Do I Need To Be A Certified Bookkeeper?

I was asked the question this week about when is a bookkeeper ready to take on clients. It brought to mind the related question about whether or not you need to be a certified bookkeeper? It also brings up the question of whether or not we should or will offer a certification here at

Before I say anything (and I have a lot to say about this) let me say THIS:

There is no way under the sun that having the certification can hurt you!

Go get it. If you are even thinking it might help you then stop reading this post and go get the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Certification, the Xero certification and while you’re at it become a certified bookkeeper. Then when we eventually offer an “SOB” certification, get it.

Let me start by sharing my experience with the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Certification. It was 2004 when I bought my first copy of QuickBooks. Prior to that in 1996 I had worked with the DOS version at my first accounting job while I was still getting my accounting degree at Pace University. By 2006 I had learned of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Certification. I spent time on a Sunday reading, and taking the exam. They made you wait to be sure you actually read the stuff before you could actually take the test. It took me several hours and then it occurred to me that I had clients I could have been working on during that time and getting paid instead of reading and waiting just to prove that I “knew my stuff.” I developed the opinion that the real “proof” is in what I can do when I am actually sitting there with the client. I resolved at that time that when I needed more clients and had trouble getting them, I would get certified. In other words when it became apparent that I needed it, I would get it.

When I wrote my post called “From $25/hour to $185/hour” I said it’s 90% mental. Simply put all I really needed was the confidence that I can do the job and that would transmit over the phone with a prospect and even better in person when I can look a person in the eye and tell them in so many words and without reservation, “I can do this job with ease.” So in my own experience I did not need to get certified, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t.

The next thing that convinced me that certification was not necessary was the feedback I was getting. More and more prospects were calling me and explaining that they had worked with several certified ProAdvisors who couldn’t do the job. I want to be clear – I am NOT saying that certified ProAdvisors can’t do the job. The point is that having the certification doesn’t prove they can. Only experience will ever prove whether or not someone can or can’t do the job.

What I eventually realized is that a certification, like a college degree really just means a person can study for and pass a test. In fact with the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Certification what I realized, especially now HAVING the certifications in both Desktop and QuickBooks Online, is that it tests your knowledge of the product, but not the accounting skills.

The above is precisely what inspired Course 1- Bookkeeping Fundamentals With QuickBooks. I had so many encounters with clients who had what they thought were really good bookkeepers only to find that they really didn’t have the accounting knowledge, just how to use QuickBooks. It’s not that Bookkeepers need to have an accounting degree, they don’t. The do need to have a good working knowledge of basic bookkeeping fundamentals so that they understand what happens after they click ‘save and close.’ Otherwise when you get to a transaction that you have to post that’s a little more complex than the very basics you will be lost.

A quick story on this. I had a client come back after first going with another bookkeeper who was less expensive than I was. Even by the time they returned to me it wasn’t because she was doing a poor job, it was because she was too busy and wasn’t paying enough attention to them. Then I started my initial review and noticed very even amounts being transferred from their operating account that were booked as “Payroll Expense.” When I asked the client about this he explained that they had a separate payroll account and would transfer what was needed to cover the payroll. Since this money all eventually went to pay the payroll, they (and the bookkeeper to my dismay) felt it was adequate to describe that as their “Payroll Expense.” Oops! There are so many things wrong with that picture that I didn’t even know where to start! I fixed things up and that client became a $3,500/month client to me for several years.

You don’t need the certification until you need the certification.

I know this sounds stupid but I mean it. I didn’t need it because I had the confidence I needed without it. Even when people asked me about it I didn’t worry. I explained that I was not “certified” that I WAS a ProAdvisor which meant only that I paid for the membership so that I could have access to the software. I would then go on to say that I was too busy servicing clients and didn’t have time to take the exam. I think people found my honesty so refreshing and my confidence so convincing that it quickly became a non-issue. I am sure there were a few who moved on and didn’t call back just because I wasn’t certified. I am equally sure that I’ve had no shortage of clients to serve. When I had so little business coming in that I needed new clients then I would get the certification. That never happened. In fact the time actually came when I jokingly (and seriously) told people my certification is on YouTube.

In fact if your goal in getting certified is to get more clients by building their confidence that you know what you are doing then I can promise you this. That no certification will accomplish that nearly as well has having some videos on YouTube that let’s them see firsthand that you know your stuff!

So why did I get certified?

Simple. Like I said above, the time came when I needed to. Why did I need to? I was invited to join the prestigious Intuit Trainer / Writer network and for THAT I needed to be certified. Of course by this time it was easy for me. That was last year (2013).

To recap

Get certified. The only reason not too is you are so busy working with clients already that the time spent getting certified will actually cost you the opportunity to make money working on clients. That was my case.

How will’s certification be different?

I am going to be brutally honest here. I am going to make it very hard. I want to make sure that our certification really means something. I want it to have a reputation for being extraordinarily difficult to get – like the “CPA Exam for bookkeepers.” This way when someone says they have it, people will feel certain that they have someone who both understands the “accounting” AND the “software.” The truth is if you know the accounting then the software is easy because you know what you need to do. You can picture what the balance sheet and profit and loss need to look like. Now it’s just a matter of browsing within the software to find where the forms are that let you put the financial picture together. I think many bookkeepers get that backwards.

Why I have misgivings about testing and offering certification

I would much rather see bookkeepers have an experience more like mine. That you learn and develop such a strong foundation in this that you don’t need a certification to tell yourself and anyone else that you are amazing at what you do. It will be apparent that you are amazing at what you do because in fact you ARE amazing at what you do and that confidence will scream out to people when you speak to them. This is why all of my nerd enterprises, inc. videos always ask you to call me – because I know when I get on the phone with someone they will hear my enthusiasm for what I do which goes alongside my confidence. The only reason someone won’t hire me once I have them on the phone is they either truly can’t afford it or I failed at showing them the value because I do charge a healthy rate for my time these days.

So stay tuned and of course if you are not already a student, become a student and start absorbing our content like a sponge. This way you’ll be ready for our test when we are ready to begin certifying bookkeepers at

Keep your books and keep them well!

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