The real answer to that question has more to do with the type of freelance business you want to build. For the purposes of this post, we'll assume that you are focusing on handling the weekly or month-to-month bookkeeping of your clients as their primary bookkeeper.
You've Got Options
From my experience, I've found that most freelance bookkeepers main concern is with the technical skills needed to provide quality service. And yes, that is a good place to start.
If you're starting from zero, the bookkeeper's credentials start academically. Here are a few choices to consider:
The basics you need may be available locally. Take a look at nearby community college or continuing education programs to see if there are any in person classes offered for bookkeeping certificate programs.
If you're to have any luck with that or you can't fit classroom training into your schedule, you may want to consider self-study training courses available online.Penn Foster Career School and Ashworth College offer a a few choices for self-paced training that are good quality. You can either get a Certificate in Accounting or take their Bookkeeping program.
Universal Accounting's Professional Bookkeeper training is another option.
This training is a self-study program that takes the traditional paper-and-pencil approach. It is a course that centers on small business bookkeeping, designed and taught by a CPA. It also includes a module on practical steps for starting your freelance business.
Are You Ready for Certification?
If you already have a good understanding of double-entry bookkeeping, but want the credibility (and confidence) that comes with a few letters to add after your name…
AIPB's Certified Bookkeeper training which provides the CB (Certified Bookkeeper) certification is probably your most economical and recognized option for a professional bookkeeping designation. This is a thorough self-study, traditional debits-and-credits approach from the oldest industry association for our profession. My suggestion is that you pursue this after you already have a good, basic understanding of bookkeeping under your belt. You will also need some on-the-job experience in order to qualify for the certification.
Of course, the best training, after you have the academics down, is "real-world" experience. But you can only get that kind of “training” by actually doing client work.
There are a variety of ways to get that hands-on experience, which range from offering to do the books for a friend or two who own businesses, to subcontracting from an established freelance bookkeeper, to working directly for an accounting firm. Working as an accounting temp may also give you the opportunity for varied experience, if you can land jobs with small businesses.
It goes without saying, that you should walk your talk. Meaning, you should set up your own books and keep good financial records so you can apply what you've been learning AND see what it's like to be the business owner! Bookkeeper's credentials, however important, won't build the bond that empathy and knowing how it feels to be your client will.
When you've got the bookkeeping practices and principles firmly imbedded, there will be one other technical learning hurdle to get over in the freelance bookkeeping game. You must (and I cannot stress this enough) you must learn to use accounting software or cloud accounting like QuickBooks, Xero or FreshBooks to name a few. The vast majority of small businesses (and this varies by industry) use one version or another of QuickBooks, and you will need to learn to use it correctly and efficiently. Knowing bookkeeping and accounting principles if only half the battle, but it doesn't mean you know how to use this “user-friendly” software accurately.
There are many bookkeepers as well as accountants who think they can just “fake it” with QuickBooks or any accounting software. That is most certainly not the case, and those who do, more often than not cause their clients frustrating problems rather than providing quality services.
In the meantime, if you need to brush up on your bookkeeping skills, or start pursuing a certification program, for credibility and confidence before starting your business, then check out the options above and take action! I can't wait to hear about your success!
Food for though: In rough economic times, small business actually need clean books more than they do in fat economic times. Opportunities abound for qualified freelance bookkeepers.