Bookkeeping business--can I make a living?
February 7, 2013 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Accounting degree, experienced bookkeeper working for other folks, already know Quickbooks, etc. A small amount of capital ($5-6k) and a current part-time job that pays just enough to cover my expenses, but it's only going to last another year or so. I could go get another bookkeeping job, but I'm sick of making next to nothing and having next to no control over my work. How can I make myself viable as a business?

I had started graduate school in a completely unrelated discipline, but after a few years and some major life upheaval, I'm miserable and leaving school after this semester. My current employer is not up to taking me on full-time, and I don't think they're going to be in business more than another year. But I know that I do this well, and I know that private bookkeeping companies can charge more than I get paid per hour--I know there's also overhead and such, but if I can net to about the same amount with a few more hours per week, plus have a more flexible schedule, I'll be thrilled. It would have been better to be ready to go at the end of the year instead, but, well, I didn't make the decision until recently. I'd like to have at least made my initial capital back by sometime this summer, ideally, but it'd be okay if it weren't for a bit longer than that.

Principally, I'm concerned with how I find clients. I don't have extensive connections in the community and I'm not a big salesman type; I am pleasant in person, though, and reasonably good on the phone. I already own a good laptop, a laser printer, etc, but won't have proper office space to meet clients at home, but I've heard that meeting people at their offices is at least somewhat okay. I assume I'll need to spend part of my money on phone/fax service and a PO box, and I'll need my own QB license, obviously. But I would think that at least half of it could go towards marketing. I know it isn't a lot of money. Where can I find out how to spend it effectively? More broadly, where can I find resources to make this thing a success?

Ideally, in five years I'd like to have an actual office, employees, working relationships with local CPAs, but for right now I just want to be able to make a living for myself where I'm respected for what I do, instead of being bottom-tier clerical staff. I'm fine if much of this requires a lot of legwork--I feel like I've been sitting around on my life far too long as it is.
posted by Ex-Wastrel to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I found my second and third bookkeeping clients on craigslist. I responded to about 5 ads and got two of them. I was probably charging less than other people but I wanted the clients and the work more than an extensive amount of cash. I got my fourth client as a referral from the third and charged them more.

I got out of the biz when I graduated from college because I got a full time job (plus I run an online craft business) and just didn't have time to keep up clients. I wanted my weekend and evenings more than I wanted the extra money.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your local Chamber of Commerce or small business association is active, that's a good place to start. A targeted mailing to acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, psychotherapists in private practice, and other similar service providers working solo or in very small group practices might be fruitful. If there's a local LGBTQ newspaper or magazine, their advertising rates are often excellent value. I know someone who generated a lot of business through her work with the JayCees (though that hadn't been her intent at all in volunteering).

Never underestimate the power of a good website with some decent SEO, especially now as Google et al. are localizing search results more. Searching "bookkeeper small business" is probably how many small businesses find their bookkeepers.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I opened a similar client-service business ~3 years ago with experience and a little capital, but no client-acquisition skills. It was a lot of work (a lot of which I didn't know how to do!) but it's sustainable now: I can do it for as long as I care to, and the direct connection between "doing good work" and "getting paid by the person I did it for" makes me much happier than before, when it was just "doing some work" and "getting a paycheck from somebody who's taking a big cut."

I tried everything I could think of to find clients: those skeezy business networking circles, lectures at small-biz incubators, hanging out with people I thought might become clients, etc. In the end, I didn't find a magic-bullet client source, but I met enough people at various places that eventually I filled up as much time as I care to work. I guess I could make another push for more clients, but I don't need 'em, and I'm not particularly interested in the goal of growing enough that I need (and can feed) an employee.

So, yeah: it's doable (and many people do it). But it can be a lot different from what you might expect. I'm not aware of any professions where you just announce somehow that you're In Business and the phone starts ringing. You'll probably have lean months and phat months, and the first few lean ones are scary, but if you get used to it, you won't mind so much. (OTOH, you do have to keep an eye on things, since beating a dead horse won't bring it back to life. If there's something wrong with your business, it's up to you to fix it.)
posted by spacewrench at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2013

One thing I would do is to create a website. Nothing fancy, but have a presence on the web. I'd also have my own domain name/mail service. is available, and a site like Go Daddy can help you secure the domain name, get mail set up, build the site and in general take care of the web presence soup-to-nuts.

Then have some nifty cards make up.

Go to small business networking events, Toasmasters, Chamber, whatever.

Advertise on Craigslist, talk to your friends, get on LinkedIn.

Stop into little businesses when you're out doing errands. Jewlers, boutiques, etc. Leave them your card.

Just say something like, "Hey, I do the books for 'so-and-so' and since I was in the neighborhood, I thought you might know other small businesses who could use my services. Here are a couple of cards. Thanks!"

Post your card on bullitin boards at the grocery store, taverns, restaurants.

You don't need a ton of customers, just enough to keep you comfy.

As for an office, I don't think it's a problem. Meet people where they are, pick up their stuff, they'd much rather have you come to them, then have to bestir themselves.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:39 AM on February 7, 2013

Look for a coworking facility if you really feel like you need an office outside of a home office. I doubt many people will care that a small biz bookkeeper is home office based, but a few hundred bucks a month will buy you a desk in a coworking facility, access to a conference room for meetings, and will keep you around live humans.
posted by COD at 12:11 PM on February 7, 2013

On the website, I recommend Squarespace. For around $100 a year, you can get the domain, hosting and a really nice looking, easy to set up site.

If there's a hyperlocal or small newspaper in your area, that can also be a good investment. I live in a small city that has a regular city paper, but my corner of the city has its own little paper. The run a regular section on new business in the area, and their advertising rates are really cheap.
posted by jeoc at 4:56 PM on February 7, 2013

« Older Is 3 months in South America long enough? (&...   |   Viral, Art, or otherwise "Cool" Video Project Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.