Career insights: Become a Bookkeeper
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Have you been thinking about a career in bookkeeping? Are you good with numbers? Do you enjoy working with clients, solving their problems, and helping them to grow their businesses? If you answered yes to these questions and are looking for a change of career, consider becoming a bookkeeper.
What is a bookkeeper?
A bookkeeper keeps an accurate record of a business’s transactions, helping them to pay their bills on time, collect outstanding debts from clients, and keep things organised come tax time.[i] Bookkeepers need to know all about finance, including credits, debits, accounts receivable, accounts payable, bank reconciliations, and collections.
If you embark upon the career path towards becoming a bookkeeper, you will be expected to work independently to a high standard. The amount of responsibility and the degree of difficulty in your job will depend on the size of the organisation or firm for which you work.
What is a bookkeeper?
Your tasks as a bookkeeper will change on a daily basis, depending on the clientele for which you work, and the size and niche of your organisation. If you are a freelance bookkeeper, you will be able to independently set your areas of speciality. However, if you work for a firm, you will have to fall in line with the services that they provide.
Some of the most common tasks that a bookkeeper performs include:
- Organising sales and purchase ledgers
- Maintaining an accurate sales journal
- Preparing end of year tax reports and returns
- Double-entry bookkeeping
- Bank reconciliation
- Preparing invoices
- Preparing remittances
- Keeping track of all statements
In addition to these tasks, a bookkeeper must also maintain regular contact with clients and provide them with excellent customer service.
How much can you expect to get paid?
According to Payscale.com [ii], the average bookkeeper in the UK can expect to earn a starting salary of £9.21 per hour. This figure is based on 69 salaries that the website polled and compiled. As you gain more experience, your wage will soon start to increase. A bookkeeper with between 1 and 4 years of experience will earn an average of £10.01 per hour (based on an aggregate of 487 salaries). As you become a more experienced bookkeeper (with between 10-19 years of experience), you can expect your wage to top £12.30 (based on an average of 367 salaries, polled by Payscale.com).
Of course, these figures are only very rough estimates, and your salary could skyrocket if you work in-house for a multinational corporation.
What hours can you expect to work?
Bookkeepers in the UK fall into 3 main categories: those who work for themselves as independent contractors (freelancers), those who are employed by an accounting/bookkeeping firm on a salaried or commission basis, and those who work in-house for a company or corporation.
As a freelance bookkeeper, you have the freedom to select the amount of clients that you want to work, with, and only take on as many as you wish. This means that you will set your hours, and can work as much or as little as you need to. However, if you work for a bookkeeping firm or you are in house for a company, you will have to work the number of hours that they mandate. This is normally around 40 – 45 hours per week, with additional hours required over the busy year end tax season.
What qualifications does a bookkeeper require?
While you might assume that you must love maths or have done well in this subject in school, this isn't the case. Bookkeeping is a career in which people of all education backgrounds and interests can succeed. That said, you do need to have a basic level of numeracy to excel in this field.
In order to be considered a viable freelancer or be hired by a firm, you will likely need to demonstrate that you have some kind of qualifications in the field. For some people, this is earned on the job, or through an apprenticeship. Others earn their qualifications through online courses, university degrees, or diploma programmes.
You can major in accountancy and/or maths at a university level at many institutes across the UK. Courses certified by the Institute of Bookkeeping are offered in every region of the country.[iii] However, if time and money is a concern, consider taking an online bookkeeping course from the convenience of your own home. You can earn your education around your busy schedule.
How to become a Bookkeeper
Now that you have made up your mind and want to embark on a career in bookkeeping, here are some of the steps that you should follow.
- Get your bookkeeping education sorted
The first thing you need to do on your path to becoming a bookkeeper is ensure that you have your education in order. Register for an online bookkeeping course, look into university degrees, or seek an apprenticeship opportunity with a local firm or freelancer.
