5 Steps to Becoming a Self Employed Accountant
Accounting is a career that naturally segues into the field of freelancing. So, if your goal is to be self-employed and run your own business, you’re in the right industry!
You’re already ahead of the game, as you’re an expert in the challenges that deter other potential entrepreneurs: taxes, the IRS, and business entities. The things that are overwhelming to freelancers as they attempt to go out on their own are old hat to you.
Still, starting a business isn’t all about dealing with the IRS and payroll taxes (although that’s a big part). You’ve overcome the hardest hurdle, but there are other steps involved as you go out into the world of self-employment.
Ready to jump in and get started?
Follow these steps, and you’ll be reaping the benefits of being a self-employed accountant in no time.
1. Get Qualified in Your Focus Area
You have a passion for numbers and organization, or you wouldn’t be an accountant.
Under that major umbrella, there are dozens of niches: tax accounting, public accounting, auditing, and more.
Which one is your favorite?
That’s the field you should get certified in and target as your market.
Examples of Accounting Certifications
In the corporate world, holding a certificate as a Public Accountant or Chartered Global Management Accountant will get you closer to a cushy desk job.
But since you want to get out of the employee field, aim for one or more of these certifications:
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
The CMA label gives you a foothold in corporate and personal accounting. With this certification, you can do all the auditing and tax returns a CPA does and more.
As a Certified Management Accountant, you’d perform executive-level accounting, oversee departments, and analyze budgets. You can offer advice to companies and individuals to help them make strategic choices in their short- and long-term financial decisions.
The right CMA is often integral to personal and business planners. If you connect with a client, they’ll likely use you for all their accounting needs.
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
The typical self-employed Certified Internal Auditor is hired by a business when they need an audit performed. With this certification, you’ll work with business owners to conduct audits and guide them through developing their financial procedures and controls.
As an internal auditor, you focus on the testing procedures given to you. You’ll look for any discrepancies and make recommendations based on your findings.
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
As a Certified Information Systems Auditor, you’re moving out of the realm of pure numbers and into Information Tech (IT). The CISA label shows that you have enough expertise to judge an organization’s IT systems and business processes.
You can work, audit, implement, and monitor these IT systems. Once you’ve analyzed it and seen how it works, your job is to assess it for flaws and suggest potential improvements.
Anything that involves protecting the business’s assets via information technology is your forte.
2. Get Licensed, Insured, and Registered
Other newly self-employed individuals will view the bookkeeping side as a challenge. As an experienced accountant, this is where you excel!
Before you start setting up your accounting software, you’ll need to get your license and registration information in order.
As a quick review (since you likely know the ins and outs), this means you must add a few tasks to your to-do list:
- Register your startup as a sole proprietorship or LLC with the IRS
- Get your certified public accounting business registered with the state and county
- Apply for a federal employee identification number and fill out any required self-employment tax forms
- Open a business bank account
While you’re budgeting for your business expenses, don’t forget to include the insurance premiums you’re required to carry.
Insurance Policies All Accountants Need
Because you’re dealing with someone else’s money while performing accounting services, it’s essential that you protect your assets.
This means having more insurance coverage than you’ll probably ever need. If you ever end up in a legal dispute, you’ll be happy you had those policies.
Here are some of the policies every accountant should carry, regardless of their certification:
- Errors and omissions, also called professional liability coverage, to handle any claims of mistakes or negligence on your part
- General liability if you have an office that clients will visit, so you’re protected from personal and property liability
- Worker’s comp insurance for any business with at least one employee
Another type of insurance you should have, but many businesses overlook, is cyber liability insurance. Hackers know that you, as an accountant, have lots of sensitive information and valuable data. This makes your network a prime target.
With cyber insurance, you’re protected if there’s a breach traced back to your computer.
3. Start Networking
The legalities are intact, the IRS says you’re ready to start working, and you have your licenses and insurance.
The next step is to build your client list.
How do you do that?
In a job where much of your time is spent behind a computer and buried in paperwork, networking may seem hard. But by putting yourself out there a little bit, you can fill your schedule in no time.
