Do you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or accounting firm in 2021?

Great news, because this step-by-step guide will cover the critical 7 steps you’ll need to follow to set up a modern bookkeeping practice and to land your first clients.

In fact, these are the very steps that I followed to help take my heavily bookkeeping-focused accounting business from scratch to sale in only 5 years.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to set up a strategic plan
  • How to create your core offering
  • Marketing your bookkeeping services to find new clients
  • Picking the right technology
  • … and more!

Ready?

Let’s go.

Contents


Chapter 1

Create a Strategic Plan

Chapter 2

Create & Package Your Core Offerings

Chapter 3

Market Your Services

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Chapter 4

Implement a Sales Process

Man with his laptop

Chapter 5

Setup Your Technology

Girl with his laptop

Chapter 6

Deliver Your Work

Man with newspaper

Chapter 7

Stay Up To Date

Chapter 1 - Create a Strategic Plan

In this chapter, I’ll walk you through creating a simple strategic plan to get your full time or part time business up and running quickly in your first year.

You’ll set up a long term vision of what you want your business to achieve and work backward to arrive at immediate priorities to focus on.

After completing this step, you’ll have a clear path for your business in its first year.

Step 1 - Define Your Purpose

If you’re starting an accounting firm, you should probably know why you’re starting it in the first place.

This “why” is your firm’s purpose and it’s important that your firm’s purpose is incredibly clear to you, your team and your clients.

Here’s why your purpose is important from Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk:

For example, when I decided to start an accounting firm, my purpose was to provide small business owners with an easy, pain-free accounting & bookkeeping experience.

Simple.

This simple statement helped become the gatekeeper for all other future decisions in the business. Without it, I would be steering a business without a rudder.

When you map out your strategic plan, writing down your business’s purpose should be your first step in your first year.

Don’t overthink it either. Your purpose should be quite evident.

Step 2 - Define Your Target Market

After establishing your firm’s purpose, you’ll need to establish early on in your first year exactly what your ideal client profile looks like.

I recommend developing a persona for your ideal client when talking about how to start an accounting business:

  • What industries are they in?
  • What challenges do they have?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • What are their revenues?
  • How do they think?
  • What do they appreciate?
  • Etc.

By developing a clear target market, you’ll be able to better focus your marketing activites which we’ll later discuss.

Step 3 - Create a Long Term Target

If you’re not crystal clear on what you are working towards down the road, prioritizing decisions, projects and initiatives becomes impossible.

To set up a long term target:

  1. Choose a target date. It could be 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc. You pick the date that makes the most sense for you.
  2. Think about what you want your bookkeeping business or accounting firm to achieve by that target date. This should be a measurable, lofty goal.

Maybe it’s numbers-oriented like hitting $1,000,000 in revenues or servicing 1,000 small businesses.

Or it could be something less numbers-oriented like the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s target of “a world without breast cancer”.

It’s best when you set a long term target that’s measurable. That way it’s easy to determine if you’re on track or not.

Come up with yours and write it in your strategic plan.

Step 4 - Create a 1 Year Plan

Once you have a long term target set for how you want to start an accounting business, you’re going to work backwards to create a 1 year plan for your full time small business.

To do so:

  1. Pick your future date for the 1-year plan. You can choose to end your first 1-year plan to line up with the end of your fiscal year or calendar year, for example. This might only be 6 months from now.
  2. Project your desired revenues at that future date.
  3. Project your profit margin at that future date. This should likely be backed up by some kind of forecast.
  4. Create 3-7 specific, measurable and attainable goals to attain by that future date.

These are goals that are immediate priorities to ensure that you’re on track to hit your 1-year plan which should be in line with your 10-year target.

Examples could be:

  • Hire an assistant
  • Acquire 50 new clients
  • Launch a website

A few words of advice:

  • The more projects you add, the harder it will be for you to tackle them all. That’s why it’s best to focus on just 3-7.
  • Make sure your goals are specific and measurable. The examples I provided above are hard to argue with. You either attained them or you did not.

Step 5 - Establish Your 90 Day Rocks

Let’s now chop your 1-year plan into 90-day priorities (ie. rocks):

  1. Like before, pick a future date. This is likely going to be at the end of your next fiscal or calendar quarter.
  2. Look at the 3-7 goals you created in the 1-year plan and break those further down into 3-7 specific, measurable & attainable priorities for you to attack in the next 90 days.

Example: If one of your goals in the 1-year plan is to acquire 50 small businesses by the end of that year, one of your rocks in the next 90 days might be to attend 15 networking events and/or write 10 blog posts to help bolster your prospecting activities.

When it comes to how to start a bookkeeping business, accounting firm or CPA firm, write down your rocks to complete your simplified strategic plan.

