A day in the life of a bookkeeper

Jo McAllister is not your average bookkeeper.

Her clients include hairdressers, childminders, a fireman and an Amazon trader. When Jo is working her day job, her clients will drop off bags full of receipts and invoices through the ‘magic cupboard’.

The day job

This mix of jobs means that Monday to Thursday McAllister heads out to work mornings in the office with the surveyors, before heading home to do work for her own clients out of her house in Thatcham.

“On any given day, the work I do is quite varied,” McAllister says. “Working for the Chartered Surveyors, I do anything from accounting to making cups of coffee.

“I do all of the accounts through to year end. The surveyors send out invoices but I then have to process them onto the sage accounting systems so I can chase for payment and then another system to calculate the surveyors’ bonuses, which are based on fee income.”

As well as being responsible for the accounts and raising invoices (and chasing those that haven’t been paid), McAllister also has the duty of paying suppliers and running the payroll.

“I like the variety – the surveyors are meant to pass anything over to me so they can carry on generating fee income for the business,” she says.

Once she clocks out at lunchtime, however, McAllister heads home to start her own work, for her own bookkeeping clients.

The ‘magic cupboard’ full of receipts and invoices

“When I get home after leaving the office I often have to collect bags of receipts and invoices that my clients have dropped off earlier in the day from what I call my ‘magic cupboard’,” she says. “My own clients are all sole traders.

“They mainly just need to know how much they made so they can file a tax return, so I put the figures together and tell them what they can and can’t claim.”

McAllister’s work has all come by being recommended by her existing clients, the first of which were friends who had their own businesses.

Her client list is varied and includes a number of hairdressers, beauticians and childminders as well as a fireman who does first aid and fire safety training, a man who has recently set up an amazon shop, a dance teacher, a gardener, an acupuncturist and a fitness instructor.

Doing the bookkeeping for these small-scale businesses appeals to McAllister, as she believes it allows her to really make a difference to her clients’ businesses and help them achieve success.

“So many people set up as self-employed these days without having a clue what it entails,” she says. “They know they are a hairdresser or a childminder and what that entails, but they don’t know what to do when it comes to HMRC – who themselves are not the greatest at giving out information or being particularly helpful.

“As such, I often [help them fill] in forms or [deal] with the council. I’m a bit like a help desk in that way and it is a nice feeling knowing that I have helped [my clients] with something and I appear to be the fountain of all knowledge.”

Juggling two jobs and home life

Juggling the work-life balance with two jobs can be challenging, though, but after three-and-a-half years of being self-employed, McAllister knows how to handle the situation.

“It can be tricky [balancing the two jobs] as my clients message me at sorts of times of day and night,” she says. “When I am at work I ignore them; they do forget I have a life sometimes. They also message me late in the evening but I reply as soon as I can.

“I tend to meet clients early evening as they are usually working in the day, but it actually fits in well for me around my jobs and my son.  My boss knows I am self-employed and he’s okay with it.”

McAllister’s working environment at home is relaxed, and constructed as to minimise the disruptions from other areas of her life.

“I use my spare room as an office but often move downstairs to the lounge as my son’s bedroom is on the other side of the wall and [it can get] too noisy,” she says. “There is also a school behind my house so in term-time it gets quite [loud] when they are out to play, so I plan my tea breaks around that. I also leave my phone in the kitchen if I need to get on [with work] so I can’t be distracted.

“I do like working from home, though, as it helps me fit work in around my son’s commitments and my [own] life – and I can also work in my pyjamas!”

But while McAllister is planning on developing her skills further and branching out into new areas of accountancy, it is still the bread and butter of small business bookkeeping that appeals to her most.

“I find it is particularly nice to be able to help someone right from the start with their business so they don’t get themselves into a pickle, instead of someone who comes along later and gets worried after burying their head in the sand because they don’t understand what they are doing,” she says. “It is not because they are stupid, it’s because they don’t know where to get help and it is great to see their face when you can help them.

“I am hoping to get one or two larger clients to do some more in depth accounts for, although my favourite part of bookkeeping is still seeing a bag of receipts and invoices plop through the ‘magic cupboard’.”

Notes: Jo McAllister has recently completed her AAT qualifications and has applied to become a full member. 

Matt Scott is an award-winning journalist covering the business and finance sectors.

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