Home-based bean counting for maximum profit.
November 3, 2006 12:55 AM   Subscribe

Jaded cubicle monkey seeks internet advice on self-employment in bookkeeping. Can I make a living as a low-end bean counter at home?

BACKSTORY: On November 10th, I'll be leaving my current admin clerical job. The separation was quite mutual, as the position I was in formerly belonged to a woman who did in 40 hours what I could do in 5. The boss and I both agreed that this job isn't a good fit, and I gave her my notice.

My original plan was to take on two part time jobs; morning admin clerical for the wake-up call, evening pizza delivery for tip money. I need to make a net income of 76 dollars per day to stay afloat. I then have free time in the middle of the day to focus on my writing or my music, both of which are my true passion.

However, one of my best friends suggested that I start a bookkeeping service. Money math is one of the things that I am most comfortable with, and tax season is like a month-long nerdgasm for me (doing a typical 1040-A/EZ usually requires compensation equal to a case of beer). I am also toying with the idea of going back to school for a degree in accounting.

According to my friend, his father worked with a woman who does nothing but collect invoices/receipts from her clients (mostly construction-based), plug all of the costs into Quickbooks, and generate weekly/monthly expense reports. She charges each company a flat fee of $500/mo for her services, and apparently makes near 10k a month.

This seems like my dream business. I can work out of my home crunching numbers and get paid well for it. Unfortunately, this also seems way too easy to be true, but it's given me the required ounce of excitement to push me into serious research. Another good friend has a father (construction business owner) who is in need of a competent bookkeeper, and I'm planning on giving him a call over the weekend to see what he needs and what he's willing to pay. His wife is currently doing the books, and from all reports, she's fucking them up something fierce.


- Is this way too good to be true? A mere six clients would give me $3,000 a month, which is great because my only goal here is to make the equivalent of a full-time job at $12/hr, while working at home.

- Do I need any sort of liability insurance for collecting and documenting business receipts?

- Are there certain things that I -cannot- offer to do until I am a CPA?

- Is there even a need for this sort of thing? I'm assuming that professional accountants do this exact same work, only with other tasks on top of it.

- There's a Bookkeeping certificate path at the local community college, for 29 semester units. Almost 10 of those units are a joke, including "Intro to keyboarding", "Intro to 10-key" and "People Skills", all of which I feel extremely comfortable with. Will this certificate, which I can easily get in two semesters, make a huge difference in the quality/profitability of the business?

- All else failing, is there anything similar that I can do from home?

I feel like I'm missing something. I'll add more commentary as I go, I suppose. Thanks so much for any help you can offer. :)
posted by Potloaf to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've worked as a freelance and/or part-time bookkeeper on and off for about 10 years. This is what I can tell you:

- Bookkeeping is easy to do part-time. Lot's of folks need freelance bookkeepers for a few hours a week. FOr me this was great because I've always been mostly focused on other stuff (studying alternative health care stuff, traveling, writing, having kids).

- Doing anything freelance can be a pain in the butt. Clients disapear, you have to hussle to keep up, and there is a fair amount of unbillable time in having more than one client/employer (travel, creating invoices, promoting yourself, etc).

- No health insurance.

- Forget community college. IF you can land yourself one bookkeeping client, you shouldn't have much trouble finding more based on that. I'm a high school dropout.

- I wouldn't count on the 'from home' part of your fantasy. Most businesses will want you to come work there even if it's just for a couple hours a week. I think you'll have better luck with the working out of hte home office angle if you do go the professional accounting route. Basically, the more someone is paying you, the more they're willing to be walked all over. You ask for more money, you get to call the shots. I don't know, it's some wierd psychological problem that business owners have.

- I don't think you need insurance.

- Some people are looking for a 'full charge' bookkeeper. After 10 years of doing this, I still don't know exactly what that means, but as far as I understand that means that you should be able to do a bit more than data entry. You should know the basics of filing sales taxes, payroll taxes, that sort of thing. All stuff you can learn by experience.

- Learn quickbooks. Quicken, the home version, is very simular. They are both intuitive, and the QuickBooks for Dummies guide is pretty helpful too.

- People pay vastly different amounts for bookkeepers. During the heady dot-com days I was charging 40/hr to one client. I also see folks advertising for bookkepers and looking to pay 8 to 12/hr. I now get 25.

- Bookkeping is FUCKING BORING. I hate it. Some people have a great temprement for it, but even those folks probably need some major creative outlets outside of work.

Good luck!
posted by serazin at 1:26 AM on November 3, 2006

Professional accountants do bookkeeping at a higher hourly rate than you will probably charge. Ergo, you've found a niche. You may want to work for an accountant for a while to get some experience before/in addition to working on your own.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:16 AM on November 3, 2006

Have you considered working for a tax service like H&R Block or Liberty? You can do it without being a CPA: they put you through a few weeks of evening classes to get you started. And they tend to pay hourly plus commission, so if you can work quickly and handle complicated — i.e. expensive — returns, you make solid money. (Well, you do if you're in a busy enough office anyway. If you're in one that's still getting established, and business is slow, it can pay less than flipping burgers.)

Most places it's a seasonal job, but if you can find an office with a lot of small business clients and convince them that you can handle quarterly returns, you can get year-round work out of it.

Sorry if I'm telling you things you already know. I just thought I'd throw it out there, since a three-month-long nerdgasm could have a certain appeal...

posted by nebulawindphone at 6:23 AM on November 3, 2006

I've done bookkeeping as well as more, high-end accounting, and the thing I can tell you is that if you are interested in going freelance you will need to know that everyone's definition of bookkeeping is different. Be prepared to be bored, or be in over your head, because every business is different.

I was also going to mention the H&R Block tax-work. Though you might be just too late to take their class (check their website. They train in the fall/winter and hire those who pass to begin work in January).

Another option could be to get in touch with CPA's in the area who service small businesses because they'd love to slough off the daily and monthly busywork to someone else and then just close up the periods and tidy up after someone more competent than most business owners are.

Or as BrotherCaine suggests, just try to hire on with a CPA. I learned more 'apprenticing' a couple hours a week under a CPA than I did in all the accounting classes i ever took.

Finally if you want to get a taste of the variety of bookkeeping out there you might want to try going thru a temp agency for a while.

Working from home will most likely not happen...not until you have enough experience to have people contacting you.
posted by iurodivii at 12:52 PM on November 3, 2006

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