How to Use Professional Training to Grow Your Bookkeeping Business

teacher_and_student_400_clr_11776Professional training plays a big role in a prosperous bookkeeping business. At first glance, however, this might seem a bit strange.

The rules of double-entry bookkeeping really haven’t changed over the centuries since it was invented back in the 1400s.  So if you already have a solid grip on standard bookkeeping practices, how does ongoing training fit in?

Two powerful ways.

First, most bookkeeping is now being done with the help of computerized technology, and there are many software programs that help automate the process. So we do, in fact, need to be trained to stay up to date on the proper use of the ever-changing bookkeeping software, both for ourselves and our clients, to assure efficiency and accurate results.

Creators of accounting software offer a plethora of training programs to help us use (and promote) their software effectively. Just to name a few, there’s the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program, Xero Partner Program, and Sage Network. Plus there are scads of add-on apps for every need, many of which include partner / certification programs, such as Method, T-Sheets, LivePlan, Bill.com and MANY more!

But this is just one side of the training story (albeit the one we hear the most about).

While I do think software training can provide a definite technical advantage for distinguishing you as an expert virtual bookkeeper, it’s not the primary way that you can leverage training to grow your bookkeeping practice!

The second, and most profitable way you can leverage training, is to turn the tables. Take on the role of trainer to your clients and potential clients. And you don’t need to be a software whiz to pull it off, if you don’t want to be.

My own bookkeeping business really took off once I realized that clients will pay for training. Yes, there are many that want “done for you” bookkeeping — and that’s certainly the bread-and-butter service we offer. But the best quality clients — the ones who truly value our services — realize that we are in the perfect position to give them personalized training, troubleshooting, and advice to make their business more prosperous.

Here are three ways you can take on the role of trainer with existing clients, as well as attract more clients to engage your (premium level) services:

Short Training Videos

Making simple screen capture videos is easier than ever before. They’re a great way to not only create an online go-to library of tips and tricks to share with your clients, but you can also use them on your website, YouTube, and social media to attract new clients.

What should you make videos of? Start with the most common questions you get asked over and over again. Make short, 5-10 minute narrated videos to answer those questions. Demonstrate HOW to solve problems so your viewers can follow along.

You’ll soon be viewed as an expert on those topics, and over time, new prospective clients will automatically come your way. You’ll also delight your existing clients (so they’ll be far more inclined to send you referrals)

Best of all, it costs next to nothing to get started. All you really need to buy, if you don’t already have one, is a computer microphone. A headset works great. For recording, you can use free screen capture software like Jing and set up a free YouTube channel. That’s it! (I’m assuming that you already have access to any software that you want to demonstrate)

Public Training Classes

Another highly effective way to grow your business is to offer public training classes. These can be paid or free gigs, online or in person, depending on your objective. Beginner classes on how to use QuickBooks are always popular, but other topics that clients and potential clients appreciate are tax savings tips or anything that helps improve the bottom line.

Start simple to get your feet wet, such as with local business meetups (online or offline) or Chamber of Commerce meetings. You can also partner with complementing professionals (such as lawyers or bankers) which turns your class into a newsworthy event that will indirectly gets the word out about your services in a non-salesy way.

Personalized Training Classes

If public training sounds scary, no problem. Even introverts can leverage training. Simply work with clients personally to help improve their business’s financial health and well-being. They’ll start singing your praises.

You can, of course, offer one-on-one software training (either online or in person), but you have other choices too. Consider simple topics that you might take for granted, but are very valuable to small business owners (and often lead to more billable services). Examples are how to read financial reports, Accounts Receivable best practices, or how to lay out a budget. Some clients may even be open to business consulting, such as using the Profit First system.

Even starting very small can get big results. Simply setting up a monthly or quarterly review meeting with your clients will make a difference. Try slipping in a 5-minute recommendation that will make their workflow more efficient or boost cash flow. Your clients will take notice and start viewing you as a top-notch bookkeeper.

