The role of a bookkeeper can be wide and varied, covering everything from payroll and invoicing to staff training and consultancy. But how do you decide which services to offer, and is it best to focus on specific aspects of the role or develop a more all-encompassing offering?
First, let’s take a look at some of the services commonly offered by bookkeepers.
Maintaining the ledger Making sure financial records are up to date and accurate will be a key part of a bookkeeper’s role. This may also involve setting up the client with accounting software linked to their bank account so transaction data is pulled through and recorded – something you’ll need to monitor on a regular basis. You may also do the bank reconciliation to ensure bank accounts and financial records are in sync.
Monthly reporting As a bookkeeper, you could be charged with producing and maintaining key financial documents such as balance sheets, profit and loss statements and cash flow forecasts. Again, these will need to be monitored, checked and updated on a regular basis. You can enhance your role by not simply documenting these figures but explaining them to your client, highlighting changes and their potential impact on the business and drawing their attention to potential issues. Again, accounting software can help here, turning numbers into easier to understand graphs and charts to clearly illustrate the situation.
Accounts payable/receivable How much money moves in and out of a business and when, can have a major impact on business success. As a bookkeeper, your role here could include advising on payment terms, monitoring ageing receivables, chasing overdue accounts and making payments. To further this, you could also use your knowledge to develop structures to target late payers and advise on late payment terms.
Filing taxes From monitoring VAT to paying income tax, a bookkeeper can be invaluable when it comes to monitoring a client’s tax liability and making sure there are funds available to make payments in good time.
Payroll Managing payroll can be a daunting task for some small businesses. As a bookkeeper, you could take this worry away by maintaining employee records and ensuring they’re paying the right tax and other deductions, creating payslips and filing reports with HMRC.
Staff training If you’d like to cement your position with a client, it may be worth offering additional services such as training staff to carry out their bookkeeping duties, guiding them in the use of accounting software and creating documents, so they have step-by-step guides to help them complete their tasks.
Consultancy services Taking this a step further and you could become a consultant to a small business with a financial or even a technical focus. For example, you could use your financial insight to identify shortfalls in cash flow and recommend solutions to fix it; you could make suggestions regarding payment terms to ensure smoother cash flow; you could even identify products or services that are underperforming or that have good potential for growth. From a technical perspective, you may have experience of customer management, project management or time-keeping systems that would be useful for your client, or you may be able to set up point of sale systems. Added offers such as this are a sure-fire way to cement your position with a client and ensure they see you as a valuable resource for the business.
Is it necessary to decide what you’ll offer early on, or should you just wait to see what your clients need from you? While it is, of course, important to be flexible and respond to changing needs, it’s also the case that you should be clear on what you offer so you don’t over-promise. If you simply won’t have the capacity to offer consultancy services, then don’t list it as an option. You don’t want to leave clients feeling like they haven’t received a comprehensive service from you. When it comes to being a generalist or a specialist, there is no right answer, so consider what works best for you. You could offer a wide range of services but to a specific sector, for example. This has the added benefit of being able to market yourself as a specialist and so potentially charge a higher rate.
Deciding on the best approach will involve thinking about the clients you’d like to work with and finding out what their most common needs will be. So, for example, sole traders are likely to be in need of services such as tax returns and ledger support; growth businesses may well like the idea of a bookkeeper who can offer advice and insight while adapting to the changing needs of the business. Similarly, start-ups may have needs that change quickly, while more established businesses may have set tasks each month that are unlikely to change.
If there’s a type of business or a specific market sector that you want to work with, research that market in detail. This could involve talking to potential clients or specific businesses, something which can also help you when it comes to pricing your services and estimating what demand there will be for your offering.