Dangerous Document Sharing Mistakes – Are You Making Them Too?

Document sharing is something we do constantly as bookkeepers and accountants. We share electronic documents with clients, vendors, our clients' customers and suppliers, and the list goes on. While document sharing is a typical activity in our world, I have been shocked time and again when seeing what ‘typical procedures' actually involve for many of us.

For example, what would you do in these scenarios?

Your client just hired a virtual assistant and you need her completed Form W-9 so you can issue the required Form 1099-MISC for your client at the end of the year.


You've just won a new client using value pricing, which includes getting pre-approved recurring monthly payments via QuickBooks Payments. So as part of your onboarding process, you need to collect the new client's bank or credit card information along with a signed authorization.

How do you go about getting these documents electronically?

What's Happening in Reality

More than a few people who SHOULD be using secure document sharing and controlled procedures aren't. Most are simply using (unencrypted) email! It's convenient, and many just use it without a second thought.

Unfortunately, that includes a lot of bookkeepers and accountants (and lawyers and financial institutions, and software companies, etc.).

  • I've had my own clients, despite being advised otherwise, send me their tax information through regular email
  • I've seen colleagues share sensitive logins and passwords through email
  • I've had financial institutions request me to send them sensitive client information, again, via email
  • Even other large accounting industry organizations for whom I've done work have asked me to provide my own sensitive payment info via email (I didn't follow their procedures)

Why This Is a Problem

Identity theft hit an all-time high in 2016, affecting an estimated 15.4 million people (one in every 16 adults in the U.S.). It caused losses totaling $16 billion, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Likely you've been affected in some way in recent years too, maybe multiple times.

Personally, I've had to replace several credit and debit cards over the years due to security breaches or actual ID theft, and even my cell phone account was hacked this past winter. I was the one who discovered it (within 24 hours, thankfully), but it's a complete mystery how the crook got access to my information (the phone company fraud department was baffled too).

As bookkeepers and accountants, we have a moral and even a legal responsibility to protect our clients' sensitive information. That's likely why the AICPA recently said, With the rampant growth in cybercrime, it's no longer a question of if CPAs, their clients or their organization will become a victim, but when. Accordingly, they've released a white paper this year that lists the top cybercrimes that are the strongest threats to CPAs, and offer recommendations on prevention, detection and recovery strategies.

Bluntly stated, mishandling of clients' (and others') personally identifiable information (PII) can put you out of business. Not only can breaches lead to a bad reputation or loss of clients, but also to federal and state compliance audits and even being sued by the government. And that doesn't just apply to accountants, but to all businesses who handle PII.

We need to be paying attention to this!

What Can You Do About It?

Start by thinking before sending email.

Yes, it's convenient to just attach a document and hit the Send button. But as true professionals, we must stop to think about what could happen if what we are sending fell into the wrong hands. Red flags for information that should not be emailed include:

  • Documents that expose Social Security numbers
  • Bank and credit card information
  • Passwords, especially to online banking
  • Debit card PINs
  • Dates of birth
  • Health records
  • Anything that contains personally identifiable information

Use a secure online document portal or file delivery system instead. Provide instructions to your clients on how they should handle their information properly. (By the way, this is part of the advisory role that clients truly need from us and is of high value, especially to small businesses that don't realize the risks.) Consider your internal workflow and processes, and communicate them clearly to your team. If they are not standardized, this is a great reason to get started with that.

Personally, I use SmartVault for my document management almost exclusively because of the high level of protection and ease of use when sharing information with my clients. It integrates with other apps I use as well, such as for the scenarios at the beginning of this article. RightSignature can be used to securely automate the gathering of sensitive information that requires a signature. It then delivers the documents directly to SmartVault. (Just be sure you adjust the settings, so the signed documents are not automatically emailed once executed!)

If you're looking for ways to think through your workflow and see how to vet the apps you use, including considering your security requirements as an accountant or bookkeeper, join us in TFB Premium this month on “Recommended Apps for Today's Virtual Bookkeeper

By the way, because SmartVault is a key app I use in my own bookkeeping practice (and have since 2009), they are now a trusted sponsor of The Freelance Bookkeeper. Which apps do you use to protect your clients and help streamline your workflow when it comes to sharing documents?


Tagged As: , , , , , ,

5 Ways Attending Accounting Conferences Pays Off

Every year I spend thousands of dollars and lose billable time so I can travel to at least a few conferences. Some of them are huge events. Others are smaller “cozy” gatherings. However, most freelance bookkeepers won't do this. Heck, most CPAs at multi-partner firms don't either!

So this begs the question, why would I spend so much time and money, especially as a freelance bookkeeper, to attend these events? Is there something I know that the majority of accountants and bookkeepers don't?

Well, yes and no.

