10 Tips for Becoming a Highly Successful Freelance Bookkeeper

successful freelance bookkeeperIs it easy to become a successful freelance bookkeeper?

Let’s be honest. Starting your own freelance bookkeeping business is NOT the same as getting a job as a bookkeeper to make money. Truth is, there are a good number of freelance bookkeepers who don’t make it. The reason is usually not because they don’t have competency as a bookkeeper (though there is a percentage who do fail because they don’t have professional level bookkeeping knowledge). The bigger reason why many struggle to make the money or create the flexible lifestyle they want most is because they have not mastered the essentials of running a successful bookkeeping BUSINESS.

Here are 10 tips for how you can fast-track your success as a freelance bookkeeper and dramatically increase your odds of building the successful freelance lifestyle business you really want.

1. Goals“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

It’s a famous line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and it’s true. Many bookkeepers start there business with only the goal of “making some money,” often to pick up the slack from a lay-off or some other reason why working outside of the home is not an option. But without a clear vision and planned destination for your business, you are creating a job for yourself. And it could turn out to be worse than working for any employer!

Tip: Take time to envision how you WANT your ideal freelance bookkeeping business to be – your income leve, the hours you want to work, and any other specific benefits or results it will give you. Commit them to paper and use them as your compass as you grow your practice.

2. Independence“You don’t get harmoney when everybody sings the same note” – Doug Floyd

Employees are given instructions and told what to do. When you are a freelance bookkeeper you have the freedom to make your own decisions and choices. Get into the habit of using your freedom as a FREElancer to make your own choices and build your business to be uniquely your own.

3. Communication“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Bookkeepers who succeed and get a constant stream of new referrals have great communication skills! Especially if you’re working on a virtual basis (via the Internet and phone) you need to become a proactive communicator for smooth and timely interaction with your clients. This skill alone is a linchpin to smooth bookkeeping workflow.

4. leadership“Lead or be led” – unknown

Professionals lead, employees are led. If we expect to be treated and paid as professionals by our clients, we need to act like them! Being proactive by definition means… “causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.” Guide your clients in compliance issues and help them learn how what you do benefits them, and you will have clients for life.

5. Insight - “The best vision is insight” – Malcolm Forbes

Much of what we do is historical in nature. But the information is invaluable for providing valuable information about where your clients’ businesses are headed financially. Sharing this knowledge with them, can open new opportunities for add-on consulting services. Insight into the meaning in the numbers can also save you from continuig to work for clients who can’t afford to pay you! Do the books, but pay attention to what the numbers are telling you and your client.

6. Being a Giver - “A man reaps what he sows” – The Bible (Galatians 6:7)

Running a successful freelance bookkeeping business creates the opportunity to benefit everyone you touch. If you are willing to contribute toward the success of others without always expecting something in return, you set the wheels of an abundant mindset in motion and position yourself as an attractive expert. This will spark the inclination of others to send you referrals and give back to you in ways you can’t even imagine.

7. Failure“There is no failure. Only feedback.” – Robert Allen

Fear of failure holds many of us back from getting started or making needed changes to reach our goals. As a business owner you will make mistakes. That’s okay! Learn from the results you get so you can move closer to what you want — better clients, higher fees, improved service offerings. The cure for failure is taking action. Consider yourself a scientist experimenting to see what will work best for you in your business, and then take action to get the test results. Make adjustments until you get what you want.

The only way you can fail in your freelance bookkeeping business is to not take action to get what you want.

8. Technology“Learning and innovation go hand in hand” – William Pollard

While bookkeeping principles don’t change, technology is advancing at a break-neck pace! It can be overwhelming. But as freelance bookkeepers we need to stay abreast of new developments that can improve how we work with our clients and improve our profitability or that of our clients. Plan to invest in training on an annual basis to stay up on the technology that will benefit your business most, especially if you are or plan to work virtually with your clients.