Rinse and Repeat - How to Start a Bookkeeping Business

Starting a new full time business and implementing a new business structure isn’t easy, so don’t worry if your small business plan for starting an accounting firm isn’t perfect.

You will revisit your strategic plan every 90 days to update it and to reset your rocks.

This is just your first step of how to start a bookkeeping business or of how to start an accounting firm. Now let’s get to the next chapter…

Chapter 2 - Create a Productized Service Offering

After your strategic plan is in place, it’s time to get your bookkeeping services out to the world. But first, you’ll need a productized service that you can market to get bookkeeping clients.

This chapter will show you a great way how to create a productized service offering and why it’s important when you start an accounting firm.

What is a Productized Service?

The combination of services, processes and technology required to deliver an ideal outcome to your target market in a repeatable, systematic way would be a simple way to think about what a productized service offer is.

This will be a complete solution to provide to small businesses.

So if your target market hates bookkeeping and your bookkeeping business’ purpose is to provide headache-free bookkeeping services and accounting services, then your productized service should contain everything necessary to provide your client with this experience.

Why Do I Need This If I Want to Know How to Start a Bookkeeping Business?

There are four reasons why I recommend taking the time to set up a productized service at the outset:

1) It’s easier to get bookkeeping clients by marketing your services as a complete solution versus marketing it as a commodity (ex: bookkeeping and accounting work).

2) Your small business will be far more streamlined if you only sell your core offering, as you can benefit from more standardization.

3) They’re a great way to determine your baseline service level. Anything below this service level should be rejected. This will ensure that you only admit the right small businesses into your firm.

4) If you provide tax services, they’re a great way to avoid a crazy tax season. A hectic tax season exists because many firms don’t have enough money coming in throughout the year, so they have to jam as many tax returns as possible into a short tax season just to bring in additional revenues. With a productized service offering, you can smooth out your workload throughout the year to eliminate a crazy tax season from happening.

Creating Your Productized Service Offerings

Core offerings will differ from business to business.

But there is one common denominator:

If you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start accounting firm in 2021, I strongly believe that your bookkeeping and accounting services should be built into a subscription model.

You will deliver value to small businesses monthly in return for a monthly price.

Your productized service should be broken down into 3 components:

Component 1: Services

Every core offering will contain professional services and accounting work.

In order to deliver your client’s ideal result, what services do you need to provide?

  • Monthly bookkeeping?
  • Weekly accounting services?
  • Tax services that you’ll provide in tax season?
  • Financial statement preparation?
  • Monthly meetings to review KPI’s?
  • A business plan or business structure consulting?

It’s good to think about your productized service as gold, silver & bronze plans, kinda like this (courtesy of Bookkeeper360):

how to start a bookkeeping business core offering

Notice how they have 3 productized services with a range of services that will provide a range of noticeably different experiences?

What you’re trying to do is layout a range of packages at the outset so that you know exactly what kind of solutions you’re trying to sell. No need to price them just yet, we’ll get into that later.

And these plans don’t have to be written in stone either. You can tweak and mix and match depending on the client’s needs.

One thing I would suggest however is that your bronze plan should be the absolute minimum service level that you would offer any client. Below this, you would refuse their business.

So go ahead and lay out what your gold, silver and bronze services look like.

Component 2: Support

When you get bookkeeping clients, over and above the accounting work that you’ll be delivering to your current clients, they’ll also need help throughout the year for ad hoc questions. Dealing with these ad hoc questions would form part of the support that you’ll be expected to provide.

When it comes to how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm in 2021, I don’t advocate charging clients on a per hour basis.

Instead, I recommend bundling different levels of support into your productized service.

Your bronze plan may just include email support for up to 3 questions per month, while your silver plan could include phone/email/Zoom support for up to 5 questions per month and your gold plan could include unlimited support.

It might also help to differentiate support based on levels of access such as junior bookkeeper support vs. senior bookkeeper support.

Now, add the different levels of support to your gold, silver and bronze plans.

Component 3: Technology

If you’re reading this article, then you’re interested in how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm in 2021.

And without the right technology, you might as well pack it in right now.

In fact, using online, automated accounting technology was one of the keys to my success. Public accounting firms cannot provide a modern bookkeeping service without it.

And according to bookkeeping thought leader Jennie Moore of Moore Details:

Apps are the connectors to create efficient systems that will help easily organize the required financial data for report creation purposes to help business owners to operate their small businesses and achieve their business plan.”

Meaning, technology cannot be ignored if you want to get bookkeeping clients.

While you have a ton of different excellent cloud accounting software apps to choose from, in Chapter 5, I provide specific technology recommendations for two cloud accounting apps that you should start with.

Include these apps in your productized services.

Your Productized Service is a Total Solution

When it comes down to how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm, it’s important that you are thinking of your business as a complete solution to your client. You are not just providing bookkeeping services or accounting work, you are providing much more than that.

