5 Quick Tips for Optimizing Your Bookkeeping Business

If you're a freelance bookkeeper, do you feel like your capacity is at its limit and you're struggling to figure out how you can possibly take on more clients without losing your mind? Optimizing your bookkeeping business is one of the few ways you can serve more clients without hiring staff.

But how, exactly?

 

Here are 5 quick tips to help you get more done with less stress.

1. Stop traveling to your client's office

Too many independent bookkeepers I talk to are still physically traveling to their clients' offices to get the work done, or even to just pick up and drop off paperwork. While face-to-face contact is a great way to build relationships, it's terribly inefficient for simply doing the bookkeeping.

Leverage online technology and start working virtually instead. Let your clients know that you are using a new system that brings win-win efficiency to how you'll handle their bookkeeping. I'd recommend moving toward remote services gradually, and laying out a plan that is implemented over a few months' time.

Focus on the convenience to the client of using web-based services. (See the free ebook at the end of this article for more step-by-step info on how to work virtually with your clients)

2. Go paperless

One of the biggest slowdowns to working virtually with clients is trying to figure out how to move from paper-based documents to online documents. While it may mean changing some habits, nowadays it's much easier than ever before. If you need receipts from clients, simply get them in the habit of forwarding you email receipts and snap photos of paper documents with their smart phone.

Of course, if your clients have lots of documents (some of which might be sensitive) this may not be the best way to ‘optimize' – so consider using online secure document management tools instead (personally, I use SmartVault with all of my clients, and love it!)

3. Use cloud-based software

Part of the inefficiencies with desktop software, whether you are doing the bookkeeping at your clients' offices or on your own computer, is that the information is not always easily accessible, either to you or your client.

To solve this issue, especially in our mobile society, some have opted to host desktop software online. But I've found in my own practice the most economical and easiest solution is to simply use web-based bookkeeping software. QuickBooks Online and Xero are the most popular options here in the US, but there are many others too.

The idea is that your efficiency dramatically improves when you use web-accessible software. Your clients become more independent and proactive about getting the info they need in real time, and communication becomes easier for training and answering questions because you're literally on the same page no matter where you are.

4. Use Profit First as cash management for YOUR business, then your clients

This is a low-tech tip that optimizes your bookkeeping business from the inside out.

I've found Profit First to be the most effective yet simple way to get the most from every dollar you earn and optimize your financial stability, no matter how long you've had your practice.

The newest edition of the book has just been released and shows you how to guarantee your profitability from your next deposit forward. Once you see how it works (the real learning is in the doing), you'll dramatically build your financial confidence. Then you'll be in a great position to help your clients in a tangible way that will make them sing your praises. That puts you on a whole new professional level as a bookkeeper and you may want to get certified and join Profit First Professionals.

5. Avoid bright shiny app syndrome

Once you step into the virtual bookkeeping world, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of apps you can use (and pay monthly for) in the hopes of making your bookkeeping services more efficient.

Beware!

Piling on the apps is not only expensive, it will send you down very time-consuming rabbit holes and leave you exhausted. Take a minimalist approach to choosing apps instead. In fact, I've developed a 6-step process that starts with the RESULTS you're trying to get for you and your clients and will save you a ton of headaches. (Yep, you can learn that process in the free ebook at the end of this article too)

For general guidance, above my desk I have a drawing that illustrates the futility of trying to go in multiple directions all at the same time. The caption to that picture is “Less Means More.” It's taken from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and is there as a constant reminder that optimizing my business means doing just a few things that work really well.

Did you see a tip here that if you focused on it, it would make a difference and move your bookkeeping business toward a more optimized (and profitable) operation?

If you feel that going virtual is your best path too, but you need more details on HOW put it into practice, then I think you'll like the free new ebook that we've released this month in collaboration with SmartVault called, “The Bookkeeper's Guide to the Virtual Galaxy

Optimize and Prosper…starting now!

What are your tips for optimizing bookkeeping business operations?