9. Systems - “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing” – W. Edwards Deming

A successful freelance bookkeeping practice is built on systems. As described by Michael E. Gerber in the business classic The E-Myth Revisited, systems should run the business and people run the systems. As a freelancer, you may be relying on your skills to perform your work. But when you can document each step you take to create a specific, repeatable and consistent system, not only will you find that you can produce your work more quickly and consistently, you set yourself up for expansion by being able to replace yourself, either through hiring help as your business grows, or by being able to ultimately sell your business. Systems turn what you do into a valuable asset and not just a job you do.

If you’d like a kick-start the development of your own systems, policies and best practices quickly, you’ll want to join us this month in TFB Premium where we go in depth on “Profitable Bookkeeping Policies and Best Practices”

10. Marketing - “Marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers” – Seth Godin

Believe it or not, the most important activity in your business is NOT bookkeeping. Yes, your clients may be paying you to get the bookkeeping done. But it is the communication that will connect you with the clients who want your services. As mentioned in #3 above, communication is vital to your success in working with your clients, and it all begins with their first contact with you. That is your marketing. Whether it is done through word of mouth or advertising or a myriad of other ways. You must market your services in order to get clients and be successful.

Make marketing a regular part of your weekly plans and you will easily have as many clients as you want! If you’d like to learn EXACTLY how to market your services in a way that attracts strangers and turns them in to friends who want to hire you, join me on my brand new training, The Freelance Bookkeeper Marketing System. You’ll learn the step-by-step process for getting a steady stream of new clients started in 30 days or less.

Is it worth honing all these skills to build your own freelance bookkeeping business? It all comes back to #1 – your goals. If you just want to make some extra money, getting a part-time job may be the easier route. But if you want the freedom and rewards that come with building something solid and scalable with your own custom-made business, then jump in with both feet and join us in serving the small businesses that need our help. The rewards can be far more than simply a paycheck.

What results are you looking for in your own bookkeeping business?

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TFB Spotlight on Gita Faust

tfb-star-spotlightHaving trouble finding your niche? Learn from a fellow freelance bookkeeper as she steps into the TFB Spotlight. She’s an inspiring example of a fellow bookkeeper who started off as a general independent bookkeeper in a very casual way, as many of us do, and in the process found her specialty, grabbed hold of it and took massive action to ramp up her business, with very lucrative results.

Enter Gita Faust of Fast Trac Consulting

gita-faustNot too long ago I interviewed Gita in person at the Scaling New Heights conference, which is a professional conference specifically for accounting professionals who provide QuickBooks-centric services. I’ve known Gita for quite a few years now, and this was a conversation where we explored her roots and how she came to be the top QuickBooks expert in the field of Real Estate.

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 TFB:   How did you come to specialize in QuickBooks?

GF:       Long story. I am an accountant from India. I came to the States and started working, but got into a car accident while I was pregnant. So the doctors couldn’t treat me. Sitting for hours was a challenge. This problem lasted for almost 5 years. I had to make a decision and had to generate some revenue. So I came up with the plan for my bookkeeping service.

              My first client challenged me to teach him QuickBooks. My plans took a turn and I fell in love with QuickBooks all over again, but in a teaching capacity with consulting. So I never really made a business plan (shhh. Don’t tell everybody). One thing led to another. My success is because of my clients and the challenges they gave me.

              I had some clients that challenged me in the real estate industry and the property management side of things. I was hungry for knowledge.

TFB:    So the progression was that you needed to find a way to make some money. You had a background in accounting and thought you’d start a bookkeeping business. You got your first client. How did you get your first client?

GF:       I went to the local newspaper where they used to list new businesses. (This was 13 years ago) I sent letters, using the old traditional method. I got 3 clients from that. Then I got so busy, I stopped doing it. That was how I started building my business.

TFB:   That’s certainly one way to do it. But it’s interesting to see that you didn’t start off with a specialty. You just started to do bookkeeping. Got a client who needed help with QuickBooks. So you went and learned how to use QuickBooks. You became a specialist in QuickBooks. And then as you got more clients, you got some who wanted help with the property management specifically using QuickBooks.  So your specialty emerged from your experience with your clients.