Once you can get your head around that, marketing and explaining your services to bookkeeping clients will become far easier.

By creating a gold, silver and a bronze plan, you are helping to create the limits of your solutions at the outset.

Your gold plan is the top range of what you can provide to your new business owner client while the bronze plan is the absolute minimum.

Chapter 3 - Market Your Services

You have a plan and a core offering. Now it’s time to market your solution to get bookkeeping clients.

With the right marketing in place, bookkeeping clients will come to you, not the other way around.

I built my entire public accounting firm from scratch and learned what worked and what didn’t from a marketing perspective.

So if you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm, let’s take a look at some marketing strategies you can use early on.

Create Your Website

Your website will serve a few 2 main purposes to help in your quest to find clients.

1) It will show that you’re a real business and give you some credibility.

2) Of critical importance, it will serve as a tool to turn visitors into potential clients to help you get bookkeeping clients.

To setup your website:

Step 1 - Choose Your Website Platform

When you want to know how to start an accounting business, you have lots of website builder options to choose from:

GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, etc.

For the long term though, there is no better platform than Wordpress, especially if you plan on blogging.

Based on my research, when it comes to SEO (ie. search engine optimization) to help your website and web pages rank high on Google, Wordpress comes out ahead.

So if you want to think long term and you are keen on making your website a tool for attracting visitors and turning them into potential clients, I would go with Wordpress.

Step 2 - Choose Your Web Pages

Whether you create your website yourself or hire a web developer, you’ll likely need to determine what you want on your website.

Sometimes when you navigate to a website, you’re faced with a million links to click in the menu bar. I recommend keeping options to a minimum and would suggest the following pages at a basic level:

  • Home page
  • About page
  • Plans
  • Blog
  • Contact

Feel free to add and/or remove pages as you see fit if you think it will help you find clients.

Step 3 - Write Your Webpage Content

Those who want to get bookkeeping clients should know that people don’t read websites, they skim. So the content needs to be quick and easy to digest for a website visitor.

Home page

When it comes to your home page, I love having your value proposition hit web visitors right in the face. A compelling value proposition is a magnet to help you get clients when they land on your site.

If you want a good example, check out Bookkeeper360‘s home page, headed by Nicholas Pasquarosa. They’re a great example as the firm went from scratch to Xero platinum in only a few years:

how to start a bookkeeping business website

The value proposition is clear, simple and obvious for what they’re promising you which is critical to find clients.

Plus:

They also include a big bright button on their home page as their CTA (Call-to-Action) as a tactic to convert visitors into potential clients. I recommend you do the same.

Here it says, “get started”, but it can say, “book a call” or anything along those lines…

A clear CTA on your homepage is just one tactic to help turn your website into a tool that converts visitors into potential clients.

Lastly:

To get bookkeeping clients, consider adding 3 more things to your home page:

1) Outline some benefits that small businesses can expect from your solution. Don’t just talk about yourself. Web visitors don’t care about that. They care about the outcomes they’ll receive from you.

Here’s an example from Pilot:

pilot accounting services

2) To get bookkeeping clients, showcase a simple “how it works” process so that visitors know the steps they’ll need to follow to reach the benefits and outcomes that you have listed above.

Here’s an example from Bench:

3) Add testimonials to give you some social proofing. If you’re just starting an accounting firm, you may not have any, but add some later when you do get them.

Bookkeeper360 does this well here:

how to start a bookkeeping business website 2

About page

Your about page is a great way to demonstrate:

  • Who you and your team are
  • Your culture
  • Why you’re capable of handling your target market’s problems.

I think this is a good place to show off your personality. Again, don’t make this into a novel. Make it short and to the point.

Plans/pricing page

Next, showcases your core offerings that were created in Chapter 2.

To do this, set up a pricing table that breaks down your solutions in terms of what’s included.

You may or may not opt to showcase your prices. We’ll get into pricing later on in this post, but for now, I suggest either not showing your prices or indicate “starting at $x” at the bottom of each plan.

Here’s a good example from the Bean Ninjas, an awesome firm with a super cool culture (!) based out of Australia:

how to start a bookkeeping business accounting firms

Make sure you’re included a CTA on this page like the “Get Started” buttons above.

Blog & contact pages

Lastly, your blog and contact pages are pretty self-explanatory.

Your blog page will contain your blog posts while your contact page will provide ways for your website visitors to contact you.

Include social media links

Don’t forget that your website should also include your social media links to your Facebook business page, Linkedin business page, Instagram business page, Twitter business page and others.

Hit Up Local Networking Events

If you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm, be prepared to hit the streets to mingle with new business owners to acquire your first few new clients. Don’t discount the power of word of mouth.

To get to know who’s out there, there’s no better way than attending local networking events to collect some business cards.

It’s just a matter of finding the events your target market hangs out at and heading there with some business cards.

