Is There Really a Shortage of Bookkeepers?

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There seems to be a paradox among freelance bookkeepers.

The #1 question I hear over and over again is, “How do I find new clients?”

Yet, in my own experience as a freelance bookkeeper (and QuickBooks® consultant) I find that there is actually a big shortage of bookkeepers!

Why do I think so?.

My Experience

I routinely attract more new client inquiries than I can handle. In fact, if I wanted to grow a team of bookkeepers and consultants, that would be very do-able. However, it’s not my chosen business model.

So what do I do when new prospective clients call, but I am at capacity and unable to take them on? (Which, quite honestly, is most of the time!)

I refer them to colleagues who are a good fit for the clients’ particular needs. But not having enough colleagues to refer “overflow” clients to is becoming a problem!

In fact, one of my “goals” when attending the Scaling New Heights conference a few weeks ago was to connect with colleagues to whom I can refer suitable clients. Since I work on a virtual basis, my referral partners need to be able to work with their clients on a remote basis as well.

Most bookkeepers and QuickBooks consultants said they were working via the Internet with at least some clients, but I only met a few colleagues who were “suitable” referral partners. While all to whom I spoke are likely capable bookkeepers, there was a noticeable “issue” that makes me reluctant to refer clients their way…

I’ll come back to this “issue” in a minute.

My Research

Over the years, whenever I meet a CPA, I routinely ask if s/he feels that finding good bookkeepers to work with is a challenge. Without exception, they agree that good bookkeepers are hard to find, AND some have mentioned that the bookkeepers they work with are already booked to capacity.

Hmmm…

Most recently, out of the blue, I started receiving emails from the website MiNeeds.com. They were sending information about bookkeeping requests that were coming into their site from small businesses looking for help.

Apparently, they did not have enough accountants and bookkeepers in their database to whom they could refer these requests. So they were prospecting for more bookkeepers and accountants!

It appears the problem of supply and demand, at least in part, is connecting small business owners who are looking for bookkeepers with the bookkeepers that can help them. This is also known as marketing. ;-)

MiNeeds makes their money by selling leads to professionals, along with providing their “members” with other ways to get the word out about their services.

I signed up for a free account so that I could get a feel for just how many small businesses were going to the site looking for help with their bookkeeping. The results are eye-opening.

In just 30 days I’ve received 44 service request emails!

Not all of them were appropriate for the services I offer (had I chosen to sign up and pay for some of these leads), but some of them looked very tempting (if I were looking for more clients). Many of them were QuickBooks specific. Some were for one-time projects. Others for month-to-month work.

My conclusion regarding the Bookkeeper Shortage Paradox?

There are, in fact, not enough bookkeepers who know how to CONNECT with the business owners who need them.

The “issue”

The vast majority of freelance bookkeepers I’ve spoken to do not know how to effectively market their services to attract the right kind of clients AND they do not actually know WHO their best clients are (so they don’t know how to find them).

It really comes down to learning how to run a business. A BIG part of every successful business is knowing WHO your specific clients are and how to marketing to them. When freelance bookkeepers don’t know who their clients are, that makes it difficult for referral partners (like me) as well. We don’t know who we should refer to these colleagues as qualified prospective clients!

WHO do you look for when you are trying to find new clients, and HOW do your reach them?

Let’s compare notes on what’s working well, and what’s not! Please share your experiences and comment below.

By the way, these issues of learning how to run a freelance bookkeeping business AND market your skills are exactly why I’ve started the The Freelance Bookkeeper Premium monthly training program.

If you’ve been struggling with these issues, I think you’ll find the first two action-based trainings helpful (available now) Click here to learn more.

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Freelance bookkeeper, trainer and consultant who works with internet savvy business owners and bookkeeping professionals to maximize cash flow and build true win-win relationships.

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36 Responses to “Is There Really a Shortage of Bookkeepers?”

