For new bookkeepers it can be hard to get some practical accounts experience. You can’t get a job without practical experience and you can’t get practical experience without a job. It can be a bit of a catch 22, right?
You may find another bookkeeper who is willing to take you on without experience, but it can be time-intensive to train someone. A lot of existing bookkeepers need to find someone who can hit the ground running.
We all have gaps in our knowledge, even those of us who have been doing this for years. The following advice is for those who are fairly confident in their ability to do a good job.
What’s a new bookkeeper to do?
I’m a little bit loathe to suggest what I’m about to say, because I’m always on about bookkeepers valuing what they do and charging what they’re worth. But in this situation, I think it can be useful for a bookkeeper to consider volunteering their services for free or for a very low rate.
In my head I hear a collective gasp from bookkeepers around the world. This profession has long been undervalued and many people have been working hard to raise the profile of bookkeepers.
But gaining practical work experience is a form of education and is crucial for the industry. You don’t typically get paid to learn, i.e. if you were attending classes. This is just another form of that.
The potential is that you may get some actual paying clients at the end of it. If you do this right you will have work stories to tell about how you helped this client with this and that client with that, when next selling your services.
You could also have that client’s accountant as a potential source of referrals if they’re happy with your work.
The rules of the game
There are some very strict criteria that I would agree on with a client if you choose to do this.
- Set a strict time limit for how long you will do it for. That might be the duration of a project like tidying a messy Xero file or getting GST returns up to date, or 2-3 months perhaps for regular bookkeeping work.
- Be very clear about why you are offering to work for free and what you need to accomplish as a result of doing so. Is there anything you expect from them in return?
- Be clear and upfront about what will happen next once your free time is up. Will the client take it on themselves? Will you then be offering them your services in a paid capacity?
- Don’t take on more than you can handle, or more than you have capacity for. You need to be confident in your ability to deliver a great service. You want to create raving fans and not a bigger mess so if ever you feel that you’ve got in out of your depth, make that known right way. You can ask for help from other more experienced bookkeepers or from their accountant.
- Always offer great value and be very respectful. They are doing you a favour as much as you are doing them a favour.
How do you find people who will work with you?
You need to get the word out. Tell everyone you talk to. Below is a suggested list. Some may work, some may not, but you’ve nothing to lose for trying.
- The first place to start is your personal network – friends and family, school and kindy networks, neighbours, etc.
- Put something on your personal Facebook page.
- Try your local social groups – do you have a local Facebook community pages? Don’t forget Neighbourly.
- There are a quite a few business groups on Facebook. There is etiquette around posting in groups so be mindful of that. But I know of at least one group that is full of very small businesses with not much money to spend, and with not much knowledge or experience with accounts.
- Meetup groups – again, several Meetup groups exist for start-ups, small businesses etc. These people are often trying to do their own bookkeeping with little knowledge of what they should be doing. You can help them.
- Supermarket notice boards might seem old school and but it’s another potential way for people to see your message. Try to create a captivating notice that stands out from the rest.
Maybe someone knows their Xero or MYOB file needs to be tidied up but doesn’t know how to go about it and doesn’t think they can afford a bookkeeper or is worried about money.
Maybe someone would appreciate some help getting them back on track with their accounts but doesn’t know who to approach or where to start.
Don’t be afraid to share your story and what you’ve got to offer. Someone may resonate with what you’re trying to do, need your help and be prepared to work with you.
People do business with people they know, like and trust, so be likeable and trustworthy.
It may be helpful if you knew what type of client you feel you could help the most, or who you would most like to work with. Is there a certain type of client that you feel you can add particular value to? For example, do you have an affinity for tradespeople, or service-based businesses?
I want to reiterate at this point, that anything you offer at a reduced rate or for free is only for a limited time. Be very clear about expectations.
There is a shortage of skilled, experienced bookkeepers and the demand for bookkeepers, from my personal observation, is growing.
Good luck! This is the start of what can be a very rewarding and enjoyable career.