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Getting started as a sole practitioner in accounting or bookkeeping

14th Dec 2023
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In this extract from Natasha Everard's book, The Bookkeeper Superhero, she looks at the "why" of becoming an accounting sole practitioner—with good advice even if you're already in practice.

Woman making a point in a business meeting
Sage

Who are you?

The question is one that can be surprising hard to answer. 

You might want to rush straight to creating a business plan when you decide to become a sole practitioner. Or maybe your first thought is to rush straight to creating a page on Instagram to let the world know that you’re here. Old timers might visit the Companies House website and register a limited company, I guess!

But stop for a minute. 

What are you going to be? Are you going to be a bookkeeper, or are you going to work more in the accountancy area?

Maybe you envision a transition between the two, or a merging of professions, much as you’ll hear our colleagues at the ICB suggest nowadays. That’s fine. But the key thing is that you need to work through these thoughts and plans right now, and not 12 or 24 months down the line. 

Are you going to target a certain set of clients in a particular industry? Maybe you love working in e-commerce, for example. Well, it’s a growing area. But if you don’t decide who your clients are going to be from day one then you might be casting your net too wide, and leading yourself to work with people you’re just incompatible with. 

Plus, don’t forget the collateral benefits of specialising, such as how word of mouth between people with similar interests can form a big part of your marketing. 

Brainstorm all of this. But be targeted when you do so. When I started, I brainstormed less about how I was going to run the business. I wanted to answer my why

  • Why did I want to work as a bookkeeper?
  • Why did I want to work for myself?
  • What was I trying to achieve? 
  • Why did I choose the path of sole practitioner?

This wasn’t about money, perhaps surprisingly. I wanted to avoid having a boss. I wanted more time to myself. I wanted to be able to choose who I worked with. And most importantly, I wanted to choose the times I worked. All of this told me why.

And without that, I wouldn’t be able to move any further in my planning. Everything leads out of that simple question. I couldn’t fit in any other parts that make the whole package without knowing this. 

What’s in a name?

Next, you have to decide what to name your business. What’s in a name? Well, people tend to merge their personality with their business. And that’s great! But in bookkeeping, this is perhaps even more pronounced. Your branding is your personality. It’s how your clients will see you. After all, in the first instance, most of them will encounter your name first. 

And in bookkeeping it’s almost like you’re an employee for many of the firms that work with you. They trust you like they trust an employee, and rely upon you to keep their business running. You remove the stresses and strains for them.

It’s very personal. 

I’ve had many clients who have become friends, and that’s very much the nature of our profession. 

So, what you call yourself advertises your personality, and helps people understand what you’re about. 

My first business name was NME Bookkeeping. That’s my initials, in case you haven’t guessed! But when I read it out to people, I kept saying “enemy bookkeeping”! Who wants to work with an enemy? It was certainly quirky, but not in the right way. 

Now, my birthday is on Halloween. I love all things that go bump in the night—ghost stories and things like that. And that’s where my business name, Bewitching Bookkeeping, came from. 

Now that was a little bit of me in my business, but I was able to take it to a new level. I say that I “take the mystery out of bookkeeping”. I tell people I take the bookkeeping mess and “magically” make it disappear, before making it reappear all in order!

I’m also launching a new side to my business where I help fellow sole practitioner bookkeepers and accountants, and I’m calling that project The Maverick Revolution. Again, this communicates what I’m about—helping the “Lone Rangers” of the industry. It helps me stand out. (See Weekend Reflections later in this book for details.)

So, in summary you’re setting your own goals in the business when you choose a name that works 100% for you. It doesn’t matter what others think because ultimately you need a brand that you can be passionate about. Get this right and it’ll shine through in your everyday business activities. 

  • The Bookkeeper Superhero is sponsed by AutoEntry, which is the first tool many sole practitioners reach for when going it alone, whether they use Xero, Sage, QuickBooks or other top accounting apps.

    Get a free 25-credit trial or demo of AutoEntry here: www.autoentry.com

Bookkeeper qualities

If you’re considering becoming a sole practitioner, I’d say you need three main qualities: 

  1. Resilience: Anybody who’s going to be a sole practitioner needs to be resilient. In any business you’re going to have ups and downs. For example, the pandemic knocked us all for six. And there are constantly changing requirements for what bookkeepers can do for businesses. For example, Making Tax Digital is huge. But the key thing is that you need to not only accept and ride out these ups and downs, but also learn from them. That may as well be a definition of business resilience. 
  2. Methodical: This one might sound obvious, but you need to be good at record keeping. Much of your work is organising data in a way that will let you continue your business and avoid your client have the stress of having to take care of this themselves. Tech really comes to the forefront here, because often this is a matter of uploading things for your client, rather than them doing it. It’s all part of the mindset of being methodical. 
  3. Adaptability: This is less about clients, and more about protecting you and your business. You setup as a sole practitioner because you want to run your business your way. But don’t forget that clients you work with have probably setup their own businesses because they wanted to work their way. So, it becomes all about finding a match. If you want to run your business your way, then make sure you find clients that fit that way as well. Not all clients will. This is that’s why there are thousands of bookkeepers all over the world. We all do a good job and that’s because we are all different and suit different clients. But being able to adapt to your own way of working in that you can say, “No, thank you,” to a new client who doesn’t fit, is a key skill.  

This was an excerpt from The Bookkeeping Superhero, by Natasha Everard, and sponsored by AutoEntry by Sage. The eBook is available for free download from Natasha's website or to buy in paperback.