Virtual Bookkeeping Technology: Is It Bleeding Your Profits?

virtual-bookkeeping-technologyVirtual bookkeeping technology is one of the most popular topics on this blog. Most of us want to use it to become more efficient and serve clients from almost anywhere. But there is a dangerous side to using online solutions to run your freelance bookkeeping business.

As with most technological advancements, it’s often a package deal of both advantages and disadvantage. There is definitely a dark side to working in the cloud. On the positive side, we can provide services from anywhere there’s a high-speed Internet connection using cloud-based software, making it super convenient for both our clients and ourselves. We also reap significant gains in efficiency due to automation, and therefore have the capacity to take on more clients.

In theory, this sounds like a fantastic way to easily grow your practice. But actual results from the trenches are proving otherwise. I’ve seen this to some extent in my own practice as well. And it’s not just affecting us virtual bookkeepers either. Accounting firms worldwide are facing the same challenge of doing more, but somehow making less as they embrace cloud technology.

In New Zealand where around 40% of small businesses have their accounting system online, leading the world for cloud accounting services, accountants are, as a result, seeing significant business growth. But this is not adding up to greater profits. In fact, their profits are decreasing!

How is this possible?

Part of the problem is the way we typically price our services. The most common way that bookkeeping services are provided is by the hour. you’d expect that if we’re able to provide client services more efficiently, then increasing the volume of clients we can serve is the best road to take. But it’s apparently not working out that way. If we bill by the hour and increase efficiency with automation, your billable time is decreasing. The clients are getting smaller invoices. Yet, much of the administrative or incidental work we typically do is falling through the cracks and not getting billed. Take on more and more clients, and that amount of non-billable time grows exponentially, while the billable time continues to decrease. (By the way, there are other ways to take advantage of the efficiencies of technology without increasing the number of clients you serve.)

In this volume-based scenario, the real problem is that we’ve changed the model for how we get bookkeeping work done, but have not changed the model for how we’re charging for those services. Clients aren’t really buying our hours anyway. They want results, and that’s the model we should be using to price our services in a win-win way.

Packaging the whole of what we do, including the admin time involved, is one solution. There are a variety of ways for coming up with packaged bookkeeping services. And supposedly one of the most profitable trends in our industry is to move toward Value Pricing.

If you’ve looked into the idea of basing your fees on the value to the client, you may find yourself scratching your head. I know I sure did when I first heard about it. And while it has received a lot of lip service at accounting conferences, most bookkeepers, in actuality, are still use the hourly fee model because at least they can understand it. Most clients follow suit and understand hourly rates, albeit feeling risky to them, since they don’t understand how long it “should” take to get their books done.

If you’re determined to find a better way and dig into value pricing (which isn’t quite the same as fixed fees) you discover the problem. The concepts involved use a very subjective premise: “price the client, not the service.” This of course also begs the question, ‘How do you know what value a client places on your bookkeeping services?’ And is it really a fair way to price what we do?

But falling back and implementing simple flat fees and cookie-cutter packages are also scary for bookkeepers. How can we quote a fee up front before we start working for a client? Every business situation is different after all. There’s a very real danger of losing your shirt by quoting too low. But if you quote too high, you’ll lose the client! It’s a real dilemma that can make your head spin.

How to Break Out of the Pricing Maze

As bookkeepers (and accountants) we’re used to following formulas and standardized methods to produce results. Hey, following the rules is what we do! Setting our rates seems like it should follow that same kind of protocol. Until now, hourly felt like the only reliable way to get paid fairly for the actual work involved. But technology has thrown a wrench in that with automation and online efficiencies. Charing by the hour now means we’re getting paid less to provide high quality service. So what’s the new approach to a win-win pricing model?

A two-step approach:

  1. Package your services for high value – this should be focused on what you do best and gets clients the results that they want most
  2. Customizing your service packages with each client using a collaborative method that is standardized – this is about using a system that is reliable and easy to understand, removing the risk to both you and the client in a totally transparent way (this is what I’ve seen lacking in most value pricing models)

Until just a couple months ago, I’ve found the implementation of value pricing difficult and highly subjective. But there’s a way to do it that actually serves the client (instead of fleecing them) and serves you at the same time. Yes, I’m always looking for true win-win solutions. And I honestly believe that Mark Wickersham has invented it.

Mark is an accountant from the UK who has developed a method where you can build service packages and work with your clients collaboratively to offer customized fees that they will gratefully pay. I heard Mark explain his methods at QuickBooks Connect 2015, and he has agreed to share it with us on a live webinar I’m hosting this coming Tuesday, January 26.

