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Small business bookkeeping & accounting

Small business bookkeeping & accounting

Hi All

I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with a Big 4 in 2006, and since then have worked in corporate finance advisory at Big 4 and boutique practices. I would like to take on some bookkeeping, accounts prep and tax work for small clients, part time initially but with a view to potentially setting up a small practice in time. Whilst I'm very comfortable with all the theory behind accounting etc, I've never actually had to do it myself before. My clients have always been large organisations using SAP or Sage, and I have just been auditing the TB etc.

Anyway, I imagine it sounds like an odd question, but could anyone advise me of any resources I could use to learn how to actually do bookkeeping and accounting in practice??

Thanks very much in advance for any help!



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11th Oct 2011 19:54

I think that Mercia run practical bookkeeping courses - have never been so cannot comment on how good they are.  Also a lot of people on here recommend VT as software and they have a free cashbook, so you could download it and have a play around with it.

For free tax courses have a look at the HMRC workshops - they're fairly basic but are free and are hands on with lots of examples. They also cover a lot of aspects of PAYE too.

I come from an industry background, so have had to do a lot of learning on the job. Please feel free to PM me if I can be of any further help,







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12th Oct 2011 07:45

Approach to bookkeeping

You might find this old thread useful to https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/shoebox-full-paper-work 


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12th Oct 2011 09:33


That's an excellent thread, thanks, I hadn't found that one yet!

It makes me wonder how fixed-price bookkeepers can make a profit - a large one I keep reading about is Mazuma - given the possible time sink of incomplete records / bank recs etc.

Also thanks a lot for the other suggestions, which I'm looking into now!

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12th Oct 2011 11:02

Fixed Price Book-keeping

I make most of my fees on book-keeping work for 10-15 person companies. I only have one client on a fixed fee. Everyone else is on an hourly rate. Whilst bills are roughly the same month to month for any client, there are sudden peaks and troughs to do with their trading cycle, and it is just not possible to calculate a realistic fixed rate at the outset. I worked for my fixed fee client for a year before I set the fixed fee, as the year's worth of knowledge gave me enough statistics to be able to work out a reasonable charge.

For one to two man bands, it is much easier to calculate a set fee to cover all work including book-keeping, as there shouldn't be much volume on the book-keeping side. Once they start to grow, you might want to separate out the book-keeping charge as this is such a variable item.

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12th Oct 2011 11:13


Either retrain with a small firm - or stick to what you know (and presumably are good at) - as you will not have the skills required to run a small practice - especially with regards to Tax and Small Co reporting.



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By kladski
12th Oct 2011 11:41

I'm with big bad wolf - go to a small firm for 12 months.

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12th Oct 2011 11:55

Thanks BigBadWolf and Kladski - that's a fair challenge and one I've been wrestling with for some time!

However, I do wonder what would I actually learn in a year with a small firm that I wouldn't be able to work out myself if I got hold of the right software, templates and did some refresher courses in tax? Assuming of course that I am only going to take on small clients, and non-complex accounts prep & tax return work?

I hope this doesn't sound like a defensive question! I am interested to work out whether getting experience in another firm would be the right first step.


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12th Oct 2011 12:12

Don't be put off

Whilst it was in another age, I did my time with one of the Big 4 (might have been 5 then) and never regretted getting out into the smaller but far more flexible & varied world of SMEs and their owner managers.  You clearly are attracted to the "bright side" otherwise you wouldn't have posted on here, and whilst you may know and be good at what you do doesn't mean you won't do better with something else.

BBW's suggestion of retraining with a small firm is sound but, unless you are certain this is where you want to end up, it's moving all your eggs so, if, as it sounds, you are testing the water there's nothing wrong with taking on some small bookkeeping work once you've gathered some basic idea of the various methods etc.

Unlike large companies, SME's require more of an holistic approach and so you should also gather basic tax knowledge and/or make sure you have a reliable support service to help out when you get stuck.  You can do this by signing up to tax helplines or even forming a relationship with a local firm who may give you ad hoc support for a small fee on the understanding that you might feed them larger work should it come along.

As others have said there are tax courses and literature all over the place but for good, cheap, ground level guides I'd recommend the Tax Cafe books (also in PDF).

