Why Bookkeepers Who Attend Conferences Thrive

stick_figure_presenter_meeting_400_clr_3268By the end of this week I’ll be heading to Paradise Island in the Bahamas to attend the “Epic Practice” Scaling New Heights conference next week. Do you want to join me… for free?

Before I get to that and how that’s even possible at this late date, let me share why I literally spend thousands of dollars each year, take billable time away from serving my clients, and putting the rest of my life on hold to attend industry conferences.

In a sentence: Attending conferences is the catalyst that helps grow my business faster and more powerfully than anything else I do all year.

It’s true!

The first time I experienced this mysterious reality was back in 1995 when I finally mustered the courage (and scraped together the funds) to travel to a tiny conference in Memphis, TN for administrative freelancers while running my first home-based business.

As a result of that and subsequent annual conferences, I was hooked. I not only tripled my client base and my revenue, but I got inspired to design innovative solutions for my clients, found a lucrative niche, became a nationally published author, wrote my first book, and even successfully sold my business when I was ready to move on.

I’ve heard it said that when you invest in your professional development, you’ll reap (on average) three times that amount in return. In my experience, all things considered, it’s been closer to five times. Talk about a profitable investment!

By attending conferences, starting with that very first one, I’ve been able to not only consistently accelerate how fast I reach my goals, but continue to have amazing and totally unexpected opportunities come my way that I never would’ve been exposed to otherwise.

In fact, at this point, I feel as though I can’t afford NOT to attend at least a couple conferences a year.  And in fact, by foolishly skipping Scaling New Heights a couple times over the past few years, I missed out on at least three key opportunities that I’m aware of. I really regret that loss.

But that doesn’t have to happen to you. Instead, L.E.A.R.N. why attending conferences is so very important to your bookkeeping business success going forward.

Leverage new software skills, get expert certifications, and learn proven best practices for a powerful advantage over your competition

Expand your perspective on what’s happening in our industry, and what new technology is coming on the horizon, so you can stay ahead of your clients’ needs and deliver premium level services

Automate and streamline your service delivery and workflow to increase your efficiency, capacity and profit margin simultaneously.

Cultivate Relationships with colleagues who can become powerful referral partners, inspire your success, and even turn into dear friends for life.

Network with software vendors and gain access to thought leaders to help shape how the tools we use and need most are developed, and find top level mentors who you would not otherwise ever be able to meet in person.

While it’s probably too late for you to attend Scaling New Heights 2016 in person (if you don’t already have your plans set) you can still get a taste of what it’s like by joining us for the free “Live Stream” sessions from the main stage starting Monday, May 23rd.

Included in the lineup are keynote speakers Daymond John from Shark Tank and Joe Woodard, who hosts this Intuit-centered extravaganza and key influencer in the QuickBooks ProAdvisor world.

I think you’ll also recognize two other keynote speakers from the webinars we’ve enjoyed together earlier this year: Mike Michalowicz, the author of Profit First, as well as Mark Wickersham, my favorite Value Pricing expert!

Side Note: Yes, in line with my advice above, I have already made definite plans to spend time with both Mike and Mark at the conference (and I guarantee that you will benefit as a result of those meetings in the months to come too! :-) )

Here’s the Broadcast Schedule and the link to sign up (it’s free)

mike-and-mark-at-snh

Do you feel attending a big conference like this in person is beyond your reach financially? Think again! This post and video I did a few months ago proves that EVERYONE can afford to attend at least one conference per year, using the simple plan I outline.

Will you be attending either SNH or another bookkeeping conference this year? If so, please comment below and let’s make plans to meet in person! I’d love to meet YOU either next week, or at another upcoming event.

If you regularly attend conferences, what benefits have resulted for you, either directly or indirectly? If you’re still not convinced they’re worth attending, what’s holding you back?

 

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5 Ways to Get Bookkeeping Clients Any Time You Want

get bookkeeping clientsNowadays, if you want to get bookkeeping clients, running an ad or making cold calls is a difficult and ineffective way to do it. The reason why can be summed up in the well known expression…

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

While it’s not clear who actually said this, it’s definitely true when it comes to successfully marketing bookkeeping services.

