What Is Bookkeeping? Getting Started in Accounting

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about what bookkeepers do and how to start this career.

[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. This article will explore what bookkeepers do, why they’re important to a business, and how you can get started in this role.

What is bookkeeping?

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

Bookkeeping is a skill used in both large companies and small businesses, and bookkeepers are needed in almost every business and industry. 

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.


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 organise 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

Bookkeeper salary: How much can you make?

According to Talent.com [1], the median salary for bookkeepers in the UK was £26,000 per year as of May 2024. Bookkeepers can sometimes choose between full-time and part-time positions, and they may work in an office or from home.

Bookkeeper vs accountant: What’s the difference?

Both accountants and bookkeepers maintain accurate financial records, and sometimes, the terms are used interchangeably. Bookkeepers generally 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 also involves other responsibilities. An accountant may interpret the financial records put together by a bookkeeper 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, but it can be a good next step in your financial career.

How to become a bookkeeper

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

Take a bookkeeping course. 

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

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

While a degree is not always necessary, some companies will look for candidates with coursework in accounting.

Get a bookkeeping qualification. 

Bookkeeping diploma qualifications can help you learn the skills you need to advance your career. Consider qualifications offered by The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and The Association of Accounting Technicians.

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 

Workplace skills:

  • Organisation

  • 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. 

A 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. It can also help you transition from a bookkeeper to an accountant or business-oriented role.

Get started in bookkeeping

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. Talent.com. “Bookkeeper Average Salary in United Kingdom, 2024, https://uk.talent.com/salary?job=bookkeeper.” Accessed May 22, 2024.

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