Bookkeeping Specialty: TFB Spotlight on Barry Vaters

tfb-star-spotlightHave you chosen a bookkeeping specialty in your freelance business yet?

If not, don’t despair. Most bookkeeping service businesses are generalists. But this latest TFB Spotlight interview really shows how having a specialty can literally give you more clients than you could ever want… without even doing ANY marketing! But that’s not the end of the story by any means.

In fact, it’s not all good news. You’ll hear what pitfalls are involved with a behind-the-scenes look at a highly specialized bookkeeping practice, as Barry Vaters of Food & Beverage Bookkeeping steps into the TFB Spotlight!

You’ll also hear how Barry has been transitioning his local, non-virtual bookkeeping business into a lean, efficient and highly profitable virtual bookkeeping service.

Watch or listen to this interview now! Total running time is 35 minutes.

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

Interview Highlights:

Barry has been in the food and beverage business all of his working life, having owned several restaurants and bars. He recognized a gap in the industry where owners needed help.

He learned the financial side of things from his training as a chef and manager!

Barry is currently running his second freelance bookkeeping business.

The biggest challenge in the beginning was pricing his work and that’s where he made the biggest mistakes. He also had to learn how to choose the right clients.

All his clients came by word of mouth and established relationships within the industry community.

When “unsuitable” clients (or just those he can’t handle) come to him, he refers them to the IPBC (Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada). Great tip for where to refer clients you don’t want – your country’s bookkeeper association. (In the US that’s AIPB – American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers)

Barry is now focusing on upgrading his business further as the “category authority” – not just built on referrals. He’s also focusing on building his virtual delivery system and focused marketing.

Doing market research helped him find the sweet spot of quality clients and premium pricing.

Book mentioned on the interview: The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

One thing Barry would have done from the beginning that he now has started to do as a result of joining TFB Premium, is to build a network of fellow freelance bookkeepers who he can respect. He said, “it has changed everything.”

Barry has embraced the idea of working virtually with his clients and loves it! (This was a mindset shift for him, since he always worked with clients on-site previously) He now uses a hybrid approach. He reminds himself that if he leaves his office or touches a piece of paper, he starts losing money. Now 80% of what he does for his clients, he’s doing from his own office.

Big lesson learned that helped Barry the most was to adopt the mindset of specializing. It makes everything easier and is core to success and a busy practice. It helps you say no and recognize that “all clients looking for bookkeepers are not clients.” In the long run, it pays off!

If you’re thinking about specializing in restaurant clients, Barry also shares his “insider tips” for how to do it successfully, specifically for working with restaurant owners and their managers.

Finally, Barry shared how technology is changing in the restaurant industry, and the apps he’s been using in his business to work virtually.

Contact Barry:

barry @ fandbbookkeeping.com

Website: FandBBookkeeping.com

What about you? Do you have a special focus in your bookkeeping business? Or are you working more on a virtual basis than you used to with clients? Share your thoughts, experiences and comments on this Spotlight interview below!

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Online Bookkeeping: Adventures with Bank Feeds

online-bankingIf you’re working with any of the online bookkeeping programs as a freelance bookkeeper, you know that things don’t always go as planned. But using bank feeds for your client’s bank and credit card accounts makes a lot of sense for getting the monthly bookkeeping done a lot faster than manually entering transactions.

I’ve been shocked at how many freelance bookkeepers still enter client transactions manually, often from bank statements. Many have been doing it this way for years, and feel intimidated by automating the process. Others feel that using automated bank downloads is just a recipe for technical headaches. I’ll admit that it’s not always a smooth ride, but spending hours doing data entry is a sure way to put your services in danger of becoming obsolete and ultimately eliminated.

So let’s unravel the truth about using online technology, the roadblocks, and how you can leverage it in your bookkeeping practice.

What are bank feeds?

If the term and / or the concept of automated “bank feeds” is new to you (or you didn’t know what they’re called), here’s what they are: Your bookkeeping software can be connected to your bank account, usually through the same login you use for online banking. That is, when you go to your bank’s website to log in and check your balance via the web.

