No bookkeeper is an island. Your professional qualification and all your hard work mean nothing if you have no businesses to share them with. Here we discuss some of the methods that work for other members.
The level of success you achieve with these methods will depend on a number of factors, including the area in which you live, the type of businesses that operate in your area and the local going-rate for work of this type.
It's also worth bearing in mind that acquiring clients can take time whilst you convert leads and enquiries into actual customers, and whilst you hone your sense of how business owners think and are best approached.
The first course of action is to advertise. (See also Yellow Pages at the bottom of this page) Look at the classifieds section in your local newspapers to see if there are any bookkeepers advertising regularly. You may find that you have more competition, although this is no bad thing; it just means that you will need to sell yourself, and your professionalism, better than the others do. Adverts from competitors will also give you some idea of the type of services they offer and perhaps even the ‘going rate’ for your area. Undercutting rarely works. Businesses need their books done properly after all. They want value for money.
Produce some simple leaflets and mail them out or, better still, deliver them yourself to local businesses. If you have an industrial or trading estate in your area they could house a good number of smaller businesses that do not have the time to undertake their own bookkeeping but which are not large enough to need a full-time accountant or bookkeeper.
"When I first started out I was scared stiff, but I plucked up the courage to go round the local industrial estates in Oxford to drop my leaflet through the door. I made sure I always got it into someone's hand and tried to appear confident. I told anyone who would listen that I was professionally qualified, local, and could work on or off-site at a competitive price. Within the month I'd had four enquiries and one confirmed contract."
Emma Quirk MICB
Local libraries, shops, Post Offices and town halls may be willing to display your leaflets as well. When you politely ask if you can display your leaflet, don't miss the opportunity to mention that you're a bookkeeper; you never know who might walk in after you talking about their dreaded tax return.
ICB has produced a template for a leaflet and further stationery that you can recreate at home, have professionally printed, or order via the ICB Vistaprint shop. ICB is always happy to give advice and look at any designs you have before you go to print.
Local high street accountancy firms often take on bookkeepers on a contract basis to complete the basic entries (to Trial Balance) so that they can then complete the final accounts themselves. Many accountants hate bookkeeping and many don’t know how to do it properly – but don’t tell them ICB said so! Some Practice Licence holders recognise this as their most important source of business. The firm may subcontract the work to you so you only deal with the accountants, or you may find the firm willing to pass the client on to you.
"I have also had a lot of clients passed to me through the years from accountants - so don't feel you can't approach local accountants and ask if they have any clients who are looking for bookkeepers. Some smaller accountants don't want to take on that type of work and happy to pass their details on to you."
Forum user 'Cath' MICB PM.Dip
As well as being a useful source of new clients for you, most accountants will recognise that the professional bookkeeper can bring them clients too and it's in both of your interests to work together.
Search for networking events, trade shows, or business launches in your area; many of them may be free to attend. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Trade as they deal with many small businesses and particularly new start-ups that should need your services. Chambers and Enterprise Agencies generally organise free ‘networking’ meetings that can be very productive.
Don't be mistaken that networking should be confined to networking events - you should never miss the opportunity to tell someone that you're a bookkeeper and give them your business card.
> Networking tips
"I have over the years tried various methods of advertising - some very costly but without much reward - most of my clients have been referrals from existing clients."
Sharon Eyre AICB PM.Dip
Happy customers could be ambassadors for your business. It helps to tell your clients that you have availablility and are looking for more clients.
> Keeping your clients happy
Remember to tell your bank and other local banks, and nowadays building societies, that you are professionally qualified. Most new businesses can’t wait to get a chequebook but Bank Managers increasingly demand that new business accounts have adequate bookkeeping support. It makes the Bank Manager’s life much easier if a good bookkeeper is producing regular figures.
Practice Licence holders get 11% of their business directly through ICB according to the 2012 Members Survey. Make sure you regularly check the job listings to find companies who are looking to outsource their books. Make an effort to start attending your local branch meetings for help and advice and the possiblility of picking up a client or two from a fellow member who has reached capacity.
You should also regularly check the Job Vacancy Listings as some of those vacancies will be from private clients who wish to ourtsource.
"As soon as I had my Practice Licence I looked through the job listings on the site, applied to three vacancies and got every one! I had over fourteen clients within six months."
Angela Spencer AICB PM.Dip
watch Angela's interview on our Videos page
As a Practice Licence holder you can have a free listing in the ICB online Find A Bookkeeper directory. Update your listing via MyICB or contact ICB for assistance.
"I am turning away clients on a regular basis because I just can't take on any more work. I have turned down 3 new clients in the last week - I referred them to the ICB website to find a bookkeeper - so hopefully they found a fellow member to help them."
Forum user 'Cath' MICB PM.Dip
> Job Listings
> Branch Meetings
> Find a Bookkeeper Directory
"I find that 95% of all of my enquiries come via my website. It costs me £20 per year for hosting, and I've registered with all of the free directories, and linked my website to as many as possible."
Forum user 'Gigagirl' AICB PM.Dip
You can include your website address in your ICB Forum signature, and on other forums you use around the web. Promotional tools like Google Adwords usually have introductory offers so you can test effectiveness before you outlay any costs.
Where social media is concerned, it's easy to be enthusiastic about setting up a new blog, Facebook page or Twitter account, but these tools take time and effort to use properly. Taking the time to plan out a couple of Tweets a day for the week ahead, or finding local businesses to 'Like' on Facebook could help you connect with the local business community, but make sure you make the most out of your efforts by linking posts and tweets to events and issues that appeal to a wider audience.
If you have no experience, and you find that this causes you a problem, try friends who may be willing to allow you access to their documents. Local charities or churches are often desperate for treasurers to complete their accounts, although this will normally be on a voluntary basis and there are a number of special regulations that apply to charity accounts. However, this will get you some valuable experience.
It is an age-old problem; if you have experience, people want a qualification, if you have a qualification, people want experience. Our advice is to draw on any past business experience and be confident in your qualification. Most important of all – sell yourself. The relationship between client and bookkeeper is extremely important if it is to work, so your personality is paramount.
"Initial flyers/letters to local small businesses, etc. I found to be a complete waste of time for some reason. My most successful marketing has been through Yellow Pages. I have a good website now, but still get very few enquiries from it - people still seem to look up Yell or the yellow book itself, believe it or not."
Forum user 'Cath' MICB PM.Dip (Scotland)
As Practice Licence holder you may be able to benefit from the ICB Yellow Pages Corporate Advertising Scheme which sees an ICB advertsing section in many local editions of the directory. On average, members in Scotland report more success with Yellow Pages advertising than those in the UK and NI. If your local edition has an ICB section, you should be able to advertise there at a reduced rate. For full details and an application form please ring Yellow Pages on 0808 100 7890 and ask about the ICB scheme.
Find out more about ICB's own regulations governing conduct and professional development for Practice Licence holders.
Download your copy of ICB's heraldic crest for use in your communications- exclusively for Practice Licence holders.