  • Connie Carlson on July 10, 2012

    I personally am overloaded with clients (some I need to weed out as they cause way too much stress). I would like to go completely virtual eventually and would be very interested in a webinar or series of classes that show the specifics of how to do that. I have a number of clients that I have never met where I do all of their work via email and one or two that I do via LogMeIn but so far it is quite cumbersome. I’m sure there is more that I need to learn and understand before this will become my chosen business model completely. Are you going to focus on that in the future by any chance?

    • Gabrielle on July 11, 2012

      Yes, Connie, you are 100% right! Not all clients are created equal, and some of them are just not a good “fit” if they are causing you more stress than they’re worth. A great way to weed them out is to start raising the rates you charge them. If that doesn’t work, you may need to let them go (or refer them to a colleague that would be a better fit)

      As far as transitioning your business to totally virtual, yes, I am considering running a mini-coaching program that will provide training, but will also be action based so the changeover can happen step-by-step AND you can get personalized help every step of the way. If that sounds good, please let me know what you would like included in that kind of program, if you have any specific requests. Right now, I’m working to put together a few different combinations of tools that work well together, depending on how you want to work with your clients / the clients’ tech tolerance.

  • Susan Osborne on July 10, 2012

    Great post – I always glean great new information from you Gabrielle!

    I recently carved out my niche a bit more (although I will niche it even more as I work with more people). I can’t tell you how much easier it makes marketing my services! I went from saying ” I do bookkeeping for small business” to “I do bookkeeping for creative entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants”. Still a little broad, but SO much clearer in my head who I want to work with.

    I now attend networking events for creative types. I partner myself and my services with coaches doing programs for creative entrepreneurs. I know how to tailor my messaging. It really, truly, makes a difference.

    • Gabrielle on July 11, 2012

      Hi Susan!

      Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad this is helpful to you! :-)

      You are right on the mark about the difference it makes for your marketing when you have a very clearly defined niche market! You are living proof of how well it works! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. And yes, your current intro is SO much more powerful than the generalized one! Great job!

  • Cherine on July 10, 2012

    Personally I agree with both Susan Osborne and Connie. I was once overloaded because I needed the income but then I found that there are clients that are interested in having there books done and then those that don’t care, which is why I sorted my clients out to the ones I want and ones I don’t want.
    There are lots of bookkeepers but how good are they? I left my job to start this business 2 years ago and my ex boss still hasn’t found a bookkeeper to replace me. I had the pleasure of working with some of them and I can tell that they don’t know basic bookkeeping but they have done books for either family businesses or big corporations. So they do it a certain way. Its the same for CPA’s there is good ones and bad ones and clients normally go through a few before they find one that gets there work done.

    • Gabrielle on July 11, 2012

      Spot on, Cherine!

      When first starting out, it is easy to accept any client that SAYS they will pay you. But as you learned, that is short-sighted and won’t work if you want high quality clients. You need to be quite particular about which clients are the ones who “qualify” as your clients. We usually learn that through experience because it seems counter-intuitive when we are scraping for new clients.

      You are right about bookkeepers (and CPAs) and that they, too, are not all created equal. I feel most sorry for the clients, though, because they are the ones who really get the brunt of it when trying to connect with a bookkeeper who can really help them. Your ex-boss is a clear example of that problem. It also proves (once again) that if you are a competent bookkeeper with a specialty, you will NEVER have a shortage of clients, as long as you aim your marketing straight to your ideal clients.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! :-)

      • Dora on July 14, 2012

        Hi Gabrielle,
        I am brand new to this site and to beginning my own virtual bookkeeping services. After reading Cherine’s comment and Gabrielle’s reply I already see the need to accept my clients carefully.

        However Gabrielle, there is one type of client I have not seen you write about and therefore no comments on the subject either. This type of client is the Guardianship type of bookkeeping and the Court system type of bookkeeping. This is a totally different type of bookkeeping and reports and deadlines.