To get bookkeeping clients, get started by picking them up at some local networking events:

Check out Meetup.com and then head to their “career & small business” category to find events in your area:

how to start a bookkeeping business marketing

In the beginning, you should have enough time on your hands to head to several of these a week to get some word of mouth on the streets and to get to know local businesses in the area.

Collect business cards from every new business owner you meet. The next day, hop on to LinkedIn, sort through your business cards you received and connect with all small business owners you met and send a personalized message.

You’re now starting a new strategy to grow your network through word of mouth and some of these business owners will inevitably turn to bookkeeping clients when they get to know you, which is perfect when you’re starting an accounting firm.

Leverage LinkedIn

LinkedIn is my favorite social networking tool for those that want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start accounting firm.

It’s a great way to get bookkeeping clients so that you can:

  • Build your network online
  • Brand yourself
  • Share content that engages your target market

In fact, Jody Padar, thought-leader and firm innovator, now currently VP of Strategy at Botkeeper, has over 200,000 Linkedin connections (yes!) to help grow her brand. She says the following about using Linkedin:

Use social media like it’s a golf course. Be professional but personal and build relationships. Deals get done over time because of the relationships built.”

One caveat…

When looking to get bookkeeping clients, recognize that your ideal audience may not reside on LinkedIn.

For instance:

If you are targeting restaurant owners as bookkeeping clients, perhaps they’re on Instagram instead. Always consider where your target market hangs out before engaging in any marketing activities.

In order to see results on LinkedIn to get bookkeeping clients, here are a few things I would recommend doing:

Step 1 - Update Your LinkedIn Profile

There are 3 basic things that should be on your LinkedIn profile:

1) A professional-looking picture of yourself

2) An “about” section that communicates who you are as a person and showcases your personality. I find writing in the first person is helpful and more personable rather than writing in the third person.

Here’s an example of my LinkedIn about section:

how to start a bookkeeping business linkedin

3) Make sure your experience section is up to date. Ensure that you provide a brief background of what you did at the company as well.

Step 2 - Join LinkedIn Groups and Contribute

Here you’re going to seek out LinkedIn groups on social media where your target market hangs out, you’re going to join those social media groups and then you’re going to contribute to them in order to help get bookkeeping clients.

By doing so, you’ll start to get known in those social media circles and you’ll start to get people connecting with you.

Your network will grow and some of these local business and small business owner contacts will turn into new business clients eventually.

To get started:

1) Head to LinkedIn and type some keywords into the social media search bar that might describe the kind of new business clients and small business owners you’re looking for.

In this example, I am assuming that you’re looking for small business clients in Miami.

bookkeeping business linkedin

2) On the next screen, you’ll be able to filter the results by groups and you’ll see the following:

digital marketing for accountants linkedin

Target groups in this social media platform that have a decent amount of members and then join them.

Once you’ve been accepted into these social media groups, you’ll have access to the exact kind of new business clients you’re looking for.

3) Contribute to these social media groups that have accepted you by posting helpful, relevant content several times per week.

It could be your comments on a recent new tax credit, it could be articles you share that you think group members might be interested in or any variety of that.

The key is that you’re sharing useful information on the social media platform.

4) Avoid promoting yourself! This is a no-no on social media and this will turn people off.

If certified public accounting firms focus on sharing useful information in these social media groups, you’ll get engagement and connections and you’ll start to build up your profile in the online world which will help you get bookkeeping clients

If people start sending you LinkedIn connection invites coming from these groups and from local businesses, you know you’re on the right track.

How to Start an Accounting Business: Start a Blog

Interested in not only knowing how to start a bookkeeping business or accounting firm but also how to grow one?

Voila!

This is my favorite marketing strategy for bookkeeping and accounting professionals to get bookkeeping clients.

Note:

This is a longer-term strategy for certified public accounting firms and bookkeeping businesses, but I recommend planting the seeds now to reap the rewards later.

Blogging Basics

Here are the absolute basics when it comes to acquiring small businesses as clients from blogging when starting an accounting firm:

1) Find topics that your target market is searching for using a tool like Ubersuggest. This tool will tell you how many people search for your topic (ie. keyword) each month.

As an example, you can see here that “small business tax deductions” is searched 1,900 times per month (ie. 22,800 times per year):

2) To get bookkeeping clients, write a well-optimized blog that increases your chances of appearing on the first page of Google. For example, if you’re on the first page of Google for the above keyword, you’ll get 1000’s of hits to this single blog post each year.

You can see that the bookkeeping service, Bench, currently is #2 on Google for this keyword for their blog post:

how to start a bookkeeping business bench

Beautiful!

Landing your blog post on Google’s first page will get you a nice flow of web visits and also help you get bookkeeping clients.