When the software connects to your bank account (after going through security systems and checks) it is able to “pull” the bank transaction information into your bookkeeping records. Usually this is done one or more times per day automatically. It is a one-way connection, meaning that the bookkeeping program can only “read” the info in your bank or credit card account, but not touch your money in any way.

Why you want to use them

If you’ve been following me for a long time, especially any of my QuickBooks training videos, you know that I used to NEVER recommend using the bank downloads in the desktop versions of QuickBooks. The reason was it was just too easy to really mess up your books, if you didn’t use the online banking process correctly. Many clients didn’t use online banking correctly and it cost them A LOT of money to get the books cleaned up after a few seemingly harmless push-button follies.

But I’ve changed my tune drastically on this topic. QuickBooks, especially QuickBooks Online (but the desktop versions are also 100% better than they used to be), has made it very safe to automatically pull the daily bank transactions in a way that is quite easy to keep the books clean and accurate, and save a lot of time in the process.

But QuickBooks is not the only program that’s good at it. Many other online programs do a great job of pulling the data too. Programs like FreshBooks, Xero, Wave and more can pull bank and credit card transactions for you. There are also many document handling apps that integrate with these bookkeeping programs to pull bank and even monthly bill information straight from the your bookkeeping records. A few of these are HubDoc, Tallie, Expensify, and many more. There are A LOT of choices!

The bottom line for why to use them (even when they have a monthly fee) is the huge time savings. Many of these programs “get smarter” the longer you use them, since they pay attention to how transactions are categorized and start doing the coding for you. Your job is to simply oversee the accuracy of the automation and accept the transactions into the books.

What can go wrong?

Now that you may be warming up to the idea of using bank feeds, let me tell you the rest of the story. Things don’t always go as planned. The automation will never 100% replace a thinking human.

If you’ve been working virtually for any length of time, you know that technology is wonderful when it works. But when it doesn’t, it can be a huge, time-consuming and frustrating journey that makes you wonder if going back to pencil and ledger paper wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. But when it’s all said and done, online technology is worth the bumps and bruises.

Sometimes the software you’re using and the banks your clients use don’t get along so well. In particular, many of the banks have hoops for security to jump when making the connection and it’s a challenge for the bookkeeping software to keep up with the “upgrades.” You need to monitor the connections and be ready to work out the kinks, which may mean facilitating communication between all parties involved (client, bank, and software tech support). Fortunately, that’s not the norm.

One way that I’ve learned to work around any issues with bank feeds, if they last more than a few days, is to have a backup system. For me, LedgerSync is the best solution for that. I use this in addition to having my clients’ bank accounts hooked up to the bank feeds in QuickBooks Online. If I’m under a time deadline, I can still access the needed information to get the work done, even when Intuit and the banks are not playing nicely together.

If you’ve been looking for a way to increase the number of clients you can serve so you can increase your revenue, automation is a great way to do it. Using bank feeds is how to ultimately remove the most time-consuming part of what we do, and spend that found time serving more clients! From where I sit, it’s worth the time and effort to learn how to use bank feeds (now that it’s easier and far more accurate).

Learning how to take your bookkeeping business online is a step-by-step process that doesn’t have to be mind boggling. That’s why I created the Insider’s Guide to Your Own Virtual Bookkeeping Business. It takes you from zero to paying clients in as little as 30 days, using simple, easy methods.

Have you been using bank feeds to get the “data entry” done? Have you found that it saves you time every month too?

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Bookkeeper Marketing: How to Use a Blog to Attract More Clients

Bookkeeper Marketing: How to Use a Blog to Attract More ClientsHave you considered writing a blog or sharing helpful information as part of your bookkeeper marketing plan to attract better quality clients?

Blogging is one method of marketing your services called, “content marketing.” The idea is to attract people who care about what you have to say and sharing valuable nuggets of info… with no strings attached. It’s how you build relationships based on giving, instead of selling.

For blogging to work as a marketing method, it’s not a one-and-you’re-done approach to attracting more clients. It takes some effort consistently. It also means a shift from focusing on what you’ll get (more clients) to giving [helpful info]. You need to trust that the rewards will follow. That’s a tall order for some people.

How I Discovered Blogging

I learned the power of blogging pretty much by accident. I started a blog to attract more bookkeeping clients online. I had been sharing tips for how small business owners could use QuickBooks more effectively, but got unexpected results. I started attracting more and more bookkeepers!

