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How to Go from Bookkeeping Side Hustle to Bookkeeping Practice

bookkeeing side hustle Jul 25, 2023

I’ve lived this. When I got out of rehab in Oct of 99, I started working accounting temp jobs. During that time, I remember the recruiter telling me that many people just worked temp jobs because they liked the change of environment from time to time, and if you want to take off, you can do that between jobs.


This was 1999, so it was well before we had terms like “gig economy” or “side hustle”. Now, there are many people who have what they would call a bookkeeping side hustle, which means you are doing freelance bookkeeping on the side. 


This was how I developed my bookkeeping side hustle before we had a term like this to describe it. 


I was working at a CPA firm, and I hated it. I would often come home crying because I was so miserable. So I asked Hank, my therapist, for advice. 


Here’s what Hank suggested, which is what led to my version of a bookkeeping side hustle. 


Pro Tip No. 1: If you hate what you are doing right now, but need to do it in order to pay the bills, this is what you do:

 Hank suggested that every night I go home and work on what I really wanted to be doing. Me being a nerd, my first thought was that I needed a website. So I bought a book called, “Microsoft FrontPage for Dummies” and I started learning how to build websites. This was in 2003, so websites were very different then. 

Pro Tip No. 2: Learn about entities and filing and then get a website up and running

Building a website meant I needed a dba. So I learned how to file a dba and I bought the domain name, www.nerdenterprises.com. I honestly couldn’t believe it was available, but there it was. The name search for the dba came through, and I was all good. 


I did not want to call my business “Seth’s Accounting Service” or anything like that. First of all, how boring? Secondly, I knew I was going to want to go much broader than just accounting and bookkeeping services. 


Pro Tip No. 3: Get your first client

I don’t care who it is, or what you do for them. The ONLY way you’re going to learn the skills you really need is to jump into the lion’s den and just do it.


At first, I couldn’t call my business a bookkeeping side hustle, because I wasn’t offering those services. My first client was a guy who was on the city council for Beverly Hills. He was running for mayor, and he needed help compiling and analyzing voter data in some spreadsheets. 


What he was doing was actually really smart. 


He had a list of his “known supporters” and then he was able to download a daily list of who had voted. Of course, he couldn’t see who they voted for, just that they had voted.

My job was to write a formula to compare the two databases, so each day he could see which of his supporters had not voted yet. Then the next day, his team of telemarketers called that list to encourage people to please get out there and vote. 


He did go on to win the election and become Mayor of Beverly Hills. His name was Jim Delshad. Super nice guy and he remained a client for years on various projects. 


Through him, I met client #2 who turned out to be a disaster, but that’s another story for another day.


It was client #2 (we’ll stick with that instead of his name), who got me into my bookkeeping side hustle.


I was still working for the CPA firm. I would do Jim Delshad’s work evenings and weekends. Client #2 hired me for odd jobs with Excel – mostly financial modeling work. All was well in the beginning, for the most part. 


Pro Tip No. 4: Pick your accounting software


Sure, you can try and learn QuickBooks Online, and Xero, and Wave, and Zoho Books and.. and…


Or you can pick one, and get hyper focused on becoming THE expert in that accounting software for your particular ideal client. 


In 2004, there was either QuickBooks or Peachtree, and QuickBooks seemed to be the more widely used one, which meant more potential clients for me. 


Then one day, I suggested that client #2 hire me to help him with his QuickBooks stuff. This was 2004, and I was off to Staples to buy the first copy of QuickBooks I had looked at since the DOS version in 1996!


Pro Tip No. 5: Learn the accounting fundamentals


If you know the accounting fundamentals, you’ll become more discriminating in your choice of accounting software, because you’ll understand what the output needs to look like, ie. a properly formatted Balance Sheet, Income Statement, and Statement of Cash Flows. 


This will help you at the most foundational level, so that learning accounting software is truly more like learning to use a tool (which it is) to present data properly on the balance sheet and income statement.


When you understand this, you may want to rethink your choice of accounting software. This is the reason I chose QBO. It had – and I believe it still has – the best reporting, which, given the above, is the most important thing!


Need help with this? Get my flagship course called, Bulletproof Bookkeeping® Mastery Course with QuickBooks Online.