3) You’ll then need a mechanism to convert these web visitors into potential clients and then eventually into new clients. You’ll do this with a CTA (Call-to-Action) which asks your visitor to take some kind of action.

Partway down Bench’s above blog post, you’re hit with this CTA:

158464255732899848 (1)

By clicking on “Learn More”, you’ll be prompted to set up a meeting with them.

A very good CTA can convert about 10% of your readers to potential clients this way. A decent CTA can convert about 2-3%.

Imagine you’re bringing in 1,000 readers per month to your blog and you can convert 2% of them?

That’s potentially 20 bookkeeping clients a month from a single blog post!

Now imagine that you have 10 blog posts performing like this…

There’s a reason why I stopped most other marketing activities to focus on blogging as a primary strategy to find new clients after my first year of starting an accounting firm.

So how can accounting firms replicate this success to help get bookkeeping clients?

Simple.

Feel free to download my proven 15 Step Blogging Formula to see how certified public accounting firms can acquire tons of bookkeeping clients from your blog:

Ditch Paid Ads

Paid ads, like Google or Facebook ad, can be a great way to bring you instant traffic to help you get bookkeeping clients, which might sound appealing when you’re just starting an accounting firm.

The bad thing about Google and Facebook ads is that they can be super expensive and the traffic you get may not be the traffic that you want. Which means you would end up with the wrong kind of bookkeeping clients.

As you’re figuring out your business in the early days, I feel like unless you have a very clear, compelling offering and sales processes, that you’ll just end up wasting your money on Google and Facebook ads to get bookkeeping clients.

And if you do go down this route, unless you have experience running ads, make sure to hire someone competent in this area to help your find new clients and that you have a few marketing foundations in place.

Want More Marketing Tips for How to Start a Bookkeeping Business?

To get bookkeeping clients, click here for a ton more marketing strategies if you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start accounting firm (and grow one).

Chapter 4 - Implement a Sales Process

Good news! You now have new potential clients coming your way!

Now you need to find new clients with a simple, repeatable sales process.

Whether it be how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm, this is a critical component to get new bookkeeping clients.

Let’s take a look…

Step 1 - The Initial Consultation

After potential clients contact you, you’ll schedule a meeting for your initial consultation. This is arguably the most critical step in the entire process to acquire and find new clients.

You’ll want to accomplish 3 things in this step to help you get bookkeeping clients:

1) Understand their small business

You’ll need to understand what the small business does, how they do it and what actually needs to get done:

  • What line of small business are they in?
  • How do they invoice? How do they collect payment?
  • What kind of expenses do they have?
  • Does the small business have employees? If so, how many? Who handles their payroll?
  • How many bank accounts? How many transactions per month?
  • Etc.

Here we are just understanding the small business itself which is a critical step to get clients. These questions can be templated.

2) Uncover pain points

You will never command a great price if you cannot uncover pain-points and challenges that your prospective new clients are having as people will not value something unless it solves these pain-points.

Then it’s just a matter of tailoring your core offering around solving these pain-points. If you can do that, you’re one step closer to get clients to sign up with you.

To uncover pain-points:

Ask the right follow-up questions.

Here’s an example:

You: Who handles your bookkeeping services? An accounting firm or yourself?

Prospective client: I do. It’s very easy. It only takes me 5 hours per month.

You: Do you have any bookkeeping training?

Prospective client: No. My bookkeeping might not be totally accurate, but it’s just not a big priority for me.

You: I understand. Seeing as you say your books not be fully accurate, how would it make you feel if the government audited your books?

Prospective client: You know, I’ve never thought about that side of things. I guess I wouldn’t feel too good about it at all.

With this interaction, you have uncovered a pain point, which then increases the value of what you’re offering making it easier to get clients.

Conversely, without uncovering that pain point, potential clients would likely be more price sensitive.

If you want to master these kinds of questions, I really like a book called Spin Selling.

3) Provide a brief background of your business

As a final step, take 5 minutes to talk about yourself, your firm and why you do what you do. You can talk about your background, you can discuss how you help new clients and what kind of clients you work with.

Step 2 - Package & Price 3 Service Options

Today, I believe most new clients like a subscription model where they pay one fixed monthly price in return for a total solution.

Therefore I recommend putting together 3 custom service options in a gold, silver & bronze type approach for each prospective customer you have.

You can prepare something in Excel and convert it into a PDF or you can use something like Conceptboard, a visual whiteboard app, to put these together.

But ultimately, they should look something like this familiar image I showed in Chapter 3:

how to start a bookkeeping business pricing 2

Make sure each of those 3 plans has a price attached to them.

Value pricing is not only my favorite way to price accounting work to get bookkeeping clients, but it’s also Marnie Stretch’s as well. Marnie is well known in the bookkeeping and accounting profession as a QuickBooks expert and she likes value pricing as well because,

What I’m paid is a reflection of my knowledge and not the ticking hands of a clock.