In hindsight, this makes total sense, but more about that in a minute.

When these bookkeepers saw that I was running my business virtually, they started asking me to show them how they could start a freelance bookkeeping business working through the Internet too. So as a way to draw them away from my business blog (I saw them as competitors, after all), I started The Freelance Bookkeeper blog!

As a result, I’ve built two sides to my business, primarily because of my blogs: (1) attracting bookkeeping and consulting clients and (2) training and coaching for freelance bookkeepers.

I did NOT know a lot about how to do blogging “right”. But I learned through experience. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned that you can use, if you want to blog as part of your marketing strategy.

Share info your best clients care about

The blogs that don’t work, or don’t work the way the owner intends, are those that share information the blogger cares about, but the intended audience does not. 

As mentioned above, my QuickBooks mechanics blogging attracted more bookkeepers than small business owners. Why? Well, who’s more passionate about getting bookkeeping? Bookkeepers or business owners?

Exactly.

My results started to shift when I began sharing tips on how business owners can maximize their cash flow using QuickBooks. Business owners are more passionate about cash flow. This approach helped me attract more clients for years after I posted the info.

SIDE NOTE: That blog has been inactive for quite a long time now, but I STILL get inquiries from small business owners who want me to help them with learning how to use QuickBooks to maximize their cash flow!

Bottom line: Write about what YOUR BEST CLIENTS are interested in most.

Go ahead and be opinionated

Part of the benefit you get from running a blog is that people who follow you will start to view you as an expert. And you ARE! Go ahead and share your opinion on business topics. You can share ideas of what you think clients (in general) could do to improve their business’s bottom line, or avoid risky practices that could get them into hot water.

One way to set yourself apart from most other bookkeepers is to show you really care about your clients’ success, and not just making sure the books balance. Sharing your opinions on business matters will demonstrate that, and attract potential clients who share your views.

Share stories

When we share our own experiences, case studies, or results we’ve achieved for clients past and present (of course, not disclosing anything that should be kept confidential), we start to build a connection with our readers. They’ll feel like they know us and understand what we do. That’s the stuff strong business relationships are built on.

This is an area I could do better in my own writing (there’s always more to improve!) Sharing personal stories is far more interesting than sharing dry facts and figures. Bookkeeping and financial information, by nature, are rather dry. When we can add a personal touch with stories and experiences, it really makes what we have to say more interesting to readers.

Tell them what to do next

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is this: you can be writing fantastic blog posts that people love. You can build up a large following of readers. But if you don’t give them a “call to action” for what they should do as a result of what you’ve shared, you will not get the results you’re after.

When setting out to write a blog post, think about what you want your readers to do as a result of your article. Do you want them to join your email list so they can be notified when you post another article? Do you want them to contact you for a free consultation? Think about what you could offer as a next step to build the relationship, and help them feel like they want to work with you.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you’ll see that I usually offer one of my training programs as the next logical step to continue growing your freelance bookkeeping business. That’s done by design.

Get your blog in front of people

The #1 reason most bloggers don’t get the results they want is because they aren’t getting enough readers. That’s because no one is finding their blog.

You can’t rely on search engines alone to send you a ton of readers in a short amount of time. You MUST promote your blog in order to gain a following. That’s where social media is a big help. In my own experience, I use Twitter, Facebook and G+, but by far, the best results come from LinkedIn.

Post a status update on your LinkedIn profile about your latest blog post, and add a link to it. You can also start a discussion in groups  where your Ideal Clients gather and ask a question related to your blog post. You will likely start a discussion within the LinkedIn group, but also get group members to click through to your blog and start following you.

Will a blog attract more clients for you? Plan it. Work it. Then watch for results over time. It’s the only way to know for sure. For me, blogging has been one of the best things I’ve ever done to grow my business. So give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for additional low-cost and effective ways to market your bookkeeping business, take a look at The Freelance Bookkeeper Marketing System training course, where you learn how to develop your own 30-Day Marketing plan that gets results, specifically for freelance bookkeepers.

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Virtual Bookkeeping: When A Client is Resistant to Working Virtually

refuseDo you offer virtual bookkeeping services, but find that some prospective clients are resistant to working with you long distance via the Internet?

