Sarah Williams is a master of detail. When she started Bookkeeper by Trade, she made sure to find a niche — real estate and trade-based businesses — and take things slowly, focusing on what her clients needed to be more profitable.
As a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, she also trains business owners to manage and understand their finances so she can “watch my clients make money.”
Sarah talked to us about how to start a home-based bookkeeping business and grow a solid customer base.
What inspired you to start your business?
I don’t think anyone dreams of being a bookkeeper when they grow up, but having worked with mortgages, insurance, and real estate, I’ve always had a love for numbers, so it was a sort of natural progression.
After working as a full-time bookkeeper for a construction company for years, I realized that bookkeeping was my true calling, and the only way to reach the income level I wanted was to expand and take on multiple clients at once.
How many years of experience did you have before launching Bookkeeper By Trade?
I had five years of direct bookkeeping experience and over a decade of experience in finance in general. I’ve been working with independent clients for a few years now but I only technically launched Bookkeeper by Trade in June 2017. Doing things slowly really helped to hone in on what my clients need and how I can improve their processes.
I want to be sure that all of my current clients are fully cared for before taking on any additional work.
Sure, bookkeeping isn’t a thrilling occupation, but I love real estate, building and watching small businesses grow, and that makes it so much more interesting and rewarding for me.
How did you come up with your packages and pricing model?
I went with packages instead of charging hourly for two main reasons. First, a lot of time with bookkeeping, things can be confusing or difficult. Things don’t download correctly, transactions don’t match, all sorts of computer and bank errors can occur — even though these things happen for seemingly no reason, it does take extra time.
I want all of my client’s financial information to be perfectly correct; no need for them to pay for extra hours because I just couldn’t let that $0.10 error go.
The other reason has to do with applications my clients might need. I include the cost of QuickBooks Online in all of my services because I want my clients to have the best possible version of an app for their business, and I want them to have it without fretting about the cost of any of it.
What were your startup costs and considerations?
Lucky for me bookkeeping has some of the lowest startup costs of any business. I had your average business license, cards, office supplies.
My biggest expense was my website. I like people to leave their bookkeeping to a pro, so I thought I should follow my own rule and hire a web designer. It was the best business decision I made by far — I never could have made anything close to what I have on my own.
How did you get your first clients? How do you get referrals or repeat business?
I got my first clients from browsing Craigslist ads. A lot of times people think they need to hire an employee for bookkeeping when they can hire an independent contractor/business, spend less money, and have far fewer errors in their system. From there it was just word of mouth.
For me, every client is different, and every service package is different.
Because I customize my packages for each client, I start everyone with a free consultation where I review their current bookkeeping systems so I can give them the most comprehensive proposal for both fixing previous errors and moving forward.
Some business owners have more time than others and might want to do their own bookkeeping, or maybe they have an admin in the office that could take care of it. In that case, I offer training for QuickBooks Online and Desktop versions, so they know how to do things the right way (and I can always review quarterly or annually to make sure things are looking good).
What online tools do you use to run your business?
Because 80% of my work is done remotely, I use all kinds of online tools to run my business! I use Wix for my website, and I use Hubdoc for almost all of my clients — it’s a document fetching and storage app.
I obviously use QuickBooks Online, all day every day. I also use Google apps — Calendar, Drive, email — and LogMeIn for remote desktop access. I use a tomato timer app to keep myself on task, and I used Logojoy to design my logo.
Why did you decide to design your own logo?
I wasn’t completely sure what I even wanted, so it was difficult to explain that to a designer. Doing it myself helped me to figure out what I liked and helped me find my direction while creating. Logojoy’s interface was easy to use, and I loved how you could see the same logo in different colors, shapes, and fonts as you went.
The social media package sealed the deal. I may have had the time to design a logo, but I definitely don’t have time to adjust its sizing over and over again!
What tips or advice would you have for people who want to start a service/skills-based business?
If you know your skill-set and value, go for it! When I first thought of starting Bookkeeper by Trade, I was certain there was someone else out there doing the same thing, but it turned out there wasn’t.
If you have a skill that you think could help other people improve their business or lives in general, then go out, share it, and make money in the process!