I knew I understood the accounting fundamentals really well, so learning QuickBooks was easy, and then it did not take long to build my bookkeeping side hustle, because I wasn’t afraid to take on new clients. 


I would place ads on Craigslist (I do not recommend this now) and I would get clients pretty easily. 


Pro Tip No. 7: Hedge yourself and mitigate risk


Find a part-time job so you can leave your full time job (if necessary) and then supplement with the clients you can get to keep you busy the rest of the week. 


Eventually, I landed a job with a marketing agency as a business manager three days per week. This was the perfect pivot from full-time employment at the CPA firm. It gave me the steady income of a part time paycheck, while I continued to work on bringing in clients who kept me busy the other four days a week. I didn’t need, nor want, to take time off. I wanted to hustle. 


At first, I stayed with the CPA firm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that place pissed me off one last time and I moved on. 


This allowed me to go from bookkeeping side hustle to bookkeeping practice without taking too much risk. I sort of swung from one tree to the next and I built it slowly. 


Pro Tip No. 8: Learn some web skills


Craigslist was free and a book on HTML for Dummies helped me learn to format my ads a little better than the other plain text ones you would see on there. Plus, I knew this would be a really useful skill in a lot of ways. I still use it today. 


Start learning other skills. When you start out, you won’t have the budget to hire marketing and web design people. This is the most important thing you can do to help your bookkeeping side hustle grow into a full-fledged accounting or bookkeeping practice. 


I designed so many versions of my website over many years. I grew to really enjoy it, even though I suck at it. It was less than two years ago that I hired a designer who promptly let me know that he was surprised I’d been so successful because my website sucked!


What this tells you is that you don’t need to have the most amazing design for your website. You just need to communicate a clear message to people about what problems you solve, and whom you solve them for (ie. your target audience).


Pro Tip No. 9: The most important skill you can learn:


And it’s not accounting.


It’s copywriting. 


In fact, if you learn to write good copy, you can take that skill anywhere and use it to make money in any industry, anywhere in the world. All you need is a computer and an internet connection, and I can drop you off in a completely new place halfway around the world and you will possess the one skill that will make you money almost instantly.


I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was writing those Craigslist ads, I was learning to write copy. I would see what got people calling and what didn’t.


Now you can cut a major corner by getting Ray Edwards’ book called, “How To Write Copy That Sells.’


Think about it like this: 


Anything you have ever bought in your entire life involves reading copy that someone wrote at some point. Even if you buy paper towels, you probably read something that described the benefits of those paper towels. And really good copy is memorable, like “...the quicker picker upper.” I doubt I even need to tell you whose brand that is. You know, because you’ve heard it and read it and it stuck. 


If you read my weekly emails, then you already experience my copywriting. It has evolved much over the years. I wasn’t born with this skill. I learned, and I learned to love it more than ever recently when I was studying a book called “How To Take Smart Notes.”


This is how I learned that “writing is thinking,” which means everybody needs to write, because everybody thinks, whether you like it or not.


So when someone tells me, “oh, I suck at writing,” I answer, “so you suck at thinking? You better work on that!”


As the years went on, and clients came and went, I left that marketing company. They turned out to be another version of a job and I hated it. 


With time, and as I acquired more skills in and out of accounting itself, eventually I built up the confidence that I could stand up on my own two feet without worrying about a “steady paycheck.” That’s an illusion anyway. Anyone knows you can lose your job in thirty seconds if some CEO who has three Swiss vacation homes decides he needs to cut back on labor to make up for a shortfall in Gross Profits. 


I remember such a feeling of independence when I got my very last paycheck from that company. That was around 2006, and I have not had a paycheck other than from my own company since. 


When 100% of my income came from clients and 0% from a traditional job, I realized that I had gone from a bookkeeping side hustle to a bookkeeping practice. 


I remember thinking to myself, “not bad for a punk from Long Island!”


I felt so free and so proud. 


And I knew there would be struggles, and there most definitely were. But looking back now, I would not change a thing. I’ve had some really great experiences and gotten to know some really great and interesting people. 


Many have come and gone in one form or another, but as I recently wrote in my weekly email, I am the one constant in my life – never a variable. That’s what I’ve had to remember ever since I started working on my bookkeeping side hustle. 


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