When your existing and potential clients realize the fountain of knowledge you have to offer them, you can quickly shift your bookkeeping practice from a commodity administrative service to a valued member of their business team. That is the real power of training for bookkeepers!

Want a deeper dive into how to train and consult to upgrade the kind of clients you attract AND raise your fees in the process? Then you’ll want to join TFB Premium sooner rather than later since the current training lessons give you a
step-by-step plan and the resources you need to take action now!

What kind of training has been most profitable for growing YOUR bookkeeping practice so far?

Should Bookkeepers Specialize?

specialize-differentFar and away, the vast majority of accounting professionals, both bookkeepers and accountants are generalists. Why specialize? Bookkeeping is bookkeeping, right?

Is it really?

Even if you feel that knowing the basics is all you need to be successful, here’s a key fact to consider seriously if you want to grow your practice:

When clients are looking to hire an accounting pro, one of the top qualifiers is expertise in the client’s industry

As a freelance bookkeeper, how do you stack up, from the client’s perspective? Are you offering truly professional services, or do you take on any client who’s willing to pay you, no matter what kind of bookkeeping-related services they want?

Here are three reasons why I strongly recommend you consider specializing:

1. Clients view specialists as experts and expect to pay higher fees

2. It’s harder and inefficient to be a generalist

3. It’s more difficult to get high quality clients when you don’t specialize

Let’s explore these a bit deeper.

1. Clients view specialists as experts and expect to pay higher fees

When you specialize in a specific type of service or industry, you immediately set yourself apart from the competition. There are very few specialists in our field! Therefore, you instantly have a lot more credibility in the client’s eyes. When a potential client is looking for an independent bookkeeper, chances are they’d rather hire someone who already “knows” how his business operates and understands his unique needs.

If you specialize in the prospect’s industry, you’ll be at the top of his list very quickly, if he cares about quality services. He’ll also expect to pay more for your expertise and advice. Why? Higher value. Otherwise, the client would need to “educate” and lead the generalist bookkeeper until she understands how the money flows through the client’s business (due to inexperience in the industry). Clients usually don’t like to pay for our education. They expect to have to do that for employees, but not for true professionals. They’d rather have us serve them as trusted advisors.

2. It’s harder and inefficient to be a generalist

Choosing a specialty means you don’t have to spend hours researching how to handle unfamiliar situations every time you get a new client so you can provide quality, accurate services. Or (say it isn’t so!) you might be tempted to fake it and *hope* you didn’t mess up any of the industry-specific types of transactions (for example, the unique situations for lawyers, car dealerships, manufacturing, or real estate companies)

Let’s face it. Bookkeeping is detailed work with a lot of moving parts (even with automation). There are nuances to each type of business, even within the same industry. The last thing you want to do is spend a ton of time trying to figure how to book industry common situations that you’re unfamiliar with because you haven’t done it before. The client will expect you to already know how to handle it. That’s why they hired you!

Try as we might, it’s just not reasonable to expect that we know how to handle every kind of business well! Being a generalist certainly does provides lots of variety and learning, but it also involves a lot of unbillable time that’s at best, very inefficient.

But as a specialist, you’re in a very different situation. You focus narrowly on a particular industry or type of service you know well. You can get the work done quickly and much more effectively, since you already know the ropes. Even the time you do invest in improving your skills is focused on being the best in your niche, making it much easier to price your expert services very profitably. Specializing, by the way, is also fuel that feeds word-of-mouth referrals as well. Win-win scenario? Oh, Yes.

3. It’s harder to get high quality clients when you don’t specialize

The primary challenge freelance bookkeepers (and accountants) usually struggle with is getting clients. Any clients. But as soon as they pick up more than a few, the next question always is, “How do I get better quality clients?”

Truth is, marketing is how you get the ball rolling to attract clients. But it’s really tough to get the word out about your services when you’re not quite sure who your potential clients are exactly. Not all business owners are created equal.

By way of contrast, if you offer specialized services, such as helping online retailers integrate their Point of Sale system with QuickBooks, your specialty makes it much easier to describe what you do to the specific types of clients who need your help the most. You know exactly who you’re potential clients are, the specific benefits you can provide them, and they easily recognize that you provide exactly what they want. (read: they feel ecstatic that they’ve finally found you!)

