Get the right tools for the job
When setting up an accounting or bookkeeping service, one of your first concerns is having the right equipment and office configuration. Here are some tips to help you quickly get started on the right track. One of the benefits of a home-based accounting business is that the start-up costs can be relatively low.What do I need for my office?Your first rule of success for any home-based business is to stake out your territory . You need to locate a place in your home that is away from the main traffic path of the home, and has as much solitude as you can find. If nothing else, find a corner of a room as far from the door as practical. Or, if circumstances allow, it is best to use a separate room.Stay away from the kitchen table. That�s the worst place in the home. The kitchen is, for most families, the busiest room in the house. Beside all the distractions, you are constantly having to interrupt your work and set your papers aside for a meal. Then, when you want to get back into it, you will need to make sure all the milk, ketchup, and whatever else has been thoroughly cleaned, or you might be doing work over again.You will need something to work on. A folding table works well for some. Others want the prestige of having a beautiful cherry wood, executive desk. Since most clients will never see your working environment, the choice is simply one of your personal preference, and how much you want to spend on your surroundings. If money is an issue, pick up a six-foot folding table at your local discount store. If you like the smooth feel and attractive look of a big solid wood desk, keep in mind it won�t make a difference in how many clients you get, but it might make a difference in your pocket book.Business Cards and Letterhead are important to all business professionals. To many, your business card might be the only thing with which they have to judge you. For that reason, it�s a good idea to spend a little bit more and get something that favorably represents you . On the other hand, the costly, foiled, raised print might be all right for the lawyer and real estate agent, but it isn�t necessary for the accountant. Something in the middle will be suitable.Today, you can purchase business cards from the corner copy store, or from professional print shops. Or, if you have the right equipment you could even make them with a computer and printer.At the copy store, you can view books of card samples. Most cards start at $15 for five hundred cards, and go up. Again the cheapest isn�t necessarily the best. Pick out the best sample that fits you. The printer will then help you place your information into the format of the card.If you want to be more creative, a print shop will help you design the card. They also have samples.One more thing: Don�t clutter your cards with too much information or gimmicky graphics. Put the most critical items on the face of the card. If you feel there is still more you would like to say on the card, then have it printed on the backside.Letterhead and envelopes should be attractive and professional. Use a high-quality bond paper, not standard weight copy paper. Again, a few extra dollars can usually go a long way in impressing your clients.If money isn�t an issue, and you don�t mind spending a few extra hundred dollars for just the right image, you can contract a graphics artist to design a unique card and letterhead just for you. Most people don�t take this step, nor do they need to.What kind of computer software do I need?If you have already purchased a computer you have made the largest investment already. The second largest investment could be the software, so here�s some information you need to know about accounting software.First of all, accounting programs are divided into three general categories:
- Trial Balance Systems
- Complete Data Entry Systems
- Write Up Systems
Software in the first category, Trial Balance Systems, is used primarily by auditors to prepare adjusted, fully disclosed, financial statements. That�s a step you won�t need to worry about unless you are a CPA performing an independent audit on a large company. So, no further discussion is warranted.The Complete Data Entry Systems are the most commonly used software programs by small businesses. These are the software programs you can find on the shelves of software stores. Their intention is to provide all accounting functions inside the business. They are typically designed to write checks, prepare invoices, reconcile bank statements, etc…. Because these are most often designed for the non-accountant, they require rigid steps and are intended to be used inside the business, or �in-house.� They don�t lend themselves well to freelance, after-the-fact work that you will be performing for small businesses.That brings us to the third type of software called “write-up systems“. These software names are not as commonly known, unless you are an accountant for multiple companies. Write-up software programs are designed for use by accountants. They provide for versatility and flexibility, which are both key components to an efficient accounting business.Universal Accounting Systems has surveyed many of the write-up systems available today. We ranked them on features, cost, ease of use, ability to learn, adaptability, speed of entry, and versatility.If you have yet to purchase a computer then you will want to know this. For most write-up packages you don�t need to have the latest and the greatest. In fact, you can purchase a used computer, for a fraction of the cost of a new one, that will probably work very well.We have found, for most start up businesses on a budget, that although QuickBooks was written as a complete data entry system, it has great flexibility and, with a little understanding, can be adjusted quite easily to be used effectively for write-up work.A printer is an important part of your computer. If you have an old dot-matrix printer that works well, don�t toss it. It will work fine, as long as you keep a new ribbon handy for the reports that will be seen by the client.Probably the best value for the money today is a printer that sprays the ink on the page. There are several different manufacturers for these and they will run usually between $100-$200.If you want the best, and money isn�t a big concern, you may want to consider a laser printer. For the higher cost, you will get a more permanent image (the ink could run on the spray type printer), at a higher speed. They also provide a slightly more pristine image. If you prefer the laser printer, it�s probably a good idea to look at the mid-priced models. You will most likely regret the purchase if you buy one because it was the cheapest brand.Whether you have a computer or not, you ought to have a working electric typewriter, but nothing fancy. If you don�t have one right now, don�t despair. This Saturday, go to a garage sale or two, and you will surely find one for very little money. Make sure it works before you hand over the cash.Why do you need a typewriter if you have a computer? Occasionally, you might be asked to fill out a pre-printed form. Have you ever tried to fill out a form with a computer printer? It�s not that easy — so a typewriter will save you time.We recommend you apply for a business telephone line. In most states it�s no longer required that you have a separate business line, but it is still advisable. There are two good reasons for a separate business number:
- Your company�s name will be placed in the yellow pages. This will provide you with credibility, and enable your clients to find you if they need to. By the way, this does not mean you should buy an ad in the yellow pages — that would be a waste of money. You�ll read more about advertising in another article.
- You�ll preserve your personal life. A separate number will allow you to screen your calls. For example, if you are just sitting down for dinner and the business line rings, let it transfer to the answering machine. On the other hand, if it is during business hours, and you are performing work for a client and a private call comes in, let the answering machine take the message. Also, if you have children at home, it�s a good idea to instruct them not to pick up the business line. You want to appear professional, and most businesses don�t have children answering their phones.
A fax machine can be very helpful to communicate with clients, as well as getting information to and from prospective clients. Just an inexpensive model will probably handle your needs. They can also often be used in a pinch as a copier.As for copy machines, you can probably do without this for now. Most of us have a copy store within a mile of our home, where we can get these services when we need them. When you consider the cost of purchasing and maintaining these machines, the copy stores become a bargain.For more information on creating your own accounting and bookkeeping service take a look at our home-study course.