How to Become a Freelance Accountant
Freelance accountants do much of what full-time accountants do, but with a few additional perks.
After getting a bachelor’s degree in Accounting or getting certified as a tax preparer, you may feel like you’re indefinitely qualified to handle matters related to taxes, accounting, and finances in general. And because many of these certifications only require renewal on a periodic basis (or may not need renewed at all), there are few official ways to tell when your knowledge has become obsolete.
However, the worlds of tax law and financial regulations are always changing, and if you want to keep up with those changes, you’ll need to pursue accounting continuing education.
Accounting continuing education is what it sounds like. It’s the process of learning more, usually in a formal class setting, about tax preparation and accounting topics. In some cases, it’s a kind of refresher, helping you stay active in the accounting community or helping you relearn important topics after taking a break from your accounting career. In other cases, these classes are meant to educate you on entirely new topics, like new laws, rules, and regulations to which you must adhere when completing tax returns or other accounting projects.
In any case, continuing education can help you guarantee the quality of your work, so you never fall too far behind the latest standards. It’s also beneficial for marketing and advertising your services, since you can list your new credentials when attracting new clients.
Continuing education is a general term, so the topics you’ll learn will depend on the specific classes you take. However, these are some of the most common subjects covered:
The basics of tax preparation and general refreshers.
Tax preparation is one of the most commonly needed accounting services, so it’s no wonder why it’s so prominent in continuing education classes. You’ll learn how to prepare returns for one or more of several different groups, including individuals and businesses. You’ll also get some general refreshers on topics like general accounting, tax theory and other topics.
New laws, rules, and regulations.
One of the most important topics for new and experienced accountants alike is new changes in tax law. Sometimes, a major change will sweep through the accounting world, like major tax brackets for a given year. Other times, these changes are subtler and sneakier, such as a change in how depreciation is calculated. Either way, it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date with these changes, and continuing education courses can help you do it.
Filing changes and best practices.
You’ll also learn of any new, important changes to how you’re supposed to file tax returns, and best practices for new accountants. These high-level concepts don’t change as frequently as tax laws, but it rarely hurts to have a solid refresher.
Special challenges and complexities.
Sometimes, taxes can be confusing, even for experienced accountants. You may run into problems with how to categorize a certain expense, or how to calculate a certain important variable. Many continuing education classes attempt to bring these special cases and complexities to light, guiding you in how to solve them or giving you unique puzzles to strengthen your individual abilities.
Accounting ethics is a massive field, and one that warrants its own line of education. Operating with honesty and integrity is vital to maintain a healthy accounting practice, but the lines between “ethical” and “unethical” behavior aren’t always clear-cut. New classes can help you stay updated on the latest philosophies in this area, and help you refine your approach to ethics in your own business.
Client communication and transparency.
Some continuing education classes focus on helping accountants maintain their client base with clear communication and fundamentals like transparency. Because explaining complex topics to inexperienced clients can be challenging, this is a key area for future development.
Marketing and advertising.
Though less common, you may also find a course that helps you develop your marketing and advertising strategies for your business, including how to brand your accounting practice and how to set up a referral program. Again, ongoing education is beneficial here because standards and “good” strategies are always evolving.
In another miscellaneous area, some classes focus on helping accountants develop their careers, directing them how to find new clients or grow their potential service offerings.
How can you find classes for continuing accounting education?
These are some of your best options:
Colleges and universities.
Most colleges and universities offer a plethora of classes related to accounting, taxes, and finance in general. The problem is, these tend to be expensive—especially if you’re getting an advanced degree—and if you already have a baseline education, they may not be as valuable. Not all universities offer classes a-la-carte, either.
You may also find a worthwhile class or series of classes at your local community college. These tend to be inexpensive, and often bring multiple accountants and financial consultants together—so you can easily learn from their experiences and network with others in addition to advancing your personal knowledge.
If you know where to look, you can find online courses that educate you on the basics of tax preparation, as well as an up-to-date view on current tax laws. These range from free to expensive, and from short to long and intensive, so you’ll need to browse your options and consider them carefully before you make a final decision. Be sure to research the organization or company offering the class before you pull the trigger; not all these courses are offered scrupulously.
Big tax firms.
Many national-level tax firms offer classes on how to prepare taxes, or else have resources that help you learn the latest changes to tax law. Some of them will be paid classes, while others will be free. You may also be able to get on-the-job training in tax preparation if you decide to work for one of these companies.
Small tax practices.
If you’re new to the world of accounting and tax preparation, it may be in your best interest to get your education and ongoing training at a smaller tax practice. Individual and small accounting firm owners are often looking for a way to outsource or delegate some of their work, and you may have an opportunity to serve as a kind of apprentice, learning the ropes under the guidance of someone more seasoned than you.
Other online resources.
If you feel confident about your accounting and tax knowledge already, you may not need to take a formal class as part of your ongoing education. Instead, you could rely on other free online resources, like a combination of articles, eBooks, and videos, to stay up-to-date.
How quickly does your accounting knowledge become obsolete? That depends on the year, but in general, it’s a good idea to seek some kind of reeducation on an annual basis. Depending on how many new laws were introduced and how long it’s been since you practiced accounting, you may need to take a full line of courses, or you may be fine with a basic refresher combined with “what’s new” in tax law. Every few years, you should invest in a more comprehensive line of education, reviewing the fundamentals and challenging yourself in new areas.
In the meantime, if you want help managing your accounting practice and/or handling more tax returns, make sure to get the help of a tax preparation outsourcing service. Learn more about tax preparation outsourcing from Taxfyle today!
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