As far as bookkeeping systems are concerned the world is moving online and you can sign up for free demo periods with many of them.  The one we use in FreeAgent.  The great thing about the online systems is that, by necessity, they are slick and uncluttered and so in addition to doing the bookkeeping they are also a great way to learn.

Am happy to chat about any of this as I remember what it was like when I went off at the deepend, so PM me.

Best of luck


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12th Oct 2011 12:13

You Can Do It

I doubt there are too many jobs in the small practice field at present, and any that there are would require prior experience in that area.

I think you are perfectly capable of looking after the micro-businesses initially whilst learning the ropes. It might be helpful to find a mentor to talk you through things in the first few months. AccountingWeb is full of really excellent helpful people who are experts in every area you are likely to come across.

Yes, it is a challenge to get started in what will be a new area, but you seem to have the right attitude, which is half the battle.

Many people running small businesses don't have a clue about systems/marketing/etc, and this is where your commercial experience will be a real boon.

I wish you lots of luck, and recommend you look at Aweb on a daily basis to pick up some very useful tips.

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By kladski
12th Oct 2011 12:20

Personally I don't feel it is acceptable to 'learn on the job' potentially making mistakes with clients tax and accounts affairs. What harm would it do to spend 6 or 12 months in a small firm environment and then you can go out full of confidence and say to clients yes I know what I am talking about.

Of course, I am biased as I have picked work up from somebody who has only worked in a large audit organisation and was appalled by some of his mistakes - my favourite was his notes in amongst the records he returned to client which were entitled - how to work out corporation tax. He made serious errors with her payroll leaving her with debts to the tune of £4,500.

Yes, get yourself good software, checklists etc etc... and yes to be fair, you could probably pick up enough knowledge in a couple of months even at the right firm. Heading towards silly season for tax returns now, maybe there would be someone out there that would appreciate a spare pair of hands for a few months.


Sorry - just re-read and the above sounds a bit harsh - can I also add... I also know plenty of chartered accountants trained at small firms who don't inspre confidence in what they do ...

If there are no opportunities to take on a role with a small firm, to be honest if I were you I would still take the plunge, despite my reservations, providing you ask the right questions and have support in place you will never look back and wish you were back in your big firm LOL

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12th Oct 2011 13:18


wonder what you mean by small?  And what sort of service are you proposing to offer.  Put it another way - do you understand the market? 

As an alternative you could consider taking on one of the many franchise opportunities - they tend to offer a method as well as a territory.  OR perhaps you might consider working in partnership with a bookkeeper, doing the accounts prep and tax.  Both of these routes would give you an opportunity to learn the ropes whilst working for yourself.

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By foxtrot
12th Oct 2011 13:35

tax updates



Strongly recommend the ICAEW Tax Faculty - their  annual tax planning book in itselk is worth more more than the very reasonable annual subscription



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By Old Greying Accountant
12th Oct 2011 14:57

My tuppence ...

... most local colleges offer courses in basic book-keeping, usually alongside one for SAGE, usually only a few weeks long, with an exam at the end, may be worth looking at.

I doubt very much there will be any mistakes made that would prejudice the client, any problems are simply going to be time issues, so as long as the client is charged a fair fee for the work expect the hourly rate received to be low to start with but improve as you get up to speed - what I mean is you may charge the client  10 hours @ say £25ph, but you may initially take 20 hours to do the work, you will have to swallow that as part of your learning curve.

I think the point about small practice experience is that it is not just about writing up books and preparing accounts, it is the whole thing about running a small practice and being prepared for a good chunk of your time being spent on admin!

The ideal may be both, many small practices prefer part-time assistance to help peaks and troughs, and now is a good time with the SA deadline looming and sales of Red Bull set to soar! It will accelerate your learning and ease cash-flow as you build yor practice.

May I ask where you are located (you can pm if preferred)? 

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12th Oct 2011 14:52

Thanks very much!

Thank you so much for all these responses - have found all this advice extremely useful and actually very encouraging and motivating too!

I hadn't really thought about asking to help out other accountants or bookkeepers but that sounds like an excellent way to get started.

