Bookkeeping is one of our favorite side hustles because it’s flexible, pays well, and there are minimal requirements. You can also learn how to become a bookkeeper from the comfort of your home and have paying clients in just a few months (or less).

Overall, this is a very low-cost online business idea, and freelance bookkeepers make $20 to $40/hour on average. If you’re interested in learning more, keep reading because we’re going to explain the differences between accounting and bookkeeping and give you a step-by-step guide to becoming a bookkeeper in 2024.

Qualifications to Become a Bookkeeper

One of the most exciting things about bookkeeping is that it’s a relatively high-paying side hustle that’s flexible and has minimal qualifications, as in, you don’t need a college degree or certification. However, a high school diploma or GED is necessary because you’ll learn the basic math and communication skills needed to work as a bookkeeper.

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Bookkeeper vs. Accountant – What’s the Difference?

Let’s get this out of the way first: Bookkeepers and accountants are not the same. They have common goals, but key distinctions make bookkeeping a job requiring less training and experience to get started.

What Does a Bookkeeper Do?

Bookkeepers record daily financial transactions for a business — it’s recording how money moves in and out of a company on a daily basis. That’s the most important thing to understand about their role, and bookkeepers’ responsibilities include tasks like:

  • Managing payroll
  • Collecting payments
  • Receiving and recording receipts
  • Reimbursing work-related expenses
  • Checking financial records for accuracy
  • Updating financial records
  • Creating financial reports

This is a very detail-oriented and important role, but it doesn’t require a college degree.

What Does an Accountant Do?

Accountants interpret the financial transactions that bookkeepers track. Accounting is more subjective, and accountants are responsible for tasks that reveal what’s going on with a business’s finances, including:

  • Preparing financial statements
  • Analyzing the cost of running a business
  • Planning and preparing taxes
  • Financial forecasting
  • Helping business owners understand the impact of financial decisions
  • Audit financial statements

Because of the nature of their role, accountants are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Skills Required to Become a Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers don’t need a degree to start, and some start working with zero experience and gain on-the-job training (more on this a little further down). But training and experience aside, there are a few things every bookkeeper should be good at:

  • Math: Having solid math skills is important because your job involves working with numbers. Bookkeeping doesn’t require high-level math, but you should be able to track credits and debits without financial software.
  • Basic computer skills: Most bookkeepers use cloud-based software, like Xero, Quickbooks, FreshBooks, or Wave.
  • Attention to detail: Small discrepancies can make a big difference when it comes to a business’s finances. You should be able to keep accurate records down to the cent and spot even the smallest errors.
  • Problem-solving: If there are errors, you need the skills to fix them. Mistakes aren’t always obvious, so you should be able to create and execute a plan to find and resolve mistakes.
  • Organization: You might be managing the books for multiple clients or recording lots of transactions for one client. Even just figuring out how to work from home requires good organizational skills.

Bookkeepers also need to have a high level of integrity and transparency. Tracking a company’s finances is a serious business. You have to make the right choices if you spot fraud or misuse of funds.

How to Become a Bookkeeper in 4 Steps

Now that you understand exactly what exactly a bookkeeper does, let’s walk through the process of learning how to become a bookkeeper. This is a work-from-home job, and you can train to become a bookkeeper from the comfort of your home too.

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Step 1: Decide Between Freelance Bookkeeping or Working For a Business

One of the great things about learning how to become a bookkeeper is that there are a couple of paths to paid work, and below is what you need to understand about each.

Working as a freelance bookkeeper

Working as a freelance bookkeeper means you’re an independent business owner who contracts out their services to other business owners. There’s a lot of flexibility and freedom if you go this route. You get to set your rates, work on your own schedule, and grow your business how you want.

Work for a company

Working as a part or full-time employee is another path, but it’s easier to pursue once you have some experience. Companies are more likely to take on new, inexperienced bookkeepers during tax season when they’re overloaded with work.