Sage advice to pick up and find new clients.

To read more about how you can set your prices, check out my guide on pricing your services.

Step 3 - Present Your Options

Next, setup a separate meeting to present the 3 service options you’ve created to your prospective client rather than just blindly sending a proposal.

By presenting your pricing and service options in a second meeting, you’ll be able to engage in a discussion around picking and selecting the right option for your client.

Step 4 - Formalize the Agreement

Of course, when you want to get bookkeeping clients, once your prospective client chooses the service option they’re happy with, you’re going to need to send an official proposal to formalize the agreement.

In my guide on pricing your services, I provide good detail on the process around this and what technology I’d recommend.

Chapter 5 - Setup Your Technology

In this chapter on how to start a bookkeeping business, accounting firm and CPA firm, we’ll look at technology that can facilitate remote work, automate manual tasks and eliminate paper.

Check it out.

All-In on the Cloud When Wanting to Know How to Start a Bookkeeping Business

Want to know how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start an accounting firm?

Just make sure you’re basing your business off the back of cloud technology and other amazing technologies!

The cloud allows you to work remotely (and to offer that option to your new clients) and to automate your workflows.

These elements are crucial in 2021 if you want to know how to start a bookkeeping business.

Let’s take a look at the main categories of technology that you’ll need to set up at your bookkeeping business or accounting firm.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of technology, but merely what you need just to get started to help you on your journey to get bookkeeping clients and setup shop.

Communication Apps

Video Conferencing

When you get bookkeeping clients and establish a team, you’ll want the option of being able to work remotely. And if you’re working remotely with your new clients and/or your team, there is just no replacing a video call. Telephone won’t cut it.

The most popular video conferencing app these days is Zoom.

A few reasons why:

  • Connecting on Zoom is easy
  • It handles multiple callers exceptionally well (see image below)
  • Screensharing is seamless
  • Meetings can be recorded and re-watched at a later point in time

communication apps for accounting firms

Chat

If you’re just working on your own, then you won’t need this. But if you have a team, Slack is a killer chat app that replaces the need for email inside your company.

Instead of emailing your colleagues, you can just chat back and forth in the app, making communication much more real-time and eliminates a few steps when sending emails.

Plus, I also like the ability to:

  • Set multiple chat channels to segment conversations and people
  • Leverage 100’s of 3rd party integrations to automate workflows

While some companies use Slack with their clients, I typically advise against that in most cases.

communication apps for accounting firms 2

Email

Yup, you still need email to deal with your clients. Down the road, you might want to consider a help desk software to communicate with your client base, but I wouldn’t recommend getting that fancy right out of the gate.

When it comes to email, my personal favorite is Gmail, mainly because I’m pretty invested in the Google ecosystem, though Microsoft Outlook would suffice.

VoIP Phone Service

When you run a fully virtual business, honestly, there’s not much need for a phone. Email, Slack and Zoom will suffice. But when you get bookkeeping clients, you may also need a phone service over and above this, I would recommend setting up a VoIP phone service, which is basically an internet phone service.

You don’t really need to buy expensive hardware either. Most of these phone services allow you to install an app on your smartphone so that calls are routed there.

RingCentral is a pretty popular, inexpensive option.

If you expect to find new clients in different geographical regions, consider getting a local number in addition to a toll-free number.

Want More?

Check out my post here on my 4 favorite communication apps for firms and for those that want to know how to start a bookkeeping business, accounting firm or CPA firm.

Project Management Software

Arguably the most important piece of software in your business, you’ll need something that tracks your tasks, deadlines and provides for one central place to communicate on work.

(so important that I wrote an article comparing the 12 most popular systems on the market).

Please don’t run your small business on an Excel spreadsheet!

What do I personally look for in a project management system?

  • The ability to easily & quickly get tasks into the system
  • The ability to collaborate with your peers on tasks within the system
  • Plan my workload and capacity to ensure that the work I bring on can get delivered on time

Here are some of my favorite project management systems for those that want to know how to start a bookkeeping business:

Teamwork

Ah, one of my favorite pieces of software around, Teamwork is a real winner for project management. Not only did I run my last firm on it, but I also run my current business on it.

I recommend to set up all client clients as a separate project and within each project, you will have all tasks relating to that current client. Whether it be for client onboarding, bookkeeping, sales tax, ad hoc work or any other tasks, they should all reside within the client project, just like below:

how to start a bookkeeping business teamwork

Getting tasks into the system is easy because you can set up task & project templates. When you’re setting up a new client in the system, just drop in the task templates you need.

And the nice thing is that you can set all tasks to repeat at a template level, which means that it’s set it and forget it. Bookkeeping work and accounting work consists of repetitive tasks, so having repeating tasks are a great way to automate the creation of them.

