The flexibility of a bookkeeping career

At school, bookkeeper Lindsay Gray FMAAT, found her favourite subjects were the complementary disciplines of maths and music.

Her first foray into record-keeping came at a young age too, she says: “My dad owned his own business so I used to help him record cheques coming in and things like that.”

Maintaining her interest in figures and analysis, after she left college Gray took on an administrative job and studied bookkeeping as an evening course. The idea of earning and learning appealed and led her to apply for an apprenticeship with a firm specialising in chartered accountancy and tax and business advice.

You learn better with experience

“I’m a firm believer that you do learn better with experience. I’ve met people who have gone to university, done exams without work experience and have then gone into working in a practice. They don’t always understand how to apply their knowledge to the workings of a firm,” she explains.

“If you want to start out in bookkeeping it’s really useful to be able to work and gain experience while you are learning. It helps to give a better understanding of what you are learning if you are using it in everyday work and helps you learn it more quickly.”

The bookkeeping appeal

Gray completed her AAT qualifications and apprenticeship in 2008. She stayed on at the practice for a few years until the pull of a role more focused on bookkeeping became too strong:

“My first practice was really good for an apprentice. You had your set clients who you did everything for, so I was doing VAT, accounts, corporation and personal tax, and bits of payroll. It gave me quite a broad spectrum of everything that goes into accounts and tax.

“But I started thinking about the bits of the job that I liked more than others and it was working with numbers and using raw data.”

Finding a place in the industry

Following up a bookkeeping job lead from a friend, Gray joined Sweeting and Smedley where she now manages a team of four as the firm’s VAT and bookkeeping manager. She’s been working there for four-and-a-half years and while her initial role covered a fraction of the responsibilities she’d had at her previous firm, Gray was happy to focus on her strengths and the areas in which she most enjoyed working.

Being a bookkeeper requires flexibility, both to problem solve for clients and to keep up-to-date with new technologies and rules and roles from HMRC that can affect your working practices.

Gray says she loves producing management information for clients alongside their quarterly bookkeeping requirements: “It gives the client an idea of where their business is, where it’s going and how to grow it rather than just speaking to them on an annual basis.”

I’m a firm believer that you do learn better with experience

The importance of upskilling

The firm deals with a lot of IT consultancy and marketing consultancy clients. It’s important for her to keep abreast of the latest software and technologies available for bookkeeping, especially as her clients are increasingly using mobile version themselves and will sometimes ask for advice on how to use it.

The introduction of Making Tax Digital is the biggest forthcoming challenge for bookkeepers, she says: “That’s given the software providers a bit of a fun task for them and for us to understand how it will all work. You don’t have time to get bored at all with bookkeeping because it’s constantly changing and you have to keep up so that your clients get the benefit.”

While this technological shift is perhaps the biggest change to occur in her career, training courses from the AAT and in specific software for bookkeeping have proved essential for keeping on top of it and anticipating what might come next.

Ultimately, however, the change has been positive, says Gray: “The introduction of cloud-based software is forever introducing ideas that are making our lives as accountants and bookkeepers easier.

“Information gets fed straight into the software which cuts out some of the time involved in manual entry, for example.”

The rewards of supporting your team

Reflecting on her apprenticeship and roles in bookkeeping, Gray says her 10 years of experience of dealing with different clients and solving different problems for them helps her to remain flexible and negotiate changing practices in the profession.

“I’ve noticed with a couple of my team members if they get stuck on something and they can’t resolve it I will look at it and have done it after 20 minutes or so. I will be able to show them that it’s a problem-solving thing and it’s not something you can easily learn,” says Gray, who is now a Fellow Member of the AAT and enjoys supporting two of her team members that are currently studying for their AAT qualifications.

“It’s something that you gain with experience because there are things that my clients say to me that I used to struggle with but that I can do now. Where I used to have my supervisor and mentor, now I’m the person my colleagues turn to.”

Laura Oliver is a Freelance Journalist and Former Head of Social and Community at the Guardian.

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