Many bookkeepers find success by becoming self-employed and hiring
their services out to individuals and small businesses. If you've got a love
for crunching numbers and a streak of independence, this may be the direction
Bookkeepers perform a variety of general accounting duties. Often, they
establish, maintain and balance several different financial transactions and
accounts either manually or by computer. In order to verify the accuracy of
a company's records, they may be asked to perform an audit.
They may also prepare statistical, financial or accounting reports; post
journal entries and reconcile accounts; make bank deposits; prepare checks
for payrolls and bills; complete and submit company and government documents;
prepare tax returns; and keep the company's business manager and board informed
of their financial status.
To be a bookkeeper, you need to be well organized, careful and thorough.
Above all else, however, you have to enjoy working with numbers. A love of
math is a must. "I was always good at math in school," says bookkeeper Michael
"Aptitude tests indicated I should go into a related field, but I didn't
want to do engineering or teaching. I actually started out as a music major,
then computer science and finally went into accounting. Guess the advisors
were right all along."
For Heather Rocks, another self-employed bookkeeper, a love of mathematics
was an important aspect in her career choice as well. "I loved numbers and
balancing numbers. I did well with bookkeeping in high school and because
I liked the challenge of balancing the debits and credits," she says.
Trust is another important asset in a bookkeeper. Clients and employers
need to have faith in those who are handling their finances.
When dealing with large sums of money, you cannot afford to misplace or
lose documents. Since many bookkeepers handle cash, it is important that they
act with integrity and honesty.
White-collar crime, embezzlement and fraud are a major concern for most
companies. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE),
non-managerial employees commit 58 percent of past reported cases of fraud
"You must abide by a standard of ethics," says Brooks. "Many of the organizations
require even stricter ethical standards than the state or treasury department
Clients also look for reliable and punctual individuals for this job, since
there is an ongoing and steady amount of work. Deadlines must be met and close
attention has to be paid to the work.
"A person has to be organized and pay attention to details. Bookkeeping
requires a lot of thinking," Rocks says.
"If you love being around people or love working directly with people,
then accounting would not be the job for you. Accounting requires that the
work be completed with deadlines."
Since just about every type of establishment needs a bookkeeper, there
is considerable job mobility in this field. It also means a good freelance
bookkeeper can find a number of different clients to work for.
For those looking to move up the accounting ladder, experience as a bookkeeper
may be a first step toward becoming a clerical supervisor or a certified professional
As far as schooling is concerned, every bookkeeper must have a high school
diploma. You must also complete a college program in accounting, bookkeeping
or a related field, or spend two years in a recognized professional accounting
program -- or have a combination of courses in accounting and bookkeeping.
Experience as a financial or accounting clerk is a plus. Good bookkeepers
are always improving and updating their skills, however, both on the job and
through formal training courses.
"Make sure accounting is what you want to do," Rocks says. "Maybe start
off by taking temp work. Make sure you know computerized accounting. Make
sure you live in a area that has a need for bookkeepers."
Brooks offers specific suggestions for those interested in self-employment.
"Visit other self-employed bookkeepers, especially those who have been in
business a while. Find out what they did wrong and what they did right in
the beginning. Learn from their mistakes and successes," he advises.
"To become a CPA, you must have a bachelor's degree in accounting and work
a set period of time for a practicing CPA and take a two-day test on all sorts
of accounting, auditing, and tax issues," Brooks says.
"To be a bookkeeper, you simply have to hang out your shingle and go to
work. To become an enrolled agent like myself, there are no college requirements,
but you must either have worked for the IRS for at least five years or, as
I did, take a two-day test on taxation of all sorts," Brooks explains.
"EAs are tax experts and most of them do bookkeeping as well. EAs are licensed
by the U.S. Treasury Department to practice nationwide. CPAs are licensed
For Brooks and Rocks, the benefits of being a freelance bookkeeper are
similar to those in other self-employed jobs. "You control your destiny. Your
time is your own. If I don't want to go to the office today, I don't have
to," Brooks says.
"The reality is, though, that most self-employed people work extremely
long hours," he adds.
"You are the one ultimately responsible for earning your paycheck. It's
not going to be there on the first of the month if you haven't been in the
"I think it takes a certain type of personality and discipline to be able
to make a success of your own business. Last week I was in the office 86 hours
getting things ready for tax season.
"I came down with the flu over the weekend and I really don't want to be
here today, but I have no choice. Still, I wouldn't trade the independence
for the steady paycheck -- but that's not for everybody."
Rocks concurs. "The benefits are flexible time, you can write off all company-related
expenses and learning sales skills. Drawbacks are unsettled pay, [the] challenge
of getting new clients, no benefits and [being] responsible for submitting
taxes," she says.
Self-employment may be the way to go for those interested in this field
but unwilling to collect a paycheck from someone else.
"I have always been self-employed, whether in the bookkeeping field or
some other type of business. I think I would make a lousy employee. I like
the independence of being my own boss," Brooks says.
At any rate, bookkeeping, self-employed or not, offers its own unique set
of challenges and rewards.
"It's nice working in a career where you see the end result -- you create
the end result. Accounting can be like a puzzle -- there is only one right
way of getting the correct result," says Rocks.
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
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The premier U.S. association for CPAs