Bookkeepers and Coaching: TFB Spotlight on Donna Leyens

tfb-star-spotlightWe’ve all heard that we should be moving toward being seen as a ‘trusted advisor’ to our clients. But how can a bookkeeper make that kind of a change?

That’s what I discussed with Donna Leyens of Provendus Group at a recent conference we both attended. Donna is a coach and passionate about the value bookkeepers can bring to small business owners for a real win-win result. Here’s Donna’s story about how she made the move from a financial career, to entrepreneurship, and finally to coaching… and why this is her life’s work.

While this is not the typical TFB Spotlight interview, it is a chance to take a look at the new path that lay before us in these changing times. I’d love to know what you think about bookkeepers learning coaching skills and if you think it is something we “should” be pursuing… or not. Please say what you think in the comments below.

Would you rather listen on the go? Right Click Here to Download the Audio  (51 mins)

Guest Bio:

Donna Leyens started as a Wall Street executive, but always dreamed of being a business owner. She achieved that dream in 2002, and then eventually turned to professional coaching to follow her true passion – helping entrepreneurs grow, thrive, and have the opportunity to create their own destiny. Donna is currently the President of Provendus Group which provides business tools, programs, strategies and support for small business owners.

Interview Highlights

From the client’s standpoint, when we are ‘just keeping the books’ we become a commodity and can only compete on price. Adding value to what we do by adding additional coaching services makes us stand out and worth more to our clients.

Coaches face the same issues bookkeepers do who charge by the hour when it comes to pricing your services, so building packages makes sense for coaching services too. Think in terms of how you can give advice to clients that will affect their bottom line, and they will be glad to pay for it. Pricing is part of your branding and marketing strategy.

Surprising fact: Introverts happen to have natural skills for being good advisors. Most bookkeepers and accountants are introverts. Effective coaching is about asking the right questions and being a good listener. (By the way, what Donna shared on this point is right in line with one of my favorite books, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston)

You don’t need to have all the answers to be an effective advisor and coach to your clients. Just ask questions and listen.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. You need to learn how to get your client’s participation, and that can take time.

You can start learning coaching skills by helping clients make small changes that will benefit their business. This helps you to learn how to talk to the client in a non-confrontational way, and reduce their resistance to change, and instead become a valuable partner with them.

We also discussed about balancing the perceived risk and liability of providing coaching services (but we are not lawyers – consult your attorney for your specific situation) . Bottom line, it is considered normal business risk, as long as you truly have an understanding of the topics on which you provide advice. (We gave examples in our discussion). We also discussed the language you should include in engagement letters.

The greatest reward for Donna as a coach, is making a real impact in the lives of her clients, even beyond the financial rewards. This is work with a purpose. Bookkeepers can do the same thing!

Donna’s advice: Start with your own knowledge of how your clients could get better results with little things. She shares how we can broach the subject with clients to start the transition from just a compliance to a more coaching type relationship.


You can get more tips from Donna for growing your business by signing up for her newsletter here.


Do you think bookkeeping services and coaching should be combined for the bookkeeper of the future? 




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Leverage Automation in Your Workflow!

free webinarYou’re invited!

Join me, Gabrielle Fontaine, for the next in our free training webinars…

“How to Automate Document Workflow for Virtual Bookkeepers”

When? Thursday, October 20 at 2:00 PM EDT (New York)

In a different Time Zone? Use this tool to find your time


Register Here

This coming Thursday we’ll be jumping into the nuts and
bolts of embracing online document management and turbo-charging
the process with automation. This will save you from the hair-pulling
frustration of trying to get your clients to provide you with the info
you need to complete the bookkeeping each month.

To be sure, there is no single one-size-fits-all solution in every
situation, but we’ll be cutting through all the noise with online technology
and show you how to build and automate the core app chassis that
will support an optimized workflow specifically for your virtual
bookkeeping practice.

Join me and my special guests, Sam Santangelo of SmartVault and
Yoseph West of Hubdoc as we show you how to build and then automate
your core virtual bookkeeping workflow to efficiently work with your clients
and automatically gather and process nearly all of the monthly transactions
flowing through your clients’ books. This makes everything so much easier

This is a free 90-minute class that includes a software demo
and live Q&A segment.

If you’ve been overwhelmed with the need to sort through a multitude of online
apps and simplify your bookkeeping workflow, go paperless, gather
client documents and statements electronically, and streamline your apps to
play nice together to remove the drudgery with less frustration, then this
free online class is for you!

Register for the LIVE event here (it’s free):

Register for the webinar even if you can’t make it live,
since the replay will only be made available to those who
register for the live class, and only for a limited time.

