As a freelance bookkeeper doing virtual bookkeeping, I think it’s important to stay on top of the trends in our industry. Especially now, technology is driving some big changes for us and how we run our businesses.
But that’s the bright, shiny part that easily catches our attention. What’s the latest app? How can I automate more? Yes, we do need to pay attention to those things (as you’ll see below). But I also think we need to pay attention to how the technology is causing us to change the way we communicate with our clients and beyond. In fact, I think it’s crucial!
We need to be learning more than the technical side of running our businesses. It appears that we are falling behind when it comes to how we connect with our clients and the true value we have to offer them.
So here are the 5 key takeaways I got from attending Scaling New Heights (SNH) this year…
1. Attending the conference is not just about the classes
Networking with peers and industry leaders has been (and continues to be) invaluable for my practice. When you attend these events you can connect with fellow bookkeepers who are where you want to be. You can discuss the issues you’re facing and learn from their experiences (and solutions), which are shared freely. You can also become mentor to those who are facing the issues you’ve already overcome and continue the upward spiral.
In this live environment, we have access to the thought leaders in our industry which can result in opportunities that cannot be predicted. This year, I not only was able to set up two preliminary projects with two software vendors, and reconnect with a couple thought leaders in our industry (whom I now call friends and mentors), but I was unexpectedly asked to join a prestigious group that will definitely lead to some high-end consulting projects.
These opportunities would be nearly impossible if I had stayed home and only watched the streaming main stage sessions.
2. Automation, Integration and Delegation
There are a crazy number of new apps in our industry, many of them designed to “streamline workflow.” In some ways, I think they are giving us too many choices and the vision is muddier than ever! The solution appears to be to move in the opposite direction than I see most of us take.
We need to choose the focused direction we want to move our business in first (see takeaway #5 below), decide on the results, function and workflow we want, and only then, choose the apps that best fit our requirements. That way, we filter out all the noise from apps that are cool, but don’t fit the vision we have and the clients we want to serve.
For me, less is more. The core tools I use in my own workflow are QuickBooks Online > SmartVault > Hubdoc > Bill.com
Once the automation is in place, the next step is standarized procedures and building a virtual team.
3. Value Pricing is now a must
Part of the disruption caused by automation of traditional bookkeeping tasks is that it’s saving us time. The problem? If you bill by the hour, as most bookkeepers do, you will either need to scale your business by becoming a high volume commodity (since automation also drives down our hourly fee), or you’ll need to add more value to the services you offer (again, see takeaway #5 below)
Think about it. Are we selling time or results? Clients value results, and value pricing is the way that we can leverage the efficiencies technology is giving us AND upgrade the quality of our services by doing more than simple bookkeeping for our clients. Yes, value pricing is in line with a win-win virtual bookkeeping practice.
Joe Woodard and Dawn Fotopolous both brought the concept home when recommending that we “charge a percentage under the value you create for your clients” and “get paid for what you deliver – not what you do.” Mark Wickersham taught us how to make the transition both with his main stage and breakout sessions, and far and away his approach is the best I’ve found (and I’ve been studying value pricing for a few years now)
I’ve implemented what Mark teaches with great success, especially on consulting work, but am now determined that ALL my clients, including monthly bookkeeping clients, are being converted to value pricing, without exception.
By the way, if you’ve not heard Mark yet, he will be speaking at QuickBooks Connect again this year, or you can see the webinar we did together if you’re a member of my TFB Packaging & Pricing program
4. Marketing is all about networking and building relationships
Always a popular topic at the conferences, since the never-ending question is always how to find more (high quality) clients (again, see takeaway #5). This year a clear message came through (which I whole-heartedly agree with):
The best marketing is relationship based and we can do that via education and social media.
Clients respond best when we reach out to help them learn what they need to know AND build a reputation as a trusted expert in the process. Providing education, especially through public speaking, is a challenge for most of us. But I can say that it is also extremely effective, based on my own experience, especially online. Social media is a little less intimidating and can, in a more subtle way, be used to attract clients through education as well.
Surprising to me was the success I heard fellow bookkeepers were having with Facebook ads. I’m not a big fan of most types of advertising, but done in a soft-sell way that complements educational efforts, I can see it working win-win. So it’s finally made it to my “try it” list.
5. To truly flourish, we need to advise and specialize
We’ve heard it for years now. We need to become the supportive, trusted advisors our clients need to thrive… and be paid well for delivering that kind of value. As already discussed, automation is now making the bulk of our bookkeeping tasks “push-button simple,” which is and will continue to devalue the services we provide. This will force us, like it or not, to serve clients with higher value services just to maintain the same level of revenue! (See takeaway #3)
Surveys have proved it again and again. Clients want assistance with their business management and planning. That’s because they usually know how to do the technical part of their business, but they are clueless on how to analyze what their financial records mean in order to manage and grow effectively. We have the ability to help them with that, if we’re willing to step up to the challenge of being more proactive.
Specialization is the win-win solution for doing it more easily and effectively. Providing high-quality advisory services to clients requires that we truly understand their business. That’s a tall order when you have clients in all different industries. I attended the sessions for serving legal clients, since I enjoy working with small legal practices, and I’ve found them to be hungry for help on the business side.
Mike Michalowicz both in his keynote session and his breakout shared simple and very actionable steps we can take immediately to identify the right niche to fit your business. He also outlined the 5-step process to follow to minimize the risks. In fact, since this is such a crucial topic for us, Mike has agreed to do a webinar on this topic with me this Thursday, June 9th surrounding “How to Find Your Bookkeeping Business Niche” Please join us if you want to move in this direction yourself.
While some or most of these takeaways may not be the first time you’ve heard them (they weren’t for me either) I honestly think they’re all important, with #5 being the most crucial to embrace… and implement… if we don’t want to be phased out by the very technology we use every day. We need to become more consultative and specializing is the easiest and most profitable way to do that.
Were you at SNH too? What key takeaways did you get?