Yep, once again, it’s a win-win match!

So, how do you go about choosing a specialty?

Does specializing put you in serious danger of not finding enough of the “right” kind of clients?

What can you do if your current client base is a hodgepodge of cheapskates, deadbeats and high-maintenance noodges?

Great questions! In fact, if you’re intrigued by the idea of specializing so you can start attracting higher quality clients and charge premium fees, but it feels a little scary and you’re not sure how to make the switch, then I’ve got some great news! You can join me and expert author / entrepreneur Mike Michalowicz this coming Thursday, June 25th at 3:00 PM Eastern and we’ll answer these questions, and more. Mike literally wrote the book on this topic, and we’re going to discuss how to do it for accounting professionals in very practical ways.

UPDATE: The Replay of the webinar is available for a limited time (until August 8) for all TFB Premium members. 

The webinar is a bonus class entitled: How to Specialize and Find Your Niche that’s included with the June training lesson Click Here to learn more 

In the meantime, tell me, do you offer specialized services already, or focus on one or two specific industries? What has been your experience or challenges?

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Virtual Bookkeeper Tools: LedgerSync App Review

virtual bookkeeper toolsOne of the biggest issues a virtual bookkeeper faces is getting the clients to provide source information to complete the books each month. LedgerSync helps to solve that problem.

LedgerSync is a new app that appeared last summer. I learned about it not long after its release and jumped onboard with it almost immediately. I’ve been using it in my own bookkeeping practice ever since.

What it Does

This app uses downloads from your clients’ bank and credit card accounts, not dissimilar to how QuickBooks, Xero, FreshBooks and other online bookkeeping programs do. But the flexibility it provides is unique and a great advantage over anything else I’ve used or seen. LedgerSync also uses a different back-end system for connecting with the banks and credit cards, which for practical purposes is a handy safety net when things don’t work right in QuickBooks and other programs that all use the same third-party provider (is that Yodlee?).

If you’ve been working with bank feeds for any length of time to get your clients books done more efficiently (you SHOULD be doing this because it normally saves a TON of time!), you know when things don’t work, it can make you crazy! This is a big reason why I like LedgerSync so much. It helps keep my blood pressure down. 😉

The key features of LedgerSync are also different from typical bank feeds. You have more control over which data you want to use for the bookkeeping records. You pull the data you want and can easily upload it to your bookkeeping records. This is easier and works better than when you download transactions from a bank feed and need to make changes, especially if you need to do it directly via online banking. You also get access to check images (a HUGE help if your clients still produce paper checks), and it’s super convenient to have bank statements all in one place. Depending on the bank, you can also up to two years of historical transactions. That’s sweet when we have huge catch-up projects to do.

ledgersync-screenshot

What I Love

In my own practice, I do use the bank feeds in QuickBooks Online and FreshBooks for the primary source of daily transaction information. So I don’t usually use LedgerSync as my primary source of bookkeeping data. What I do use the app for is pulling monthly bank and credit card statments. The fact that I can get them all in one place is a huge time saver for me.

I also love the fact that I can see check images for proper coding of those type of transactions, since my clients usually do not enter that info into the books on their own (and it can take a lot of time to get them to look it up so I can get the needed info to complete the books).

I’ve also found it quite helpful as a backup data source for when there are tangled messes in clients’ records due to either human error or built-in bank feed issues, since I find the information provided is the transaction feed in LedgerSync has more helpful info than what comes through in both QuickBooks and FreshBooks connections. Not sure why that is, but I love it!

I also love how flexible getting the clients set up on LedgerSync is. The client can connect their accounts themselves, or you can do it (if you have the needed info). I have also had no resistence at all from any of my clients when I explain how I have been using LedgerSync so that I can get the books done accurately without constantly nagging them for information needed to fill in missing pieces. Since I pay the (modest) fees, they are impressed with how I’m using technology to assure their books are up to date and accurate.

