ICB’s Marie Phillips MICB PM.Dip shares her tips for starting a bookkeeping practice

In September 2020, I received my practice licence and a slight fear set in. I had studied, passed the exams and all of a sudden could start a practice. I muddled through and wrote this article with the hope that my experience can help you.

Fighting Imposter syndrome

First and foremost, deal with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome, as it relates to us, is doubting your skill as a bookkeeper. I still have full days when I experience imposter syndrome. Please remember you have passed numerous exams, most requiring at least 85% to receive a pass, which shows you are capable. You follow in the well-travelled path of numerous successful bookkeepers. On the days you feel like an imposter, look up some of the prior winners of a Luca award, they all started where you are now.

Connect and communicate

Connect with other bookkeepers on social media. As bookkeepers themselves, they will support you on the bad days and champion your wins on the good days. There are many great groups on Facebook. I like the 'ICB Members Group’ for ICB specific information, '6 Figure Bookkeepers Club' for general bookkeeping chat and 'Accountants & Bookkeepers Support UK' for technical questions.

Upon receiving your licence, you are also granted access to a part of the ICB website that as a student was unavailable. I suggest you read as much as you can in the ‘Resources’ tab. There you will find information you may not completely understand, note these as you can get answers from ICB's Sujay Patel (more in him later).

While you are on the ICB website, go to the ‘Find A Bookkeeper’ tab then select ‘Browse Directory’. Find your practice and ensure your details are correct. Believe it or not, this is where my first prospective client found me, so ensuring your details are correct could benefit you.

Ring ICB and ask to speak with Sujay Patel who is ICB’s On-Boarding Manager. He will plan a Zoom call with you. During the Zoom call, Sujay should be able to answer your questions or advise where you can get the answers. Sujay, most importantly, has a wide array of experience and is a valuable source of assistance in getting your practice off the ground.

Pick a good name

Believe me on this one, as the proprietor of Abelha Bookkeeping, pick a business name that you do not have to spell to everyone and clearly conveys that you are a bookkeeper and/or payroll agent!

Make use of software

There is more software than you could ever imagine for bookkeepers, each with a salesperson willing to sell it to you. During a sales call with them, they will try to convince you that their software is the sun and the moon. Here is the thing, the software could be amazing, but if it is not going to work for you and how you envision your practice, it is just a waste of money. In my opinion, at a minimum you need:

  • Accounting software that includes an invoice/receipt capture feature
  • A practice management software with an onboarding feature – only look at sole onboarding software once your practice is generating a little money as they are not economical when starting. I use Accountancy Manager as with the ICB discount, it is economical.
  • A communication software (like Zoom) - if you are using a free version of the software, check the maximum time you can be on a meeting because you would not want the software to end the meeting whilst you have a prospective client on the line.
  • Software to design professional-looking social media advertisements (such as Canva); and a VOIP (Voice over internet phone, I use Circle Loop) that allows you to pick a national or local telephone number specific to your desired client’s geographic area. VOIPs allows you to receive your business calls on your computer or via an app on your mobile.

Get yourself some clients

The hands-down hardest thing about starting a practice is finding clients. It is harder when you are not a parent (hint for those who are parents: many new bookkeepers find clients at the school gates) and do not have a large family/social circle, both of which apply to me. It means you must figure out other sources of gaining clients such as social media. Even in the non-bookkeeping world, it takes time to build a following and to create what I call ‘repetition trust,’ which is people seeing your posts numerous times. Working to get your first client is a long hard road and you will have hard days. At these times I recommend you think about your shopping habits. For example, I love to shop on Amazon and only buy items with reviews and scroll past the items without reviews. If your shopping habit is the same as mine, remember many people have the same shopping habit as us. Focus on getting your first client, doing an amazing job for that client, and getting them to give you a review in as many places as possible and tell people about you via word of mouth.

Good luck

I know all too well that starting a practice is daunting, but if you begin by keeping your practice simple, staying patient while you hunt for your first client and scaling your business as you grow in confidence, any beginner’s fear will be a distant memory. Good luck!


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