        The one problem I do run into with the Guardianship type of client is that they really are not expecting to have to pay the cost of this type of bookkeeping. The Courts want the reports done one way and even if one item is out of place the entire report has to be amended and the client does not feel the Courts should be so picky. Furthermore, the client does not want to expose all of the documents needed to obtain all of the information needed to complete the required reports.

        When the bill is presented to them they are flabbergasted at the amount of the bookkeeping invoice. Is there an easier method to completing this type of bookkeeping? If so I would love to know what it is please. Thanks for listening.

        • Gabrielle on July 16, 2012

          Hi Dora,

          Thanks for the question about Guardianship and court system bookkeeping. I’ve not written about it because I’ve had no experience with it, but that would definitely be a specialized area of bookkeeping because it has specific requirements. I can also see that for those who need it, it would be in high demand (and not every bookkeeper would have the expertise they need).

          As far as the challenges you face with this type of work, it sounds somewhat similar to what clients need / go through when being audited by the IRS. Often the IRS themselves will mis-communicate, make mistakes and require a ton of (often unnecessary) correspondence and extra work on the part of the accountant. It is the IRS that is using up the accountants time and inflating the bill, but the client is the one who has to pay for it. So, to find the answer to your situation, I’d ask, how to savvy tax accountants deal with the situation? They use an engagement letter (written contract spelling out what is involved so the client has a better idea that they are in for an expensive ride), they often work off of a retainer and bill incrementally over the life of the project. And the real good ones make sure that they are in constant contact with the client so the client realizes all the time that is being spent on their case.

          Hope that helps! Thanks for sharing the information about this special type of bookkeeping, too! I can see that it could be a great niche because the clients absolutely need the help.

  • Niki on July 10, 2012

    I am a start-up freelance bookkeeping business. I worked for 10+ years as a tax accountant in public accounting and realized that there is a need for bookkeepers. With three children under the age of 8 I wanted more flexibility with my children. My only problem is I am having a tough time getting clients. I have a handful, but not nearly enough to make it worth not working fulltime for someone else. Help!

    • Gabrielle on July 11, 2012

      Hi Niki,

      Your issue is that you are now a business owner. That means you need to do marketing to find clients. And for your marketing to be effective, it should be aimed toward the exact type of clients you want to be serving. You have the benefit of your 10+ years at the accounting firm. Based on that experience, decide very specifically the types of clients that need the types of services you want to specialize in (or the specific problems you can solve that make you more than “just another bookkeeper”). When you seek to make connections with that specific audience, you will be able to find all the clients you need to fit your schedule and income requirements.

      Congratulations on taking action to establish a real business, and not just a self-made job!

  • Kgosi Johnson on July 11, 2012

    I know there is no magic wand. Aside from having an ideal client profile, I really would love to learn how to effective target & market to consistent and stable clients. The clients who do surface are either a P.I.T.A. or are trying to get bookkeeping done for pennies on the dollar. No freelance Bookkeeper, including myself, can live off of pennies on the dollar.

    • Gabrielle on July 11, 2012

      Hi Kgosi,

      If you are attracting clients who do not value your services or do not want to pay your rates, my guess is one of two things are at issue:

      1. Your ideal client profile is not specific enough. It should include the specific qualifications that would let you know right away whether a prospective client will value your services or not. If not, they don’t qualify and you move on. Your ideal client profile serves as a filter so you don’t waste your time “courting” the wrong type of clients.

      OR

      2. You are not putting your focused marketing message out to those who fit your ideal client profile. If you do not find any prospects who fit your client profile, you need to identify where those type of clients gather and can be reached. As an example, take a look at how Susan has been able to narrow her focus from generally small businesses to specifically creative entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants. That has helped her to know where to go to find her ideal clients. Is your focus that tight?

      Bottom line: What you focus on with emotion becomes your reality. If you focus on the wrong type of clients, that’s who you’ll get. Shift your focus and you’ll shift your reality. It take some practice and discipline, but it can literally shift your business almost instantly. I’ve experienced it, and several of your fellow bookkeepers who have commented here have clearly done the same.