Step 2: Learn Bookkeeping Skills

All bookkeepers, both freelance and employees, need to develop their skills to learn how to become a bookkeeper. One of the best things about bookkeeping is that the training and work can all be done remotely. You’ll need to learn how to:

  • Create and use spreadsheets
  • Use bookkeeping software, like Xero and Quickbooks
  • Understand technical jargon
  • Differentiate entity types for tax purposes
  • Reconcile and balance accounts
  • Communicate with your clients

There are comprehensive online courses, like Bookkeeping Launchpad that teach you the necessary bookkeeping skills and how to start and run your own business. Alternatively, you can research free content and learn how to become a bookkeeper on your own.

The benefit of a course is that the instructor teaches you proven methods. They’ve put in the time, and you learn from their experience. On the flip side, free content is, well, free!

Step 3: Find Bookkeeping Work

Once you have the skills, it’s time to get to work! Like other freelance-based online businesses, you’ve got several options:

  • Job boards: There are dozens of job boards online, and some of the best choices for bookkeepers are FlexJobs, Indeed, SimplyHired, ZipRecruiter, and Hire My Mom. Learn more in our full 2024 FlexJobs Review.
  • Freelance job platforms: If you’re more interested in working as a freelance bookkeeper, Fiverr and Upwork are legitimate options. Learn more in our 2024 Upwork Review.
  • Use LinkedIn: You’ll have to do more than create a LinkedIn profile, but through some active work, you can develop connections with potential clients.
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Step 4: Decide if You Want to Become a Certified Bookkeeper

While it’s not required, some bookkeepers decide to become certified bookkeepers, which is an expensive route. It involves courses that cost anywhere from $1,500-$2,500, and there’s also the cost of certification exams, which can run $100-$500.

The upside is that your education and training tell potential clients that you have an industry-standard education. These programs are highly focused on the practice of bookkeeping and less on how to start and run your own bookkeeping business.

If you’re interested in this option, you’ll want to look for a certification program that meets your needs, including whether you want an online or on-campus program. Most local community colleges offer these options.

You can also certify through a couple of different organizations:

  • American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers: The AIPB offers certification and continuing education. There is a national exam, and you’ll need 3,000 hours of work experience to qualify.
  • National Bookkeepers Association: This organization offers Bookkeeper Certification by completing an Accounting Fundamentals course and passing the Uniform Bookkeepers Certification Exam. You also need at least an associate’s degree in bookkeeping.

How Much Do Bookkeepers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for bookkeepers is $45,560 per year. That’s just under $20/hour. These numbers are for bookkeepers who work as full-time, salaried employees.

Freelance bookkeepers who work remotely usually earn more than that — closer to $30-$40/hour or more after they’ve gained some experience. This is a good argument for becoming a freelance bookkeeper!

There are other benefits to working for yourself too. You can work from home, pick your own hours, set competitive rates, and stack clients to grow your business.

The Final Word on How to Become a Bookkeeper

Bookkeeping is a legitimate work-from-home job, but it can be hard to land your first client when you’re starting. I only say that to manage your expectations, but this is one of the benefits of taking an online bookkeeping course — the best ones provide proven strategies for landing your first paying clients.

Overall, bookkeeping is an incredibly flexible online side hustle. If you’re interested in making an extra $500 to $1,000+ a month, bookkeeping is a solid fit, but it’s also incredibly scalable if you want to grow it into a full-time business.

Whether you want to start a bookkeeping business to make some extra cash to pay off debt, to save, or to one day quit your day job, research your options and eventually get to work.

FAQs

Do bookkeepers make good money?

According to ZipRecruiter, freelance bookkeepers make $29.00 to $43.00 per hour, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the median pay for full-time bookkeepers as $41,000/year.

How do I start a bookkeeping job with no experience?

It’s completely possible to learn how to become a bookkeeper with absolutely no experience. Online bookkeeping courses are the fastest way from zero experience to paid work, but there’s a ton of free content online if you want to learn on your own.

What qualifications do you need for bookkeeping?

Bookkeeping has a relatively low barrier to entry because you’re not required to have a degree or certification. Freelance bookkeepers only need a high school diploma and training, but for those of you who want full-time employment, some employers require a bachelor’s degree or certification.