To respond to the queries - I work in Central London but live out in Surrey.

In terms of size of clients - I like the idea of focussing on restaurants and pubs, either single site or at most 2 or 3 site groups. I've worked mainly with multi-site leisure businesses in my current job, and thought this might be a good way of focussing and differentiating myself with the commercial knowledge I've gained about these types of business.

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By Old Greying Accountant
12th Oct 2011 15:03

OK ...

... Surrey is a biggish county, if you are anywhere near the NW corner feel free to contact me if you want to have a chat about stuff (and that's not a propostion, I am in a happy relationship - lol).

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12th Oct 2011 16:32


I'd say go for it, but perhaps collaborate with a bookkeeper and/or tax specialist. As a qualified accountant you ought to be technically competent at producing final accounts etc. The problem with some smaller clients (and some of the bigger ones) is the quality of their record keeping. There's a difference in having records kept by a bookkeeper than just being handed a pile of papers and some bank statements. And you may want to learn Sage, a lot of businesses use it but many not very well so its worth knowing if you need to unravel anything (which you will!)

Actually, its all the compliance stuff clients expect that you need to keep on top of in addition to the bookkeeping that can trip you up or require a rapid learning curve (VAT, PAYE, Companies House etc.).

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13th Oct 2011 13:58


making use of your existing knowledge is an excellent idea.  Another differentiator would be a bookkeeping solution specific to your target.  Something you could package and implement. 

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13th Oct 2011 17:02


Apologies in advance if this sounds like Sage bashing, but I wouldn't recommend anyone starting out to commit themselves to Sage. Expensive to get in, expensive to maintain and expensive to get out.

Also aren't the concepts 'differentiation' and 'Sage' mutually exclusive?

Good luck Louise. I would suggest that the most important qualities in your new practice will not be your qualification or your software, but your character (self-motivation) and likeable personality (so that clients will want to buy your services). 

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14th Oct 2011 11:44

Another Surrey firm

Hi Louise

If you need any other pointers from a local firm feel free to contact us - we started small (well my father did in 1969) after a career in the City and now 42 years on we have about 300 clients.

We are based in the Epsom/Croydon area.

Trust me you dont know what busy is until you become an accountant looking after small businesses!!


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to petersaxton
14th Oct 2011 23:35

I would learn Sage.


If I was you I would learn sage. Its not about whether you like Sage or not.   Too suggest not to bother with a software that so many businesses use. I think would be a mistake , if you are wanting to go out on your own.

Yes it is common for accountants to say everyone is using other software .  I have run my practice in bookkeeping for 11 years in Scotland.  I watch with great interest the different softwares. 

95% of my clients use Sage and do not want to change , as most of them use all the modules.    One of my clients who are software developers, have also recently received a huge amount of work over the last two years developing third party software for sage .  Including third party software to work with the Sage App on the IPad. 

As a practice I have also been booked up to March by Chartered Accountant firms in Scotland to retrain their staff on Sage.  They have also discussed with my firm , that most of the clients are now sage and upgrading.


Kind regards Douglas Accountancy and Bookkeeping Services Glasgow 


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By lme
14th Oct 2011 12:34

similar to me

I set up on my own after a background in Big 4 (mainly consulting). Main focus is tax and year end accounts rather than book keeping. I did the CTA exams without which I think I would be struggling - although they were extremely hard work. Doing ATT might be more practical. I thoroughly endorse the suggestion of getting some experience with a small firm - especially on the tax side I have found a gulf between passing theoretical exams and helping small clients with practical matters. It would have helped me immensely to have got some small firm experience first - may even have substituted for much of my tax study.

I am loving the independence now though and by taking much much longer than I am sure others would (which time I DON'T charge to my clients!) I am building experience and gaining confidence, one year on I am starting to feel much better.


Good luck!


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14th Oct 2011 12:55


You cant do wrong with a bookkeeping O Level or an accounts A Level and go on a Sage course. Also Buy Sage 50 accounts in easy steps.

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14th Oct 2011 12:59

International Association of Book-keepers

This is an excellent organistation who are registered with Ofqual and are a regognised examing board. Your local college should have courses, or see www.iab.org.uk for more info. Their members handbook is a great source of good advice too.

