Book-keeping: the key to doing it by the book

Book-keeping can be rewarding - as long as you're comfortable with numbers
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The Independent Online

We've all done book-keeping of one kind or another if only for ourselves, totting up income and outgoings. It is a process usually punctuated by gasps of shock and groans of frustration. But for some people there is a thrill in seeing the books balance and the figures add up. And they are the pros.

Working out the accounts for a business is of course far more complex than doing the housekeeping, but the only qualification you need for most book-keeping jobs is an understanding of ubiquitous software package Sage, and getting to grips with the basics only takes a couple of days.

So it's an ideal stepping stone for clerical workers who want to move into accountancy or for people just looking to move into more part time work at a higher rate. An hourly rate of £15 - £22 means that in two days you can earn as much as most admin staff do in a week. And annual salaries are pretty good too, from around £18,000 a year up to £45,000 for the most senior book-keepers in the public sector, with most experienced book-keepers on around £25,000 a year.

With that pay cheque comes a lot of responsibility. It's a role that is central to any small to medium size business, and making sure you get it right is crucial to that business' success. Book-keepers' accounts form the basis for all accounting, and let managers know whether their business is afloat or sinking.

Because of the sensitivity of the information you are dealing with, the most important quality you need is loyalty, according to Steve Bruton, a consultant with recruitment agency FSS. "Loyalty is the key to this," he says. "There's definitely a type of character who would suit this work: someone's who's reliable, honest, and trustworthy."

But most importantly you've got to be comfortable with figures. "You need a head for numbers," says Collette Thomas, 51, a bookkeeper with recruitment agency Hays Accountancy and Finance, working at Space Syntax, an architects firm in London Bridge. And that's about all you need. "You have to know the difference between sales and purchases," she says. "Once you're past that stage everything else is simple."

Like most book-keepers Thomas came to the profession later in life. After leaving school with a secretarial qualification in business studies she worked as a secretary and then did admin for a record company for several years, before a friend who ran a design company told her he was having problems with his book-keeper.

"I'd got bored where I was," she says. "I wasn't happy with the people I was working with, and book-keeping sounded much more interesting."

Without any experience in accounts she went for an interview with the accountant. She got the job. "I said I'd never done it before," she says. "But Sage does it all for you. Anybody can do accounts now."

It only took a couple of days training in Sage before she could get to work. Now she says it is more than just a weekly wage. "It is more interesting than it sounds," she says. "You're looking at the way the whole company works so it's quite varied, you're not just doing one sort of invoice every day."

Gregg Carvalho agrees. "It is a nice job, trying to work something out," says Carvalho, a book-keeper at a London import export company for FSS. "And when the result you have ties in with the bank's result you just think, fantastic, the system's working."

And it is not just a matter of adding up columns of figures. "The interesting thing is designing reports within the ledger," he says. "Management wants different information and you manage the data they want, and if the company's profitable you enjoy that."

Like Thomas, Carvalho did not start his career as a book-keeper, but as a teacher in Kenya. When the company that ran his school needed someone to help with its accounts he saw the opportunity.

"I had no accounting experience but I learned as I went along," he says. He later trained as a book-keeper and joined an auditing practice before coming to the UK in 1987 and working in the city for Schroeder Asseily and ABB Trading before taking up temping.

Like many book-keepers, he says the job has been a route into accounting: "I'm not a qualified accountant, but with the experience I've got there's nothing I can't do." So if you're interested in business and want a way in to accountancy or out of administration, book-keeping could be for you.