What I Wish It Could Do Better

Because of the unique bank connection system they use (called “extractors”), you may find that small regional banks may need to be set up via a request you make for a new extractor. This can take time… a lot of time. It is a time consuming process on their end. But once set up, I’ve found they work like a charm. So, if you’re paitent and your clients use smaller banks, this isn’t a big deal.

Recommendations

To me, having LedgerSync in my virtual bookkeeper toolkit just makes working with clients easier and more efficient. The cost is very reasonable, so it’s a no-brainer even if you’re just starting out with your virtual bookkeeping business.

It is easily used with all QuickBooks versions and Accounting CS, but you can really use it with any bookkeeping software since it is a standalone app. Check out the videos they provide and give it a try. They do allow you to take a Test Drive to see if it will work well for you.

Last fall at the Sleeter Conference I sought out the owners and co-founders to make a connection to learn more. The software was originally built for use in his own CPA practice (and he still uses it himself). So I got to thinking. Would you like a free webinar to demonstrate exactly how to use this software to help streamline your bookkeeping worflow?

If so, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll see if we can’t get a free training class scheduled within the next few weeks.

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How to Prevent Bookkeeping Service Scope Creep

Scope creep can turn what started out as a lucrative flat fee into slaving for chump change!

Here’s a valuable tip I just learned this past week that can help assure that we don’t fall victim to this insidious trap that so many bookkeepers struggle with (self included).

Scope creep can especially be a problem if you are using a fixed price agreement (FPA) for monthly services, or you work on a project basis.

It’s when you and the clients agree to a mutually acceptable flat fee, but gradually over the course of the contract, additional work creeps into the services you provide for your clients… yet you’re not charging them for it!

At first it starts as just something small that’s not worth mentioning, but over time accumulates…. or it could be that after you get into actually doing the work, there’s more than you expected, but you feel like you can’t say anything, since you’ve already quoted a fee that the client accepted.

Not a good situation to be in.

Until now, my best solution was to track the time I spent on all client work, even when billing at a flat rate. Then on an annual basis I’d review the services actually being provided, compare them to the agreed services in the contract, and then when it was time to renew the contract, we’d discuss adjustments to the flat fee amount.

That works okay, but if there’s a lot of scope creep, it means I’ve been making significantly less than I should throughout the year, and the client feels like they suddenly have to pay more for the same services.

Both of us may feel at least a little uncomfortable as a result, and it can strain the relationship a bit.

But last week I heard about a much better way to handle the situation, and have the client feel happy to pay more! It’s brilliant really… and you don’t have to eat the scope creep costs for anywhere near as long!

You see, I asked a question about this problem of my business mentor, and he surprised me with a method I’d never heard of before (he’s not a bookkeeper).

He said that I should keep a log of all the work I’ve been doing for my clients and the specific benefits / results they get from what I’m doing.

Then on a quarterly basis, sit down for a scheduled meeting with my client to review the financial health of their business and the progress made (with my help) over the past 3 months.

For any clients where we use the Profit First process, (I have several) these meetings can also be where I let the client know what their quarterly profit distribution will be. That puts the client in a good mood, since it’s their reward for using the system that’s built into the way we do the bookkeeping. It’s always good news.

At that point, when the client is feeling rewarded, I then mention the additional services provided and the value the client has received as a result (from the accomplishments log). I then mention the adjustment needed to the fee. But because it’s done on a quarterly basis, the change is almost always going to be small and reasonable.

The client is very clear on how he / she is benefiting by working with me to watch over the financial health of the business, and the reward they are getting as a result.

It’s such a positive way to do it, with the focus on value, not cost!

I LOVE this idea, and plan to start using it right away with my flat rate clients. And I thought you’d find the concept helpful too, if you’ve been moving toward using flat fees in your practice, or haven’t been charging properly for all the work you’re doing for your clients.

By the way, I learned this tip from Mike Michalowicz, the author of Profit First on the bonus webinar we did together last Friday as part of the new TFB Premium self-paced class on Packaging & Pricing. He shared a ton of great tips I’d never heard before!