I can also collaborate on tasks directly within the app. If I want to ask my colleague a question pertaining to March’s month-end task for Client ABC, I can have an entire discussion about it at a task level:

how to start a bookkeeping business teamwork 2

Lastly, and maybe most importantly once you start growing, is that it has a wonderful workload planning section:

  • Each task you add in the system can be assigned a time estimate to complete the work.
  • You can then pull up a report that shows how much capacity (in hours) each individual has for a given time period compared to the work assigned to them.
  • This will tell you whether each individual is over or under capacity, allowing you to schedule work better and determine if you’re able to adequately meet your client’s demands.

You can see below that my bookkeeper has a total capacity for the month of March of 176 hours and that only 11 hours worth of work has been assigned. That means I’m able to go out and search for more contracts.

Karbon

Karbon ain’t cheap, but it’s certainly slick and very popular with certified public accounting firms & bookkeeping teams.

One of the most popular features tends to be its “triage” functionality. It connects to you and your colleagues’ email accounts to suck in all of your emails into a “triage” section of the app. By doing so, you and your colleagues can collaborate on emails together, you can assign emails to other team members and you can get one centralized view of communication across a particular client.

It’s pretty cool.

Another interesting feature is that you can assign tasks to your clients (ie. send me your April 2020 bank statement) and Karbon will send automated reminders to your client base until they mark the task as complete.

Jetpack Workflow

Jetpack Workflow a simple piece of software that probably has one of the lowest learning curves.

You will definitely want to check this system out as an option as it’s incredibly popular for a bookkeeping business and accounting firm.

Xero Practice Manager

If you plan to run your bookkeeping business or accounting firm off of Xero, then Xero Practice Manager could be worth looking into as it integrates very well into it. It’s not as user friendly as the options above but it’s extremely powerful and many Xero users swear by it.

Cloud Accounting Software

Step 1 – Choose Your Cloud Accounting Software

Let’s make this simple.

In 2021, I recommend picking and sticking with one of the following:

It’s easier to standardize your business if you build processes around one of them. The more you can standardize, the more streamlined your business model will be when you get bookkeeping clients.

Small business owners don’t care about which accounting software they’re on, so just pick the one you like best.

Ditch any and all desktop accounting software.

I recommend those two systems because:

  • They are the two most mature cloud accounting products around.
  • They both have a very rich ecosystem of third-party apps. This is very important if you want to automate processes.

I personally built my entire firm around Xero, though I know many successful firms that build their operation around QuickBooks.

Pick the one you like best.

Step 2 – Get Certified

Based on whether you go with Xero, QuickBooks Online or both, the next thing you’ll want to do is get certified so that you actually know how to use the software.

Click here to get certified on QuickBooks Online.

Click here to get certified on Xero.

Step 3 – Choose an Expense Management App

A nice one-two punch to help automate bookkeeping and accounting services is to use cloud accounting software coupled with an expense management app.

How it works:

  1. Clients scan take a pic of their receipts with the smartphone app or email their electronic invoices into the app
  2. The app will extract the data from the documents automatically into the relevant fields, like the supplier name, amount, etc. (ie. eliminate all manual data entry)
  3. Each item will sync across to Xero or QuickBooks and post as an expense on the books there

As you can see, these apps will:

  • Eliminate shoeboxes of receipts being dropped off to you
  • Eliminate all manual data entry

My two favorite apps to look at are Dext and Hubdoc.

Hubdoc (below) is cool because you can hook up your client’s online suppliers (ex: Google, telecom provider, etc.) so that all invoices can be automatically pulled into the app without your client base needing to forward the items in themselves. It’s awesome and provides for a lot of automation.

how to start a bookkeeping business hubdoc

Dext (below) tends to provide a bit more control over how data is extracted into the relevant fields and therefore to me, has a bit more accuracy. They also have an expense report module so that you can prepare employee expense claims for out of pocket expenses.

how to start a bookkeeping business receipt bank

They’re both very good apps, so again, you’ll have a decision to make. Test them and choose the one you like best. You can’t go wrong with either.

How to Start a Bookkeeping Business - Other Software

What I listed above is the bare-bones basics.

But for those that want to know how to start a bookkeeping business and accounting firm and want more technology suggestions, here are a few more:

Hardware Required

Laptop

I don’t have a ton of suggestions here as there are so many models and it depends on if you’re a Mac or PC person.

But get something with lots of RAM in order to power the cloud-based apps I’m suggesting above.

For work machines, I tend to stick with Lenovo Thinkpads or Macbooks (my current machine is a Macbook Pro which I’m enjoying).

Don’t skimp here. This is your main productivity tool!

Dual monitors

If you’re working from home, get two big monitors. I personally like two 24-inch monitors. You can find them for pretty cheap these days. If you’re not gaming or watching movies on them, you don’t need the highest quality ones out there.

