Virtual Bookkeeper Success Formula: TFB Spotlight on Deb Howard Greenleaf

tfb-star-spotlightAre you tired of wasting time going to clients and want to become a virtual bookkeeper instead? The latest TFB Spotlight interview can help!

Hear how you can follow in the footsteps of our latest guest, Deb Howard Greenleaf, and free yourself from the inefficiencies of working with local clients. Deb has been working on a virtual basis with her clients since 2006, and shares her story with the TFB community.

Deb-2014-headshotWhen Deb started her bookkeeping business, she never wanted to visit her clients on-site. She is located in a very rural area of Pennsylvania, so serving clients virtually just made sense. Listen in as she shares how she was able to get her business up and running with some smart marketing methods (yes, this totally fits with our current 30-Day Marketing Challenge theme) and a little bit of elbow grease.

Would you rather take the interview with you?  Download Audio Here (right-click and “Save As…”)

Interview Highlights:

  • Deb bootstrapped her bookkeeping experience and training after leaving the corporate world, working in a small CPA firm and with QuickBooks software. She started her bookkeeping business very part-time from home, doing QuickBooks Consulting in 2006 and her practice blossomed from there into a full bookkeeping practice with virtual employees.
  • One of the biggest challenges has always been being lured into new opportunities and directions that can send her in too many different directions, but she shared how she has gotten where she is now and finally found her specialty.
  • Her primary focus now is not in finding new clients (see her marketing tips below), but in improving efficiency so she can do more with less; she currently has several virtual employees and they use online tools to keep the workflow smooth

Profitable Lessons to Learn from Deb’s Story:

  • If you need experience, offer to work for small CPA firms during their busy season part time (tax season)
  • Get involved in online association forums / groups for virtual assistants and other complementing professionals by answering questions to build relationships and become the go-to referral partner for bookkeeping and software
  • Let your existing clients know the type of referrals you’d like to get, and also ask for testimonials that you can add to your website, QuickBooks ProAdvisor profile and/or LinkedIn

Tools Deb Uses:

  • Asana – free online project management software
  • Gmail – for use with multiple email addresses using colored labels (she sends email on behalf of clients)
  • Dropbox – for file sharing and management
  • SmartVault – for payroll documents and anything with a SS#

Deb’s best advice to fellow bookkeepers: 

  • Volunteer and give help to others, “Give freely and it will come back to you many times over.” Much of the growth in Deb’s business can be traced back to helping others either virtually or in person. You get experience, confidence, improve your skills, make relationships and learn to build systems. It’s a true win-win strategy, when done in a balanced way.

Deb is a long time TFB Premium member – monthly business training for freelance bookkeepers

Learn more about Deb Howard Greenleaf at Greenleaf Accounting


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How to Get Bookkeeping Clients

business_shake_400_clr_3110If you’ve been trying to get bookkeeping clients to fill your practice, but feel like it’s been a struggle, then this quick video is for you!

Freelance Bookkeeper Practice Tips are short videos that give you a quick lesson in a topic that will help you move your freelance bookkeeping business forward for long-term success. These are bite-sized mini-lessons designed to improve your bottom line and enjoy the process.

In this lesson we cover why most freelance bookkeepers really struggle to get a consistent flow of new, high-quality clients. The answer is simple and actionable. In less than 10 minutes you’ll know how to make marketing easier and to get more clients coming your way, starting today!

Practice tip summary notes:

  • Many bookkeepers treat marketing their services like a special event and approach it with desperation
  • Building a daily / weekly habit of consistent marketing actions will attract clients to you and build momentum
  • Approach your marketing with your big picture goals in mind, and you will move more positively and efficiently toward what you want most
  • Using a plan, a calendar and accountability when it comes to marketing can make a huge difference in how quickly you can grow your practice (even though it may seem counter intuitive)

Recommended Resource:  The Freelance Bookkeeper Marketing System – self-paced training online training class that covers how to bring in new clients quickly using a proven, customized marketing system that’s time efficient and works even with a shoestring budget.

Join the TFB 30-Day Marketing Challenge! – right here on the blog we’ll have weekly marketing tips and share our successes (and discuss any bumps along the way too). Simply share your thoughts on what we cover in each post in the comments section.  Together let’s kick up the marketing and bring in new clients for November and beyond! It’s a great time of year to grow your bookkeeping practice.

Do you already have a marketing system that’s working for you… or are you frustrated with marketing that’s not working like it used to? Share your experiences and let’s brainstorm some more marketing tips! Just comment below this post.

The Challenge: More Clients in 30 Days or Less

30-day-challengeDo you want more clients, but feel like a fish out of water when you even think about marketing your bookkeeping services?