Follow these tips to maximize your exposure to other people, even if it’s limited.
Networking Tips for Freelance Accountants
You don’t work for a full-time accounting firm anymore, so you’ll have to actively find ways to network.
This could mean anything from striking up conversations in elevators to attending job fairs and marketing events.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re out there:
Tip One: Any Communication is Networking
Any interaction where you can exchange a business card or contact information is networking.
As you meet acquaintances, they become part of your professional web of connections, and you never know who might give you a referral.
Tip Two: Master Your Elevator Pitch
It’s called an elevator pitch because it should be a short, succinct message that takes you where you want to go.
You never know when someone will ask you what you do. Having a pre-set answer keeps you from having to think on your feet.
Create an elevator pitch that tells the other person who you are, what you do, and why you should be their accountant. The average pitch is 30-80 seconds.
Tip Three: Use Social Networks
Yes, they’re fun for sharing memes and keeping up with your friends from high school, but social media platforms are also full of professional networking opportunities.
LinkedIn is the main network for accountants and other business professionals. Twitter is a favorite, too.
If you share valuable information related to your niche (blog links, infographics, etc.) and have patience, you can build a strong foundation of followers who will come to you when they need your help.
Tip Four: Join Professional Organizations
Everyone needs someone to bounce ideas off of, even the self-employed. If you don’t know any accountants you can go to for advice, you should join a professional organization.
For instance, you might sign up for one of these accountants-only membership groups:
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
- American Payroll Association
- Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance
- National Association of Black Accountants
- The Institute of Internal Auditors
Your colleagues exist in these organizations. It’s up to you to seek them out and connect with them.
4. Market Your Business for New Clients
If you’re not already bringing a steady stream of clients into your new business, you’ll need to market yourself.
This is how you’ll reach clients outside of your network.
Designing Your Marketing Plan
The goal of marketing is to show your potential customers why you’re the best person for the job.
In order to do this, you’ll need to figure out what makes you different from your competitors. For instance, if you’re the only accountant in your location that offers certain services, make sure those stand out in your marketing materials.
By the time someone reads, watches, or hears your ads, they should have this information:
- Who you are
- Your key services
- Whether you work virtually or in a brick-and-mortar office (and where)
- Your credentials and relevant experience
- How to contact you
You should make it easy for them to learn more about you, too. Include links to your social media pages and website to make this easy.
On your website, be sure to include a portfolio of clients and testimonials. List the types of businesses you work with, and ask customers for reviews of your work.
5. Don’t Forget the Details
While you’re preparing to go out on your own, it’s easy to overlook things like health insurance, software, and phone plans. But sorting these things out now could help you save time, money, and energy later.
Here are a few budget-friendly pieces of advice that will make your new life as a freelance accounting professional much easier:
Bundle Your Phone and Internet Plans
Look for phone and internet connection service bundling. Many providers have packages designed for small business professionals, and these plans can help you save a lot of money.
Choose Your Accounting Software Wisely
Choose an accounting software platform with all of the features and integration capabilities your job requires.
While QuickBooks is one of the most popular platforms out there, for example, it’s not used in every niche of the accounting world (and therefore may not be the right choice for you).
Ask Local Business Owners for Insurance Recommendations
While you’re networking, ask other small business owners for recommendations. They may be able to point you toward lesser-known providers with better prices.
You could even meet potential future clients!
Sign Up for a Supplemental Insurance Program
Supplemental insurance programs are designed to help you get even more benefits out of your insurance plan.
For instance, with Gigly, you get access to a range of benefits you might otherwise not have access to:
- Teladoc visits
- Virtual mental health check-ups
- Prescription medication discounts
- Doctor-comparison tools
- Healthcare bill negotiator
This service gives freelancers like you access to better benefits, so definitely check it out.
Tax preparation, with all it entails, is a category that scares business owners and full-time employees alike. That’s why we hire professional accountants like you to help us get through tax time and beyond.
The hurdles of starting a self-employed accounting business should be easy for you to jump, but if you need help, Gigly is here. The sooner you get started, the quicker your road to success begins.