A quick refresher course is probably all you need to get started, then, there is nothing like getting stuck in!

Sage courses also a good idea, but pretty pricey. Join their Accountant's Club for good support.

Don't forget PI insurance, Anti Money Laundering compliance, and Data Protection (ICO). All necessary for accountancy professionals.

Good luck


Sue - Sparos Accounting

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14th Oct 2011 13:50


I agree with the comment above - the IAB have partnered with Sage to produce Computerised Accounting for Business at Levels 1 2 and 3  - they give a really good overview of bookkeeping/Sage skills. 

I used to run a bookkeeping practice and found that most of my clients used Sage - as do many accountants.  The information is on the IAB website under the Qualification tab at the bottom - IAB/Sage Computerised Accounting
for Business Qualifications

The courses are often fundable - although as you have a higher level qualification you may not qualify for funding - some are distance learning - you can find a course provider from the IAB website or www.aq4b.com

Bookkeeping provided me with an excellent income for many years - consider offering payroll as well becuase a lot of clients wanted that service and it was quite lucrative.  Companies often dont want the responsbility of running the payroll themselves and dealing with HMRC.

Offer your services in builders merchants etc.  I found a lot of clients that way - happy to let me take resonsibility for their paperwork.

Good Luck.

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14th Oct 2011 14:11

Don't overlook the need to have a Practicing Certificate!

One point I would make is that you need to ensure that, particularly if you are a member of ACCA, ICAEW etc that you do not start undertaking work for the general public (except book keeping - no accounts or tax returns though!) unless you hold a Practicing Certificate.

To obtain one with the ACCA for example you would need have prepared a Practicing Certificate Training Record over a three year period and signed off by an appropriately qualified individual stating that you have all the skills and experience required. It would seem that perhaps your experience may not cover all required areas?

If that is an issue then you would have to either do nothing but bookkeeping and straightforward VAT work etc or else you would have to work for a firm for a few years before launching out on your own.

It is important that you bear this in mind because otherwise it is an absolute mine field which could end up in disciplinary procedures from your Association and perhaps even having to resign from the Association just to be able to continue to run your business. The rules can seem completely bizarre but believe me they are NOT flexible!

Before you do anything else I suggest you check the procedures with your Association!! 

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14th Oct 2011 15:46

Why not set up a boutique firm ?

Louise I am puzzled as to why you want to go down this route rather than set up a boutique firm providing services which utilise the skills you have been using over the last few years?

There must be  a market working on aquisitions / disposals and corporate finance for SMEs.

You're choosing instead to compete head on with people who have a lot more practical experience in general practice accounting. Its also an area where margins are being squeezed.

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16th Oct 2011 13:16

Louise - we have a host of practical staff workshops run as live webinars that might help you:




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16th Oct 2011 14:29

Very costly for us sole practitioners

@Mike Sturgess - I know you have to make a living, but you won't find most of us one person bands taking up your kind offer - and that describes most of the Aweb audience. As a marketing man, I'm surprised you didn't notice this.

I can get a fantastic CPD course from CCH lasting 3 hours up in London for £46, run by a prominent lecturer in the field. That's the sort of level you need to think about if you want to target people like us.

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16th Oct 2011 15:09


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16th Oct 2011 15:09


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16th Oct 2011 15:20

Huge thanks..

For all the valuable advice - I will be spending the rest of today following up on it all.

Thanks to youngloch for flagging the potential issue around the Practising Certificate, which is not as straightforward as I thought it'd be, but hopefully not an insurmountable obstacle...!

Zarathustra - I enjoy working in corporate finance but would not want to work for myself in this industry given such unpredictable earnings, which are almost always wholly contingent on a successful transaction that can take anything from 6 months to 2+ years to complete, if it even completes at all. There can be huge wins but I think its only for those with a much stronger constitution than I!

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17th Oct 2011 08:30

Be positive
There are plenty of chances to learn. Lots of online software with free trials. You can purchase the courses too. Don't be put off by one particular comment on here! You could always offer to help a local bookkeeper and help add more value to the product. Best of luck.