You’re not alone.

Over the years I’ve spoken to A LOT of bookkeepers and accountants, and there’s a common obstacle that seems to come up when we talk about getting more clients.

Most new clients come from referrals. But the problem with that is you have very little control over WHEN you get new client inquiries. But the alternative, marketing bookkeeping services proactively, seems to be where everyone gets stuck.

If you feel helpless when it comes to finding an effective way to get more clients, without the need to wait for the next (or first) referral to come in, I’ve got some good news!

There is a simple SYSTEM for getting all the clients you can handle quickly. In fact, I cover exactly how to use it, custom fit to your personality and unique business in one of my most popular online classes…”The Freelance Bookkeeper Marketing System

And quite honestly, right NOW is the BEST time to be marketing your bookkeeping services, since we’re quickly headed toward the end of the year and a next tax season. Small business owners are starting to realize that they need to get their books in order before the end of the year.

But here’s the thing. You might KNOW how to market your services already. My question is, what are you DOING each week to actually get the clients in the door? Marketing should be a regular routine… not a rare event!

The winning formula for consistently pulling in new client inquiries is…

Training + ACTION = Results

That’s why I’d like to invite you to join me in taking the 30-Day Bookkeeper Marketing Challenge!

For those who want to work with me personally, I’ve added a 6-week Results Coaching component to my training class, which helps you set your plan and then work it for 30 days. You can Click Here to see what’s included with that program. But it’s not essential to take the challenge.

If you feel like you already know HOW to market your services, but just haven’t been able to get yourself to DO it consistently, then why not make a commitment to take focused ACTION and “just do it” for the next 30 days? When you know others are reaching toward the same goal, tapping into the group momentum can help you take consistent action.

To support you, I’ll be posting several articles and videos on The Freelance Bookkeeper blog over the next month to fit with this theme of marketing your bookkeeping services NOW!

And of course, I’ll be kicking off the LIVE coaching program that’s connected to the TFB Marketing System starting this coming Thursday, October 29th.

Either way, this is the time of year when it’s easiest to attract new clients and make strategic connections with those who can send you more referrals too. But we need to take proactive ACTION to get the results we want – more clients on a consistent basis!

Are you up for the challenge?

If so, join us in the TFB Marketing System if you want to learn how to build your own 30-Day Marketing plan and then work it.

If you already have your own way to market your services, then watch this blog for what I’ll be posting and join in the momentum for November and have some fun! (Yes, marketing can be fun!)

Here’s to cracking the code to getting more clients over the next 30 days and beyond!

To kick things off, what’s the target you want to shoot for? How many new clients would you like to take on over the next 30 day?

Just having a target to aim for will make it much easier to hit!


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TFB Practice Tip: 5 Steps to Improve Cash Flow

practice-tipWould you like some fast cash flow tips that will help grow your practice?

This is the first in a planned series of tips on how to grow your bookkeeping business and building a premium level practice. Each one will be a quick video articles for learn-it-fast results.

This first tip is focused on how you can add cash flow management services to your service offerings. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a BIG difference to our clients. Implementing this tip will immediately make you more valuable to your existing clients, and start to attract new, quality clients.

This tip takes less than 7 minutes to watch, but will bring you more revenue almost as soon as you implement it!

Practice tip summary notes:

  • Clients instantly recognize the value of cash flow
  • Add simple Accounts Receivable services and build a custom system for your clients
  • Apply what you learn to your own practice FIRST (walk your talk)
  • Try it first with existing clients, then build these services into your premium service packages

Recommended Resource:  Cash Flow Kick-Start – the simple, yet powerful guide to creating a customized small business cash flow system

Want more TFB Practice Tips? make a suggestion in the Suggestion Box at the lower right corner of your screen.

Do you already offer this service to your clients? What has worked best for you, or what do you plan to try? Please comment below


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3 Common Pitfalls when Starting a Bookkeeping Business: A Case Study

common pitfallsThe first challenge most new or aspiring freelance bookkeepers face when starting their bookkeeping business is…

Q: How do I find my first few clients?

A majority of bookkeeping businesses get most of their clients through referrals. But the problem when you’re just starting out is, how can you get referrals if you don’t have any clients yet?

Your first few clients often come from networking and reaching out to your existing contacts. What other ways can a fledgling bookkeeping practice acuire new clients?

Here’s the story of what one of my students attempted, the pitfalls that plagued him, and how he can course correct to set himself up for success going forward.

