many wonderful people sharing their time and offering free advice. Become an active member of the bookkeeping and accounting community!
10. Get Organized
Soon you’re going to get really busy, and you’ll have lots of balls up in the air. Don’t wait until you drop a ball to realize you need some help to organize your contacts, your calendar, and your tasks. I use Aero Workflow to organize my daily workload. You may like some of the other tools out there, so be sure to do your research, take advantage of Free Trials, and ask the colleagues you meet at networking events which tools they do or don’t recommend. Do you think you need something like that as Sole Proprietor?
You can implement some or all of the above suggestions, any of which can help make your new practice stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
Jody Linick is an AIPB Certified Bookkeeper and a QuickBooks® Certified Pro Advisor. Her company, Linick Consulting, specializes in remote bookkeeping services using hosted QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online. You can find her series of Blog posts here.