      You may also find it helpful to go back and listen to Connie’s interview and see how she transitioned from struggling, to now facing the challenges of too many clients! You can listen to the interview here: http://thefreelancebookkeeper.com/blog/introducing-the-freelance-bookkeeper-spotlight-with-connie-carlson/

  • Sarah on July 13, 2012

    Thank you for this blog – it is very helpful.
    After 10 yrs in accounting, I recently started doing freelance bookkeeping and am hoping to generate enough business to do it for a long time. My problem has been generating business, as I am completely new to owning my own business and doing my own marketing. I have a small pool of folks who are happy with my services, but not enough business by any means.
    I have an idea of the businesses I want to target (tech companies), but have been afraid so far to gear all my marketing, website, etc to this niche as I don’t want to turn off other types of companies. Is this a misguided approach?
    Also, you mentioned MiNeeds – I have also been getting mail from them, and was wondering if I should take the plunge and invest a couple bucks in them to get some leads. Anyone had luck with them?

    • Gabrielle on July 16, 2012

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your feedback, and you ask a great question! When I speak to MANY bookkeepers about specializing, that’s one of the fears that come up. They are afraid that if they specialize, that then they will miss out on clients who might otherwise come their way. The reality is, even when you specialize, there will be clients that come your way who do not fit into your specialty. And depending on your business model, you should also consider how many clients would put you at capacity? Especially if you are working on a virtual basis, do not hesitate to gear your marketing materials very specifically to your target audience. That will make them far more effective than trying to be everything to everyone (and won’t set you apart for any other bookkeeper).

  • Amanda on July 15, 2012

    Similar to Sarah’s question, I am also curious about MiNeeds. I have not heard of them prior to reading this post, but it seems like it would be a great way to get connected with prospective clients. Is it worth the monthly fee to get leads? Are you able to actually do a search to see if clients meet your “ideal client profile” with just a free membership. Do you know much about it? I really appreciate this blog. It’s super helpful for the freelancing bookkeeper!

    • Gabrielle on July 16, 2012

      Amanda,

      Yes, MiNeeds was new to me, too. As I can find the time, I’m checking into all the different features they have to offer. If memory serves from when I checked it out initially, basically they charge about $5 per month as a membership fee, and about $10 per lead, but you get to pick which leads you respond to. And if you think about it, you will likely not convert 100% of the leads to which you submit proposals, but even if you paid for 5 leads in a month – so your total “cost” was $55 for the month and you got at least one new client (and my guess is your chances would be pretty good at converting at least that if you chose your leads wisely) then you will be paying only $55 for a client that could bring you at least hundreds of dollars a year (probably thousands).

      As far as making sure that the potential clients are a good fit, it does appear that they give you more information when you are a paying member, but it might be worth an experiment for a month or two to see if the quality of leads is worth it. Like anything in business, sometimes we just have to try it out to see if it works well.

      My best suggestion is to sign up for a free account and use as many of their free features to build a good presence on their site first, since potential clients can also see you and may just choose to work with you directly, too. I will write more on the blog as I learn more about what they have to offer and give a further recommendation (or not) regarding the leads service when I know more. But ultimately, we need to sharpen our own marketing skills to get the best results with a service like this one.

      • Kgosi Johnson on September 8, 2012

        Gabrielle: Have you done anymore research about MiNeeds?

        • Gabrielle on September 17, 2012

          Not yet, Kgosi. They are on my list to call, but I have not tried their paid services because I really already get far more leads than I can handle right now. But will report what more I find out. It is not off my radar for reporting purposes, just not a top priority at the moment. I’ll write a follow up post as soon as I have the necessary information, though. Of course, you might just want to try out their service for yourself. I wouldn’t mind if you shared your results with us either! ;-)

  • Georgene Jones on July 22, 2012

    Hi,

    I’ve just started my own bookkeeping business and have joined a BNI networking as well as the Chamber of Commerce for both the community I live in and one nearby. I’ve only been in business for a month and already have 3 clients. It seems that every networking event I attend I am approached or have approached other small business owners who tell me they could use someone like me. I will need at least 10 – 15 more clients to reach my goal and it seems slow going. I do think that you are completely right when you say that we need to do a better job marketing our services so that business owners will know that we exist. What I would like to know, being new to all of this – is what defines a “good” bookkeeper?

