I recently had an enlightening chat with Hannah Wilson from H Bookkeeping in Sydney. I wanted to get in touch with the experience of starting a bookkeeping business today, and see what had changed from when I started my bookkeeping business way back in 2005.
Hannah kind-of fell into bookkeeping from her receptionist/admin job, learning the role from the company’s bookkeeper. She had never really pursued it as a career choice from school, which was focused more on editing at the time – from her love of reading. She’s a book person, not a numbers person! But the organisation of bookkeeping was a strong attracting element in this career move.
So, Hannah learned bookkeeping, did the training, achieved the qualifications, and became a registered BAS agent. Her boss became her first client, and the aim is to establish a steady business income working entirely remotely from her home office.
I loved hearing this from Hannah. My story is similar – I also kind-of fell into bookkeeping. At school, I was going to be an architect, and then a fashion designer, and after school I got a job as a receptionist, and learned bookkeeping from the company’s bookkeeper. It just clicked with me, and I found I was just really good at it. I was working for a landscaping company when I first moved to WA in 2004, then became pregnant with my second child. I told the boss I was going to quit to be a proper stay-at-home mum. He asked if I would set myself up to work from home, so my business was born 2 weeks before my son, and my boss became my first client.
H Bookkeeping is based in Sydney, NSW. https://www.facebook.com/H-Bookkeeping-105933634719371/
5 benefits of having – or being – a good bookkeeper
Apart from the obvious ATO compliance, Hannah explains how a good bookkeeper can have a big impact on how your business runs.
Everything runs a LOT smoother when you have a good bookkeeper looking after things. Someone who is trained, qualified, and ATO registered will provide the business owners with up to date data for making informed decisions.
The business owner can focus on running the business, and doing what they do best, and can leave the back-office tasks to someone who is trained in these processes. They just don’t have to worry about it anymore, so this reduces a lot of stress.
Cashflow is greatly improved when you have a good bookkeeper looking after things. Having everything up to date gives you the foresight to see what’s coming up, because it’s easy to get lost in everything that’s going on otherwise.
Being a good bookkeeper is all about being organised. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when you can look back and know that everything is sorted, that everything is clean and tidy.
Bookkeeping provides constant opportunities for learning. There will always be new things to learn as you engage new clients, to learn how their business runs and what is required to best serve them, and all the ongoing developments and improvements from accounting software and ATO processes.
How has bookkeeping changed from then to now?
The work that a bookkeeper does today, compared with 15 years ago, is both very same and very different at the the same time. Back then, computer accounting programs were becoming increasingly common, but there were still plenty of people running their business accounts in pen and paper ledger books. The processes were still very much a manual task. You would be reconciling to a paper bank statement, printing up and posting invoices and statements, and the bulk of communication was still done by phone. BAS reports were paper forms, and a large amount of paper reports and disk back-ups would be given to the accountant to prepare the tax returns.
Today, we have online and cloud accounting, bank feeds, document In-Trays, and automatic processing and emailing of invoices. Everything is online, synced, automatic, and pre-filled. The tasks are so much quicker and easier now. No more long hand-written bank deposit books of cheques that take 5 days to clear. The pace of business has both eased and quickened. Everything is needed right now, but thankfully, doing everything is much quicker to do.
But the actual work of keeping the books is pretty much exactly the same as it’s always been. It’s a repeating process of data-entry, reconciliation, communication and reporting. Representing the activity of a business in a couple of reports, and using the data to guide the next steps. This has been the role of the bookkeeper from the beginning. There is a lot that has been impacted by the introduction of GST 20 years ago, and more recently by JobKeeper, but essentially, being a bookkeeper 20 years ago is the same as being a bookkeeper today. It just uses different methods – which will always be changing as technology continues to improve and enhance efficiency.
If you could change anything, what would it be?
ATO deadlines! Or at least, clear information about what needs to be lodged and when. The recent JobKeeper scheme was a critically high-pressure situation for bookkeepers all over the country. Being established and implemented on-the-hop as it was, the requirements, eligibility thresholds, reporting and claiming processes were changing almost daily for a while. Bookkeepers, accountants and business owners were required to stay up to date with the latest information, and is was easy to miss some critical element. So if there was a magic wand for making bookkeeping better, it would be best used in making ATO deadlines and reporting processes clear.
Bookkeeping is always a learning experience, what’s next?
Knowing how to establish a good charge-out rate is a good thing to learn. You want to find that balance between being paid what you’re worth, but when making the move from an employment hourly pay-rate to an out-sourced charge out rate, it’s a difficult thing to find the number that your clients will be happy to pay and that you will be happy to receive.
Managing the workload as the number of clients you service grows is a very good thing to learn. Especially when being organised is such a critical part of being a good bookkeeper, the volume of work to do adds pressure to keep everything and everyone up to date. There are bookkeepers out there that get unfortunate negative feedback as being unreliable, but we all know that these bookkeepers are quite likely just overworked.
Knowing how to manage a problem client would also be a very good thing to learn. We all have that 1 client who drives us nuts with their unrealistic demands, poor communication and supply of information, and who take far too long to pay the bookkeeping invoices. Generally, for the huge majority, bookkeepers enjoy wonderful relationships with their clients. You become part of the family, and being intimately familiar with their financial situation and business activity, you are an essential key in the success of their business. So learning how to deal with a problem client will ensure a far more enjoyable experience for the whole operation of running a bookkeeping business.
Establishing your confidence in your work would be a very good thing to learn. Hannah has nailed this, she says: “I know I’m fresh, I’ve only just started this business, but I know what I’m doing, and I’m a qualified BAS agent just like any other bookkeeper.” We all have things we need to learn as we go, so not having experience in any element of business account keeping, industry-specific processes, or ATO reporting is not any kind of reflection on not being a good enough bookkeeper.
So as I consider the work of running a bookkeeping business today, I am reassured that this work is in safe hands. I consider the wealth of support that exists, which is far more than what was available when I was starting out, and I am confident that the support that bookkeepers provide to small business owners across Australia is strong and sure.
To get in touch with Hannah from H Bookkeeping, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on facebook.
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