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By danilo
17th Oct 2011 17:17

Small business bookkeeping and Accounting

Hi louise, I think you should check out this site www.uktaxandaccounts.com and you will find some information on small business accounts preparation.

The key is to sort out basic documentation into an extended trial balance which is then used to prepare the accounts.

I am in Ghana, and I have used this site to get going when starting my small part time practice. Go on and good luck.


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18th Oct 2011 15:07

Very costly for us sole practitioners


Actually, CCH sold their face to face training business last month.

We deal with between 3,000 and 4,000 firms of accountants per year, many of whom are sole practitioners, and in terms of lecturers we all draw from the same pool of lecturers. You'll se most of the top names on our programme.

An individual can get a personal training subscription for £480 per person which gives unlimited access to our face to face CPD programme, with more than 100 CPD courses in London. More firms are now moving to our webinar programme. A whole firm package costs just £300 per person for unlimited access to more than 100 live webinars. This does require all technical people in the firm to subscribe, but we have quite a few "one-man-bands" who find this great value. We also extended our course credits so that they last for two years from the date of purchase to help sole practitioners who just want to attend a few courses to get better value for money.

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I have more or less the same background as you (CF Big 4) and set up on my own 6 months ago. Winning clients is one thing that hasn't been mentioned, so polish your networking skills!

I sub-contract myself to another accountant and do bookkeeping for him (with shoe boxes) which quickly brushed up my skills on ETB's! There is plenty of web advice around, and a copy of Tolleys Taxwise may be useful and blast away a few cobwebs. Look at Xero and Openbooks as something to provide to clients to help (and save you time). 


Good luck and call me if you need to.

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By bsp yii
19th Oct 2011 00:44

bookkeeping for small client

Hi Louise,

After reading all the suggestions you have received so far,  I just want to add a few points such as:

1.    Filing and master files

       All papers and records of book keeping need to be organised with proper headings and titles your accounts to be prepared.  You save lots of time if clear cut files are maintained in divisional markings using alphabets or colours.   The most convenient way is for you to use current/permanent audit files system because you will either prepare accounts for your own audit or other auditors who use similar procedures and approach.  Standards of accounting and audit.    Use these filing systems throughout the lifetime practice or business operation.

Many people find time wastage on looking for documents to match the accounts tabled.

I have  worked for British Japanese Chinese and Australian SEasia companies and audits and finally I find Japanese system very practical and better if computerised.

Sometimes you find very convenient if your invoices are photostated for Payment voucher attachments with originals clipped to your fixed assets file and recorded in fixed asset register.  It makes the record complete and easy to refer and checking,  whereas the cross /counter references are made available readily.  Some London businessmen had done the same too.  


2.     Tax files are to be organised according to practices established with international standard.  You may consult your tax colleagues for guide permitted by Partners who always view your action as engrossing into field you are not supposed to do work, so be diplomatic and careful professionally.

Filing and Master file properly.

3.     Control and compliance   

        Companies act and ifrs and tax legislations are to be followed closely.   Get simple checklists or handbooks are essentials.

Filing and master files alleviate a lot of work load.

It is useful to obtain some annual report of Publicly listed companies usually free,  and read how business are managed by ethics and rules of corporate governance, and how audited accounts and directors>reports are presented.  Notes to accounts to be referred as practical guides to enhance standards of accounting and audit and tax practices


From the perspective view of shareholders and directors and sole proprietor or partners a clear set of account must tally well with accounting records coupled with precise filing and cross referencing in the master file,  with schedules or list neatly substantiating all items or captions of accounts.

EXCEL  spreadsheets will help too, esp. for small business or enterprise.


Wishing you good start off now or in future.








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25th Oct 2011 14:30

BankLink Streamlined Accounting

Hi Louise,

Have you thought of using a product like BankLink?

BankLink delivers innovative solutions for accountants to automate and streamline their accounting process. We provide reliable and accurate client transaction data electronically direct from the bank, accompanied by easy to use accounting software, practices are able to easily process information, and produce timely, accurate financial reports for their business clients.

This would be one thing that could give you a competitve edge.

Please do visit our website www.banklink.co.uk or find us on LinkedIn

If you would like any further information you can contact me on:

07921 500324 or [email protected]




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