To state it plainly, the reason the vast majority of our colleagues don't attend these events is because they are short sighted. At least that's my experience. They focus on the “cost” and not the payoff.

What are the “Costs”?

To go to one of these national events (such as Scaling New Heights – which starts next week) you have to pay for your conference fee (several hundred dollars), airfare, hotel, and at least some meals and incidentals. Realistically, after everything is said and done, your investment adds up to a couple thousand dollars, give or take. If you attend more than one conference per year, that gets multiplied.

You also need to adjust your schedule so that your clients are taken care of or work is delayed until your return. That may mean you are taking a financial hit (if you pay someone else to handle your workload) in addition to the above costs.

But I'm glad to do it. You see, this is a wise investment in my business growth rather than a cost or expense. (Although I'm certainly glad that the IRS lets me deduct these “investments” as expenses come tax time.) Here's why I think so.

The Huge Payoff

In my experience, over many years now, attending at least one accounting technology conference each year gives you 5 or more ways to get a hefty return on your investment.

1. Current and Future Technology – Like it or not, our world is changing and bookkeeping is being automated. By knowing what's coming and the opportunities being created, we position ourselves as premium level bookkeepers who won't go obsolete. We also get direct access to the software companies and have input into what they are creating for our profession. It doesn't get more cutting edge than that!

2. Your Skills and Expertise – Conferences provide us with immersion opportunities to get certified in the core software and skills we need to take on the role of true experts and advisers to our clients. Again, that leads to premium level service and fees.

3. Your Business Management – As financial professionals we often neglect our own strategic planning and struggle with key issues such as marketing, workflow, and operations. Our professional conferences bring us case studies and best practices for what our most successful colleagues are doing, making it much easier to shortcut and model what's working for others. That saves a lot time and heartache trying to figure it all out on your own.

4. Support and Community – Many bookkeepers who attend for the first time are surprised at how welcoming our community is. It's hard to describe what it's like, but just today on Facebook, author and thought leader Dawn Fotopulos said to me, “That's why I love the ProAdvisor community so much. They're family.” And the family support continues long after the conferences end.

And that leads to…

5. Networking and New Opportunities – This is more valuable than of all the others combined! Nothing beats in-person connections. You get to meet top-notch thought leaders, celebrities and cream-of-the-crop colleagues, some of whom will become your dear friends. It's where amazing opportunities abound that can lead to very lucrative ways to grow your business. But the only way to tap into this is by connecting with the people who come to these conferences. Reach out and connect. Magic will follow…again and again.

How much of a return can you expect? I've heard it said at least THREE TIMES your investment. Using our scenario above, that would be approximately $6,000 for one event! In my own experience, the return is more like FIVE times my investment, and all the fun and excitement you experience in the process are pure gravy.

But to reap that kind of return, you have to be intentional and proactive. Rewards come to those who, upon returning home, take fast action on the plans and connections made during the conference.

So are you ready to give conferences a try?

A Few Recommended Events

Here are some of the events I have or will attend, with this first being the absolute easiest way to get at least a taste of what goes on at the larger conferences.

Scaling New Heights Live Broadcast (free) – June 4-7

It's too late to sign up for the live conference,* which is one of the main QuickBooks-centered events of the year. But you can attend the key main stage sessions with this special streaming option.

Main Stage presentations are live, and pre-recorded content is being streamed in between the live sessions.

* I'll be attending this one on location in Orlando, FL, so look for me in the audience! I'll try to wave to you. 😉

Accountex USA – Boston, MA – September 6-8

A more general large accounting technology conference (not biased toward any single bookkeeping software company). This one used to be known as SleeterCon.

Martin Bissett's – Secrets of Superior Accounting Firms

A more intimate, highly interactive event that utilizes international research and case studies for what's been most effective for the top firms in our profession surrounding marketing, profitability, growth, talent recruitment & retention, technology and succession planning. Three locations in North America this year:

* I've already signed up for this one. So let me know if you're coming too and we'll share a meal together!

ProfitCon 2017 – Profit First Professionals – Morristown, NJ – September 27-30

A medium sized event for accountants, bookkeepers and business coaches who are united in the mission to eradicate entrepreneurial poverty using the Profit First method (and beyond). This is a fun and highly interactive event run by author Mike Michalowicz and Ron Saharyan, founders of Profit First Professionals.

QuickBooks Connect – San Jose, CA – November 15-17

Another of the major QuickBooks-centered events of the year. This one brings together Accountants, Small Business Owners and Software Developers for a huge blow-out event. One of my favorites of the year (and the conference ticket is usually quite reasonably priced too).

There are many, MANY more conferences and events to choose from, literally all over the world. In fact, I'll be attending a couple events overseas this year. Whichever you prefer, whether smaller local events or the huge international events, Google is your friend. A quick search for conferences, roadshows or accounting events will give you plenty to pick from no matter where you're located.

