How to start a bookkeeping business when you work in corporate

Ever sat in your cubicle and thought "Is this really it? I worked so hard through business school and got my CPA license... for this?"

 Yeah, those thoughts used to go through my mind too. All. The. Time. (Sorry, to my former co-workers, it wasn't you, it was me.)

After leaving corporate to have kids, my eyes really opened, and my priorities had a massive shift. There's a bigger purpose out there for me and I can have a greater impact by helping even just a handful of entrepreneurs improve their profits, cut down the time they spend in their business, and start realizing the dream they had when they first started their businesses.

Now you might be wondering how to make this happen if you work in corporate (or used to, and now you’re home with kids) or maybe you’re still working on your accounting degree, and starting to realize that the Big 4 life isn’t what you want.

Today I’m gonna break down the differences between corporate accounting and running a bookkeeping business.

How running a bookkeeping business is different than corporate accounting

Before I jump into these, the intent here isn’t to scare you off, but to make sure you actually understand what it entails, so you can see that you are capable of doing this. Stop delaying your dreams! With each difference, I’m also going to throw in some tips for making it easier to manage the differences.

YOU’LL GET EXPOSURE TO MANY DIFFERENT BUSINESS STRUCTURES AND INDUSTRIES

Sort of obvious, but unless you niche in an industry you’ve already worked in, you’re likely to get exposure to different industries than what you’ve worked in. But don’t let this scare you off. The gist of any business is pretty similar.

On the flip side, if you’ve come from an accounting firm, you may have been exposed to a few different businesses, but may not have been client-facing, or been involved in as many aspects of the business as you will now.

If you want to make sure you’re handling things correctly, you can refer back to this post to see how to account for different business structures. When it comes to learning the different industries, do a little research on important KPIs to track, and just ask the client questions about what’d important to them or what they’re struggling with.

YOU’LL GIVE ADVICE THAT YOU MAY NOT GET TO IMPLEMENT

In corporate, if you were lucky, you got to take it upon yourself to implement processes you saw needed improvement. When you’re consulting other businesses, that may not always happen, especially if they can’t afford to pay you to do it, or if they don’t see the importance.

So getting good at a couple things will serve you quite well:

  • learning how to influence/persuade (not manipulate)

  • learning how to communicate the value of the process you’d like to implement

A great resource for tapping into these two things is The Trusted Advisor.

YOU’LL HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO MANAGE YOUR TIME MUCH BETTER

Since you’ll be working with many different clients instead of one company, it can cause a lot of context switching (what really happens when we “multi-task”). This is an efficiency killer, and now that you are in biz for yourself, you want to be able to work as little as possible so you can be as profitable as possible.

What has helped me tremendously (which I had to figure out the hard way) was to:

  • designate specific days to work on specific clients

  • designate specific days that I take appointments (this is super easy with tools like Acuity or Dubsado)

  • batch similar tasks (some bookkeepers like to batch client tasks, like doing all the bank recs for clients on one day, but I prefer batching for internal tasks, like content creation or email responses)

I don’t really timeblock, because at this stage of my life with two little ones at home, I squeeze work in when I can, and get interrupted a lot. But if you can manage it, time blocking is pretty amazing. #goals #someday.

YOU’LL LEARN TO LET GO OF PERFECTION

Many of us accountants are total perfectionists. But when it comes to working with clients, sometimes we have to let go of things being perfect. For example, you’re highly likely to get a client that needs cleanup done, but only wants you to cleanup the current year, and not touch prior years. Or you’ll have a client that doesn’t save all their receipts but you know it’s a business expense. So you book the expense anyway, and move on.

And perhaps the biggest piece of advice I have for you regarding letting go of perfection, is to just get started. Don’t worry about having your business card or website perfect. Imperfect action is the name of the game.

YOU’LL HAVE TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH “PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE”

This might be the biggest block some of us have about starting a business. By nature, I believe most accountants are introverts and prefer to work behind the scenes. But that isn’t going to work if we want to get clients. The good news is it’s a lot easier to get clients as an introvert virtually/online than people used to have to do it. But a few things will still really help you be more successful in putting yourself out there and getting clients:

  • Get comfortable on camera—there’s just no way around it now—everyone has been forced to meet via Zoom in the past few months, so maybe this won’t be so scary now, but there’s always room for improvement. One of my coaches, Heather Sager, taught me to actually just record myself with my webcam talking to myself just to get more comfortable seeing myself on the screen. Most of us aren’t used to seeing our reflection talk back to us. Another hot tip is to start an instagram and start showing up in your stories on video (even if you don’t have any followers).

  • Get comfortable talking about money—sort of ironic, but accountants seem to have the hardest time talking about money—when it comes to their own prices. And just like getting comfortable on camera, wouldn’t you know it, it helps to practice! Don’t let the first time you talk about your prices be on your first discovery call. Get comfortable saying your prices out loud, with confidence.

  • Get comfortable selling—oof. This is the one that held me back from starting my business for soooo long. And once I finally started doing it, I realized it wasn’t much different from interviewing in corporate, and I actually love this part of running a business. Crazy, right? (Stick around with me, and I’ll get you there, too). All selling is, is asking questions, sharing knowledge and making offers. That’s it. Simple; I know. In our line of business, we call our sales calls “discovery calls,” and on those discovery calls, you are just making discoveries about the client by asking questions, sharing a little knowledge, and then making an offer at the end to work together.  

“All selling is, is asking questions, sharing knowledge and making offers. ”

YOU’LL HAVE TO MAKE THE SHIFT FROM TECHNICIAN TO ENTREPRENEUR

Along the same lines of getting comfortable “putting yourself out there” you will now be required to think like an entrepreneur, not just the technician, though for a while, you will still be both. But the goal should be to elevate to that owner/visionary role and build your team to do the technician’s work. So this means:

  • making time to grow your business and expand your knowledge—dedicate time each day/week to focus on things that aren’t client work (but please don’t get stuck here before you even start your business… I’m talking like after you have a few clients, ok?)

  • thinking in terms of scaling—everything you do from day one, you should think about how to scale that service. How can you systematize or standardize this? What would it look like to have someone else do this, and how could I set it up now so it’s easy to hand it off?

  • think about outsourcing tasks that you don’t love or are low-value tasks—again, not right away, but the sooner you start thinking about this, the faster your business will grow. I started outsourcing some of the data entry bookkeeping when I hit 5 clients because I wanted to keep growing but I didn’t want to work more than 10-15 hours per week. There’s no magic number of clients or revenue number for this. Do it when it’s time for you.

Yes, there are some differences from corporate accounting. And assisting entrepreneurs through their journey isn't for everyone. Because you have to have an entrepreneurial heart, too. But if you're still with me and you have just for one second wondered if you could start your own business… I’m willing to bet you can.

For a complete step by step strategy for starting your own bookkeeping business join The Bookkeeping Business Accelerator

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