Human nature is that when we have a problem, a burning question, or have hit some kind of roadblock, it’s all we can see until we find a solution. This is true of potential clients looking for bookkeeping help. Whatever marketing message you are putting out to get bookkeeping clients, will only be noticed by those who see that you have what they want.

Most marketing bookkeepers try (if they do any marketing at all) does just the opposite. It’s focused almost totally on credentials, a laundry list of services (communicated using accounting speak – which is a foreign tongue to small business owners) and is usually impersonal. To prospective clients, it comes across as noise, so they tune it out.

Truth is, there are A LOT of small business owners who know they need to hire a bookkeeper, and some are desperately LOOKING for help. But they have trouble finding us. Here are 5 ways to help them cut through the noise and find you more easily.

1. Frame a quick introduction on the key problems you solve

Whenever you meet a small business owner (or others who may know small business owners), which is most human interactions, use a simple 10-second introduction that shows (1) who your best clients are, and (2) the biggest benefit you provide your clients.

Formula: “I work with [CLIENT TYPE] to provide [BIG BENEFIT]”

Example: “I work with Independent Consultants to provide Relief From the Cash Flow Rollercoaster of Project Work”

Using a simple line like this will spark curiosity and start a conversation with those who either want that type of service or who may know others who do.

2. Show prospective clients you care by helping them out

Free is powerful. Use it to give away help for potential clients’ most painful problems and they’ll flock to you! Offer a subtle “try before you buy” sample of information that gives “quick fix” tips and hints for solving common problems clients face.

How to do it? Brainstorm the top 10 questions or problems you see most often, and offer easy tips and solutions. An example might be how to keep business and personal expenses separate.

3. Stand out as different than other bookkeepers

Using the first two methods we’ve covered will already help you to stand out. But to get the exact type of clients you WANT to be serving, you need to focus your efforts. How? By specializing your practice.

Offer solutions specific to a certain type of client, and you will instantly get their attention.

An example might be if you specialize in law firms. What are the problems they face to properly manage their IOLTA account (so they don’t get into trouble)? Or offer helpful hints on how to streamline the use of a popular legal practice software. Doing this will quickly make you an in-demand bookkeeper / consultant in the legal community.

4. Listen for what THEY feel is most valuable

Questions are a key way to engage potential clients, wherever you meet them. Show genuine interest in their issues, and they will find YOU fascinating! It goes to the principle from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

HINT: If you are an introvert, this is a fantastic way to start networking conversations as well. Most everyone loves to talk about themselves. Ask an open-ended question and then just listen. They will magically become interested in you. If there’s a win-win connection to be made, you will definitely find it this way.

5. Proactively lead prospects to what they want most

Small business owners hire professionals to do what they can’t (or don’t want to) do themselves. Step up as a proactive professional who focuses on getting the client the exact results they seek, and you can command premium fees. Focus your communication on the specific end result a potential client wants, and show how you can lead them to it, and they will see you as a partner to their success. This is as irresistible as it gets.

The key to presenting your services in a proactive way is to play the role of consultant. Ask questions and offer solutions that you can implement for them. Your prospects will see you as the perfect bookkeeper for their unique needs.

The bottom line to successfully marketing your services and getting more than enough new clients is simply getting out of your own way (and your comfort zone) and demonstrating that you care. Listen and show that you can give them what they want most. Use these methods wherever you find small business owners, in person or online, and you will easily get all the clients you can handle.

If you want to polish your proactive skills for both marketing and actually serving your clients, join us this month in the TFB Premium lesson on “The Proactive Bookkeeper: How to Get and Keep Top Quality Clients.”

What “new” ways of marketing your bookkeeping services have you found most effective?

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Cloud-Based Bookkeeping Automation: Are Bookkeepers Becoming Obsolete?

bookkeeping automationAs more and more online bookkeeping automation is being introduced to small businesses, it seems the question is being asked by both small business owners and forward-thinking bookkeepers alike… are bookkeepers being phased out in favor of technology?

