If you are stuck or overwhelmed with all of the options for software or don’t know what you need in order to start and run a successful bookkeeping practice, this is just for you. There are so many options out there and it’s tough to distill it all down and do comparisons. And even once you decide on something, you will always wonder if you chose the right one, and then waste more time exploring new apps that promise other productivity features.
My best advice is: if you found something that you’re comfortable with and it’s working—stick with it! Not every software will have exactly all the features you think you need. Not any one is perfect.
But if you haven’t yet done your app-picking, this will save you tons of time, energy, and overwhelm, because I have done the work in comparing, pricing, and testing all of these. This is my exact app stack (with a couple of additional options). So shall we? Let’s jump in.
But first, I need to be transparent and let you know that some links may be affiliate links which means if you buy, I may receive a small commission from the sale. This does not cost you anything. and I only recommend products I 100% believe in and use.
You can get certified by signing up for Quickbooks Online Accountant. With this, you will get a free copy of QBO to use for your own bookkeeping, discounts for your clients, a dashboard where you can see all of your QBO clients in one place, and a workflow application called “Work.” And as you reach certain levels of ProAdviso status, you will receive discounts on other software (like Squarespace, DocuSign, etc). In order to maintain your free access, you just have to stay certified (renew it every year by keeping up with tests and webinars—honestly it’s way easier than it sounds).
Same as QBO, you can become a Xero Partner which gets you access to a client dashboard, discounts for clients, marketing material, training material and an amazing community of bookkeepers and accountants. An added benefit is Xero recently purchased Hubdoc, so in 2020 they will be including Hubdoc subscriptions for your clients and you won’t have to pay for that separately. Continue reading to learn more about Hubdoc is and why it’s essential!
I wouldn’t go out of your way to learn other software until you land a client that is on that software, or if you are wanting to market yourself more widely. But beware of the Procrastination by Learning syndrome. I’m not sure if it’s a real syndrome, but it was a real thing for me. That’s when you try to learn as much as you can as a way to avoid putting yourself out there to get clients. Other software you may come across is:
Freshbooks—designed for service-based business without inventory or employees
Wave—a totally free software for businesses with a paid option for adding payroll.
Sage50 —Comparable to Xero and QBO, as Sage products have been a big player in the accounting software world for ages. If you ever did bookkeeping back before cloud software, you might remember Peachtree. That’s a sage product.
Before your start fretting about purchasing a bookkeeping software—don’t. You should not be buying bookkeeping software unless you will be working with clients on their own desktop software and taking a backup of their data and loading into your own software. And even then, I would recommend waiting until you actually have a paying client to do this. But if you are in this world right now, I’m guessing you are looking to work virtually, and therefore will only be working with bookkeeping clients on the cloud. So what software do you need to learn? The first two on the list are non-negotiable, as most clients you come across will be on one of these two. And if you become certified, you do not have to pay for it. And the certification is FREE, too, so don’t go paying to get certified.
Once you’ve figured out which bookkeeping software you want to work with, the very next thing you need to get familiar with is a receipt capture system that will improve your efficiency and that integrates with your preferred software. This will allow you to collect all supporting documents for your client’s transactions and bank statements. And what’s even better is it will attach the doc and enter the transaction for you with minimal assistance. There are several options on the market, but as I promised you limited options to keep the overwhelm down, I am only recommending the two I constantly work with.
Both apps offer mobile apps, receipt text recognition, sync with your bookkeeping software, have vendor-fetching for widely known vendors, and bank statement fetch for major banks.
My firm assumes the subscription fee for clients, so I build that into my pricing. I require them to use it, so I pay for it.
Hubdoc is owned by Xero, so soon it will be included in most Xero Subscriptions. The integration is seemless into Xero. It also integrates with QBO, although not with all the same features as when integrating with Xero.
Since it integrates with both, you could use exclusively Hubdoc. I use both for various reasons (for now), which is another post for another day.
I got in on ReceiptBank when they were running a special promotion where Accountants could receive unlimited client subscriptions for one (high-ish) flat fee; so if you had a lot of clients that would be using it, it becomes more cost-effective than the per-client pricing that Hubdoc has.
ReceiptBank has different levels of subscriptions, where the lowest level does not have all of the features that your highest level will have. But their mobile app interface is currently leaps and bounds better than Hubdoc.
Gusto integrates seamlessly with QBO and Xero, It is a must-have if you will be processing payroll for clients so you don’t take on the liability or extra work of processing payroll tax. All you have to worry about is entering hours and running payroll. or you can let your client run the payroll them selves.
