Bookkeepers are breaking free in the gig economy

As the workforce changes, business owners are turning to freelancers as a way to cut overhead expenses and maximise the skill set that’s required.

As a result, there are more opportunities for outsourced accounting and bookkeeping services. How can you make the most of it?

A flexible career

Outsourcing bookkeeping and accountancy services allows business leaders to tap into the UK’s talent pool and helps HR departments address skills shortages that might exist within the business.

For freelance bookkeepers and accountants, it opens up the opportunity to choose which sectors you want to work in, set your own hours, and be in control of your own business and career development.

Paul Smith, FMAAT, has been a self-employed AAT Licensed Accountant since 1999. He combined his love of music with accountancy early on: “When I started out as self-employed I was into the local music scene – all the rock people came to me to do their accounts.”

Paul built his client base from there and would never go back to a typical 9 – 5 role.

“Actually I think I am unemployable now: I do what I want and when I want – who could ask more than that?”

A win-win scenario?

For the company who hires you, outsourcing talent has huge appeal, and can save a business major costs, such as payroll taxes, salaries, benefits, and HR and training. It also means that companies don’t lose valuable resource when staff are absent from work.

Jenny Oldfield is CEO of Veritas Commercial Services, a credit management firm which is immensely proud of its cohesive team. Yet she describes the gig economy as “a win-win for everybody”, emphasising that a virtual team can deliver real financial benefits.

“The gig economy will continue to evolve, with more accountancy professionals working to their own schedules, in their own way, from wherever they choose,” advises Jenny.

Teams can thrive with freelancers; they do not have to function as separate entities.

Technology empowers freelancers

“The days of punching numbers into a calculator are long gone, as technology continues to change the financial industry dramatically,” Jenny Oldfield says.

Where firms used to favour humans for data processing, now they’re using AI to fulfil this function. AI learns from data and draws conclusions, removing the need for human interaction.

In the gig economy, freelance bookkeepers should embrace AI technology where possible so that they can work cohesively with modern companies.

Jenny Oldfield advises: “In the future, a large amount of the financial workforce will be using AI to support and enhance their insights and workflows.”

The adoption of more intelligent systems will allow finance experts to divert time from data processing to problem solving through data interpretation and analysis. Communicating this to clients means relationships will be vital to your success as an outsourced bookkeeper.

Soft skills are essential

The AAT surveyed over 250 AAT students and more experienced members to determine how bookkeepers and accountants can add value in an increasingly digital sector. This research further underlined the growing need for soft skills as technology advances.

Encouragingly, 42% of people identified technology as beneficial, highlighting that it made their job easier. A further 60% believe ‘predictable’ accountancy processes will be fully automated within 4 years, so we’ll likely see a massive change in the day-to-day for finance specialists.

Andi Lonnen of The Finance Training Academy, who took part in our expert panel to discuss the future of accountancy advises; “We forget some people don’t like numbers, and they don’t understand them like we do. So breaking it down, having those clear communication skills is what it will be about.”

By adding real value, you are much more likely to enjoy repeat business, and recommendations from happy clients.

Questions to ask yourself

If you are thinking of working in a freelance capacity, it helps to cultivate an area of specialism or a niche where you can sell your skills and expert knowledge.

Ask yourself:

  • What areas interest me, and how can I develop my skill set to serve clients in these areas?
  • What hours do I want to work and what type of clients do I enjoy working with?
  • Do I need further professional training in order to provide a full service for clients?
  • How can I ensure that my business is customer-focussed?
  • Are there any soft skills that I need to develop in order to succeed in a freelance environment?
  • Am I happy with the uncertainty and irregular cashflow of freelance work?

In summary

Running your own business requires a different skill set from being an employee. You’ll need to get used to managing cashflow as not all contracts will pay on time. You’ll also need to think about how to market yourself, and how to keep your professional training and skills up-to-date.

The good news is that you can build close and long-lasting relationships with key clients if you understand how the role of bookkeeping and accountancy is likely to develop in the new economy. You can set your own hours and choose your own work, specialising in the areas that interest you.

For more on thriving as a freelancer in the finance industry:

Would self-employment work for you?

Why soft skills have become a recruitment need for accountants

In versus out: bookkeepers and outsourcing

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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