If you’d like to learn the elegantly understandable way to actually implement value pricing and drastically improve your bottom line and serve your clients at the same time, please join us. The live webinar is free. Click Here to Register

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Value Pricing for Bookkeepers

value-pricingValue pricing is a hot topic and has been for a few years at the most popular bookkeeping and accounting conferences, in trade journals, and definitely online. But what does it really mean? Personally, I found the concepts hard to wrap my head around and literally immersed myself in the study of value pricing. I wanted to really understand how we as freelance bookkeepers can apply it to our practices.

There are several different angles on the topic. And truth be told, value is a very subjective thing. That’s why it’s so hard for us who live in the rule-oriented compliance world to quantify it when it comes to bookkeeping services and setting our fees. However, this past fall, I attended a session at QuickBooks Connect that blew me away. The speaker was an accountant from the UK who has developed a true formula for applying the principles of value pricing to our line of work. And it is EASY to understand and use!

In fact, I was so excited when I saw what he has done, that I asked him if he would do a webinar with me so that freelance bookkeepers who follow my blog could benefit from what he’s doing. I’m very pleased to report that he has graciously accepted my invitation.

Mark Your Calendar!

Coming up next Tuesday, January 26, I’ll be hosting a full-length online class as a LIVE, interactive webinar with my very special guest, Mark Wickersham entitled…

“Value Pricing for Bookkeepers”

The 7-Step Formula to a Highly Profitable Bookkeeping Practice

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

DATE: Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TIME: 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Eastern Time (New York)
(Use the World Clock Converter for your time zone, if needed)

This is the same training that hundreds of front-line ProAdvisors PAID to attend last fall at the QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose, California. In fact, here’s a shot of Mark on the main stage with Joe Woodard and Ron Baker at QuickBooks Connect 2015

value pricing at QB Connect

NOTE: This webinar has nothing to do with whether you support QuickBooks, Xero or any other accounting software. If you provide bookkeeping services, this will work for you!

On the webinar you’ll learn the Why, What and How of using value pricing so you can stop working so hard (and losing money) by charging an hourly rate. Mark reveals the shocking truth about what’s going on in our industry (and why he thinks charging a single fixed fee can be almost as bad as hourly!)

Mark shows in real world terms how we can use value pricing to raise our fees and have client love it! You’ll see how to use value pricing with both new and existing clients (with actual case studies from bookkeepers who are using his methods charging for services that you might be giving away for free!)

To get the most out of this game-changing class, block out the time now to join us live on the webinar, since we will be answering audience questions to make this as valuable as possible (something the paying attendees at QuickBooks Connect did NOT get!)

Plan now to join us and soak up all the value from this brand NEW event, specifically for bookkeepers.

Register NOW for the free LIVE event here

Even though it’s busy season, I guarantee this webinar is worth attending live. You’ll walk away with the knowledge, and the tools that will give you a true
unfair profit advantage over your competitors who staunchly stick to pricing bookkeeping by the hour. You’ll get exactly what you need to apply what we cover together to your own bookkeeping business immediately! (Not kidding. This is a big deal.)

Seriously, the only other time Mark has spoken on this topic in the USA was from the stage at QuickBooks Connect! This is a cutting-edge class you don’t want to miss!

I guess you can tell I’m excited about this, huh? 😉

I’m interested to hear, by the way, are you using value pricing in your practice yet? (please comment below)

 

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5 Tips Learned from Attending Accounting Technology Conferences

accounting-technology-conferencesWhat are you planning to do specifically in 2016 to move your bookkeeping business forward toward your goals? May I recommend adding attendance at one or more accounting technology conferences to your action list?

I’ve personally been traveling to attend live industry conferences for years (yes, even introverts can do this). Why? Because I always see a positive impact on my business, most especially manifesting itself on my bottom line. Yet the vast majority of bookkeeping business owners that I speak to do not attend any industry conferences (technical or otherwise) ever. The most common reason is because of the cost involved; they say they can’t “afford” it.

In an effort to possibly open the door to a new perspective, I’ve created a video mini-training that will give you a good idea of the types of things that happen at conferences that can impact your practice, including just 5 of the takeaways I got from the sessions I attended this past year at several different conferences.

Grab a cup of coffee, and have a look, whether you attend bookkeeping conferences or not. You may find at least one of the 5 tips I share profitable for your own practice too.

What about you? Did you attend any accounting technology conferences (or any other kind of business conferences) in 2015 and have some great tips to pass along too? Do you plan on going to any of the conferences mentioned in the video in 2016? Leave a comment and let’s compare notes or make plans to meet in person.