Headset

If you’re going to be working remotely and holding video calls on Zoom, I highly recommend getting a good headset that is comfortable, but more importantly, has good microphone quality.

Clients will get frustrated with remote experiences that aren’t up to par with in-person meetings. If your audio quality is poor, your meetings will suffer.

Personally, I recently upgraded my $50 Logitech H390 headset to the Jabra Evolve 75’s (shown below) recently in an effort to upgrade my microphone quality.

Whatever you do, please don’t use your computer’s internal mic.

Alternatively, you take take the suggestion of Blake Oliver, one of the co-hosts of the exceptionally popular Cloud Accounting Podcast:

I’m a huge fan of my new Airpods Pro. I love how they cancel out background noise, making it easy for me to focus on what others are saying even in a noisy environment. And the microphone does a very decent job of canceling noise for my listeners, as well. And as a bonus they don’t take up any room in my backpack!

Webcam

Again, with remote meetings, it’s important that your clients and team can see you very clearly. So get a good webcam. Don’t rely on your computer’s webcam. Upgrade it.

I actually use a Sony a5100 camera as my webcam, which is overkill but also provides excellent picture quality.

A strong internet connection

It goes without saying that if you’re going to be working online, that you’ll need a solid internet connection. Upgrade your internet plan to something with decent download speeds (100mb/second+). I also use a wired internet connection as opposed to wifi as much as possible.

Do you need an office space?

When I first started my business, I took out a lease on an office space, but I quickly recognized that an office space wasn’t essential to the success of the business. And since then, I’ve been running my business remotely without an office space for years. I’ll probably never sign a lease for an office space again 🙂

Chapter 6 - Deliver Your Work

Without a high-quality deliverable, your client will leave to go elsewhere.

The best way to help ensure you have a high-quality deliverable is to ensure that you have a strong process around the work you’re delivering.

Since all those starting an accounting firm are different, I won’t be able to provide you with detailed SOP’s (standard operating procedures) here.

But I do have 3 tips that you can follow:

Tip 1 - Create Standardized Processes

By standardizing core processes, you’ll be able to better streamline your operations and ensure quality control when delivering client accounting services (CAS).

To do this:

First: Identify your work delivery processes.

It should include everything you deliver to your client and you shouldn’t have a ton.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Month-end bookkeeping services and accounting services
  • Paying your client’s suppliers
  • Processing payroll
  • Preparing & filing sales tax returns
  • Etc.

Second: Document the A-Z steps to complete the task.

For each process, create a step-by-step account for what needs to take place from the beginning of the process until the very end.

So for bookkeeping, you might have the following process:

  1. Process expenses in Receipt Bank / Hubdoc
  2. Reconcile bank & credit card transactions
  3. Prepare month-end bank reconciliation
  4. Peer review of month-end
  5. Notify client of month-end completion

This is an overly simplified version of what a process may look like. It’s up to you to determine the best step-by-step way of handling your service from top to bottom and then document it.

You should have one way to deliver the work, not 10.

And if you’re looking for a visual way to showcase your workflows, Miro is a great way to do it. As an example, this is what part of my customer onboarding process looks like for my online coaching membership:

miro onboarding process

Tip 2 - Create a Knowledge Base of Documented Processes

All processes that you document will become your standard operating procedures.

Make sure these are saved somewhere and accessible for everyone at your business to view so that they can perform these tasks without your help.

Tip 3 - Update & Iterate Your Processes

You will not have perfect workflows and processes right off the bat.

When you notice areas in your initially documented processes that aren’t smooth, it’s time to update your process (and documentation) to eliminate points of friction.

Chapter 7 - Stay Up To Date

This guide has been largely about how to start a bookkeeping business or how to start accounting firm.

But:

To make sure your business stands the test of time so you can consistently get bookkeeping clients, you’ll need to engage in continuous improvement.

Below are a few ideas…

Stay Up To Date to Grow Your Business

Here are a few suggestions for how you can stay up to date:

Now It's Your Turn!

I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to start a bookkeeping business, accounting firm or CPA firm.

And now I’d like to hear from you.

Which tip from today’s guide did you like the most?

Will you be using Xero or QuickBooks Online?

Receipt Bank or Hubdoc?

Are you confident in strategies to get bookkeeping clients?

Either way, let me know by leaving a quick comment below!


Ryan Lazanis

Hi! I'm Ryan. I’m an entrepreneurial CPA that founded Xen Accounting, a 100% cloud-based accounting firm, in 2013. Following its acquisition in 2018, I started Future Firm to help accountants fast-track the growth of a modern, scalable accounting firm of their own.

Here are 3 ways for how you can fast-track your own modern, scalable firm:

1) Get my weekly newsletter that gives tips & trick to scale your firm.

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