GF:       Exactly. As it turned out, new business owners and property managers didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so they wanted a class for $99. So I said, okay, sure. I wanted to learn more about the industry. Just reading books doesn’t cut it. You need real, day-to-day experience with the clients to really understand how they run their business. Their organization system and procedures are different. When you put it all together, then you’re ready to take on the challenge of a niche. I really found my niche because of my clients; I can’t thank them enough.

TFB:   And my best guess is your clients are so thankful to you because you understand their business and their needs.  So immediately they are drawn to you and trust you.

GF:       True. Whatever industry you start with, there is going to be additional segmentation. So I started in property management, but that was just a first step. I am a property management expert, and we do real estate accounting and technology consulting. We don’t do taxes. Getting into this market and loving it with a passion opened doors.

              When I used to go to networking events with the Chamber of Commerce, everyone used to ask me, “What is your niche?” I didn’t know what they meant. I thought, “How do I find a niche?” The easiest way is to look in your client database and the specific services you’re providing them.  I did that and saw that real estate is where I was really making money. So I wrote a 50-page training book for that industry. It has now grown to be multiple books with hundreds of pages. But it started really small.

TFB:   And this started by training clients from a sincere place to really help them.

GF:       True. I wanted to give them all I had and wanted to know they were treated right.

TFB:   Has having this specialty helped you to work with clients that are beyond your local area, even all over the country?

GF:       Yes, definitely. We are now international. In fact, I’ll be going to Mexico the end of this week, everything paid! This comes from always looking for a new challenge to solve for clients. I keep learning when clients need something I don’t know about yet, and I have the motivation to do the research and find the answers to stay one step ahead of the client.

TFB:   That’s an excellent way to do it. Instead of theorizing what clients will need and spending time on that, without a proven client need, you are going after what the clients are actually asking for, and making money in the process. Smart! You’re funding your learning and going deeper into the specialty at the same time.

GF:       Yes, exactly. And it’s what I really love. You have to find out what you really enjoy and spend your time doing that.

TFB:   So Gita, tell us about your book. You’ve become such a specialist that you’ve written a book, which supports your specialty even further. 

GF:       We started with one book for landlords in 2006. My clients suggested I put the book on my website. But I didn’t have a website at that time. So I learned about it and put up a website and started to get sales out of state. That opened my eyes! I realized I didn’t need only local clients.

TFB:   That’s right. With the Internet, you can get clients everywhere.

GF:       After putting out the book for landlords on the website, I got a lot of calls from property managers asking how I could help them. They liked the book, but needed one for their specific situation. They wanted me to write something for property managers.

              The way I handle it when a client wants services that I’m not an expert in yet, I give them a limited amount of free services with the condition that they allow me to learn as part of the engagement letter for consulting, and we also give them the resulting book for free. We do this for 5-10 clients while developing the book. That way we really learn about the business, they ask us questions and we include it in the book.

              After that second book was out, then we started getting calls from Condo Associations asking for a book. So we wrote a third book. We also wrote an ebook for real estate agents and one for landlords who have third party managers.  Now we have 7 books, including one for commercial property management.   

TFB:   So really, from just focusing on that one specialty in the beginning, it’s grown to an empire! Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

GF:       I’m now working on a book for vacation rental property using multiple currency, as well as another book for real estate brokers. And finally one for REOs, BPOs and Receivership.

TFB:     Fantastic! Thanks for spending the time, Gita. It’s a wonderful success story for just how much having a specialty can expand and grow your business, even very casually.

If you’re working with real estate clients and want to benefit from Gita’s expert advice and instruction, take a look at all the instructional publications she has available to find the one that works with your situation. And Gita is even giving us an exclusive discount through September 17 of 30% off! Code: september30

http://fasttracconsulting.com/books/

I highly recommend that you take a look at what she has done to really maximize her credibility and create an additional income stream at the same time by specializing her services and providing very specific information to those who need her help most. It is a true win-win model to take as an example, no matter what your specialty.

 

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How to Immediately Attract Better Clients and More Profit

better-clients

The #2 most frequently asked question is, “How do I find better clients who are willing to pay my rates?” (#1 is “How do I get clients?”)

Not all clients are created equal. Just because a potential client says he wants your help with his bookkeeping, doesn’t make him a good client. If you’ve been a freelance bookkeeper for a year or more, you probably already know this… at least in your gut.