Or maybe you’ve been running a traditional bookkeeping business for years and now want to expand your practice and provide bookkeeping services via the Internet, leveraging cloud technology. Are you concerned about how your existing clients will react?

The benefits for working virtually to us, as independent bookkeepers, are quite clear: more efficient, flexible scheduling, cost reduction and increased client capacity, to name a few. There are also advantages to our clients. They too will save time and money while gaining convenience when we perform their bookkeeping on a virtual basis.

So why do some clients still resist working online with a bookkeeper? There are several reasons, but by leveraging research, we can rather easily avoid struggling with these clients and still reach our goal successfully.

The Innovation Adoption Lifecycle

It’s human nature for most people to be cautious early on about something new and unfamiliar. It’s the way we’re built. In fact, this behavior has been studied and applied to whenever there is new innovation that affects the way we do things.

This behavior was originally studied in relation to innovations in agriculture prior to the 1950s, but also holds true when it comes to the adoption of new technology. It’s a classic “bell curve” with distinct demographic and psychological groups.

innovation-adoption-lifecycle

  • Innovators (2.5%) –more educated, more prosperous and more risk-oriented
  • Early Adopters (13.5%) – younger, more educated, tend to be community leaders, less prosperous
  • Early Majority (34%) – more conservative but open to new ideas, active and influencers in community
  • Late Majority (34%) – older, less educated, fairly conservative and less socially active
  • Laggards (16%) – very conservative, have less capital, oldest and least educated

By using what the research reveals, we can totally side-step the “battle” surrounding taking your bookkeeping business online and filling your practice with happy and easy-to-work-with clients.

How to Use the Curve

Start with you. Where are you on the curve?

The first step in building your base of virtual clients is to recognize where you are yourself when it comes to accepting online technology. Why? Because like attracts like.

In that last statement lies the key to easily growing an online bookkeeping business. Truth be told, not all business owners are ready to make the move to online bookkeeping yet. So don’t frustrate yourself trying to convince them! Understand with compassion that it takes time for them to adjust and adapt. Heck, it takes at least some time for most of us to adjust and adapt, depending on where you land on the curve!

The golden nugget here is that you will work with and attract the clients who are near where you are on the curve. If they are more than one segment slower than you, it will be a struggle. Don’t attempt to coerce those business owners to make the move. It’s a waste of time because they’re not ready yet.

Win-Win or No Match

When speaking with new or existing clients, as you explain the way that you work using online technology, it will be easy to recognize which adoption group they fall into by the way they react to what you’re doing, and whether they are already there, intrigued or repelled.

You are looking for clients who are ahead or near you on the curve and WANT to make the move. That is the only way to build a business based on win-win relationships – matching what they want with what you want. It’s a requirement in my book.

If existing clients do not want to make the move (because they are much slower adopters than you on the bell curve), then you have a mismatch. It’s probably time to target them for elimination. Otherwise, they will slow down your progress.

Focus only on the clients who are with you or faster than you on the innovation curve. When you do, you’ll end up with clients who will be easier to serve because you’ll be in sync. This in turn makes it easier for your best clients to brag about you and make referrals to their like-minded colleagues. Good stuff!

When the Answer is No

How can you gracefully refuse potential clients who are not a good match, or let go of existing clients who don’t fit?

The best way I’ve found to do this is by cultivating a network of freelance bookkeepers to whom I can refer these clients. Of course, that means you have to be willing to reach out and make friends with your “competition.” When you do, ask them about the type of clients they prefer to serve so you can match the clients you don’t want with the colleague who is a better fit. With this simple strategy, you’ll also infuse power into your referral marketing. These colleagues will be more inclined to “give back” and send you any clients who they aren’t yet ready to serve with online services. Just another win-win strategy for your toolbox.

So the next time you speak with a potential or existing client about your virtual bookkeeping services, view it as an opportunity to refine your win-win relationships. It’s really the no-lose way to go virtual.

If you’re ready to convert your bookkeeping services to online methods, and want a step-by-step system, then you may be interested in my 30-day, self-paced program called the Insider’s Guide to Your Own Virtual Bookkeeping Business.