It is an attractive idea to most business owners, and there’s proof of the economic benefits. Not long ago the Wall Street Journal published an article that included a case study, with the headline: “The New Bookkeeper Is a Robot

Of course, it’s easy to understand why most small business owners would love the idea of having the bookkeeping handled automatically without the need to pay a bookkeeper. But even beyond the expense savings, from the client’s standpoint, it also removes (theoretically at least) what they really hate.

What’s that?

Tracking down missing receipts, finding bank statements, keeping track of vendor bills, and answering what seem like unimportant, detailed questions on transactions from one, two or more months ago. Along with this, a major complaint the vast majority of small business owners have against accounting professionals is that we are slow to respond or offer assistance as needed. (By the way, I find it rather amusing that this sounds a lot like the complaints most bookkeepers have about getting info out of their clients! Maybe it IS a human thing?)

Enter automated bookkeeping which promises to provide real time financial information anytime, anywhere. Business owners are usually moving quickly with too much to get done in a day. So the idea of getting what they want quickly and with little effort is appealing. Technology can (mostly) deliver on that promise now.

Threat or Opportunity?

So where does that leave us? Should we be shaking in our boots? Is the bookkeeping profession going to disappear?

Not quite yet, but if you’re running a traditional bookkeeping practice where you’re doing the bookkeeping on-site, or picking up the paperwork from your clients, entering it into the books each month, and charging by the hour, the news is not good. That is, if you want to keep running your business the same way you’ve been running it.

We’re going to have to change our role and what we offer to our clients if we want to survive (and thrive). If we don’t, we’ll definitely see fees spiral downward and become obsolete. That will be especially so with the young tech-savvy entrepreneurs coming up. But stick with me here, there’s some good news in this too.

Lessons From The Past

As a lesson to be learned, think about what has happened to bank tellers. When ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) first came out, they were a great invention of convenience (and new revenue for banks). But tellers weren’t yet fully replaceable. But as a career choice, it would’ve been wise to learn additional skills, since the position would only contract as technology advanced.

Fast forward to today when most banks offer mobile deposits and online banking in addition to standard issue ATMs. How many times do you need to go to your bank and talk to a live teller? Yeah, I barely ever have to go to the bank anymore either. And when I do, there’s usually only one teller on duty… where there used to be four or five in times past.

If we don’t want our bookkeeping business to go the way of the bank teller, we need to change our approach to how we run our business. Technology is moving faster than ever, so I doubt we have as much time as tellers did to refocus.

The good news is, we can embrace the technology and even leverage it to our advantage. In fact, there are some HUGE opportunities that are now open specifically to bookkeepers… if we’re willing to seize them. These will actually grow your practice exponentially and create far greater win-win solutions for your clients than ever before!

Prepare Now to Thrive

Now is the opportune time, while small businesses are moving toward total automated bookkeeping. I can see at least two main areas on which we should focus our attention. You can choose one or both of them, but your bookkeeping business will definitely prosper either way if you’ll invest the time and resources to transition into them now:

  • Leverage Technology as a Service
    • First, use the technology available now to streamline your internal bookkeeping workflow to get more done in less time
    • Second, switch to flat fees or value pricing (so you don’t get killed by your efficiency charging by the hour)
    • Third, offer technology consulting to your clients to design their internal financial workflow. Many are overwhelmed by the app choices and desperately want a trusted guide to do the nitty-gritty research and detailed integration for them.

If this option appeals to you, then you’ll love the March TFB Premium lesson: Next Level Virtual Bookkeeping Workflow for Attaining Zero Data Entry where we tackle streamlining your own internal system.

