How to become a virtual bookkeeper (and work from home)
Do you love numbers and spreadsheets? Have a knack for detail? Enjoy helping customers or clients?
If so, have you ever considered working in bookkeeping (and no – you don’t have to be a CPA to do it)?
Do you already work in bookkeeping, accounting or finance?
Do you want to have a more flexible schedule – one that’s not determined by month-end or year-end company operations and goals?
If you work 9-5 at a company, you’ll often notice that bookkeepers and accountants – they have the LEAST FLEXIBILITY in their daily duties.
They have to pay the bills, do the taxes, follow up on overdue customer accounts, balance the books etc. – all according to the company’s timelines and policies.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or your birthday, the work has to get done. If you take a vacation, that just means the work will be waiting for you when you get back.
What if I told you that you could have the best of both worlds?
You could be a bookkeeper AND work on your terms. Making $60+/hour as a virtual bookkeeper.
I recently spoke with Ben Robinson. He’s a CPA and sold his accounting firm in 2014. He’s now teaching people how to be bookkeepers working from home.
I’m excited to share my interview with him which includes tips on how to be successful as a virtual bookkeeper including what core skills you need and what challenges you have to overcome.
Ben, what is bookkeeping? How is bookkeeping different from accounting?
So it’s kind of like nursing and doctoring. There’s an overlap obviously in all of them.
Bookkeeping is an aspect of accounting. Bookkeeping is more about the nitty gritty of the business, the transactions, the daily vibe of a business, whereas accounting is more of the higher level, financial statements and all of that.
There are blurred lines between bookkeeping and accounting, especially when it comes to what bookkeepers are doing versus what accountants are doing.
So we’ve all been to the doctor and we’re now seeing nurse practitioners. We’re seeing physicians’ assistants where we used to always see physicians. The reason is because those nurse practitioners and those PAs are getting their skills upgraded.
They’re doing more. They’re doing things that the doctors used to do so that the doctors can now focus on the things that they truly do. The same thing applies to bookkeepers and accountants. There’s overlap.
Now with computerized and automated and all these other things that we have, bookkeepers now, their time is not so much spent on data entry as it is being more analytical and doing things that accountants could or should be doing in the past.
So, again, there’s a little bit of overlap or a lot of overlap in the two. But they’re both…it’s always said that accounting and bookkeeping is the language of business. So that’s exactly what it is.
What’s your background? How did you go from being a CPA to teaching people how to build a successful bookkeeping business?
In 2014, I sold my CPA firm. I’d owned my own CPA firms for about 14 years, and I didn’t want to go back into that because I had been doing it for 14 years on my own and probably another five before that. So, it was time for a change.
One of the big things that we did in our CPA firm is that we did bookkeeping. I trained at the time about 120 bookkeepers over the course of my career on how to do bookkeeping services and how to do them right.
I didn’t plan on doing anything with bookkeeping or accounting or anything related to that when I first sold my firm, but my friend Kelly, she had lost her job.
She was a stay at home mom of three boys and had a good virtual job. She lost that job, and she was worried that she was going to have to go back to work. And I said, “No, you’re not going to have to go back to work in a real office type environment. Let’s start you a bookkeeping business.”
That kind of formed a genesis of Bookkeeper Launch. It was all by necessity, something that she needed.
About a month into helping her, I was like, “Hmm. I wonder if other people would enjoy having a virtual bookkeeping business,” because at this point, early 2015, technology was just coming on that would allow people to do bookkeeping and do it virtually. It would kind of become more mainstream than rogue type of stuff.
And the rest is history. Since then, we have trained over 8400 people how to start a bookkeeping business – all because Kelly had lost her job.
How does your passion still drive your business growth today?
My passion really now is seeing results, seeing results that our students get.
Going inside of our Facebook group and reading emails and having personal relationships and phone calls with people who are starting to live the life that they have dreamed up. What we call the ‘and’ lifestyle around here, a life where you can have family, you can have finances, and you can have freedom and you never have to choose between all of them.
So, every day I get up. One of my favorite things to do is to go into the Facebook group and look at the wins, look at how people are getting clients, how they’re starting to do crazy, great things for their family as a result of them starting a business.
So obviously we all have a profit motive. We’re in business to make money. But more than that, seeing people really come outside their shell and realize that, “Hey, I’m a pretty badass person.” – that’s rewarding.
Because growing a business is so much more than just growing a business. You’re growing personally as well. That’s my passion. That’s what fuels me every day.
How important has niching down been to your business profitability?
It’s probably one of the big levers that you can pull in a business. There are certain things that you can do that give you incremental growth, incremental improvement and efficiency, but picking a niche is all about effectiveness and it’s a huge lever.
For us, an example is we’ve helped people start bookkeeping businesses and tax businesses. If we were just trying to help people to start businesses, we probably would not have this success that we have today.
One of the things that we encourage our students to do, regardless of what business vein that they’re in, is to pick a niche. Now a niche doesn’t just have to be an industry. It could also be demographics. It can be the type of person. There’s a whole host of things. But the world needs people who are specialized in certain areas.
There’s this thing that you should be a well-rounded individual, which is a bunch of crap, especially when it comes to running your business.
Instead of going wide and trying to serve tons of markets and tons of people, if you focus on a niche, it’s like digging down. You’re going to find more and more treasure the farther down that you go. I think it’s critically important to have a niche.
What are the 3 core skills to become a virtual bookkeeper?
- You have to enjoy people. Bookkeeping is first and foremost a relationship business. You have to build your business on the relationship and not the transaction. People cancel transactions. They don’t cancel relationships. That’s first and foremost.
- You have to like numbers. You don’t have to love them, but you have to like them. Obviously this is a numbers business. So you’ve got to know them, right? You’ve got to have an eagle eye.