I’m sharing the actual email exchange so you can see what happened, fly-on-the-wall style… (He gave me permission to share his story, since it may be helpful to other freelance bookkeepers)


Student Message:

I actually talked with my second [potential] client that I will hopefully be working with as their bookkeeper. I quoted a rate of $19hr through a website for the service they needed but I know they are going to need more. I used your engagement letter [template] with the terms and limitations of what I will do and what I will not. I feel that after I am on-board with them I am going to be teaching them how to use QuickBooks Online. Would it be wise to charge that as a separate price in the beginning until I feel they are knowledgeable about the software?

Gabrielle’s initial response:

When you say you have communicated with this potential client through a website, is it one of those bidding sites (like eLance)? Is that why you have quoted such a low fee? ($19 is extremely low for even very basic bookkeeping services). Will you be doing cleanup services, and then the client wants you to teach them to do it themselves thereafter?

I can better answer your question if I understand the engagement. But in general, yes, training should be charged separately from bookkeeping, unless you are only giving them small pointers to make it easier to work together (when you’re doing the monthly bookkeeping, but they are handling other aspects, such as the invoicing, for example).

Please let me know the situation and I can give you a more helpful response.

Student reply:

Yes, the client reached out to me through one of the bidding websites which I just quoted a rate of $19. After speaking with the client I found out that they did not actually have an accounting system, but they are recording their transactions on Excel. In the agreement letter that I sent to them (waiting for approval) I mention that I would provide invoices to their clients and data entry. First they would have to purchase QBO by working with me to see which system is best. This would be only my second client for the business to get in the door, but I know I will have to address different prices for me to train them. What range would be best in training the client?

Gabrielle’s response:

With a client project like this, which is going to be a lot of work, I recommend that you get a retainer up front (I hope you asked for one in your engagement letter). They also need to realize that this is going to cost them quite a bit because there are really TWO engagements here (without consideration of training).

If the prospective client is currently keeping his books on a spreadsheet, then he is going to need a complete setup of new books in QuickBooks Online (likely including catch-up work). I would not recommend taking on this client if they want to continue with their Excel system. If they don’t want to pay for QBO (and paying monthly for software is an issue for them), you could recommend Wave, which is free.

For you, please remember that you’re not an employee-like person in this scenario, but a professional and have some standards that they need to meet to make this a win-win situation. I’d recommend in general that you charge at the very least $35/hour for bookkeeping services and $45/hour for training and set up services. Those are absolute bare minimum. The national average is higher.

If the client thinks that’s too high, it means that they are looking for an employee. It would be very difficult to run a viable business on only $19/hour. So just be careful about backing yourself into a corner so that you’ll regret taking clients on at too low a rate. If you really want the client, you could make the $19 rate apply for a limited time only, and then go to a “regular” higher rate. It’s a common mistake to undercharge, but if you’re busy slaving for this client, it means you don’t have the capacity to take on clients who will pay a professional rate on which you could actually turn a profit.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the latest Intuit survey that shows the basic rates others are charging. Hope it helps.


You’re awesome, I really needed to hear your expertise in this situation. Along with your virtual guide that I purchased from you, I see that I made a mistake and that it would be a lot of work. If they really want my service and they wish to grow there business, they should have no problem paying the rate of $35 to do things correctly. Next time I will make sure to ask the right questions that you provide in your guide to see if we are a good fit or not. Thanks Gabrielle.


There is no teacher like experience! Glad it’s helpful.


Lessons Learned

Here are some key lessons to be learned from this case study:

1. Don’t price services at the rate an employee would be paid. Charge professional rates that will support your business and communicate that you are providing true value to your clients. Never compete on price alone.

2. Don’t quote a rate blindly. Ask questions that will help you know as much as possible about the client and the results they are looking for so you can adequately quantify the results the client wants, the work that needs to be done, and the rate that would set up a win-win working situation.

Some key questions to ask are…

* What is the #1 reason you want to hire a professional bookkeeper?
* What results do you expect and are there any deadlines involved?
* How is your bookkeeping getting done now? Are your records up to date?
* What software are you using to get the books done?
* Do you require on-site service or is online access / virtual bookkeeping preferrable?

3. Use effective marketing methods for bookkeepers, not online commodity bidding websites. Effective marketing comes from building relationships and leveraging proactive, online and in-person strategies. Marketing that gets results needs to become a regular practice, not an event.

The challenges faced in this case study are all too common, and can slow us down when trying to build a profitable bookkeeping business that we love filled with clients that pay us well and are great to work with. That’s why in October the TFB Premium lesson will be on “How to Get & Keep Top Quality Clients” If you’re ready to kick up your client base to the next level, join us in TFB Premium!

What war stories do you have to tell (and the lessons learned) for getting your first few clients? Please leave a comment below and get a discussion going.

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