Oh, and once you’ve saved your spot, feel free to share this
email / registration link with any other bookkeepers you know
who have been trying to find a way to leverage the power of
online apps to automate and streamline core bookkeeping services.

Times are changing, but together we can make it a win for
you, your clients, and everyone we touch! 🙂


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Can Bookkeepers Change The World?

changing the worldIn a word, YES.

But the more important question is, Will we?

What we do as bookkeepers can literally be world changing, for ourselves, our clients, and even on the other side of the planet!

I’m not being melodramatic. What we have the ability to do, whether we realize it or not, can have a profound effect on millions of lives, both locally and around the world.

Read on, and you’ll see what I mean (and what it means to you).

With Clients and Beyond

As bookkeepers, we are intimately involved in the day-to-day money flow through multiple businesses that affect hundreds if not thousands of people. Many business owners don’t pay attention to the financial standing, cash flow or trends. They trust us to take care of the numbers for them, and operate unaware… until there is a problem.

Of course, many of us simply do what is asked of us and quietly keep the books balanced and produce historical financial reports (which clients usually don’t look at or understand). We do as expected and make sure the bills are paid and taxes get filed on time. But we are in a unique position to do so much more.

We have the power to make a significant impact on the well-being of our clients’ financial situation, which affects their lifestyle, health and overall well-being. This, in turn, can help (or harm) the well-being of everyone who is touched by our clients as well – their employees, contractors, vendors and by extension, all their families. We ourselves are included among those who benefit when our clients’ businesses prosper.

This opportunity to affect and even change lives is now being amplified by the fast-moving technology that is automating much of the time-consuming, mechanical work that is the core of what we do. As it takes hold, we will be forced to make a decision.

As I see it, it comes down to three choices:

1. Scale your bookkeeping services as a high volume, low-cost commodity service (these type of bookkeeping firms are already appearing online)

and / or

2. Add premium, high-value advisory services that are focused on working more closely with clients to improve their financial fitness and become more profitable


3. Resist change altogether and try to keep doing what you’ve always done until you retire

Both #1 and #2 embrace the changes already taking place with automation, but #1 by itself is a commodity game. We’re already seeing a “race to the bottom” on fees that devalues the bookkeeping function in the eyes of our clients. That may turn out to be a race where everyone loses.

Choice #3 will eventually die out as small businesses become aware, adopt and ultimately demand cloud-based bookkeeping and automation, with or without hiring a professional bookkeeper.

SIDE NOTE: If you are ready to embrace the automation of your bookkeeping workflow by leveraging online technology, I’ll be running an online training surrounding this next Thursday (October 20). So mark your calendar now and watch for that registration announcement on this blog (or get first notification by using the form at the top right of this page)

Advisor or Admin?

We’ve been hearing for years about how technology is freeing us to step into the role of ‘Trusted Advisor’ with our clients. But this message is not one that many bookkeepers are grabbing hold of. Advising clients seems beyond the role of a ‘lowly’ bookkeeper…or so some believe.

From where I sit, we are in a better position to provide truly valuable advisory services to our clients than even their accountant can. Why? Because we know how the money flows day in and day out in our clients’ businesses. We know how they operate. We also can interpret their financial reports and are the first to see dangerous cash flow issues or self-defeating financial habits our clients may be forming. In short, because we’re closer to our clients, we are the ones who can help them the most.

But there are reasons why most of the bookkeepers I talk to (and even myself sometimes) hesitate to speak up and offer this kind of service to our clients. It’s because we’re not always sure how to approach our clients so that they’ll listen to us and take our advice. (Heck, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth just to get them to answer simple questions about mundane transactions!) How can we get them to see us as advisers, valuable partners to their business, and not just administrative clerks?

The answer starts with the type of clients you have. There are two kinds:

1. Clients who just don’t want our advice. They are the ones who want the cheap, commodity services.

2. Clients whom we can truly help and who value our advice.

For the latter type of client, the sticking point is that we lack the skills (and confidence) to know how best to coach them. In fact, it recently occurred to me that the lack of coaching skills is the key gap that will stifle our ability to truly become high-value advisors, unless we do something about it.

The Skills Gap

I was a speaker just a couple weeks ago at ProfitCON 2016, and while there, I got to talking with Donna Leyens of the Provendus Group. We were discussing this needed skill of effective communication and coaching specifically for bookkeepers. It soon became apparent that learning how to ‘coach’ clients, even when we’re doing traditional bookkeeping work, is a highly valuable (and profitable) skill to cultivate. Donna told me that in her own career, learning how to coach clients has literally changed her world. In fact, she wrote an excellent article that demonstrates just how valuable honing your ability to get clients to listen to you really is.

So this all comes down to the fact that we are on the cusp of a rapidly changing business landscape irresistibly driven by automation and cloud technology where we as bookkeepers are in the unique position to make a significant impact for good. That is, IF we are willing to step up and learn the crucial skills we typically lack.

