How to become a freelance accountant or financial consultant

It can be hugely rewarding to help people and businesses manage their money more effectively. Both as an in-demand skill, and when you see clients are happier and more successful because of your work. Find out how to become a freelance accountant or financial consultant and you’ll also get more freedom in when, and how, you work.

You may already be a qualified and experienced accountant or financial consultant ready to work for yourself full or part-time. Perhaps you’re already working with clients as a freelance bookkeeper, or you’re planning a new career. In each case, it’s possible to become successful on your own terms as a freelancer.

Generally, freelance accountants or financial consultants will work with professionals and businesses, while financial planners and advisors will specialise more in personal enquiries around savings, pensions, mortgages and insurance.

And money matters can often be overwhelming and hugely stressful for a lot of business owners. Being able to relieve some of that pressure, and provide a clear plan for the future can be extremely rewarding, especially if you’re able to help someone minimise their debts or invest in expanding their business as a result.

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What does a freelance accountant or financial consultant do?

Becoming self-employed will mean you’re able to focus on a particular area or specialism within accountancy and financial consulting. Perhaps you want to focus on businesses experiencing difficulties, or only deal with tax returns. But in general, accounts will have some, or all, of the following tasks;

  • Preparing financial statements, business plans and budget reports
  • Producing accounts
  • Audits
  • Managing spending and costs for clients
  • Preparing and submitting tax returns, and offering tax advice
  • Profit and performance forecasting
  • Helping businesses in financial difficulty or with specific problems
  • Investigating fraud or other issues (forensic accounting)

You’re also able to decide how you work with each client. In some cases, you may want to be based in their offices, providing in-depth support. And others might just want some remote resource when it comes to filing taxes each year.

Financial consultants tend to focus more on strategy and planning. So, while they may still need to audit and assess the current finances of a client, they’ll tend to be more focused on providing specialist help for the future. Tasks might include

  • Analysing and recommending investment plans, including venture capital
  • Assessing capital expansion options
  • Looking at mergers and acquisitions or initial public offerings (IPOs)
  • Recommending improvements to inventory management, cost control, cash flow, productivity and other areas

Again, as a freelancer, you can decide if you want to offer services across financial consulting, or specialise in particular services. And control your level of involvement if you want to work from home, or around other commitments.

A lot of the terms for consultants, planners and advisors tend to be used interchangeably. So it’s important to make it clear that you’re focused on working with businesses and other self-employed professionals rather than personal finances, for example.

Which skills or qualifications do you need to become a freelance accountant or financial consultant?

Any financial role will require an ability to work with numbers accurately, with skills in organisation and an eye for detail. Mistakes will be costly for your clients, and for yourself, so managing your time to allow for a methodical and careful approach will pay off. You’ll also need to display integrity and trustworthiness, along with good communication and interpersonal skills, so that businesses are happy to share confidential information and rely on your work.

A general interest and knowledge in business will also be helpful, along with analytical and problem-solving skills. And being self-motivated to keep up with changes in relevant regulations, qualifications and knowledge.

If you have no experience or qualifications, and want to get started straight away, you may want to look at how to become a freelance bookkeeper. No formal qualifications are required, and while you’ll be recording and collating all financial transactions, they’ll typically be passed to an accountant before submission to HMRC, for example.

To become an accountant, you don’t need to have any qualifications. But most people will want to become a ‘chartered accountant’ which is a protected term in the UK and has specific requirements.

To become a freelance chartered accountant, you’ll need professional vocational qualifications from a recognised institution, such as:

Before choosing where to study, it’s important to understand the differences in focus and potential earnings between each organisation. And with many, including the ACCA And ICAEW, you’ll also need to have three years of relevant work experience. So, you’ll need to work for an established company while you learn, and before you become a freelancer.

A degree isn’t necessarily required to become an accountant, although it can certainly help. Especially when you’re looking for a first role to enable you to get your vocational qualifications.

To become a freelance financial consultant, you don’t need any formal or professional certification, although it can certainly help, along with a relevant degree, such as accountancy, business management, finance, or financial studies. The skills required are very similar, although there’s more emphasis on communication and problem solving when you’re presenting your work to business owners and executive boards.