    • Gabrielle on August 5, 2012

      Hi Georgene,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences so far in your new business and CONGRATULATIONS for putting yourself out into the thick of networking in person and building relationships. Getting 3 clients in your first month is EXCELLENT! Remember, you are building a business. So at the rate you’re going, you will fill your business with paying clients within only a few months. Then what will you do when the clients keep coming your way? ;-)

      If you want to know what a “good bookkeeper” is, think about the needs of the businesses you are talking to. They are looking for a professional (someone who knows bookkeeping and hopefully has some real world experience who can do what they either can’t or don’t have the time to do for their business). A “good bookkeeper” fills the needs of her clients (and then some) and builds a win-win relationship.

      If, however, your question was regarding credentials (a common question for new freelance bookkeepers), then you may want to review my opinion on what “qualifies” one as a freelance bookkeeper in these previous blog posts:

      The Freelance Bookkeeper’s Credentials

      The Myth About Bookkeeper Credentials

  • Kgosi Johnson on July 25, 2012

    Thank you Gabrielle for your advice. I remember you telling me that once I have my ideal client, then go to where they go. One of my ideal clients is a Naturopath Doctor. Locally, I am having trouble locating any conferences that Naturopaths go to or trying to discover where Naturopaths spend there time. How can I better locate where my ideal client goes to?

    • Gabrielle on August 5, 2012

      That’s a very specific niche, Kgosi! Excellent! First, where to find where they gather, you have two choices – and I think you should exercise both of them. First, assuming you already have a client in your chosen niche, ask him or her where or how they associate with their colleagues, whether at annual conferences, an industry association, or online discussion group. Your second option is to use Google to search for associations or networks for your niche. I ran a quick search and found some excellent places where you could start networking with naturopathic doctors.

      Since this is such a tight niche, you may want to see how many naturopathic doctors show up in your local listings (Google again). If there are not many, this may indicate it is an especially good niche to serve on a virtual (rather than a local) basis, provided they are online. (If they are not online, then you may want to choose an additional specialty niche – one that is either abundant in your local area or has a strong presence online)

      • K Johnson on August 7, 2012

        Thank you Gabrielle as usual. What did you type into google to find some info on Naturopaths? I think I need to learn to use and research more efficiently with google!!

        • Gabrielle on August 9, 2012

          “Naturopath Association” Just think like you are your target audience (Ideal Client) and what would they type in if they wanted to join a group of colleagues a.k.a. a gathering place. Other good words to add to your specialty when searching are, “network”, “conference”, “club”, “institute” or “membership”

  • Kgosi Johnson on July 25, 2012

    To follow up on going to where my ideal client are, how do I locate virtually where Naturopaths go to on the internet? Speaking of the virtual world, is there any particular group to join that Michelle Long belongs to?

    • Gabrielle on August 5, 2012

      See my previous comment – Google is your friend. :-)

      You can find Michelle on LinkedIn.

  • Sarah on July 27, 2012

    On the subject of finding new clients.. I have been encouraged to join BNI (a paid networking group) recently by some folks whose opinions I value and trust. I have been hesitant to date to do so, because it is a pretty big upfront cost and requires a weekly commitment.
    I am reconsidering, however, and am wondering if anyone has had success with this. Marketing is certainly not my strong point, and I am getting to the point where I am not picking up enough new clients.