You CAN “Afford” This!

Still worried about the amount of the investment? Don't be. When you plan ahead, it will become nearly “effortless”. First, remember that for events like these, you don't have to pay for everything all at once. You pay for your ticket first, later buy airfare, and book your hotel, but pay for that when you attend the event. It's spread out.

The simplest way to make it easy on your budget (and not go into debt) is to choose an event, and then open a dedicated online bank account like Capital One 360. Then start squirreling away money into that account over time. Make it a game. Save the “spare change” you might not realize you have. You can also set an automatic transfer to your new Conference Fund account for say $40 per week (less than ONE hour of your billable time!) to make saving for your conference investment a set-it-and-forget-it habit.

If you do this, I guarantee you will have enough money to attend at least one conference each year. All that's really needed is to make the decision to do it, and then reap the benefits.

So which conference(s) will YOU attend?


Workflow, Convenience, and the Value of Your Services

Workflow is something most of us want to improve. In fact, it's a buzzword in our profession right now. Why? Because done right, your workflow means you can get more done, consistently and more profitably. Good workflow makes it easier to scale your business, expand your workload capacity, or even take more time off, if that's what you're after.

But what does your workflow mean to your clients? Can good workflow help you attract new clients? The answer is, YES!

Here's an example that illustrates what I mean that happened just this past week in my own business…

I had a phone appointment with a potential new client that came through my website. When we started the call, the first thing out of his mouth was how impressed he was with my automated appointment setting system. He was delighted at how easy it was to use, how professional it was, and how convenient. Needless to say it started our conversation off on a high note where he viewed me as very professional and cutting edge in the services I offer as a virtual bookkeeper.

So your workflow is not just about getting your work done quickly and efficiently with your internal processes. It's also about how it affects your client when working with you. When you can make your client's experience a pleasant one (most clients hate dealing with the details of their financial records), your value as a bookkeeper soars in their eyes.

Automation + Convenience = Value

When considering improvements to your workflow, could you include automation too? Think about how it will affect your client's experience as well. Will it contribute to an impression of professional and high quality services?

Regarding my automated scheduling system, I put that in place a few years ago. The first reason was for my own convenience. It was much easier to use a simple link to my calendar rather than attempt the tedious and time-consuming back-and-forth of coordinating appointments and meetings via email. From there, I integrated the new system into my website to make it easier for potential clients to speak with me personally as well. So a win-win automated scheduling tool that integrated with Google Calendar was a good fit for my bookkeeping practice. (If you're dying to know which one it is, I use Schedule Once and am very pleased with it)

The lesson here is that when something is convenient, it is worth a lot, both to you and your clients. What part of your workflow that affects your clients could you make more convenient? Where could you remove any existing pain or friction?

This is an important point. If you want clients to view you as highly valuable, you need to make it easy for them to work with you. Clients hire us to remove the pain of keeping up-to-date and accurate financial records themselves. Making this easy for them so that they truly feel served is of very high value. That's value that will set you apart as a premium quality bookkeeper who deserves a premium level fee.

Oh, and yes, value goes both ways. I pay a monthly subscription price for that automated convenience in my appointment scheduling workflow. But I'm fine with that because it saves me time and frustration. The convenience and reliability contributes toward high quality relationships with existing and potential clients. In turn, that makes me more profitable. Those benefits are worth far more to me than the $19/mo I pay for the app.

So how can you use this idea in your bookkeeping business? It's not about whether or not you use a scheduling app. It's about thinking of the ways you interact with your clients, and how you can make it easier and more convenient for them to work with you to get the results they want most.

A great example of this is right at the front-end of your workflow. It's a real sore spot for most of us bookkeepers (and clients). That is, getting the information we need from clients on a consistent basis so we can get the bookkeeping done in a timely way!

Have you thought about ways that you can improve your current workflow to resolve this friction point? Can you use automation tools? Designing your workflow to work for you and your clients, as well as choosing apps that fit your needs is how we can truly streamline our results and upgrade our clients' experience so everyone wins. If finding solutions to your workflow sticking points is something you're interested in exploring, consider joining my new Facebook community surrounding this exact topic. TFB Workflow & Apps Lab where fellow bookkeepers and accountants brainstorm and share what's worked.

What have you found to improve your workflow and boost your value in your clients' eyes? Please share what's working for you so far.

Tagged As: , ,

Bookkeeping Frustration #1 – Getting Client Info

Here's some good news about something that's probably driving you crazy.

From time to time I like to check in with you, my fellow freelance bookkeepers, to see what your biggest challenges are and what's working, and what's not. That's because even though I'm a freelance virtual bookkeeper myself, one person's experience certainly doesn't tell the full story.

