Have you thought about studying Level 4 qualifications with ICB? Being an ICB Certified Bookkeeper is a great achievement, but what if you can be an ICB Certified Bookkeeper that offers services such as self-assessment and corporation tax

Level 4 qualifications can allow you to do this. By studying these qualifications, you could get more clients, and help your practice grow to its full potential. To see why it is worth studying, we interviewed two bookkeepers that offer Level 4 services. In this article, we interviewed Paula Veysey-Smith C.FICB.

Do you think that offering level 4 services such as self-assessment can help a bookkeeper grow their practice?

Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. And I believe that is where the bookkeeping market will develop into. Yes, if you focus on bookkeeping you can build a solid practice. However, if you can offer Level 4 services, I believe you are going to get the biggest growth because there is such a demand for this service. Since the pandemic began, there has been a massive uptake in people starting their businesses. So, this is a market that bookkeepers already operate in and it is going to grow as many of these people starting their new business will be sole traders.

‘’If you can offer Level 4 services, that is one of the areas where I believe you are going to get the biggest growth’’

Are there any Level 4 qualifications that you recommend a bookkeeper takes, such as Self-Assessment, Corporation Tax or should they do all of them?

Well, historically, there was a belief that Corporation Tax was much more difficult than Self-Assessment Tax, but that’s not true. I used to work with a company involved in the relocation market. That was a substantial business but run as a sole trader therefore all the tax was reported through the self-assessment return. Each return involved several pages of the self-assessment forms. It’s important to understand that the notion that self-assessment returns are easier than corporation tax isn’t necessarily true. 

I would say that it is important to understand the complexities involved with doing limited company accounts and corporation tax. With self–assessment returns you are just dealing with HMRC but for Ltd Company accounts you will need to file to both Companies Hosue and HMRC.  

When I started my practice, I worked with small, limited companies which gave me a good understanding of what was needed to compile limited company accounts. I was very used to company accounts and then learnt about self-assessment returns. I don’t think bookkeepers need to necessarily start with self-assessment returns and move onto limited company accounts. Start with what you know and move on from there. 

However, I do believe that there is growth in self-assessment returns which any bookkeeping practice could engage with.

The Level 4 exams are available for Members to take whenever you're ready but remember when you start doing it in your practice, just make sure that you are working within your comfort zone. If someone has asked you to do something you don’t understand, then get help with it. That is how I’ve learnt.

"I have seen the biggest upturn in my business in doing self-assessment this year’’

How did you get help?

I did my research. I went to the HMRC guidance papers and I’ve got a good network of accountants, so I ring them up if I need some help.

Why do clients pay more if you can do their tax return?

I think it’s important for bookkeepers to realise that doing self-assessment should be a separate engagement. You must say ‘Yes, I can do your return and it will cost you this much. As an ICB qualified and regulated bookkeeper you can be more confident in what you quote. . You can charge for completing the self-assessment even if you are already doing the bookkeeping. You can also consider fixed-price deals that include both bookkeeping and returns. Make sure you do charge correctly for self-assessment because clients will pay.

We also must remember that eventually, Making Tax Digital is going to come into the self-assessment world, and that is potentially going to add another level of complication. I say to clients, ‘you don’t want to be dealing with this.’ You must sell yourself as an investment and say to your clients ‘you invest in me to do this, then you’re free from it, it will get done properly, and I will probably save you some money because you didn’t think if putting this allowance through’. Then the client can get on with running their business, and the money they pay the bookkeeper, they can get back.

"If you are unsure of something, check and double-check’’

Did you have any concerns about expanding your services to include areas such as tax and accounts? 

When I first started doing it, yes. I triple-checked every figure and read every article, but this was four or five years ago. Now I’ve been doing it for several years I’ve come through a process of learning though it is important to realise that learning continues. So, I think if someone is thinking of doing level 4 qualifications you are going to go through a learning phase, so make sure you’ve got people around you to support you. The ICB helplines are available to you, use the accountants in your network and doing your reading is great. If you are unsure of something, check and double-check.

There are always curve balls and I continue to learn; I believe that if I stopped learning then that’s when I am in danger of making a mistake. Even after years of dealing with Company accounts and Tax, I am open to continuing learning!

Do you think that bookkeepers are the go-to for small business tax? If so, why?

Yes, I do! I have very good relationships with my accountants, so I don’t do the tax for all my clients. In my network, many accountants want to do the tax for smaller businesses, i.e., micro-enterprises. We could become the go-to because accountants are quite happy to pass it on to bookkeepers and potentially, we can offer clients better prices. Don’t misunderstand me, we need to charge what our value is, but I know that this will be less than most accountants. What is also fundamental to understand is that if we are doing the bookkeeping and the company accounts, there is an important workflow that can be utilised. We know the business, we know the books, so it should be just a process of taking the accounting records to produce the year-end accounts. If a bookkeeper is doing it properly, then it will just flow through.

"Don’t let fear creep in, because you just take it one step at a time’’

Are there certain situations, or types of clients, that will always need the accountant and bookkeeper to work in tandem? 

Absolutely! I would not feel comfortable taking on every set of SME accounts even though I could. I look at the complexity. You might have group accounts; you might have contingent liabilities. So, if there is a degree of complexity, I consider if I’m fully equipped to take on this set of limited accounts. I always keep the limited accounts within my skillset. I’m always learning, so an issue might come up which I can confidently undertake after research. I also appreciate and enjoy working with accountants on more complex accounts. That is also why I have a good relationship with accountants because they know that I will pass on accounting work when I feel it’s appropriate.

"If you’re interested in Level 4, then I recommend you do it because you will get back the money and time you invest in Level 4’’

What would you say to someone thinking about enrolling on Level 4 qualifications?

I would say do it. Look at your practice and see what your goals are for your business. I do believe that it is going to become a bigger part of a bookkeeping role. If this is an area that you want to explore don’t be nervous, start the qualifications and take it one step at a time; you will be fully supported.

Join your local ICB branch, where you will find many like-minded members who will both help and encourage you. There are so many valid places you can get assistance, HMRC help-pages, the ICB network and your network. If you’re interested in Level 4, then I recommend you do it because you will get back the money and time you invest in Level 4.

If you have been inspired by Paula’s interview and would like to know more about the Level 4 qualifications we offer, check out our Bookkeeping Courses page, or call us on 0203 405 4000. You can purchase Level 4 textbooks here. You can also join the ICB Members Group to discuss Level 4 qualifications with your fellow bookkeepers.

HMRC guidance papers: