Full Circle Client Experience: TFB Spotlight on Steffanie Anderson

Key to the path of becoming a ‘trusted advisor' type bookkeeper who provides consultative services and commands premium level fees is providing a truly valuable client experience. But how?

A great first step is by putting yourself in your clients' shoes. For some of us in the accounting profession, that is a major challenge. But not so for Steffanie Anderson of Business Cents, Inc. of Spokane, Washington. Along with her husband, she first started in business beginning in 1988, owning several different ventures over the years. She often hired QuickBooks ProAdvisors to consult with her companies to better use the software and get results. Now, she runs a her own thriving ‘Firm of the Future‘ bookkeeping and consulting firm.

Learn how she went full circle from being a ProAdvisor client with 50 employees, to starting her own bookkeeping business from a home-based office in a new city during the Great Recession when her husband lost his job and they had two kids in college.

This interview is littered with valuable insights that you can put to work for you right away in growing your own practice.

Would you rather listen on the go? Right Click Here to Download the Audio  (32 mins)

Business Cents, Inc. has been named Firm of the Future in the US for 2017, and is now in the running for Global Firm of the Future. You can vote for them here, and meet Steffanie and her team at QuickBooks Connect on November 15-17 when the winners are announced.

You can contact Steffanie directly on her website, or connect with her on social media:

Facebook

Twitter

LinkedIn

What is your favorite part of Steffanie's story? What did you learn that you can use for your own bookkeeping business success? Please share your questions, comments and experiences in the comments below.

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Where Successful Freelance Bookkeepers Get Stuck

In the beginning, when trying to become a successful freelance bookkeeper, it might seem like the hardest part is getting those first few clients. Once you get two or three, you’ll be on your way.

And for many, getting past that initial startup period, you think it's smooth sailing from there since you’ve got what you wanted. Some paying clients and steady monthly work. It's simply a matter of growing from here. Often we’ll get our next few clients via referral, and if we’re eager to grow quickly, we’ll develop a few marketing strategies to bring in more clients on a regular basis.

But once you’ve got some momentum, there’s a shift that happens. Instead of having the profitable bookkeeping business we envisioned, working as your own boss, and making good money, we get stuck. This next hurdle can be far more difficult to get past.

The Success Problem That Can Kill You

Suddenly one day a sales tax filing deadline unexpectedly creeps up on you, and you have to work a few extra hours over the weekend to get caught up. Or your holdout client who’s been clinging to QuickBooks Pro 2007 finally agrees to embrace the cloud and move to QBO. He wants to know how quickly you can complete the conversion so they can be up and running ASAP.

While this is great news, you’re currently in the middle of completing a massive new client cleanup project that you promised would be done early next week. Then immediately after that you've onboarding and training scheduled. You wonder how to possibly fit all this work in and still make it to your daughter’s big dance recital on Friday. And of course, you're  way behind in updating your own books (has it really been 8 months?!). Oh, and it completely slipped your mind that the mortgage payment was due last week. Yikes!

If you’re not already there, you’re headed into the pit of working far too many hours, making less money than you should, and feeling exhausted, frustrated and a stranger to your family.

But it doesn’t stop there!

Once we’ve hit overload, we realize that we have more client work than one person can get done during normal working hours. We're already working way too many hours. So it must be time to hire employees, or at least contract virtual staff. But that can actually make matters worse if you’re time is already overstretched.

Hiring help involves a steep learning curve that includes creating job descriptions and defining responsibilities, searching for and screening potential candidates, training, and what most of us have no experience with… people management. It's also a big financial commitment.

But you dive in anyway. It's the price of “success” after all, right?

But now you need to work even more hours than before (with even less productivity since you’re constantly interrupted with questions or pleas for help from your team). Your overhead has skyrocketed and your cash flow is crunched. What really stings is you're paying yourself even less money than before you hired “help”!

Staying stuck in this rut brings with it huge amounts of stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress that is left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

This is not a sustainable way to run your business or your life.

Finding a Way Out

While this path is a typical one, the way to get off of this insidious treadmill is not as clear cut. Certainly, though, it is a time to pull yourself out of the weeds of the actual day-to-day work and step back to work ON your business. We need a fresh perspective.

Some questions to consider that may lead to successfully stopping the insanity are:

  • Do you need defined, effective systems to improve productivity and consistency?
  • Would adding automation improve efficiency and save time?
  • Do you need to overhaul your pricing structure?
  • Do you have the right kind of clients and would you benefit from specializing services?
  • What are your business goals beyond simply making a living and paying the bills?
  • Do you have an ultimate vision for your business and your lifestyle?

We all need to consider questions like these on a regular basis. In fact, building a habit to do so can make a big difference in the direction of your business. I’ve seen it in my own bookkeeping practice. Though I must admit, after many years in business, it seems I slide back into this overwork cycle whenever my practice starts to grow with new opportunities.

In fact, learning how to find and maintain a work-life balance is a particular challenge when you love what you do. And of course most of us want to (or need to) increase our profit levels as well.

That’s why I’m so excited to have Steve Pipe, a Chartered Accountant and author from the UK who is one of the most highly regarded accountant advisors to our profession in the world as my special guest on a brand new (free) webinar I’m hosting: “The 3 Keys to Profits & Work-Life Balance” coming up on Tuesday, October 24th at 12:00 noon Eastern Time.

Steve has learned how to navigate these overwork pitfalls himself and not only successfully achieve work-life balance and higher profits, but he’s taught hundreds if not thousands of accountants how to do it in the UK. I met him this past summer while I was at a conference in Birmingham, England where he was one of the speakers. I knew he had a powerful message that can make a big difference in the lives (and sanity) of so many bookkeepers here in the USA. So I asked him to join me for this special 90-minute interactive session. Please come join us and see how to break the crazy out-of-balance cycle!

Have you faced these challenges yet? What have you done to get past them successfully? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

 

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Your Bookkeeping Checklist for Year End

It's the 4th Quarter and busy season is upon us. Do you have a plan to grow your practice by taking on new clients, while still helping your existing clients wrap up their books for the year? Do have what you need to get the 1099s and W-2s done on time, and oh, yes… keep your sanity in the process? Wouldn't a bookkeeping checklist that helps you accomplish that make life easier?

That's a tall order, to be sure. But it is achievable!

This video article walks you through what you need to start taking action now to smoothly sail through the end of this year and emerge into the New Year with a stronger, more profitable bookkeeping business without all the typical year-end stress.

You can get the PDF for the Year-End Bookkeeping Checklist and get a jump start on the busy season right now! Click the button below to get a free copy of “Your Bookkeeping Checklist for Year-End Sanity” kindly provided to us by SmartVault

What's on Your Checklist?

Do you have recommendations for other key tasks that you think should be included on the year-end bookkeeping checklist? How do you typically navigate the madness we face as bookkeepers during year end? Please comment below.

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3 Reasons to Welcome Automated Bookkeeping

Accounting software is in rapid growth, and apps are only adding more momentum to the race for truly automated bookkeeping. Human adoption, however, has been a bit slower.

Are you one to grab hold of new opportunities, or are your more cautious about potentially ‘toppling the apple cart' in your bookkeeping business?

While personally, I'm not always the quickest to adopt the latest and greatest, here are three reasons from my own experience why I believe we need to step up the pace and incorporate more automation into our workflows, despite any jitters we may feel.

Reason 1 – Save Time

The obvious reason to automate is to save time in getting the boring though necessary activities done. The trick here is consistency. And that's where automation can shine. Because it is mechanical and not affected by things like mood, weather, or attitude like we humans are, automation provides better accuracy with basic bookkeeping tasks.

Example: In QuickBooks Online, automate most of the data entry by using bank feeds and set up bank rules to automatically post repetitive transactions.

Downside: When using automated coding, you still need to review them monthly, since there may be tweaks to the system needed or missing transactions where the automation skips a beat occasionally.

Reason 2 – Save Money

When working with a lot of clients, at high volume times of the year, or if you simply want to lighten your workload, there needs to be a way to handle the capacity beyond yourself alone. Most often we think we need to hire another bookkeeper (or five). But that takes money and generally a substantial ongoing cash commitment that includes a fair amount of risk. By automating as much of your workflow as possible not only increases your current capacity (and that of any future hires), but you also make it easier to hire entry-level skill help who simply need to follow your standardized process.

Example: Using Hubdoc to pull monthly bank, credit card, and vendor bill statements

Downside: There's an investment of time to think through your workflow so you can add automation where it will have the greatest possible impact.

Reason 3 – Win-Win Value

The best opportunities automated bookkeeping gives us is the ability and freedom to truly stand out and do what most bookkeepers (and accountants) won't. That is, going beyond the nuts-and-bolts compliance-only bookkeeping work and providing the truly valuable services that clients care most about and will gladly pay premium rates for. In short, win-win value.

Just keeping the books up to date will, in the reasonably near future, be completely automated with minimal management by a bookkeeper needed. It will also become a low-cost commodity service. What small businesses will still need is for us to give them the time and attention to explain what their numbers mean, where their business is headed based on the trends that emerge in their numbers, and show them how to navigate the road ahead to reach their goals (and avert disasters).

Example: Using the time saved with automation to meet with clients monthly to deliver and discuss the most important results and trends we see based on their financial reports. We can also work with clients to set a plan to handle cash flow, forecasting, and budgets to hit key goals and more rapidly improve their business stability and growth.

Downside: Requires caring and willingness as well as upgraded skills to become more valuable to your clients. You will also need the courage to adjust how you've been operating and be willing to charge premium rates.

What's Your Path?

We can choose to be afraid of the automation that is “replacing” much of the bookkeeping work we do, or we can embrace it. Fear causes you to worry about losing what you've got. Seeing beyond the fear helps us see the exciting opportunities and high-value services that are now opening up to us that will improve our own lives and those of everyone we touch.