1. How to effectively communicate with and coach clients for their financial health and well-being

2. How to build our business around this new advisory model

On the latter point, this means that our marketing, sales and practice management skills need to be sharpened as well. That’s the only way we can attract the right kind of clients who are aligned with the significant value we have to offer them (and are willing to pay premium fees for it).

Get Skills. Grow Your Practice. Change the World!

There’s another change afoot in the accounting profession. In my opinion, it’s the ultimate in win-win initiatives, and it’s in total sync with all that we’ve covered here.

My friend and esteemed mentor, Martin Bissett of the Upward Spiral Partnership (USP), will be launching on October 20th a brand new project like none I’ve ever seen. We can now learn the skills of top level, high-growth accounting firms in a time-efficient online format AND have a powerful impact for good in the world at the same time.

Here’s a short 2-minute video he made (at my request) to explain what it’s all about:

If you’d like to learn more about this exciting new program, join me in the Asp1ration Alliance Sneak Peek Facebook group (FREE!), and you’ll get some of the sample training immediately.

October 20th is a big day! That’s when Asp1ration Alliance officially launches, as well as the webinar I’m hosting on putting your workflow on auto-pilot. So mark your calendar now, and watch this blog for more details as they’re released.

We’re in for quite a ride! As technology continues to drive change, together we can embrace it, get the skills we need, and choose to change the world in a good way. The win-win way.

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5 Simple Ways to Attract More Clients Before Year End

attract-more-clientsIf you’ve been looking to attract more clients, now is a great time to do it.

With the fall upon us, more and more small business owners will be soon waking up to the fact that it’s time to give attention to the financial records they’ve been neglecting all year. We know many of them procrastinate and don’t put bookkeeping high on their priority list. But the nagging fear of having a potentially large tax bill is starting to mount. Not knowing how much Uncle Sam will demand of them is motivation enough for many to take action to get their financial records in order… and soon.

Here are 5 simple ways you can attract new clients actively looking for help and build your bookkeeping practice client base before year end:

1. Join small business groups online (the ones where your ideal clients would gather) and post answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). Typical questions on potential clients’ minds can also be turned into mini-articles on your LinkedIn profile. Example: ‘How do you capture and record out-of-pocket business expenses paid in cash?’

2. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club and ask if they would like to sponsor a breakfast or lunch presentation for their members on what business owners need to do to get ready for year end / tax season. This could be a win-win way to position yourself as an expert and get noticed in your local business community. If you work with clients virtually, do a short video presentation instead and post it out on YouTube. Then promote it on social media repeatedly over the next few weeks. (If you’re an overachiever, you could do both local and online presentations!)

3. Offer a free 30-minute consultation as a “get ready for taxes” bookkeeping checkup where you review the potential client’s current situation and make suggestions for getting his records updated the quickest way possible (whether he engages your services or not). Simply notify any past prospective clients that you’ve lost touch with about this new service. Let any other business contacts you already have know too, and post the offer on your website, as well as your LinkedIn, Facebook and any other online profiles. Some of these folks may take advantage of it themselves, or tell others who may want it. Either way, you get the word out and it’s likely some of them will want to become paying clients.

HINT: If some who respond only want the free advice, set up a reminder to yourself to check in with them come December or January to see how they are doing on their own, and they will likely want to hire you at that point, since in all likelihood, they won’t get far on their own.

4. Update your online listings to highlight the biggest problem you solve for your clients. This will make you stand out as different from other bookkeepers, since most just have a laundry list of accounting functions. You know, the kind that make clients get that zoned-out glaze in their eyes. Your solution will catch the attention of those “shopping” for a bookkeeper who understands their situation and can really help. Example: ‘Ask us about our rapid bookkeeping catch-up service so you can finally take control of your business finances and minimize your tax burden for 2016 and beyond.’

5. Fan the flames of incoming referrals by letting your existing clients know that you are looking for new clients like them, and have a special year-end bookkeeping clean up / catch up package available. Of course, always remember to show your clients appreciation whenever they do send you referrals.

In fact, referrals are the primary way most of us get new clients. The problem usually is that we have little control over when referrals come in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, in the current TFB Premium class we cover how to create an ongoing stream of high-quality referrals by implementing a Referral Rewards Program. That’s how you can get referrals on demand. It’s called appropriately, “How to Get more Referrals for Your Bookkeeping Practice

Whether you already have a referral program or not, if you focus on implementing just one or two of these ways to attract new clients, you’ll be able to grow your bookkeeping business any time of year, but especially between now and January. Have you tried any of these promotional methods before? Did it work for you? Any tips from the trenches you’d like to share?