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Going Virtual: TFB Spotlight on Cindy Hovig

tfb-star-spotlightAre you thinking about going virtual with your bookkeeping business? Have you been wondering how best to make the transition… and how to get your existing clients to buy into the idea?

This TFB Spotlight interview can help!

Cindy Hovig of Beyond Balanced Books, Inc. starts from the beginning with a home-based, part-time business and shows you how she has grown her bookkeeping practice gradually over the years. But her business really started to take off when she moved toward virtual services.

Here's her story. You'll hear exactly how she did it and how you can grow your bookkeeping business more quickly and take the leap toward going virtual with your bookkeeping business sooner with success the way you want it.

Would you rather listen on the go? Right Click Here to Download the Audio  (40 mins)

Guest Bio:

Cindy Hovig is a Xero bookkeeper in Silicon Valley and was named the “Xero Bookkeeping Partner of the Year 2016.” She runs a 100% paperless and cloud-based bookkeeping business, Beyond Balanced Books, Inc.

Cindy fell in love with accounting when she took her first bookkeeping class in school. She founded her business as a freelancer in 1990 working from home as a part-time bookkeeper with two small children at home. Since then she has traveled the path to building a virtual team and serving small to medium sized service business clients, providing her services using cloud-based technology for personal, collaborative results her clients love.

Interview Highlights

Biggest challenge when starting out: Confidence and getting the first few clients

Cindy wished she knew earlier about how to charge for her services.

Book Recommendation: The E-Myth Bookkeeper – Cindy found this book very helpful when she took the leap, after 20 years, to move from solo to hiring staff.

When first starting out, Cindy traveled to her clients' offices, as many traditional bookkeepers still do. When she switched to hosted QuickBooks, she was able to start transitioning her business to virtual services. Her staff is all virtual now too.

In this interview, Cindy shares her technique for dealing with clients who are resistant to accepting virtual bookkeeping services that has been very successful.

She also shared her journey from QuickBooks to Xero and why she made the switch.

Regarding bookkeeping software, Cindy's philosophy is to pick one, and get really, really good at it, instead of trying to support, and keep up with, several programs simultaneously.

Software tools Cindy uses:

  • Xero
  • QuickBooks Hosting
  • Hubdoc – document fetching (integrates with Xero)
  • Zoom – online meetings
  • Aero Workflow – project / practice management
  • Gmail – shared calendar (with staff)
  • Practice Ignition – onboarding new clients

Her first conference was the first SleeterCon (now Accountex) in Florida about 13 years ago! She found it a big help to find “her people” and share support and resources with colleagues.

If she started again from scratch today, Cindy would definitely work virtually and she'd also offer packaged services. She'd document all her procedures, even if she had no plans to work beyond solo. She'd also track clients' service needs as they changed to make sure pricing stays in line with what is being provided.

Cindy even shared a valuable tip on how to handle clients' annual contracts efficiently so you never fall victim to scope creep and how to assure you're being paid in a win-win way with flat fees.

She sees the future of our profession moving more toward being champions of helping our clients get the real value from their financial records to manage their businesses more effectively.

You can find Cindy at Beyond Balanced Books, Inc.

Can you relate to Cindy's journey? What was your best takeaway from her story?

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Which Accounting Software Should You Use in Your Bookkeeping Business?

Which accounting software is best?

When setting up your practice, and especially when transitioning to a virtual bookkeeping business, you have choices. In fact, it can feel like too many choices! QuickBooks desktop or Online? Xero? Sage? What about Kashoo, Wave, and FreshBooks? Your clients may be using any of these, or others not even mentioned here.

Do you feel like it is a sea of software impossible to navigate?

Here's just one of the many inquiries I received recently on this topic (and why I decided it's time to write a blog post about it)…

Hi Gabrielle,

I love your webinars, and thanks to you I am ready to take the leap into cloud accounting this year. I am trying to figure out value pricing, Hubdoc, and all the other pieces of the puzzle. The part that is really tripping me up though is choosing the accounting platform. I've been trialling Sage One, QBO, and Xero (I'm in Canada).

However coming from desktop software (Sage), I am struggling with them all and am quite concerned about making the right choice…Do you have any advice?