  • High Value Business Advisory Consulting
    • First, recognize the specific ways that you can provide high-value advice to your clients that they will immediately recognize as a core need for their business success (services that enhance their profit and cash flow)
    • Second, differentiate your services from the competition and position your practice for premium level fees

If you love the idea of rolling up your sleeves and being a proactive team player in your clients’ business success, then you’ll want to join me on the free LIVE webinar I’m hosting this Thursday, March 17th with author and multi-million dollar entrepreneur Mike Michalowicz: From Traditional Bookkeeper to Trusted Advisor. We’ll cover the 5-step process that bridges the gap from compliance-only services to becoming your clients’ trusted advisor.

Even if you can’t join us on the webinar live (it is tax season after all), you’ll want to register for this event, since we will be providing a replay, but only to those who register for the live event.

 

Have you already started moving toward automated bookkeeping and/or advisory services?  What’s your take on where we are headed?

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Part-Time Freelance Bookkeeper to Explosive Full-Time Business: TFB Spotlight on Tracy Irwin

tfb-star-spotlightHave you wondered if you can start as a part-time freelance bookkeeper while still working your day job to minimize risk? Then you’ll want to listen to Tracy’s amazing story and how she was able to grow quickly. If you’ve been working solo for awhile and wondering how you can take your bookkeeping business to the next level, you’ll also find the steps Tracy took (and the sage advice she offers) extremely valuable (I know I did).

I recently spoke with superstar bookkeeping business owner, Tracy Irwin of TI Payroll and Accountancy, to see how she went from a full-time office manager job to the owner of a thriving bookkeeping business with 12 staff members, all sparked by a casual conversation over drinks!

Watch or listen to this interview now! Total running time is 38 minutes.

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

Interview Highlights:

  • Started her business by recognizing a specific need by business owners that was not being served and made that her specialty, which enabled her to get 20 new clients within 6 weeks right from the start!
  • She worked at a day job while building her business, employing family members as she grew
  • Changed her mindset from playing it small and safe to stepping into the role of a true business owner, with amazing results – since 2010 her business has doubled… every year!
  • Her biggest challenge was maintaining high customer service while her business grew so quickly. She developed procedures to address weaknesses immediately, including a team approach and internal “Not Done Right the First Time” form. She also maps out each client’s workflow so that problems in the system can be identified and improved quickly.
  • Tracy attributes much of her success to the habit of spending 90 minutes every day working ON her business growth and development (instead of only IN the business seeing that the work gets done) first thing in the morning
  • A big lesson Tracy learned is accepting that she couldn’t do everything, and learning how to delegate and outsource so she could focus on the best use of her time. It’s really a matter of practicing what we preach to our clients!
  • Tracy’s favorite quote that hangs on the wall in her office is, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
  • All bookkeeping for clients is done virtually, but Tracy visits her clients in person at least quarterly; all of her clients are using Profit First in their businesses
  • Tracy believes that people (clients) buy people – so your website should have your picture and your story so that clients can connect with you.
  • To further focused her payroll specialty, Tracy supports accounting firms by subcontracting the payroll work from them, since many do not offer payroll in-house, but with Tracy’s help, are able to do so for their clients

Links and Resources Mentioned

– Xero – online accounting software
Profit First – the book featuring the cash management methods Tracy uses with her clients for value-added services
– Profit First Professionals – the organization for adding Profit First advisory to your service offerings
– Short video for ProfitCon 2015
Receipt Bank – for virtual document conversion / management
InfusionSoft – for CRM and automation of email reminders

Tracy’s best advice for bookkeepers who are just getting started or struggling? Start or join a mastermind group with other business owners.

Can’t get enough of Tracy? She was recently interviewed for the Grow My Accounting Practice podcast too.

 

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Virtual Bookkeeping Technology: Is It Bleeding Your Profits?

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

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

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

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

How is this possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Break Out of the Pricing Maze

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

A two-step approach:

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

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

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

If you’d like to learn the elegant understandable way to actually implement value pricing and drastically improve your bottom line and serve your clients at the same time, please join us.

UPDATE:  The webinar replay (if you missed the live event) is available as part of the TFB Packaging & Pricing program, and includes access to software Mark has developed to make value pricing so much easier.

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