    • Gabrielle on August 5, 2012

      Sarah, Kgosi gave you good advice. The value in BNI is the consistency and the fact that in each group (your group) you will be the only bookkeeper (no competition). But, if the requirements of the group do not fit with your personal style, then it will always be a struggle. You may be better suited to find a similar group (not as expensive or as strict requirements) that will allow you to network with local businesses and share referrals. Adopt the “win-win or no deal” mantra in everything you do in your business, and you will find the right networking method and be more successful at it.

      BTW, I’ve never been in a BNI group for some of the same reasons you mentioned (didn’t like the expense or the strict requirements), however, the business people I’ve met who are involved with BNI swear by it and think it is the best. So ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you feel comfortable giving it a try or if some alternative group would serve you (and you them) better.

  • Kgosi Johnson on July 27, 2012

    To Sarah: Each person has to do what feels best for them and operate with what works best for them. I would visit the BNI chapter in your area and see if any of the BNI members would be ideal clients for you.
    Everyone’s situation is different. You must realize that if you miss 3 meetings, then your membership ends. You can have a replacement for the day you have to miss without receiving a penalty.

    • Gabrielle on August 5, 2012

      Thanks for your comments on this, Kgosi. :-)

      • K Johnson on August 8, 2012

        You are welcome Gabrielle.

  • [...] Posted on August 6th, 2012 by Gabrielle Last month’s article about the apparent shortage of bookkeepers really struck a [...]

  • Beverly on September 16, 2012

    Gabrielle,
    I recently established my bookkeeping business. I want my business to be a virtual bookkeeping business whose target markets are cpa’s/accountants, day care center owners, and other professional service businesses that have a small base of employees. So the accountant, day car owner, or professional service provider that has bookkeeping, payroll (1-10 EE’s), and tax prep needs that is technology friendly. To start, I am interested in your virtual, marketing, and monthly practice program. And money is very tight. I also want to look at the PAP with intuit now that they have made the program more affordable. I have a former career in insurance, investments, retirement, and banking. This time last year, I completed a bookkeeping, quick books, and tax prep course. While my studies were very successful, I am not stupid enough to think that I have all the answers but I also know that I am intelligent enough to move my business forward. I am the type of client you are looking for. I am intelligent but new to the freelance bookkeeping business and my lack of experience has stopped my in my tracks. I have $300 to invest in my business right now and I am not sure about which program to sign up for initially to get things started with my first few clients. Can you give me a suggestion about which program I should start with assuming I also go ahead and sign up for the PAP program? Specifically the virtual or marketing program. I could be my first handful of clients and look at the monthly program later. In addition to your site please also respond to my email address with your feedback. I would love the work with a couple of clients and then become an additional referral source you could use for future prospects. I am doing a daycare association conference next week. I am really excited about that. I am hoping to get at least 20-30 prospect leads. If you could respond between now and next week that would be great.

    • Gabrielle on September 17, 2012

      Hi Beverly,

      Your goals are clear and it is likely helpful for others to see what you plan to do. As far as answering your questions, they will be better done via private email.

  • Yavi on September 16, 2014

    Hello Gabrielle,
    I just came across your web site and find it extremely helpful. I am thinking about opening a bookkeeping service and will very much appreciated your guidance. My partner and I are both CPAs with 10+ years of experience in crporte accounting, banking, banking regulations, general accounting and hedge accounting. At this point, it is not clear to me what clients I should market to and the direction we should take given our experience. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • Gabrielle on September 18, 2014

      Yavi,

      If you want to go freelance, you will be working with small businesses. I suspect you’ll find that kind of bookkeeping quite different than what you’ve been used to in the corporate world. As you know, in business it’s all about an exchange of value. What problems are you able to solve for small businesses? With your experience you may want to work with mid-market firms who operate more like larger corporations (which could be lucrative), but it will take some time to gain footing there. Honestly, it sounds like you might want to either freelance for subcontracted work from public accounting firms to gain the experience of working in a small business environment. That may help you get a feel for the type of work, challenges and ways that you can be of service to these kinds of businesses. Hope that helps.

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