Chapter 6

Pricing and charging

How do you walk the line between profitable for you and affordable for your clients? And help clients budget?

A bookkeeper sitting at a desk in an office space

The importance of pricing

You have two levers to drive profitability – money in and money out. Money out (or expenses) is affected by many things like efficiency, marketing, technology, staffing and more. Money in is driven by the volume and value of work, which can both depend on pricing.

It goes without saying then, that pricing will have a big bearing on your revenue and profitability. It’s worth spending some time on it. Think about what you and your client need out of a pricing structure.

  • You – enough income to run the business and make your work financially rewarding
  • Client – a good return on investment (ROI) at an overall cost that will fit in their budget

Pricing advantages for bookkeepers

Because there’s so much at stake, setting prices can be daunting. But as a bookkeeper, you have some advantages to keep in mind.

You can deliver a lot of value

Small businesses often feel lost when it comes to bookkeeping, finance, tax and accounting. By taking away a lot of that anxiety, you deliver immediate relief. That initial perceived value might then plateau for a few months while you go about getting their books in order, but it will spike again when the first tax returns come due and the monthly reports start sinking in. If you can structure a deal that keeps clients onboard for a few months, they’ll really begin to see the ROI.

You can get really good at estimating work

Bookkeeping is cyclical. Some tasks come round monthly, others annually. That makes the workflow fairly predictable. Estimating work can become relatively straightforward based on the jobs your client wants done. As a result, you may be able to offer a flat fee for certain tasks, which clients love because it makes budgeting much easier for them.

Affordability is at an all-time high

Technology can smooth away a lot of the data double-handling that traditionally made bookkeeping labour-intensive and expensive. You can now deliver a top-class service for a fraction of what it used to cost. That allows you to pitch a more affordable price while still generating a good margin. Consider using a job costing system so you can easily see profit margin or loss.

How bookkeepers charge

There are many models for charging clients but they essentially fall into three main categories.

Hourly billing

You charge a stated hourly rate until the work is complete.

  • Pro: You don’t, in theory, get stuck doing free work, although consultants commonly write time off when clients push back against bills
  • Con: There can be uncomfortable surprises when the hours are tallied up and the cost calculated

Fixed price/Flat fee

You provide an upfront price for the services required.

  • Pro: Everyone knows the score before work has started. And bookkeepers are rewarded for developing smarter, faster work processes.
  • Con: Unexpected difficulties can diminish the profitability of a project. You’ll also need to set clear expectations about the scale of the work, because jobs will get bigger as clients grow.

Subscription

You charge a fixed monthly fee for an agreed set of services.

  • Pro: You get consistent income and cash flow, while clients find it much easier to budget for your services.
  • Con: You don’t want to underestimate the cost of servicing an account because you’re locked in for a year. You’ll also need to consider what happens if a client leaves your business part way through the year.

Fixed fee models give customers certainty about what their money is buying. Meanwhile the vendor can increase their profitability by finding faster and smarter ways to deliver the agreed service

Meryl Johnston, Bean Ninjas

What bookkeepers charge

Your market will have a big say in the price you can charge. Are your prospective clients price sensitive? How much do they value your services? And what else can they get for their money?

The fastest way to answer these questions is to check what other bookkeepers are charging. You’ll see a big range of course. But look for bookkeepers in your region, or serving your industry, or providing the same services as you.

You can do all of this on the Xero advisor directory.

More on pricing strategies

You can read more on pricing strategies in our guide to starting a business.

Disclaimer: Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the provided content.

Starting a bookkeeping business

Work through the big decisions around accreditation, services to offer, fees to charge, and how to find clients.

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