You may choose to enhance your CV with relevant qualifications, which can be found from a range of organisations, including:

But as a consultant, it’s generally your proven experience which will be more important in securing clients. Whether that’s in a previous employed role, or from building up your freelancing portfolio, demonstrating proven results is key.

 

Other requirements before you freelance as an accountant or financial consultant

There are standard requirements in setting up any self-employed business as a sole trader or limited company, and you can find more details on the practical stages of starting your own business in the IPSE Advice section.

As part of your vocational qualifications and registering as a chartered accountant with one of the recognised supervisory bodies, you’ll need professional indemnity insurance (which is a good idea for any financial freelancer given the potential for loss resulting from any issues or errors – you can find the IPSE guide to professional indemnity insurance, here).

You’ll also be handling private financial information, which means you’ll need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). You’ll also need to be familiar with relevant laws and regulations, including those covering Money Laundering, including your registration with a suitable supervisory authority.

And when you’re working with clients, you’ll also need to have formal authorisation from HMRC to deal with them on your client’s behalf.

How to become a freelance accountant or financial consultant

How much can freelance accountants or financial consultants earn?

It’s impossible to predict exactly how successful you might be as a self-employed accountant or financial consultant as much will depend on your qualifications, experience, location, and the current demand for the particular services you offer. So, any estimates of freelance account salaries or financial consulting income below are given as a guide only.

Potential annual income for freelance accounts are estimated at £37,144 (Glassdoor) or £40,970 (talent.com). For financial consultants, the figures range from £40,176 (Glassdoor) and £43,668 (Indeed), to £55,977 (check-a-salary) or £68,886 (Reed).

Freelance incomes will tend to be higher than employed roles as most people will choose to become self-employed with a few years of experience in their field. And to compensate for costs including equipment, time spent securing projects, and time off for holidays or illness.

Ultimately, there’s no limit to what it’s possible to earn, especially if you’re working with larger clients and delivering large financial results from your work.

 

Finding your first clients as a freelance accountant or financial consultant

Whether you’ve decided to become self-employed as an accountant, chartered accountant, or financial consultant, you need to find clients to support your business.

A good first step is to use your existing network of family, friends and former colleagues. It’s likely you already know some business owners or freelancers who could benefit from qualified financial advice. And hopefully there will be some trust from your existing relationship. Just make sure that you approach freelancing for friends or family in a similar professional way to working with any client to avoid any mishaps or complications. There’s a helpful guide to freelancing for family members on the IPSE site.

You may want to start out freelancing part-time to build up your experience and portfolio before switching to full-time self-employment. Depending on your contract with your employer, it’s important to either keep your CV and any online profiles updated, or to collect everything to be shared from the day you make the leap into running your own business.

Networking is important, whether you’re attending local business events or joining online groups (such as our own Creative Freelancers UK). Within any group of self-employed people, there will inevitably be financial questions, and you could be the right person to answer them. If you’re regularly offering help and advice, you rapidly become the ‘go-to’ resource for those subjects, and potential clients will think of your name first when they’re looking for paid support.

Referrals and recommendations are important if you’re offering a service business, so think about ways to make it easier for existing clients to suggest your business to other people (for example, offering a free hour of time for referrals), and always check at the start of an agreement if it will be possible to publish a case study in the future (clients may want some data or details kept private, but there’s often a suitable compromise available).

It’s important to at least have a website with relevant information and contact details to list on business cards, in advertising and other places. And you can look to develop this, and any social media profiles, as more in-depth and helpful resources. But it’s not essential to be constantly blogging or sharing updates on LinkedIn, as many freelancers can become hugely successful through personal word-of-mouth recommendations, especially in financial sectors.

Along with professional qualifications, it can be worth looking at certification offered by popular accounting and invoicing software companies as a way to demonstrate your skills, and possibly be listed as a freelancer in their professional directories. Just check how useful and relevant they will be before choosing any paid courses or exams.

And if you’re really struggling to find anyone willing to let you help or advise them, then consider offering your services to local charities, non-profits or events which could benefit from free or discounted financial services.

 

More resources and support to become a freelance accountant or financial consultant

Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.