Which will you choose?

Getting from Where You Are Now to Next-Level Automation

Taking specific action will calm any fears and move you in the right direction.

To make it step-by-step simple, I'm hosting a free, live training webinar that focuses specifically on HOW to start automating your bookkeeping workflow and includes templates and a suggested automation process. We will focus specifically on the end-to-end processing of vendor bills.

“Workflow Automation for Bookkeepers”

Thursday, September 21, at 2:00 PM EDT (New York)

Learn more or Register here

Do Bookkeepers Need Professional Liability Insurance?


“As a bookkeeper, do I need liability insurance?”

This is a question I'm asked from time to time by professional bookkeepers who are starting their own freelance bookkeeping business. Even if you've been running your bookkeeping practice for some time, you may not have considered whether you need any kind of insurance for the type of work we do.

While I'm not a lawyer nor an insurance expert, I do have experience as a freelance bookkeeper and will answer this question based on my own research and experiences. So that means…

This article is not legal or insurance advice and for information purposes only. You should discuss this topic with your own attorney or qualified insurance professional who knows your unique circumstances before making a business decision.

Errors & Omission or Professional Liability Coverage

They are the same thing, just two different terms. Kind of like how an Income Statement and Statement of Profit & Loss are the same. Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance is not to be confused with General Liability insurance that is related to the physical premises of your business (even if that is your home). The latter is usually part of, or added onto, your property insurance and covers liability that could occur if clients or other business-related people come to your office and are injured physically, such as from a slip and fall.

E&O covers mistakes or mishandling of financial records that you or your staff may make… or be perceived as making…which causes damage to your client or others. The key to remember here is, this problem is not if you (or your staff) actually make errors, but whether someone accuses you of doing so. Either way you will need to defend yourself legally, even if found 100% innocent.

Is it Common for Bookkeepers to be Sued?

While I don't have any statistics on this specifically for bookkeepers, in my own experience, it's rather rare for a freelance bookkeeper to be sued for actual or perceived mistakes. However, that doesn't mean that it won't happen.

We are working with sensitive information, and money is often a very emotional topic. If something goes wrong in a client's business, it's easy for him or her to look for someone to blame. Depending on the situation, that could mean the bookkeeper, either directly or indirectly.

According to Insureon, here are some of the most common reasons clients sue accounting professionals:

  • A sudden change (negative) in the client's financial situation
  • The client is subject to fraud (and has a lawyer who is looking to sue someone)
  • Bankruptcy of a client, resulting in third parties looking to recoup losses
  • Errors or miscommunication surrounding taxes (if you prepare tax returns)

Why Consider Professional Liability Insurance, How it Works and the Cost

Sometimes when you're contacted by a business owner looking for a freelance bookkeeper for the first time, or if he or she has had a bad experience with a less-than-competent bookkeeper, you will be asked if you have insurance. They often don't know how E&O works (we'll get to that in a minute), but they're trying to determine how credible you are as a professional.

So carrying professional liability insurance helps to set you apart from the freelancers who are just trying to create a part-time contract job for themselves on the side. The potential client may see uninsured bookkeepers as less professional or trustworthy.

In truth, Bookkeeper Liability Insurance is reasonably priced, as business insurance goes, usually running about $400 a year for basic coverage. These are typically “claims made” policies and will have limits per claim and per policy period, with exclusions for what's actually covered. This is where you need to get the specifics from an Insurance professional. A few sources that I'm aware of that have insurance specifically for bookkeepers are…

  • Hiscox (this is the company I have used for years and like a lot)
  • Landy (insurance agency – available through bookkeeping associations, such as ICB and AIPB)
  • Insureon

Should You Bother?

My personal opinion is yes.

As mentioned, I've rarely heard of a bookkeeper being sued (especially a freelancer), and I've never had a client even threaten it to me in my more than 27 years in business. But it's a best practice to protect yourself and your clients, since the past does not always equal the future. It's a normal cost of doing business professionally.

Of course, to protect yourself from getting into real trouble, always provide high level, truly professional services. That includes abundant communication and transparency with clients.

Don't just get the bookkeeping done, but pay attention to what's going on in the business. Notify the client if anything looks suspicious (even if you're not officially responsible to do so). Use written engagement letters that define specific responsibilities for both you and the client. Document everything you do in writing with dates (workpapers, email, software permissions, etc.). Get written approvals for handling any financial transactions on behalf of your clients (such as with Accounts Payable services).

Whatever you ultimately decide, whether to get Errors & Omissions insurance or not, always provide honest, high-quality services. Happy clients keep your risk low, even when you do make a mistake. (We're human. No one is 100% accurate 100% of the time)

Do you have questions about the risks related to running a bookkeeping business? Have you had good or bad experiences in carrying professional liability insurance in your bookkeeping practice? Please comment below.

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