I have only one recommendation here. It includes:
Professional Email—You need a custom email domain for professional appearances. No more @gmail.com or @yahoo.com, k?
Google Sheets, Docs, & Slides—honestly, even if you decide to still use excel (I do, because I’m so used to it), it is still really helpful to send your clients shared access to a sheet or two, and having the auto-save feature has been an auto-life-saver for me.
Cloud Document Storage—As mentioned above, you can share documents, but you can also share folders. I set up a folder for each client, and within each client folder, and have a Shared folder, where we can exchange documents without sending through email. I keep my workpapers in other subfolders outside of the shared folder.
I love Squarespace because it’s easy to use and update and there are tons of tutorials on good ol’ YouTube. My secret weapon here was that I traded bookkeeping work with a webdesigner. I wrote all the website copy (the words) and she put it all together with the branding colors and logos.
But you don’t even have to go this route. Squarespace is so user friendly, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do a One-Pager website with just the bare essentials to start. In another post I’ll be taking a deep dive into what should be on your website.
If you’ll be working virtually with clients, you’ll also want to make sure you have a good webcam and microphone. If you have a newish computer, those will be built in. I still use the free version of Zoom, so I wouldn’t worry about adding to your budget for this one unless you need to have more than 2 people in a meeting for more than 40 min.
Another great tool for working virtually, except this one doesn’t require you to meet at the same time. If you are working on a client and notice they are handling a certain process wrong, you can shoot a quick screen-share tutorial for them and send them the link to view on their own time. I use this so much with my clients AND with my team. It’s so much quicker than typing out a process and taking screenshots.
GoogleVoice rings to your existing cell phone
You can also text from your separate phone number
You can create a custom voicemail greeting for your business
It is free for now if linked to a personal gmail account (not your G Suite) or is $10/user/month if linked to your G Suite account.
Initially I used HelloSign before I implemented Dubsado for obtaining signatures on Engagement Letters. You get up to 3 free documents per month, and then the price starts at $13/month.
I found Adobe Acrobat to be more useful and worth the investment, since you can also edit PDFs (rearranging pages, deleting pages, adding signature lines, adding fillable fields, etc).
I also have other forms besides Engagement Letters that need signatures from clients (W9s, Tax Returns, etc).
No, Google Calendar doesn’t cut it here. I’m talking about having a system synced with your calendar that only shows your availability to people (clients) wanting to book appointments with you. This eliminates the back and forth emails trying to figure out when you both are available. It also eliminates the need to ever say “I only take appointments on these specific days between these hours.” Think of it as your virtual assistant and boundary enforcer. I personally only take appointments two days a week and within a certain time frame. The rest of my time is blocked for client work and family.
Before we dive into this one, it’s important to note that there are so many options here that it really comes down to how you visually like to see things and how much you will actually use the system. If you are working solo, you may even be able to get away with Pen and Paper or your Phone’s Notes App (I did this for a while). These are the three I have worked with.
Only works if you work solo, and have only a few clients—then it gets a little tough to manage
Create a Notes Folder for Business and a Note for each client with checklists
Create a Reminder/Todo List for each client and create recurring tasks with date reminders for each task
Comes with recurring templates and can be viewed by calendar, kanban style, or list.
Can be used if solo or a team (as you can assign tasks to team members)
I felt this was awfully clunky and didn’t work well for long. But might work for you.
I am still on the free version of Asana and it has worked great. It integrates with G Suite and Slack so you can create tasks straight from your email or Slack conversations.
Can be used if solo, but is great for teams
Can create recurring tasks
Can set Due dates
Can create workflow templates
Alright; so those are the top 10 Software Apps you absolutely need in order to run a successful Bookkeeping Business solo. There are two more apps that are for when you’re ready to level up.
Dubsado was built for creatives, but works beautifully for tracking your leads (prospects), sending proposals and Engagement Letters, and onboarding new clients. I shared my Onboarding on Autopilot overview here if you want to dive a little deeper on Dubsado’s capabilities. And in the near future, I’m planning on putting together a workshop to show how to actually set this up inside Dubsado. If you’re interested in this, make sure to subscribe to the newsletter!
I use 1Password to safely store all of my personal and business passwords as well as passwords used for logging into client stuff.
You can set up shared vaults when you add team members without having to share actual passwords. If you have turnover, you simply deactivate the user without having to change passwords.
Your clients can also do the same for you if they setup their own 1Password accounts.
So now you have all the tools you need to start. These are tried and true. Low cost or free solutions. Don’t get sucked into finding the perfect solution to everything. Done is better than perfect. 2020 is your year to start your Bookkeeping Business, so what are you waiting for now?