By the way, if you like how this mini-lesson worked with getting tips and turning it into actions you can use, consider joining us for 2016 in TFB Premium, where we cover a different topic for running a profitable freelance bookkeeping business each month. We focus on taking action to get results, one month at a time. Click here to see if it’s right for you.

Tools You Can Use

Resource Sheet – PDF document listing info about the different conferences mentioned in the video, as well as a mini-worksheet to set your conference plans for 2016

Article by Darren Root – covers the same basic message I heard him speak on live at QuickBooks Connect 2015 – highly recommended reading (here’s also a short video on the concept as well)

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Can You Find Clients Using Social Media Marketing?

social media marketingWe love the idea of working from home via the Internet. So using social media marketing seems like the logical way to attract clients virtually. Right?

Question: Does it really work that way and is it as easy as it sounds?

Answer: Yes and no.

First the Yes. You can definitely attract and engage clients using social media methods of marketing. I’ve done it more times than I can count. It is actually an attraction method that is very much in line with my overarching philosphy of win-win, and it’s not difficult.

That’s where the No comes in. While it’s not difficult to attract clients using social media, it does not work the way most bookkeepers and accountants imagine. We tend to think of marketing as an event. A once-and-you’re-done type of thing. Social media couldn’t be more contrary to that concept… that is, if you want to actually get results.

Social Media is About Relationships

We intellectually “know” that social media is, well, social. That means that we need to interact with other people. Yet when we bring in the concept of marketing, most of us automatically switch to the blatant self-promotion and “I want clients” thinking pattern. We think it’s all about one-way selling.

If that is how you approach social media marketing, you will fail. Guaranteed. In fact, you may get banned.

This is very much the same as attending local networking events with the sole goal of getting clients. But those who are most successful with networking know that it is not by pushing your business cards at everyone you meet and asking them to become your client that works. In fact, that approach repels prospects and wastes your time. This ill-fated marketing method is only amplified on social media.

What works with networking in person also works with social media online. Meeting people and getting to know them is your goal. Engaging in conversation where you can learn about each other and share helpful info. That’s what builds connections and long-term relationships that will ultimately lead to more clients.

So both in-person and online networking are effective and both are based on building relationships. That’s the key foundational principle you want to take away. And if you maintain a relationship-focused mindset, you will do well with social media.

How In-Person Networking Differs from Social Media Marketing

Question: Are there differences, and even cautions, that you need to know about with social media vs. traditional networking?

Answer: Yes.

The first is to realize that with social media, getting results is generally a slower process. You can certainly build rapport, but it takes longer. In-person networking will always be more powerful because you communicate on many different levels simultaneously: visually, audibly, and with body language. Online with social media, often it’s with the written word, and some visuals, such as photos or videos. It is also not usually in real time.

Another difference with social media is that you’re able to get a deeper knowledge of a person’s background and expertise more quickly online. Your prospects can do the same with you. This is particularly true if you’ve completed your online profiles, especially on LinkedIn (highly recommended). This is an advantage of social media.

It is also much easier with social media to follow up quickly and frequently with the connections you’ve made. While relationships often build more slowly online, they can actually be much more grounded and lasting because of the frequency and quality of communication. It’s more like building a net vs. using a lasso.

With social media you also have much more control over the impresion you give others. This is a double-edged sword and should be managed consciously. Everything you post on social media is public. Even if you are in “private” groups or forums, you should treat everything you post online as something for the world to see, including your competitors and your existing clients. Keep it reasonably professional at all times. Be cautious about what you share on personal social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, since these could color the impressions of those who follow you, including prospective clients.

Both in-person networking and social media require an investment of time, but social media can steal much more time than you expect. That’s especially true when you don’t have a specific plan.

Best Practices for Leveraging Social Media to Find Clients

Realize that social media should not be a one-way form of marketing communication, but it certainly is an important way to get the word out about your services. Here are some practical ways to get results consistently:

  • Fill in your profiles and include a head-shot photo that reflects well professionally
  • Go to where your best clients gather and build relationships (don’t blatantly sell)
  • Choose one or two social media platforms and work them well (don’t try to do everything at once)
  • Have a plan to participate (not just lurk) on a regular basis (at least weekly)
  • Stick with a routine for at least a few months and track your results, then improve your strategy accordingly

If you’d like to learn more detailed specifics about how bookkeepers can best use social media to network and attract clients, join us this month in the TFB Premium training lesson: Social Media for Bookkeepers – Online Marketing & Networking Made Simple

What about you? Have you had new clients find you as a result of social media? What methods have worked best? Please share your comments below.

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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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