Focus on Results

Yes, having an Ideal Client Profile clearly defined will help you to more easily identify the clients you should accept, as well as the ones to turn away so you don’t get burned. But some freelance bookkeepers struggle to define who they WANT as clients specifically… and don’t know when to say “No.”

If that’s your situation, do not despair. You are not doomed to play the client crap shoot game whenever you’re trying to decide if you want to accept that next potential client or not.

A shortcut for filtering out the duds is to focus on the RESULT the potential client wants to achieve by working with you.

HINT: To do this effectively, you MUST get out of your own way and really listen to the client!

Often, potential clients approach us because they are in trouble…

  • They need to file taxes, but haven’t done any record keeping for the last year (or more)
  • They need a loan and updated financial reports are required (their books are outdated or a mess)
  • They want relief from their cash flow problems and know they need to handle their books better
  • They want relief from the administrative burden or improved efficiency for doing their own books

All of these situations involve pain, and the client is looking for a solution. The pain is what motivates them to come to us. The type of solution they want and for how long is what will help you determine the potential quality of a bookkeeping client.

While you can’t read the client’s mind, you can see if he is looking for a “quick fix” emergency result, or if he is committed to improving his business long term. The quick-fix clients are the ones who generally are more demanding, want low rates, and are more likely to be slow payers. These are the ones to turn away.

The clients who want to solve a problem long term will usually be better quality clients. They are more committed to the process and are willing to invest in the success of their business. These will be the most profitable and easier clients to work with. They are generally willing to pay professional rates too.

So, how do you attract these long-term results focused clients?

Offer the results they are looking for!

When you offer “bookkeeping services” only, that’s good enough for the quick-fix crowd. But when you offer solutions to cash flow problems, or more efficient and profitable business management, you are playing a bigger role and providing higher value services. Clients who recognize that value will be attracted to you. The short-sighted tight wads will think you’re “too expensive.”

How to Do It

So how do you make the transition immediately from typical bookkeeper to results-based services that attract high quality clients? One way is to offer a free 30-minute consultation or business health assessment.

Of course, if you’ve never offered this type of service, you may feel intimidated and not sure how you can properly evaluate a client’s business or deliver on the promised results. No need to fear. Just by asking quesetions and listening you can often discern their major issues. If you take a look at their existing financial records, you will quickly see some of their key challenges as well.

Trust your analytical skills, and don’t hesitate to make any easy-to-implement recommendations as “free tips” during the call. Proactively help clients where it hurts, and you’ll quickly earn their trust and prove your worth to their business.

profit-first-bookBut you’re probably wondering if there’s a process for KNOWING exactly HOW to help clients. While each business is unique, all of your clients want to make money (just like we do)! A great way to help clients (existing and new) is to focus on profit. To do that, you can use the assessment methods clearly laid out in my new favorite book, Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.

This quick and fun-to-read book literally turns the typical bookkeeping mindset about profit on its head! It shows you and your clients how to turn a profit immediately! (No kidding!) Implementing its practical methods for your clients is a perfect way to provide real value AND immediately upgrade the quality of your freelance bookkeeping services at the same time. Of course, that may require you to upgrade your rates as well (aka, charge more!)

I’m extremely excited about the concepts and methods laid out in this new book because it shows us HOW to provide high-value bookkeeping AND consulting services to our clients. In fact, I spoke with Mike personally, and he has generously agreed to allow me to not only give the Profit First system to my own bookkeeping clients for free, but to you, my fellow freelance bookkeepers, as well!

Click Here to download the first 5 chapters of Profit First for free (no opt-in required)

Of course, offering results-focused services is just one way to position yourself as a premium quality bookkeeper. If you’d like a deeper dive into the “secret sauce” that will transform your bookkeeping practice from a glorified job to a highly profitable and exciting business that manifests your BIG goals quicker than expected, join us this month in the TFB Premium trainings where our topic is, “How to Differentiate Yourself as a Premium Quality Bookkeeper.”

