If you enjoy digging into data and crunching numbers, you might be considering how to become an accountant. Accountants are more than just human calculators — they must understand how businesses operate and how cash flow is tracked within a business to properly manage all its financial aspects, from payroll and inventory to taxes.
Choosing an accounting career can also be flexible and rewarding. Accountants can work remotely or in-person, always have a high demand for their services and can relocate without losing clients.
If you’ve wondered about how to become an accountant, continue reading for a detailed review of this dynamic career field.
What are the steps to becoming an accountant?
How long does it take to be an accountant and what is involved? Thriving accounting careers can take years to build to the point where clients frequently come looking for your services. Fortunately, the investment can lead to a fulfilling and lucrative career. To get started with understanding how to become an accountant, take note of the following steps.
Earn the right degree
While an academic degree is not mandatory for managing the financial records of a company, it can demonstrate your credibility and knowledge in a complex field. A potential client is more likely to choose an accountant with a degree and certifications than one without.
To determine whether you should earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or something more advanced, do some competitive research to see what educational experience other accountants in your area have.
For example, tax consultants for major corporations will need a more advanced degree than someone who wants to be a freelance bookkeeper for small businesses. Investigate your intended career pathway and plan your degree accordingly.
If you want to become an accountant without an accounting degree, you'll want to start with a smaller scale operation serving smaller clients.
Pick a specialty
There are several types of accountants, although they will typically specialize in one of two areas — public accounting or corporate accounting. Within these two general areas, you can also specialize in certain fields or types of finances. Specialties can include:
Auditing – Accountants who specialize in reviewing the financial records of a company and verifying the accuracy of any financial and tax records. Job titles within this specialty include auditor, auditing manager or fraud examiner.
Taxation – Accountants who specialize in filing and managing taxes, especially for large corporations with complex tax scenarios. Job titles within this specialty include corporate tax accountant, personal accountant or tax consultant.
Forensic accounting – Accountants who specialize in investigating financial discrepancies, especially in cases where fraud is suspected. Job titles within this specialty include forensic accountant, fraud consultant and forensic finance investigator.
Decide whether to earn your CPA
Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is not a requirement to work in the accounting field but the CPA designation allows you to perform more tasks and earn more money than an experienced financial professional without the certification.
Without the certification, an accountant can calculate payroll, track business finances and prepare financial statements. With the certification, a CPA can handle in-depth tax issues, conduct financial audits, review financial statements and represent businesses in front of the IRS.
If you decide to pursue a CPA certification, you will need to pass all parts of the CPA exam, earn a college degree (preferably in accounting) and apprentice for a designated number of hours under an actively licensed CPA. Earning this certification is a significant time investment but it can also be an important career opener for those who are committed to the accounting profession.
Setting up an office vs. remote
Accountants have the career flexibility to work in many different locations and settings. As an accountant, you can choose to work from home, open an office or consult with clients at a variety of locations. It's important to consider who your ideal clients are and which type of environment will help you perform your best work.
How to find clients for your accounting business
When you open your accounting firm, prospecting for clients will be a part of your regular routine. Depending on the type of accounting work you perform, you can likely find clients in your existing network.
Reach out to people on LinkedIn and let your social circles know that you are starting a business. Even if your immediate contacts don’t have a need for your services, they might know someone who does.
You can also look in forums and can network through professional business groups. Business owners who are in need of accounting services will likely source help from someone they know and trust before randomly searching for accounting services online. Making connections with new people in your area can go a long way to helping you get more clients.
Referrals from existing clients and your network are also crucial to growing your business.
Continuing accounting education opportunities
Accounting licenses are regulated at the state level, and CPA licensure requirements are typically set by a state’s accounting board. In the state of Tennessee, for example, licensed CPAs are required to earn 80 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain an active license and fulfill the continuing education requirements for accountants.
There are numerous online self-paced courses, webinars or live classes you can take that will both further your career and fulfill your accounting education requirements.
Protecting your accounting business from risks
If you own an accounting business or act as an independent consultant within another organization, you could be putting your personal and professional assets at risk without the right accountants insurance. Accountants are often tracking and reviewing millions of dollars each year, and even one claim of professional misconduct can bury an accountant in legal fees associated with proving your innocence.
To be well-protected for the most common risks associated with an accounting business, you should carry professional accountant liability insurance (also known as errors and omissions insurance), which helps to cover expenses related to lawsuits and accusations of professional mistakes.
It’s also a good idea to carry a general liability policy, especially if you regularly meet with clients at your office. General liability can help pay for expenses if someone is injured or their property is damaged.
Start an instant quote with Next Insurance to review options and costs for your firm.
Components of a successful accounting career
A successful accounting career is about more than just numbers. To thrive in your accounting career, you should have:
Skills: Accounting professionals will need a solid background in math, analytical thinking, communication, time-management, self-motivation and interpersonal skills.
Credentials: A basic accounting degree can help get you started but to hit a positive career trajectory, consider obtaining additional credentials such as CPA, CFA or CGMA. These credentials demonstrate your skills and areas of expertise.
Tools and technology: You should be familiar with a variety of software programs for accounting, including compliance, ERP, financial analysis, payroll tracking and tax preparation software.
How Next Insurance helps accountanting businesses
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