Professional Ethics for Freelance Bookkeeping Jobs
Freelance bookkeeping is a terrific field for both the bookkeeper and the client. The freelancer has great control over his own career while the client can spend more time on the more important parts of his business while leaving the task of balancing the books to a trained professional. However, even though the freelancer is not a full-time employee, there is still tremendous responsibility in this line of work.
As a freelance bookkeeper, you've been hired not just because you know the business of accounting but because you are trustworthy. The client is entrusting you with sensitive financial data. Your clients lay open the inner workings of their businesses to you. You must earn and keep their trust by keeping a strict code of ethics.
Confidentiality is the most obvious ethical responsibility every freelance bookkeeper has. You have to treat the client's financial information just like it was your own. If you are working multiple bookkeeping assignments, you must keep them absolutely separate. Don't mingle any of the data or paperwork, either intentionally or through sloppiness.
Do not talk about your clients or their business after work hours. Going out for a night with your buddies and saying that "Mr. Smith's business isn't looking too good" or "Old man Jones is sure raking it in" is a gross breach of professionalism. Confidentiality is the one ethical consideration above all you must keep with all your clients.
It is not strictly illegal to work for a competitor or rival of a former client, but it often isn't good business. You may manage to keep confidentiality, but your former client is bound to get ideas if you keep books for a competitor. You are also setting yourself up to get asked a lot of sensitive questions by your new client. If you find yourself in a situation like this (and with competition between freelancers in today's economy, it's not impossible), you'll need to tell your client flat out that you cannot talk about former clients. Make the current customer understand that this same consideration will apply to him once your business there has concluded.
Word of mouth is a great tool in the freelance bookkeeping business. When word gets around that you are very careful with data, your business should improve. If the opposite opinion gets expressed, you may encounter difficulty finding new clients.
In a business dealing with huge amounts of data, you might make mistakes from time to time. If you catch a mistake after you've submitted your work to a client, it's best to admit you've done it. Hoping that the client doesn't catch the mistake is not only unethical, but it could possibly lead to huge problems for them. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's better than being caught. You might have to take a slight hit in your pay for that particular job, but it's better than your reputation taking a hit. Because a freelance bookkeeper is no better than his reputation, that reputation should be spotless.