Why Bookkeepers Should Go Back To School: (Part 1 - The Core)

bookkeepers education part 1

September is back to school season here in Canada. All of those minds that were drowned in Slurpees and baked in the sun are now dragged back into class to slowly repair themselves.

I think this is a great time for us bookkeepers to do the same. Why should the kids get all the fun, right? How many of you have used the line "I wish I could go back to school" or "you have no idea how easy you've got it at school" on your kids when they were complaining about 15 minutes of homework while you were finishing up another 12 hour day? Yep...me too! Well, then let's put our money (and time) where our mouths are and do this.

Let's face it, bookkeeping has changed a lot over the past 10-20 years. It felt like there were all these minor updates to our profession in the 90's and early 00's. QuickBooks got a small update each year. One or two new tax laws came into effect that would actually impact your clients. Maybe you got a new laser printer in the office. These were not exactly evolutionary changes.

Now we're suddenly faced with "the cloud" (man I really hate that term). Where we once had one or two applications to choose from, now there are dozens of cloud-based services out there. They all offer different features, different price-points, and seem to target completely different sectors. It's hard to keep up.

So, why not update your skills this month? If you're running your own bookkeeping business, you could focus on more than just bookkeeping too. We'll focus on other topics in the coming weeks, but let's talk about bookkeeping today.

The Core

Whether you're just starting out or you've been a bookkeeper for decades it's always important to hone your core skills. I bet there are at least a few accounting terms you struggle with. Let's say you got hired on with a small business operating as a sole proprietor. You could be there for 20 years. You'd get to know their books inside and out. But you'd have no experience recording employee stock options. A bookkeeper in Alberta wouldn't have much experience with PST. A Canadian working with a US client wouldn't know much about 401k's. Bookkeeping is such a big field there's bound to be something you haven't had to work with yet, so this is a great opportunity for growth. The more knowledge you have, the more clients you can help.

In the past your choice would have been a trip to the library to teach yourself, or to the local college to take a few courses. While these are still possibilities, there are many great resources online too. Some of them, like the library, are free. Others, like those college courses, will cost you some money.

The Free Choices

Blogs and podcasts: Since you're reading this, you are aware that there are bookkeepers and accountants out there writing about these topics all the time. You should follow as many sites as you come across that peak your interest. You could subscribe via their RSS feed or sign up for their email newsletter. It's easy to trim down this list later if you find some of them aren't quite what you're looking for. Each of the big bookkeeping software companies have blogs, and I shared a few of my favourite bookkeeping sites in a recent post.

For a long time I wasn't sure what to recommend for podcasts about bookkeeping. Thankfully, I found this great post over at Blake Oliver’s site that lists off some podcasts you might want to check out.

Blogs and podcasts aren't going to be as easy to do targeted or structured training, but having a constant stream of helpful information will allow you to learn year round.

iTunes U: For a lot of people, iTunes U is just one of the apps that gets buried in a folder with Stocks and Compass. If that's you, I suggest you give it another look. Instead of paying for pricey college courses just to learn a couple key topics, you could go through the lessons of dozens of accounting courses for free. A quick search for accounting brought up courses and lessons from a wide range of schools like Harvard, Villanova, and McGill. It's an app on the iPhone and iPad, but also available from within iTunes on Mac and Windows.

Bean Counter - This site has been around as long as I can remember. It has a ton of resources for bookkeepers and accountants. I think all of the information is available for free, but he also sells some eBooks too.

Accounting Coach - Like Bean Counter, this site has been a valuable resource for years. All of the information is available for free. He also offers a paid pro account. This gets you additional training through exams, seminars, and downloadable forms.

YouTube - I know, trying to find anything that isn't a dancing cat or attention-seeking teen screaming into a webcam is tough. You might need to spend some time doing relevant searches until you find a few people or companies doing great things. Search out your favourite companies and blogs first. There's a good chance they have a YouTube channel too. If you subscribe to their channels and categorize them appropriately, you can quickly carve out a useful corner of YouTube that's tailor made for your interests.

The Paid Choices

Lynda - If you listen to podcasts regularly you've probably heard about Lynda.com. They do a lot of podcast ads (at least on the shows I listen to) so you might be familiar with this amazing source for knowledge. Lynda is a huge video tutorial site. If you work with something online and want to know more about it, there's a good chance Lynda has a course about it. For our purposes, there are great courses on bookkeeping, accounting, QuickBooks, FreshBooks, and more. It's a monthly subscription; either $25 or $35 per month (the extra $10 gets you all the sample files used in the videos). If you have the time to devote an hour or two a week you will easily get your money's worth. What I usually do (since I'm cheap and low on free time) is sign up for a couple months at a time. I'll go through with a specific goal in mind. I'll go through a few key courses and then stop for the next few months while I implement what I've learned.

School of Bookkeeping - I just came across this site this year, and I'm glad I did. Like Lynda, it offers courses for a monthly subscription. The big difference here is that it's focused on us bookkeepers. There are app-specific courses like QuickBooks or Xero. There are also general courses on topics like financial statements and managing clients. I haven't signed up yet, but I really think I will. It looks like a great way to boost my skills.


Certification is a funny thing in my industry. In Canada at least, you don't have to have a degree or certificate to call yourself a bookkeeper. So, in this case, getting certified is entirely optional. It falls somewhere between the links I've just provided and going to college for a degree. It's a more formal environment, there are fees and guidelines, and there's a test you need to pass.

I wrote a post about bookkeeper certification earlier. I'm still torn as to whether or not it's worth the cost. IPBC (Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada) is the name I'm most familiar with. For $395/year you can be a member of the organization. Optionally, once you are a member, you can get certified. Certification requires some studying followed by a test. It will cost you $225 for the test, which includes a study guide. You need to book the exam at either an accountant's office or at an Academy of Learning Centre. There's an additional fee owed to the facilitator (they say between $40-60). Once you've passed the test you can call yourself a Certified Professional Bookkeeper. Beyond the title, you can certainly take advantage of the big network of colleagues you are now a part of. I believe there are also discounts for relevant products that are specific to us bookkeepers.

Despite the vague list of benefits, I think it has some merit. If for no other reason, having the title in an industry that doesn't require one sets you apart. I think you could easily increase your hourly rate with the CPB title. If you plan on being a bookkeeper for the long haul, the additional rate could quite easily pay for your membership.

Here's some quick math. Let's say you feel you can charge an extra $10/hour now that you are certified. It would only take you one full week (40 hours) to pay for your yearly membership.

Despite the length of this post, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface. I'm very devoted to learning. I think being a constant student of your profession is critical to growth. Plus, I just find it fun.

In the next 3 weeks we're going to cover running a business online, learning more about the software you're using, and we'll finish off with a discussion on how to approach training as a whole. I can't wait.

If you found this post interesting, I want to make sure you don't miss the next 3. I've also got some good stuff planned for October. In order to ensure you get the latest posts as soon as they're out, please consider signing up for my cloud bookkeeping newsletter. You'll get the latest posts delivered straight to your inbox. You'll also get a few exclusives bits of information from time to time, so sign up today.

Talk to you next week.

You can click here to check out Week 2.