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Do You Have a Client Communication Workflow?

communication-tin-canI personally believe that 95% of the problems we face day-to-day can be traced back to an issue involving communication. While I think it’s true of life in general, this definitely applies to the difficulties we all face, either constantly or just occasionally, with our clients.

Despite all the nifty technology we have to streamline communication (cell phones, instant messaging, email, etc.), the humans seem to be the source of the problems. Sometimes it’s because of choosing inappropriate methods of communication. An example of that is when an email is used instead of picking up the phone, when a time-sensitive issue crops up. Have you ever had that happen? Yeah, me too.

Other times the problem stems from more emotionally-based causes. For example, a solo bookkeeper is not quite sure how to properly book an unusual transaction, but don’t want to appear incompetent. What does she do? “Fake it” instead of reaching out to the client’s accountant for advice, or even an online peer forum for help. We’ve all had to clean up the messes created by bookkeepers who’ve had this communication problem.

So if my theory is correct and communication is at the root of a large proportion of the sticking points or downright breakdowns we have working with our clients, what’s the solution? It’s not a simple fix we can handle on our own, is it? After all, communication always involves more than one person!

Solving communication problems therefore, especially for introverts, might seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. You see, I also believe that a major source of solutions to problems in business, including a bookkeeping practice, is the development and execution of top-down systems. As introverts, we’re usually pretty good at executing systems. That’s typically far less intimidating, since it’s task focused. So let’s leverage that strength and apply it to improving communication with our clients!

A Case For Using a Documented Workflow

How you get your clients’ work done month in and month out is your workflow. It can include the tools you use, the tasks your complete, and in what order. It’s a repeatable process that, when defined and then refined, should produce consistent results. That, in turn, is the mother of standardization, efficiency and scalability in your business.

A workflow exists whether you document it or not. But when moving toward improving your business efficiency (and subsequently your profitability), a workflow needs to be documented, and then tweaked or even redesigned to get optimum results for all concerned.

A very basic workflow for monthly reconciliation of bank accounts might look like this:


Having a documented workflow is extremely helpful for identifying and solving problems quickly. It makes it possible to immediately identify, without emotion, where the process gets stuck. Then, like a mechanic, we make small adjustments until the process runs smoothly.

The same is true for communication issues. Using a similar method for documenting and then revising the ways we communicate with clients can result in easier, more efficient, and more profitable client relationships and loyalty.

Document Your Client Communication Workflow

So how do we apply workflow to client communication? It starts the same way. Document what you’re doing now so you can see it. If it is inconsistent, include that as well, since workflow doesn’t work too well where there is inconsistency. So those spots will identify where the sticky points probably are, and their resolution can then be approached from a mechanical mindset, instead of an emotional one.

An example of a client communication workflow that reveals exactly where the flow gets stuck might look like this:


By visually seeing the steps and thought processes involved, it can become much easier to know exactly how to resolve problems simply and proactively.

An important point to remember when documenting workflow of any kind is to keep it simple. Also remember that it’s dynamic and can continue to change until you find the right fit and level of detail needed. Zoom out to the big picture first. Then drill down and document the next layer of detail, if needed, in any one area until you build a system that works smoothly.

Working Your Workflow

The final part of using a workflow to improve communications is to implement it and use it as a guide for consistency. Workflow processes without execution are useless. It’s when we bring them to life that the magic happens!

If using a new workflow seems challenging, simply break down the function you’re hesitant to implement into individual tasks or actions. Chunk it down to small, bite-sized steps. That way, when the emotion or fear that usually squelches communication crops up, we can take just one small step at a time to progress through the workflow. Using deadlines and timers are a great way to keep things moving too.

For example. Does your workflow say that you should pick up the phone and call your client to answer a time-sensitive question? Set an appointment for when you’ll do it, even using an alarm. The extra structure can give you that extra push to get it done until it becomes more comfortable (and successful). And most importantly, you’ll learn to be more proactive, professional and ultimately valuable for win-win results. You’ll know how to conquer the communication issues that cripple most bookkeeping businesses.

Does the idea of using workflows to solve problems in your bookkeeping practice and improving efficiency and profitability intrigue you? Then join me on the new webinar I’m hosting this week on “Streamlined Workflow & Best Practices for Virtual Bookkeepers.” In this free, live training we’ll dig into the core workflow virtual bookkeepers can use to build an entire cloud-based system. One size does not fit all, but if you have the basic framework down right, you can build a highly efficient and scalable bookkeeping business. We’ll even touch upon how you can automate some of the client communications to solve some problems before they ever begin!

Learn more and Register Here

Have you tried documenting how you’re communicating with clients? What ways have you found to resolve issues and smooth out the process for win-win results?


  • December 2016
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