- You’ve got to be kind of smart. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet. This is starting a business, and you’ve got to have not just book smarts, but street smarts. Have that tenacity. Have that grit to find answers when you’re the only one that can find the answers because you’re the business owner and everything stops with you.
Those three things right there are critical. I could go on and on and on about it, especially in the bookkeeping business. But those are the three critical elements.
What is your biggest challenge as a virtual bookkeeper?
Some of the obstacles are just inherent to any business you’re running and some are for bookkeepers. I’ll kind of elaborate on both.
People underestimate the time, dedication and work that starting a business entails. When they face a challenge, they fold up like a cheap suit. They say, “I’ve been marketing for two weeks and I can’t find any clients.”
Well, guess what?
You’ve got to get out there and market for two months.
If you’re talking to 10 people a day, talk to 50 people a day. It takes a lot of dang work. People who aren’t willing to put in the work and, again, like I said, fold up like a cheap suit at the first sign of trouble, need not apply.
Challenges are mental. We always talk about the fear because I’ll tell you every single day as a business owner, you’re going to have a fear. And that’s because you’re going into unchartered territory, doing something you’ve never done before. So by default, you’re going to be fearful of that thing.
And I heard a quote, I think it was just last week from I think it was Jim Quick. It said, “On the other side of the things that you know you need to do is the results that you want,” something like that to paraphrase him. So we just have to, like the book title suggests, feel the fear and do it anyway.
But the biggest challenge is the mental game. The mental game of not sticking to it, not having that toughness. Not being able to get every single time that you take a blow, that you get back up off that mat and go at it again.
How do you obtain clients for your home-based bookkeeping business?
What you want is multiple ways to get one client. There are a merit of ways:
- Networking – personal networking is huge
- Networking events
- Specialized groups online
- Cold emails
- Working LinkedIn
One of the things we talked about earlier was having a niche. So where do you fish? You fish where the fish are. You need to find out who is your market and then say, “Where does my market hang out?” and get there. Get in front of them, whatever way.
People will say, “Hey, I’m going to do Facebook paid ads,” and all of this sort of thing. Well, maybe some point down the road. But you’re not going to do that at first because that takes a lot of work and a lot of time too. Not that it isn’t effective, but it’s just a lot more lead time.
You want to get that first client as quickly as possible. When we go through the program, we go through the options and we monitor as best we can how people get their first client so you have multiple ways in which to do it.
Can you tell us about Bookkeeper Launch? What’s unique about it?
We teach the 21st century bookkeeping skills that you need to not only be successful today but well into the future. Going beyond just what traditional bookkeeping is all about. Teaching the right skills.
People don’t care what software you use. They may say, “Hey. I want you to use QuickBooks,” and that’s fine. But what they’re really looking for is the end result. So teaching those skills, the ones that people will pay for now and into the future.
Second thing is marketing that actually works. Unless you have sold bookkeeping services and have sold a lot of them, like hundreds if not a thousand of them like I have, you’re probably doing your marketing wrong.
How do I know this?
Because I did my marketing all wrong and figured out what does work and what doesn’t work. We continue to refine the program iteration after iteration based upon feedback from students, what’s working for them, what’s changing in the marketplace. Being very green, organic, new with the strategies and tactics. That is what’s unique with this course.
Also offering systems like a franchise. We are not a franchise, we are not a business opportunity in the slightest. This is your own business. You’re starting from scratch – 100%. But everything is here. You’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper. You’re starting with a proven system. That’s what Bookkeeper Launch is about.
One of the big things I’m most proud of is our Facebook community of students. We have around 5400 students in there, of which 80% are active on any given month. They’re in there collaborating with one another, helping each other.
They don’t see each other as competition because frankly they’re not. I don’t remember two bookkeepers in our group ever crossing paths or competing with one another because it’s a big, big market out there who needs bookkeeping services.
Related: Here are 2 reviews from graduates from Bookkeeper Launch.
For our Canadian readers, is virtual bookkeeping available only for U.S. citizens?
No. You can do this regardless. For other countries, obviously consult your local laws and rules and regulations as it pertains to bookkeeping because certain countries require different things. But, no, absolutely not.
We have students in Canada, Ireland, UK, Australia. At the last count, I believe we had 18 countries represented. So no, definitely not.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for anyone who wants to learn how to run a successful bookkeeping business?
Join Bookkeeper Launch. I mean, you’re not starting from scratch. That aside, you’ve just got to go out there and do it.
So here’s the first thing, and we talk about this in our marketing of the program – make sure you’re the right fit. Make sure you have all the facts. We know the system works for the right person, as long as that person’s going to work that system.
It doesn’t matter if you’re using our system or anybody else’s system. If you don’t put in the effort, if you don’t implement, if you don’t take action, you’re going to get zero results.
When you determine you’re the right fit and you say, “This is what I want to do,” make sure that you do it and you do it with everything and you don’t look back.
On the days that you hate your life and you’re asking yourself, “Why in the world did I do this?” because there will be those days, and they will be frequent at first. But the next day, that night you go to bed and the next day you get up, just say, “I’m going to do it again.”
Thanks, Ben for sharing your insights!
If you’re interested in learning more about virtual bookkeeping:
Interested in other work-from-home opportunities?
Here are additional work at home options that are well-paid:
- SEO Writer – earn $20,000+/month
- Virtual Assistant – make $100/hour
- Transcriptionist – earn more than $100,000/year
- Scopist (edit legal files) – earn $4000/month
- Pinterest Account Manager – make $30+/hour
- Online English Teacher – make $26/hour with Qkids
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- 11 Effective Ways to Make $100 Fast
- Love Pinterest? Work from home as a Pinterest Assistant.
- Always catching typos? Work as a Proofreader.
- How to Start a Printables Shop on Etsy Successfully
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