Tips for Accounting Freelancers
It’s common knowledge that the gig economy is booming. More and more workers of all types are working on a freelance, independent contractor basis. If you’re an accountant…from bookkeeper to CFO-level…there are tremendous opportunities to deliver your services as a free agent to large and small organizations. I’ve been working as a solo CPA and business consultant for 30+ years. During that time many accounting professionals have sought my advice on how to succeed as a freelancer. Here are the most frequent tips I’ve offered:
Getting started – Launching your solo business is not difficult, at least from a procedural standpoint. You can just tell yourself and others that you’re in business, order business cards from Vistaprint, tune-up your LinkedIn profile, and prepare PDF copies of your resume and a one-page menu of services…and you’re in business. It’s that simple. Later you’ll want to build a website, maybe using WordPress and a TemplateMonster template. The most difficult part of all this is making the actual decision to become a freelancer. If you have a strong educational background and relevant work experience in accounting or bookkeeping, and can work without needing a lot of supervision, then you may have what it takes to succeed, especially if you have good character and a willingness to work hard.
Maybe you lost your job and are now considering doing freelance work while you’re in transition. Working as a freelancer and looking for a full-time job are not mutually exclusive. In fact, there are many benefits from working for yourself while you’re between jobs. For example, you maintain your skills, keep a void (a period of not being employed) off your resume, and earn income. Also, sometimes full-time job interviews can actually be opportunities to be retained on a freelance basis when the employer needs help but just isn’t ready to hire you on a full-time permanent basis.
Finding work – Most of my assignments have come from referrals from people with whom I’ve developed relationships with via prior employment and through various forms of networking. Almost all of my marketing efforts have been focused on CPAs, bankers, and attorneys who can retain or refer me to help them and/or their clients. If you’re a new freelancer, I suggest you follow a simple, three-step methodology. First, build a list of names and email addresses of people you think will be interested in your services. Second, make sure your business cards, resume, website, and other marketing materials adequately convey your service offerings and an overall professional image. Third, tastefully get your message to your audience through in-person and online networking using an ongoing campaign of periodic touches.
Also, you should get your profile listed on Upwork and/or other similar platforms and peruse them for open jobs for which you may be good fit. As you’re getting your freelance business established, or during slow periods you should work with one or more financial staffing firms (including JE Moore Staffing, a division of my firm) to help you find work. You’ll generally get paid less from these firms than when you find work on your own, but sometimes lower income is better than none at all.
Pricing your services – One of the most common questions I get from accounting professionals just starting out as freelancers is, “How do I set my hourly billing rate?” I recommend setting your rate as high as your background, experience, and service offerings will justify, balanced by the rates similar professionals in your area are charging. You should have a set hourly rate, but be willing to discount it (sometimes greatly), depending on the facts and circumstances of each situation. Some factors to consider are how busy you are, who the client is, the type of industry, the risks involved, experience you may gain, whether travel and overtime is involved, and the duration of the opportunity.
Let’s say your desired rate is $110.00 per hour and you’ve been offered $60.00 per hour to work on an in-town project for 40 hours per week for the next three months, in an industry in which you’d like to gain experience. If you’ve not had any work for the last month or so, and don’t have assignments lined up for the next few weeks, then it may be smart to take the job despite the lower rate. In a case like this, you may want to let the client know that you’re discounting your rate for a limited time and that once the agreed-upon work is completed, any future work may need to be billed at your normal, higher rate.
Tools and apps to use – All that’s needed to run your freelance accounting business is a cell phone, desktop and/or laptop computer, printer/scanner, and high-speed internet service. In addition, there’s no shortage of low-cost tools and apps that help you operate effectively and efficiently. I’ve already mentioned Vistaprint, WordPress, and Upwork. Several others are Quickbooks Online, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, MS Office, Evernote, Slack, and Zoom.
Where to work – You can easily run your freelance business from a small workspace in your home. Some of your projects may be on-site at client locations, but many services performed by accountants and bookkeepers can be done anywhere using cloud-based apps and virtual communication tools. Clients generally don’t care where you work. They’re primarily concerned that the work get’s done on a timely basis. In addition to home office arrangements, freelancers in most markets have at their disposal a wide-variety of month-to-month or pay-by-the-day coworking facilities from which they can work on an as-needed basis. This option, as well as nearby coffee shops allow you to get out of the house and interact with others, many of whom are operating solo businesses.
Sharpening your skills – Your success as a freelancer will be largely dependent on your technical competence, interpersonal skills, and work disciplines. It will be next to impossible for you to succeed at working for yourself if you don’t already have a fairly strong dosage of these attributes. Since business and technology is constantly changing and at a fairly rapid rate, it’s also very important that you’re continually learning and growing. There’s no shortage of opportunities to gain relevant knowledge and learn tricks and skills that equip you to better serve clients. Books, websites, blogs, seminars, conferences, lunch-and-learns, trade associations, and industry organizations are all readily available to anyone who has a thirst for knowledge.
Want to attend one of our freelancer events?
JE Moore periodically hosts informal events designed specifically for professionals interested in launching and growing their freelance business. Visit our Events page to learn more about our upcoming events.