I'm scared to transition only to find I should have gone with another option, as I know I am going to experience a lot of resistance from my clients already and I don't want to aggravate the situation by making them doubt my decision making skills!

-Amie

These questions and emotions all wrapped up together is something all of us face when trying to keep up with technology in our profession. They're especially critical when choosing your core tool – your accounting software. Here's the three issues I see facing us.

  1.  Using a method to determine which is the “right” app to choose – whether your main software or add-on
  2.  Managing the implementation of change, for ourselves and our clients
  3.  Conquering our confidence issues on the path to reaching our goals and serving our clients

For this post, let's dig into the first one, the process. Over the years, this is what I do in my own practice for upgrading systems or revising workflow issues where a new app can (or should) improve the situation.

How to Choose the “Right” App in 5 Steps

Step 1 -Identify what specifically is the problem, where things are “broken,” or just not working the way you feel it should. Write it down.

Step 2 – Come up with a list of the must-have functions / features needed to resolve the issue and accomplish the results you need. If not sure, take a guess and start from where you are right now.

In our example of choosing your primary bookkeeping software when you know you want to move to the cloud, come up with questions to make the process easier. Here's some examples:

  • Who are your best clients, and what does the software need to do for them specifically (reports? functions? access?)
  • What are the specific functions you need to maintain or improve your efficiency? (bank feeds? reconciliation? multiple users? online invoicing & payments?)
  • What integrations are needed, if any? (CRM, bill payment, time tracking, payroll, taxes)
  • What kind of customer support does the software company offer? Do they have any programs / advantages / training specifically for accounting professionals?

Step 3 – Research which apps are available that will handle ALL of your must-have needs. Ask colleagues in online forums what they use for the specific needs you have. Search apps.com (if using QuickBooks), or simply “Google it.”

Step 4 – Narrow down your choices to 2-3 close fits and compare differences for features that may be “nice to have” or provide additional support to you as an accounting professional. Choose just one and sign up for a trial or see if you can get the software for free.

HINT: QuickBooks Online Accountant is provided for free to accounting professionals, and it includes a free QuickBooks Online Plus account for your own use. Xero and FreshBooks do this as well. There may be others, so don't be afraid to reach out to the software company and ask if they have a special program for accountants / bookkeepers. You could also ask for a one-on-one demo where you can barrage them with your questions. (Keep your must-have features list front and center at all times)

Step 4 – Test the app and take any basic training provided by the software company to familiarize yourself with how it works. Then choose just one client who would benefit from switching to the software, if it does everything promised. Run the existing system and the new system in parallel (so choosing a small or simple client to start the process with will make this easier and less painful if it doesn't work out). If all goes well in your tests, you can roll it out to your client and get his / her feedback.

Step 5 – If Step 4 is successful, begin to roll out the new app gradually across your client base, providing assistance where needed to staff (new documented procedures) and clients (training – usually a billable event or a great opportunity to switch to value pricing and include training in your packages)

Yes, following this process takes a bit of time and research, but in the long run, you'll save you time and a lot of heartache compared to the trail and error based on slick shiny-app marketing messages from the software companies.

In future posts we can dig deeper into how to roll out your new online workflow when moving your bookkeeping business online with existing clients, as well as how to build your confidence in the process for a more consultative and premium fee practice.

In the meantime, what methods do you use to find the best apps? What do you think is most important to consider, with technology moving so quickly?

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Bookkeeping Business Planning – 7 Fast Steps for Real Results

bookkeeping-business-planningHow often do you use business planning to grow your practice? Once a year? Quarterly? Weekly? Only when you first started your bookkeeping business and winging it thereafter?

Whether you want a ‘fresh start’ to your existing business, or you’re truly starting from scratch brand new, here’s a quick summary of what has worked for me over the years.

But before I get to that, let me share a little story about why I think many of us get tangled up when it comes to business planning.

This year I decided to invest a good hunk of money to try a new “planning system.” I’m still working my way through it, so the jury’s out right now on whether I’d recommend it. But the promotion said it’s designed for busy entrepreneurs who really want a streamlined approach and focus on doing the ‘right’ things to move forward rapidly, in the same way top-level athletes do.

