How to start your own accounting business

Setting up as an accountant can be a great way to earn money, keep your skills fresh and feel rewarded pursuing a worthwhile career, working alongside fellow entrepreneurs. More people are turning to self-employment these days, as the allure of working for yourself and having that added flexibility to pick and choose projects is strong.

If the prospect of working as an accountant appeals to you, it is probably safe to assume that you have a flair for figures and know at least enough about how the sector works to get started on your new venture. However, to make a long-term success of it, it is crucial that you are fully conversant with the role and responsibilities of an accountant, as well as the relevant legislation and tax compliance rules, along with the modern resources that are available to help.

As well as the more established accountancy software and spreadsheet-based tools out there, there are a number of online programmes and apps designed to make your life much easier. For example, receipt scanning software such as Receipt Bank assists accounting firms to keep track of their clients’ paperwork and to order and analyse it for easier submission to HMRC. Receipt Bank can help you save time and allow you to present your clients’ financial data to HMRC in a professional way that is clear to understand and easy to analyse.

So, whether you are starting out from scratch or have many years of accountancy experience under your belt, here are some more areas to think about.

Knowledge check

While your daily task list will vary depending on the accountancy specialisms you choose to follow and the type of clients you wish to work with, there are certain jobs that all accountants will need to do on a regular basis. These include:

  • Drawing up budget plans, reports and financial statements
  • Setting up and maintaining ongoing business and individual accounts
  • Auditing those accounts for external approvals
  • Helping clients manage expenditure and forecast profits
  • Filing tax returns and providing expert tax advice
  • Assisting with fraud investigations and forensic accounting

It goes without saying that strong numerical skills are vital for the success of your new venture, as are an organised mind and keen eye for detail.

Get qualified

While you don’t need a formal university degree to set up as an accountant, you will need to show that you have been approved by a recognised professional body. There are a number of professional bodies that offer accreditation and/or association membership to those who pass their vocational accounting qualifications. Not only is this accreditation a regulatory requirement, it also allows you to access greater industry support and enables you to offer a wider range of services. Research some of the main professional bodies to discover more about what they offer and expect of their members:

  • AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)
  • ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
  • CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
  • AIA (Association of International Accountants). 

You will also need to register your new business with HMRC for your own tax assessment and compliance purposes. In addition, you are required to secure formal authorisation from HMRC to be able to deal with them on your clients’ behalf. They will issue you with an agent code or reference number to use in any and all interactions with them, going forward.

Finally, you will need to demonstrate a full understanding of and formal compliance with financial industry guidelines and regulations, including data protection under the new GDPR laws and anti-money laundering regulations.

Setting up

One of the main things to get in place straight away is an appropriate level of professional indemnity insurance. Mistake can happen to the most proficient of practitioners and it is wise to have protection in place from the beginning. If you are employing other people, you should also take out employers’ liability insurance and a buildings insurance policy should also cover the physical premises where you are based, whether that is from a dedicated office or your own front room.

Devise a business plan to help you plot how you want your new firm to grow. Work out a budget and don’t forget to include all your costs, from the smaller amounts needed for petty cash to larger outgoings such as rent or salaries. Don’t forget to include ongoing membership fees and subscriptions for online receipt scanning software, for example, plus relevant trade magazines and digital news resources.

Spread the word

Work out how you are going to make your new business stand out from all the others in what can be a crowded market. Are you going to focus solely on one or two types of client or industry sector? Will your list of services mark you out as unique in the field? Create a website, set up a dedicated email account and get yourself onto the main social media sites to start getting the word out that you’re open for business.

Other ideas include attending networking events, approaching existing business contacts and even taking out digital or print media advertising. Consider launching a special opening offer or discount and get some flyers printed to promote this around your local area. You could write a regular newsletter to encourage people to stay in touch with you, or get involved in some local charitable initiatives, such as offering free half-hour consultations in return for brand awareness at a community event.

Finding success as an accountant won’t happen overnight. However, if you make the effort to work out what people want, secure the right qualifications and professional body approvals to be able to provide that and then market your new business, then it shouldn’t be long before you start seeing results.

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