How to become a bookkeeper

How to become a bookkeeper

What do café owners, fashion designers and farmers have in common? They all have taxes to pay and books to balance. Here’s how you could become their go-to person.


There are more than two million actively trading businesses in Australia.

And, no matter how different the goods and services they offer, they must all comply with the Australian Taxation Office’s legislation.

That’s where bookkeepers come in, making a bookkeeping career a stable option with a good variety of opportunities.

With a bookkeeping qualification, you could find work within a larger team of finance professionals, or you could run your own bookkeeping business, providing an essential service for other self-employed people and business owners.

It might be processing wages for a hairdresser, processing receipts and payments for an electrician, providing reporting and preparation of Business Activity Statements (BAS) for a baker or producing financial reports and keeping records for a farmer.

Sound good? Here’s how to become a bookkeeper in Australia:

Decide if bookkeeping is right for you

Do you think bookkeeping is only for people who love maths and are good with numbers? Think again!

Chisholm Institute business and information technology teacher Peter Lucas says people often wrongly assume they wouldn’t make good bookkeepers if they weren’t particularly good at maths at school.

“It frustrates me that people say that. As long as you can use a calculator or a spreadsheet, you can become a bookkeeper,” Peter says.

The most important skill you need, according to Peter, is good communication skills as you’ll need to be able to share your knowledge with your clients.

“You’re the intermediary between the person whose books you’re keeping and the accountant, and none of them speak the same language,” Peter says.

For this reason, Peter says there is demand for bookkeepers who speak a second language.

He says the job also suits people who are looking for flexible work, as bookkeepers can take on as many, or as few, clients as they like and work in their own time, often from home offices.

Study an accounting or bookkeeping course

For those starting out in the field, Peter says the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping provides the practical skills and knowledge bookkeepers need.

“You’ll learn how to use the most common software packages businesses use, such as Xero and MYOB, as well as the fundamentals of payroll and there’s a subject about BAS so you’ll understand how to lodge BAS statements,” Peter says.

Peter says the course was designed in consultation with the bookkeeping industry to ensure students finish with the right skills for the job. “There’s a unit in spreadsheets, a unit in calculations – the course gives a solid foundation in all the aspects of the job,” he says. “There won’t be any surprises when you go to work.”

The course is included in the Victorian Government’s Free TAFE for Priority Courses program, which reduces the financial barrier for students who want to study a course that’s in demand by Victorian employers.

Find bookkeeping work

There’s a wide variety of job options for people with bookkeeping qualifications. And because there’s always a need for financial record keeping, it can be a stable career choice.

You could start your search for a job in an accounting firm, or in the accounts department of a medium or large business. Or, you could work for yourself and gradually build up your clients.

Peter says people who start their own businesses often choose an area of bookkeeping to specialise in. “You might think, ‘Do I want to do the books, the debits the credits or do I want to go to small businesses and just do their BAS preparation, or do I just want to help with payroll?’”

Others may find themselves learning the ins and outs of a particular industry. “For example, if you have a family member who is a plumber, you might do the books for them and then their mates might ask you to do theirs as well,” Peter says. “You can really build up a good client base and useful industry expertise.”

Register with the Tax Practitioners Board

Once you’ve successfully completed the Certificate IV course and gained 1400 hours experience over four years working as a bookkeeper, you can lodge an application to register as a BAS Agent with the Tax Practitioners Board.

If you’re a member of a recognised professional association, the experience requirement is reduced to 1000 hours.

Legally anyone who provides BAS services for a fee or reward must be registered, although there are some exceptions to this such as those who work under the supervision of a registered BAS Agent. Make sure to read through the information on the Tax Practitioners Board website carefully so you understand the requirements.