As a runner, I could relate to what it takes to train to reach big goals with limited time available.

I’m only about half-way through the course’s 7 modules, but I’m already frustrated. There’s a lot of “fluffy” material that I’ve been wading through to pluck out the truly valuable tips that I can use.

The reason I’m grumbling is because I’ve seen this too many times. So many methods for planning your business and even your daily work schedule are, in my opinion and experience, unnecessarily complicated, with jargon you have to learn and too many steps to follow. They remind me of what I see with a lot of practice management software programs as well (but that’s a blog post for another day).

Maybe I’m just jaded. But to me, for planning to be effective, the actual planning should be reasonably streamlined. It shouldn’t be complicated, since that’s counterproductive to getting into action and actually doing the things that get the results.

I haven’t hit the streamlined part in this particular program yet. Funny thing is, before I started it, I had already outlined my key goals and projects for the year to come. I’m not yet sure if this new “investment” will be worth it. But in the meantime, here’s my tried and true “short cut” method that I hope will be helpful to you this year.

7 Simple Steps to Bookkeeping Business Planning

1 – Set your big picture vision. What is the reason you started your business? What results do you want to achieve when it’s “done”? This is the possibilities part that is in touch with WHY you do what you do. Yes, your goal may be to provide a living for yourself and pay the bills. But there’s a lot of other (easier?) things you could be doing to get that result; AKA, get a job.

What’s the juice for you in starting and running a bookkeeping business? How does it impact your life (and the lives of others)? Jot down a few sentences that describe how you want your business to be and the results you want it to produce as though it has already happened. This part takes the longest to do, especially the first time through.

2  -Set your one-year vision. How far toward that big picture goal do you reasonably think you can get in the next 12 months? Think about what would the milestones from where you are now to where your big vision is. What would be the big steps in that direction be? These are specific results.

3 – Identify what has to change What do you / your business need to start doing? What do you need to stop doing? What specifically has to happen in your operations, your revenue, the number of clients you serve, to get the results you’re after? Define those mile markers as projects and then break them into key tasks with deadlines

4 – Use the power of 3. Choose only 3 projects to focus on over the next 3 months. This is where less is more! It seems to be a typical folly that we think we can get much more done in the time we have than we really can. Deadlines help, but with less to focus on, you can move forward much quicker.

5 – Lay out all the tasks for your 3 projects. Identify what has to happen specifically in each of your 3 current projects. Set deadlines for each of the tasks, delegate as possible, allowing extra time for unexpected slowdowns.

6 – Schedule time each week to work / monitor your 3 projects progress. Each week on either the Friday before, over the weekend or first thing Monday morning, review your 3 projects for the quarter and deadlines of the tasks involved. Then schedule the completion of the tasks for that week. It’s the focus that will build the momentum and keeping it top of mind makes it easy to make consistent progress.

7 – Use simple tools to stay on track on a daily basis. Don’t laugh, but my super effective tools come down to a low-tech sticky note, a 5”x 8” notepad and index cards.

On the sticky note I write the 3 primary projects I’m working for the quarter and stick it to the bottom of my computer monitor as a constant reminder. Each Sunday afternoon I write out the tasks that support my 3 projects on the 5 x 8 yellow notepad and keep it on my desk within sight. Finally, first thing each morning (or at the end of the previous day) I write the 3-4 key tasks I need to get done that day. The index card is in front of me all day, and I check off each task as it’s completed with a red pen.

So there you have it. It’s not rocket science, and it’s fast. How does it compare to your own business planning process? What works best for you?

 

Speaking of bookkeeping business planning and really focusing on what works best, one of the current TFB Premium lessons (December) is a much deeper dive into not only planning your progress, but designing your bookkeeping practice from the ground up. If that’s part of your plans this year, please join us!

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Bookkeepers and Coaching: TFB Spotlight on Donna Leyens

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

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

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

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

Guest Bio:

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

Interview Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

donna-leyens-headshot

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

 

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

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