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5 Productivity Tools to Streamline Your Bookkeeping Workflow

business_automatioin_productivityProductivity. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to having a highly profitable bookkeeping business. In a service like ours which is very labor intensive (even with online technology), time really is money. Being as efficient as possible has a very real effect on your bottom line! We can build efficiency when we approach our business as though we are building a machine, using a very specific process.

I’ve found that income can be increased and ultimately maximized, especially when starting out as a solo freelancer, when we follow three critical steps:

1. Documentation
2. Automation
3. Delegation

They should be carried out in that order.

The first step, documentation, means you write down the steps you follow to operate your business. This is especially valuable for everything related to working with your clients. A big picture view of your workflow is a key place to start your documentation. By having this information written down (most of us try to keep it all in our heads), it makes it easier for you to provide consistent, quality service for your clients, and expand your business in a deliberate, organized way. It also puts you in a great position to hire and train help, when you’re ready for the third step in the business machine building process.

The automation step is where you get technology to do as much of the “work” as possible. One method of automation most of us are familiar with these days is downloading transactions automatically using bank feeds instead of manually doing the data entry. Whether you work with clients locally or on a remote basis, automation is the most cost-effective way to lighten your load and increase your income simultaneously. It’s also how we start transitioning from a bookkeeping clerk to a bookkeeping information manager.

Finally, depending on how big you want your business (and income) to grow, the delegation step means hiring help. That is, taking on employees or subcontractors, either locally or virtually (or both). In my experience, this works best only AFTER you’ve got the first two steps mastered, since hiring help can be both expensive and time consuming. Done wrong, it can quickly eat up your time and profits — the absolute opposite result we’re after when hiring help.

Now for some tools you can use…

5 Online Tools

To help with those first two machine-building steps, here are 5 online tools that can be very valuable in systematizing your workflow, as well as documenting your processes for reliable and profitable productivity.

SmartVault – This is one of my favorite workflow tools, especially for working with clients on a virtual basis. It’s really not so much the secure, cloud-based document management, since that is available in other systems. But for us as freelance bookkeepers, it is the additional unique tools included, especially the Inbox feature that makes it easy for clients to provide source documents (even if they are new to paperless technology). The inbox makes is very easy to stay on top of what has and has not been done. It’s a bonus that it also integrates with most of the popular bookkeeping software (QuickBooks, QuickBooks Online, Xero, FreshBooks and more)

The cost is very reasonable and they provide great customer support. It’s a key tool in my own business toolbox and my clients love it too. Even if you’re just starting out, this one pays for itself as soon as you use it to work with your first client! You’ll want to sign up for the plan specifically designed for bookkeepers (that’s what I use).

QuickBooks Online Accountant – If you work virtually with your clients who use QuickBooks Online (the web-based version of QuickBooks, QBO for short), Intuit has just recently made some significant updates to this handy free tool for bookkeepers and accountants. It really makes working with your clients more efficient and fluid. QBOA, as it is called for short, is really an organizing tool that integrates seamlessly with QBO. It helps you keep your clients’ books organized and in tip-top condition. Intuit has now added workflow and client communication features that are quite slick. If you’re part of the ProAdvisor Program (either the full paid version that includes QuickBooks desktop software or the free Cloud version), you also get a free QuickBooks Online Plus account. Sweet deal.

QuickBooks Online has come a long way over the past few months. And the newest upgrades to QBOA makes this my new favorite way to work with my QBO clients.

Workflow Max – I haven’t personally tried this program (yet), but it looks promising. It is designed for service-based firms and integrates with Xero bookkeeping software (same software company). They also have a Practice Management version specifically for accounting professionals. Those who specialize in supporting clients using Xero will want to take a look at this. Either way, the cost seems quite reasonable. If you’re already part of the Xero Partner Program, at the Silver level you get this practice management functionality for free.

I’ll report further on this as I learn more, but mention it for those who plan to specialize in Xero software, as fellow TFB Premium freelance bookkeeper Derrick Storey is doing quite successfully.

