Without a doubt, the hottest thing in the freelance bookkeeping world is taking your services online and working on a virtual basis with your clients. Nearly all of us recognize immediately the advantages to working from your home office instead of traveling to meet or service your clients’ bookkeeping needs on-site.
Just a few of the delicious advantages are…
* Geographical boundaries are expanded. You can work with clients no matter where they are located, as long as they have a high-speed Internet connection, which the vast majority of clients now have.
* More efficient and profitable. You can work more efficiently and rack up more billable hours because you’re not wasting time traveling and can batch your work for streamlined workflow from one client to the next.
* More flexible schedule. You are not confined to “normal working hours” to get your client work done. That means you can be more available to your family, as well as work during the time of day when you are at your best.
But these advantages and freedoms also creates some new challenges that can be easily overlooked until you’re already in the thick of it. Working through the Internet can be tricky. Let’s explore the top 4 virtual bookkeeping challenges we face so you can get past them in your own business and set yourself up for true online success.
#1 – Clients
Without clients you don’t have a business. Yet there will definitely be clients you wish you didn’t have. The good news is, you don’t have to work with clients you don’t like! Talk to your boss (you!) about the problem and get permission to work only with the clients you WANT to work with. If you find that you’ve gained a client or two that isn’t a good fit, decide on a cut-off date for the relationship to end. Do what you said you’d do for each of them, and then refer them to to a fellow bookkeeper who would be happy to have the as a new client(s).
In fact, this is the very reason that I recommend using a “win-win or no deal” clause in your engagement letters for ALL clients. (You ARE using engagement letters with all your clients, right?) It works as your insurance policy from ever getting stuck with a client that is, or over time becomes, a PITA client.
Other steps that protect you from getting stuck with undesirable clients in the first place include…
* Defining an “Ideal Client” profile and keeping that handy whenever a new prospective client calls
* Defining one or two specialty services (so you’re not doing work you don’t want to do)
* Create internal systems to support good client relationships
#2 – Cash flow
As a service provider you only make money when you perform the bookkeeping work you’ve been hired to do, whether month-to-month work or projects. This can make cash flow a real challenge. If your cash flow starts to dry up, you can get yourself into trouble fast.
Here are a couple strategies that can help…
- Treat yourself as one of your clients and set up a business budget that allows for business savings. This will give you a cushion to work with if / when you hit a slow patch. You’ll also want to allow some funds to support consistent marketing so you can keep your pipeline of new client prospects full.
- Make it easy for clients to pay you quickly and regularly. If you aren’t already accepting e-check and credit card payments online, set up a PayPal account for your business and switch monthly clients to a flat fee. That way you can use the “subscription” function for automatic payments. This is a win-win situation for both you and your clients.
#3 – Proactive Communication
When I hear from virtual bookkeepers who complain constantly about their clients, I listen for what they see the problems are. Often it boils down to the bookkeeper waiting for the client to lead the relationship, especially when it comes to getting the information needed to complete the monthly payroll or bookkeeping. What doesn’t seem to occur to them is that WE are the ones who should be taking the initiative to foster frequent and productive communication with our clients!
Here are a few simple ways to immediately shift from reactive bookkeeping clerk to proactive bookkeeping professional…
- Pay attention to each client’s preferred mode of communication and use that primarily (you should also note it on your internal client files as well for future reference when you delegate the client work to your staff)
- Set a specific schedule for regularly communicating with each client to assure that work gets done on time without unnecessary log jams due to lack of communication. That is part of what the clients is paying you for – to help keep them on track!
- Pick up the phone when necessary to handle urgent matters quickly and professionally. Remember your clients are busy people and have many other demands pulling at them too.
#4 – Time Management
When you run your business from home, you get to set your own working hours. But if you’re not good at managing your time, you could end up working around the clock. In addition to client work, you have a business to run! That means administrative tasks like invoicing, paying your own bills and email are added to your daily to do list. Add to that family responsibilities and you have a schedule bursting at the seams!
Here are a couple tips for staying focused and productive…
- First thing in the morning (before reading email) identify the most important 3-4 tasks you’ll focus on for the day (no matter what) – then get the first task done immediately!
- Before approaching a task, estimate how long it will take you to get it done, and then use a countdown timer to help you stay focused. (This can even be fun!)
Personally I use a cool tool called “Action Enforcer” to do both of these at the same time.
There’s no question about it! The benefits of working virtually far outweigh the challenges. By taking just a few simple actions, you can almost completely remove these success roadblocks and build your own highly profitable virtual bookkeeping business.
By the way, if the idea of setting up a virtual freelance bookkeeping business is something you’d like to take a deeper dive into, then you’ll want to join hundreds of other freelance bookkeepers who have taken their business online and check out my full-blown training course.
If you’re already working virtually, but feel like you need to crack the code to success, you find The Freelance Bookkeeper Success Formula a short-cut to getting what you want from your business.