What do you think about the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle? If you’d like to dig deeper into this topic, let me know. I find it fascinating. But then again, I am kind of a geek like that. ;-)

In fact, I think I fall somewhere between an early adopter and early majority. What about you?

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How to Get Better Quality Clients

How to Get Better Quality ClientsFiguring out how to get better quality clients is a BIG issue for most freelance bookkeepers, especially when first getting their practice off the ground.

Why is that?

One reason is that in the beginning, we are simply looking for someone (anyone!) to pay us to handle their books. We need cash flow, so any client is a good client. Right?

But after you’ve been working with these random clients, your insight starts to get a bit sharper. You realize that not all clients are created equal. You also learn that the work they need you to do, and how they run their business is not as “cookie cutter” typical as you thought (especially if you’ve only had academic training doing bookkeeping work). That can shake your confidence in a way you may have never faced before.

To make matters worse, the client may undervalue the work you are doing for them and not realize what’s involved to get their books clean and up to date. They may have hired you and need the work done in an unreasonably short amount of time, and expect “little extras” for no additional charge.

When these types of circumstances arise, we are in for some big lessons… ones that some of us need to learn again and again. The key lesson is this: Not all clients are good clients, and we should not automatically accept everyone who needs help with their bookkeeping.

How do we avoid falling into this trap of accepting any and all clients that come our way?

How to Know the Good from the “Bad”

There are a few ways I’ve found that work quite well. One of the best is to create what’s called an Ideal Client Profile that clearly describes the type of clients you’d like to fill your practice with, in a perfect world. This includes…

  • The services they want
  • The type of business they have
  • Their general demographics (age, sex, income, geographical location, etc.)
  • Their general personality traits (good communicator, positive personality, etc.)

Of course, you figure out who’s a good fit for you by knowing the type of bookkeeping business you want to run. This is usually based on your previous experiences and what you enjoy doing most.

Having a clear picture of who your target client is helps you filter out potential clients who aren’t a good fit. It sets you up to only accept win-win working situations, right from the start.

Another way to help qualify prospective clients (even if you haven’t yet figured out your Ideal Client description) is to know the questions that reveal the traits of the clients who will most likely be difficult to work with. After you’ve worked with a few “bad” clients, you start to see common themes emerge. The “qualities” that I’ve seen most often are…

  • They are behind on a tight deadline and want you to rescue them
  • They are very price sensitive
  • They tend to minimize the work that needs to be done as “easy” or “quick”
  • They don’t want to give you specifics about their financial situation
  • They don’t want to set up an appointment, but want to speak with you immediately
  • They want to set an appointment during non-business hours

All of these can be red flags that they are a potentially difficult or demanding client to work with. Even if they seem really “nice,” beware when these factors are involved. I speak from experience.

The easiest way to protect yourself and turn away problem clients before you ever start working with them is to set up an interview and ask questions. Your goal is to discover who they are, what they want, and what they will really be like to work with. The interview doesn’t need to be an interrogation, but your list of questions should be open-ended (not yes-or-no answers) to elicit responses that will help you know whether you even WANT to work with them, and whether your skills are a good match for their needs.

Bottom line: You’re looking for win-win, two-way relationships. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you. :-))

How to Use This Right Now

At the very least, brainstorm a simple list of questions to ask your prospective clients BEFORE you start working with them. Some simple, open-ended questions to start with are…

  • Am I your first bookkeeper and why do you feel you need a (new) bookkeeper?
  • What are you doing now to get your bookkeeping done?
  • What is the most important result(s) you hope to achieve by hiring me as your bookkeeper?

Really listen and ask for clarification as needed. Takes notes and get a sense of whether you can work well together, and listen to how they communicate. This will go a long way toward protecting you from getting into a nasty, unprofitable and frustrating situation that will slow down your growth.

If you’d like a deeper dive into other powerful ways you can upgrade your client base, including how to effectively handle your existing “bad” clients, join us this month in the TFB Premium training for How to Upgrade the Quality of Your Clients for More Fun & Profits

If you’ve found yourself working with clients who drain your joy or make you feel like you’re slaving for peanuts, what advice would you share to avoid falling into that trap ever again? Speak your mind and leave a comment below. 

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