So how do you deal with scope creep in your bookkeeping business? Have you found a way that works well?

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Bookkeeping Fees: 5 Ways to Charge for Bookkeeping Services

bookkeeper-feesBookkeeping fees are a hot topic. And why not? The #1 reason (usually) for running a freelance bookkeeping business is to make money. A big benefit of being in business for yourself is, unlike an employer-employee situation, we get to decide how much we should get paid… in theory, anyway.

But with that decision comes a stumbling block. Many of us have no idea how much we can, or even SHOULD, charge for our services. Often the only reference we have is what we were getting paid as an employee. But that’s not a good comparison for the value we provide our clients as independent professionals.

A better starting point is to see what other professionals — those who’ve been in business for years — are charging, and getting, for their services. Very helpful in this regard is the Intuit® Rate Survey that comes out every few years. From it you can get at least a “ball park” range of what professional fees typically look like.

Next comes the question of whether you should simply charge by the hour, or use fixed fees. The survey shows that others in our profession use both. What about you?

There’s no “right” answer to that question. As a business owner, you signed up to be the boss and make those kinds of decisions for yourself. But here’s a quick rundown of 5 of the most popular methods for coming up with your fees…

1. By the hour – by far, this is the most common way to charge for bookkeeping services

Pros: Simplest way to quote, and possibly what most clients expect to hear.

Cons: Can have you and your clients falling into the employer-employee mindset, and turn your services into a commodity. Hourly rates give the impression that one hour of your time is of equal value to one hour of any other bookkeeper’s time, which can turn on the “shopping” response for the client. The client doesn’t know how many hours are needed to get the results they’re after. Additionally, working hourly, the more efficient you get, the less you make, since you’re selling time, rather than results.

2. Prepaid time blocks – an hourly / flat rate hybrid

Pros: The simplicity of hourly, with the benefit of working off of a retainer, which also allows clients to budget your fees more easily. You also have no A/R issues with this method.

Cons: Can be hard to estimate how many hours are needed to get the results a client wants, and you may need to refund some of the amounts paid if you get the work done more quickly. It’s still the problem of selling time rather than results.

3. Value Pricing – setting your rates based on how the client values the result you provide

Pros: Can be much more profitable than other forms of pricing. It can also help you screen for high quality clients.

Cons: Can be difficult to acquire the mindset needed to use it effectively. It slows down the sales cycle drastically, since you need to quantify the value of services from your client’s standpoint in order to arrive at a price offering.

4. Customized flat fees – coming up with a flat fee that fits your client’s specific needs

Pros: Simpler to use than Value Pricing, since YOU set the value of your services required to meet the client’s needs; can be more profitable than charging by the hour.

Cons: Easy to underestimate how much work is involved to get the desired result, and effectively lose money due to misquoting.

5. Packaged Pricing – productizing of services so they’re sold in bundled packages at a fixed fee

Pros: Generally more profitable than hourly and easy to adjust. Easy for clients to accept and budget. Clients choose a level of services based on parameters you set and know exactly what they are buying; focuses on results rather than hours. Helps you forecast your own revenue more easily.

Cons: After engagement, clients may ask for additional services not included in the chosen package, and the tendency is to provide those services at no additional cost – known as scope creep – which erodes your profits.

We have many choices when it comes to setting fees, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. How you set your fees should be well thought out, instead of just choosing the default, hourly method.

Why?

Because pricing is one of the biggest reasons the majority of freelance bookkeepers struggle and work far harder than necessary. Don’t be one of them. Choose how you will set your fees. Watch how it affects your cash flow and profit margin. Then make adjustments until you find your pricing sweet spot.

If you’d like a deeper dive into how to go about switching to flat fees or packaging your services, join me for the new training program I’ve just released, The Freelance Bookkeeper Packaging & Pricing program. We cover the mindset, action steps and tools needed to set your fees using my signature win-win methods.

How about you? Have you experimented with different fee setting methods? What are the advantages… or pitfalls… you’ve discovered?

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