- Work for someone, or go it alone
Once you have started your education and feel qualified to work as a bookkeeper, it is time to decide whether you want to be a freelancer or small business owner, or work for a larger organisation. If you plan to work on your own, you need to choose your workspace, invest in a computer and the right software, and plan how you will promote your business.
- Continue your education
As with any career, you never stop learning if you are a bookkeeper! If you want to be successful in this field, you should always invest in your own personal growth and educational development. A good way to elevate your reputation in the field is to acquire ‘recognised letters’ after your name. For instance, if you join the International Association of Bookkeepers, you can add the letters MIAB in your signature.[iv]
- Make sure you always comply with the law
As a bookkeeper, it is incredibly important that you always comply with the law. You must register for anti-money laundering supervision if you manage any client accounts.[v] This will protect you in the case of a criminal offense, and will give you the knowledge you need to help keep them on the right side of the law.
Essential bookkeeping skills
In order to be a successful bookkeeper, you need to possess a number of skills and competencies. Do you have an interest or prowess in the following?
- Precision data entry skills
Data entry is a big part of most bookkeeping tasks, and it is important to be quick, accurate, and precise. Make sure you keep up to date with new technology and software.
- Excellent customer service skills
Whether you’re keeping the books for your own clients as a freelancer or working for a larger firm, you will be dealing with customers on a regular basis. Providing service with a smile will help you go a long way in the industry.
- Peak organisational skills
As a bookkeeper, you need to keep your paperwork and files in perfect order. Organisation skills are key, allowing you to access any data you need throughout the year.
- Exceptional attention to detail
In addition to organisation, you also need to possess an exceptional level of attention to detail. This will keep your figures accurate, and your clients happy and compliant with the law.
How can you get work experience?
Once you have acquired bookkeeping education or, you can start to look for work experience in this field. One of the best ways into the field is with an accounts and finance assistant intermediate apprenticeship. There are plenty of these opportunities available on job databases online, such as notgoingtouni.co.uk [vi]
In order to qualify for one of these apprenticeships, you will usually need some GCSEs (including maths). This is an excellent pathway into a career in bookkeeping, and paid jobs in the future.
Career progression opportunities
Once you have worked successfully as a bookkeeper, you can start to apply for better-paid positions with more responsibilities. In order to qualify for most promotions, including to a Bookkeeping Supervisor position, you should consider becoming a Certified Bookkeeper.
Many bookkeepers choose to pivot into a related career in accountancy, becoming a Certified Public Accountant.[vii] This move will open up a whole world of career progression opportunities, including working in some of the biggest and most prestigious corporations. Of course, you could also choose to follow a less lucrative but more satisfying career in the civil service, or bookkeeping for a charity.
Bookkeepers.org.uk. (2018). Bookkeeping Courses. [online] Available at: https://www.bookkeepers.org.uk/study--qualifications/bookkeeping-courses [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
Cpaa.co.uk. (2020). CPAA - Certified Public Accountants Association. [online] Available at: https://www.cpaa.co.uk/ [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
HM Revenue & Customs (2014). Money laundering supervision for accountancy service providers. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/money-laundering-regulations-accountancy-service-provider-registration [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
IAB | International Association of Bookkeepers. (2017). IAB - routes to IAB bookkeeping professional membership. [online] Available at: https://www.iab.org.uk/join-the-iab/routes-to-membership/ [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
International Association of Bookkeepers (2017). What is a bookkeeper? - IAB | International Association of Bookkeepers. [online] IAB | International Association of Bookkeepers. Available at: https://www.iab.org.uk/bookkeeping-qualifications/what-is-a-bookkeeper/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].
Not Going To Uni. (2020). Find Accounting Apprenticeships in London and the UK. [online] Available at: https://www.notgoingtouni.co.uk/sector/accounting [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
Payscale.com. (2019). Bookkeeper. [online] Available at: https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Bookkeeper/Hourly_Rate [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].