Jan Haugo, CEO of ICB USA, a division of ICB Global, gives her unique insight on what makes a professional bookkeeper.

Bookkeepers are not known in our industry to be professionals; however, per the definition, an office worker is a professional. Looking at the key ingredients of what makes a professional, I decided to perform a comparison to give a bit of perspective on the trends of professionalism in the bookkeeping industry.

First, look and see where the bookkeeping profession will need to transition:


The essence of a true professional is not only having all the above items but being able to hold yourself to a set of standards. When you refer to yourself as a professional, you are indicating to your clients and yourself that you have attained a level of achievement, continual educational, and industry standards of quality.

Most bookkeepers fail to recognize themselves as a “professional” because they have not self-identified with a profession. The accounting profession has not acknowledged the bookkeeper as a professional, and thus the lack of validation perpetuates a self-devaluing image.

As you can see, there are similarities in a profession. The past has not held bookkeepers to any of these standards regarding becoming “professionals.” 

A professional membership organization is a key component in helping lift the visibility and the standards of the professionals. Examples of professional organizations that raise the standards in the profession are the AICPA for CPAs, American Bar Association for lawyers, and ICBUSA for bookkeepers. 

A common misperception is that social groups, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, are a replacement for the professional organization. These communities are lacking the professional requirements that help to define the profession.

Client Perspective

The perspective is that most clients don’t care if the bookkeeper is certified or not. The ability for a customer to identify with a professional or not is critical.

General perception is that the bookkeeping industry does not offer standards. The client is not aware of the standards, and thus not offered a choice when they hire a bookkeeper.

The bookkeepers need to inform the clients on why they should pick a professional as a bookkeeper, allowing the customer to make a choice on using a professional versus a nonprofessional.  

Gaining certification in bookkeeping will help support your skills as an individual who met the standards of the industry. Given the choice to use a doctor that is licensed and monitored versus an unlicensed physician, I would guess that most individuals would choose a licensed doctor.

Mindset Shift

The time to make yourself indispensable is now while you can gain ground on the early adopters. Decide to differentiate yourself as a bookkeeper who is a certified professional. Look to an organization that wants to support you and grow your community.

Choosing to be a professional in a community now before the technology storm hits helps to increase the likelihood that you will continue to grow. There are many credentials out there to signify that you understand technology.

But in the above grid, the core of the professional is the industry education. Technology will continue to shift, but the underpinning basics of your core profession separate the strong from the weak. Accounting principles have not changed for more than 500 years and are the basis for all CPAs, accountants, and now bookkeepers. To be the strongest professional you can be, you will need the education in accounting, the continual technology education, and the certification.

Being a professional not only requires the above items described but is also a change in mindset. Shifting from the idea that there are no resources or voice available for bookkeepers to engaging within the bookkeeping professional organization is a necessity.

I will leave you with one final definition: “Professional” is participating for gain or for livelihood in an activity that is often engaged by amateurs, via Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I attend many conferences and most of the bookkeepers I engage with are NOT amateurs but professionals. 

Change your mindset, change your voice, and begin showing your actual credentials. You are a professional; a bookkeeping professional. Act like it, show it, and believe in yourself!

Jan Haugo 

Jan is the CEO of ICBUSA, a division of the ICB Global, and owner of the bookkeeping firm Jan Haugo & Associates 


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