Trello – This simple, free tool is great for laying out your procedures and working your schedule. It works well whether you’re a solo bookkeeper or want to build a virtual team. It uses an easy “cards” system that allow you to collaborate and document the work that needs to be done with deadlines, reminders and notifications, create checklists, and even attach files, pictures and links so you have everything you need in one place. It’s best suited for project work (linear workflow), but can be adapted for regular monthly bookkeeping cycles, if you set up a “board” for each client. Simplicity is the strength of Trello. Try it for documenting the processes you are keeping in your head for making quick progress if you are focusing on the documentation step.

Trello is definitely one of my go-to tools, especially for client project work.

Streak – If you use Gmail for your main inbox and either Chrome or Safari as your preferred browser, then you might never need to leave your inbox to manage your client work! This handy Gmail extension is still being developed, but the more I use it, the more dependent I’ve become on it. Streak is very flexible and comes with easy instructions for using its various features. It was originally created as a customer relationship / project management tool, but it can be adapted for keeping track of your client workflow as well. I use it to work with clients who are not using QuickBooks Online. One of the most valuable features is tying client emails to a specific “box.” You can also set reminders, keep notes, as well as a running commentary of what has been done and what is yet to be done. You can also attach files for easy reference, all within Gmail. I like this tool a lot and use it in my daily workflow so I don’t have to “remember” where I left off or what needs to be done next for monthly client work.

At the time of this writing, the features available with the free level (not a trial) are adequate, but I have noticed that since I started using it, some of the previously free features have been migrated to the paid level. This tool is still developing, but worth looking into if you depend on email for client communication and use one of the supported browsers.

Bonus Tool for Solo Bookkeepers – Action Enforcer – This program is great for personal productivity, but also has features that support creation of an efficient workflow. I often use this tool (the desktop software version) for the top priority work I need to do when I have many demands coming at me all at once. It helps me save my sanity! Using a method called “time boxing,” it helps you balance your To Do List with the time you have available to get billable (or other tasks) done in a day. The countdown timer is invaluable and a real eye-opener to see your TRUE productivity.

Online version (free)

Desktop version (paid)

The Most Profitable Productivity Tool

There is one tool that will make you more profitable than ANY of the above.

In a word: ACTION!

As bookkeepers we like to take in a ton of time to analyze a multitude of details, but that will only get you to the starting line. The best way to actually turn your bookkeeping business into a productive and profitable machine is to choose just ONE action… and execute it. Then repeat.

By the way, if you want a step-by-step action plan and guidance on making your bookkeeping business more productive quickly, consider joining us for, “How to Organize Client Work for Maximum Productivity” now available on the TFB Premium training program.

So what one action will YOU take right now to increase your workflow productivity?

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Freelance Bookkeeper Spotlight on Derrick Storey

tfb-star-spotlight
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an interview with a fellow freelance bookkeeper for the TFB Spotlight – long overdue, in fact!

These interviews are where you’ll hear from grassroots freelance bookkeepers who are in the trenches building their businesses from the ground up. This interview is about 50 minutes in length, so it’s a great way to use your lunch hour to kick back and see what tips you can pick up from the experience of others running the same kind of business.

In this spotlight interview, get to know fellow freelance bookkeeper Derrick Storey, a veteran freelance virtual bookkeeper from New Zealand who has taken bold steps to transform his local bookkeeping service and proven that you can truly thrive no matter where your business is located when you work on a virtual basis!

Freelance Bookkeeper Derrick "DP" Storey

Connect with Derrick on LinkedIn

Visit Derrick's website



Download the audio MP3 for anytime listening: RIGHT CLICK HERE

Have a listen and let us know what you found most helpful about Derrick’s story in the comments below.

Resources Derrick Mentioned on the Call:

  • The Insider’s Guide to Your Own Virtual Bookkeeping Business – Online training and resources that show you how to start and quickly grow a freelance virtual bookkeeping business, with your first few clients in as little as 30 days
  • The Freelance Bookkeeper Premium Membership – Low-cost monthly training and community of freelance bookkeepers who want to take action and get results, one month at a time.
  • Xero – web-based bookkeeping software for “beautiful bookkeeping” services
  • Action Enforcer – desktop productivity software that is versatile and easy to use for maximizing your personal daily workflow

 

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