What Is Bookkeeping? Getting Started in Accounting

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Bookkeeping has an important role in the financial side of business. Learn more about what bookkeepers do and what it has to do with accounting.

[Featured image] A bookkeeper works at her laptop computer next to a window.

Bookkeepers manage a company’s financial accounts, ensuring they are accurate and easy to review. Their work plays an important role in the operation of a successful business. Explore what bookkeepers do, why they’re important to a business, and how you can get started in this role.

If you're ready to build job-ready skills in bookkeeping, consider enrolling in the Intuit Academy Bookkeeping Professional Certificate.

What is bookkeeping?

Bookkeeping is the process of keeping track of a business’s financial transactions. These services include recording what money comes into and flows out of a business, such as payments from customers and payments made to vendors. While bookkeepers used to keep track of this information in physical books, much of the process is now done on digital software.


Bookkeepers are needed in just about every industry and business, both large and small. 

Did you know?

Bookkeeping as a profession dates back to the 15th century when Italian mathematician Frater Luca Pacioli—the father of modern bookkeeping—detailed many accounting systems and tools still used today, including double-entry bookkeeping.


Types of bookkeeping

Bookkeepers perform several types of bookkeeping, two of the most common being single-entry and double-entry bookkeeping.

Single-entry bookkeeping records all transactions in just one row. Typically, single-entry bookkeeping is suitable for keeping track of cash, taxable income, and tax-deductible expenses.

Double-entry bookkeeping records all transactions twice, usually a debit and a credit entry. Typically, double-entry bookkeeping uses accrual accounting for liabilities, equities, assets, expenses and revenue.

While single-entry bookkeeping is simpler, double-entry is more thorough and less likely to produce errors.

Bookkeeper vs. accountant: What’s the difference?

Both accountants and bookkeepers work to maintain accurate records of finances, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Generally, bookkeepers focus on administrative tasks, such as completing payroll and recording incoming and outgoing finances. Accountants help businesses understand the bigger picture of their financial situation. 

An accountant can certainly perform bookkeeping tasks, but the title generally involves other responsibilities as well. An accountant may interpret the financial records that a bookkeeper compiles, in order to assess a company’s financial health. They may also perform audits and prepare tax returns. Becoming an accountant usually requires more training and education than bookkeeping and can be a good next step in your financial career.


What does a bookkeeper do?

The work of a bookkeeper may vary depending on the needs of the business. You may work at a large company, small business, or as a freelancer. Here are some other tasks you may handle as part of this job:

  • Record transactions using accounting software, spreadsheets, and databases

  • Collect and organize financial records, cash flow statements, bank documents, and loss statements

  • Generate invoices and receive payments from customers

  • Track debits and credits for various accounts

  • Reconcile financial statements

  • Create balance sheets and income statements

  • Review reports for accuracy

  • Complete payroll

  • File business tax returns

Watch this video for insights into how credits and debits work.

Bookkeeper salary

According to Glassdoor, the median salary for bookkeepers in Canada is $47,285 per year [1]. You can sometimes choose between full-time and part-time positions, and you may go to work in an office or work from home.

How to become a bookkeeper

If you're organized and enjoy working with numbers, a job as a bookkeeper could be a good fit. Here’s what you can do to gain the skills necessary to get started.

1. Take a bookkeeping course. 

A bookkeeping course can teach you the basic knowledge you’ll need to prepare financial reports, organize data using tools like Microsoft Excel, or understand how to balance books. 

Some courses can also earn you a credential from an industry leader for your resume—like the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate on Coursera. 

While it’s not always necessary to have a degree, some companies will look for candidates with coursework in accounting.

2. Get a bookkeeping certification. 

Certifications aren’t necessary to become a bookkeeper but can signal to employers that you have the training and knowledge to meet industry standards. After you have a couple years of experience, you can earn a bookkeeper certification from The Certified Professional Bookkeepers of Canada

3. Build essential bookkeeping skills.

As you take courses and pursue a certification in bookkeeping, be sure to acquire skills that are essential for your bookkeeping career, as explored below:

Technical skills:

  • Debits and credits

  • Invoicing 

  • Billing 

  • Vendor relations

  • Accounts payable 

  • Accounts receivable 

  • Data entry

  • Spreadsheets

  • Payroll 

  • Financial statements

  • Bank reconciliation

  • Accounting software 

Here's an example of how you'd enter a transaction in the Intuit software.

Workplace skills:

  • Organization

  • Communication

  • Time management 

  • Attention to detail 

  • Error correction 

  • Oral and written communication  

  • Decision making 

  • Critical thinking 

  • Interpersonal skills 

Consider earning a degree. 

Though having a two-year or four-year degree isn’t always required to be hired as a bookkeeper, some companies may prefer candidates who do. 

An associate or bachelor’s degree in bookkeeping or related fields like finance, accounting, or business can teach you about the broader industry, enhance your potential earnings, and boost your competitiveness for jobs. A degree can also help you make the leap from being a bookkeeper to being an accountant or other business-oriented role.

Get started in bookkeeping with Coursera.

Start building the professional skills you need to get a job as a bookkeeper in under four months with the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn at your own pace from industry experts while getting hands-on experience working through real-world accounting scenarios.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Salary: Bookkeeper Salaries in Canada, https://www.glassdoor.ca/Salaries/bookkeeper-salary-SRCH_KO0,10.htm.” Accessed May 20, 2024.

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