There are a few familiar themes that I hear again and again. But one, especially for those of us who are working virtually, comes up consistently. Can you guess what the biggest frustration nearly everyone I ask says they have in running a bookkeeping business?

Yep, it's getting the info we need in a timely way (if at all) from our clients to complete the books. It's a major struggle!

So, as you've probably guessed by now, that's the topic we're going to take on in the new webinar I'm hosting next week entitled…

“Front-End Workflow Automation for Bookkeepers”

Finally learn how to save time and frustration by more easily getting your client information… on auto-pilot!

Register for the LIVE event here (it's free)

DATE: Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TIME: 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Eastern Time (New York)
(Use this link to convert to your time zone, if needed)

In this new webinar we continue the theme that we've focused on more generally… workflow…. but we'll zoom in specifically on how to drastically reduce and even solve the issue of getting the needed source information from our clients.

Here's just a taste of what we'll cover together on this new online class…

  • Why “workflow” is such a buzzword that we keep hearing, but how most of what we're being told just isn't helping us succeed…
  • What a defined bookkeeping workflow looks like, and you'll get a template for designing your own custom version quickly and easily…
  • A nuts-and-bolts walk-through of what you need to solve your front-end workflow headaches, using best practices and specific tools (free and low cost)
  • A very specific LIVE software demo of how you can use Hubdoc to actually implement – step by step – the first phase of your own front-end workflow automation to save time, frustration and remove client irritation at the same time.

Joining me for this special event is Yoseph West of Hubdoc who not only has a deep understanding of what we're up against as bookkeepers (unlike a lot of software folks who just don't get it), but he will also show us the latest automation short-cuts that front line virtual bookkeepers are using now.

Register for the free LIVE event:, and you'll walk away with what you need to immediately put what we cover together into action in your bookkeeping business. Yes, this is free.

Register for the LIVE event here

You'll notice that several of the webinars I'm running are focusing on building practical, implementable workflows and choosing the apps that really solve our challenges.

That's because I'm tired of all the noise, hype and theory I see being disguised as training. If we want to build successful bookkeeping services that truly serve our clients' needs and get results, we need to see the proof and be able to use it.

If you can't implement what you learn, what good is it?

On these webinars my hope is that you will walk away with more than knowledge. You'll have what you need to learn by doing what we show you immediately.

If that's what you want too, put us to the test and join us on this live online class Tuesday, May 16th, to see if we don't deliver on that promise. You have nothing to lose, except the frustration we all face trying to get what we need from our clients more easily!

Oh, and if you have any specific challenges you're facing in running your bookkeeping business related to workflow and / or apps, please let me know. My plan is to continue to dig deep into these issues, tear them apart, and solve them together.

THAT is a win-win mission, and I need your input to do it right.

Send me your input here.

Remember, together we are stronger. That's how we build our brand of win-win success. 🙂

Pricing: How Much Do You Charge for Bookkeeping?

Potential Client: How much do you charge?

Bookkeeper: What's it worth to you?

The Pricing Question

Answering the pricing question with this rather flippant boomerang question isn’t the usual way of setting bookkeeping fees. Most bookkeepers instead simply quote a generic hourly rate. Either the client accepts it, or not, and off you go.

But within this little question tossing game lies the seeds of a highly successful bookkeeping business… or working far too many hours for too low fees, and wondering why you are working so much harder than you ever did when you had a job working for someone else.

Charging too little is the biggest reason many of us end up creating a glorified work-at-home job that keeps us poor, frustrated, and with very few benefits. We simply don’t know that there’s a better way. A far better way, in fact. When it comes to running a truly successful bookkeeping business, it really comes down to how you’re pricing your services. If you don’t get that right, not much else matters. You’ll burn out.

Mark Wickersham, who is one of the top recognized experts on pricing in the accounting profession hit the nail on the head when he said, “The starting place has to be to get the pricing right in the first place.” You see, he’s an accountant and made the same mistakes when he started his accounting practice too. It’s the mistake most of us make.

Little more than a year ago I joined Mark’s group mentoring program that focuses on pricing. The results have been exciting and I’ve experienced double-digit percentage in revenue growth this year, despite major shifts with a couple of my largest long-term clients that should have had a negative impact on my sales numbers.

In a recent mentoring session Mark clearly explained what we need to do to reach our true potential. He gave me permission to share this short video clip from that private mentoring meeting. Have a look. (it’s only a couple minutes)

Getting the Pricing Right

So, if the key to bookkeeping success is getting the pricing right, how do we do it?

Traditionally bookkeepers charge by the hour. That is actually the worst thing we can do in most cases. It virtually guarantees that you will make less money the longer you have a client. That’s because you’ll get more done in less time (the basis for your fees) as you get more efficient. To make matters worse, the loss of billing based on time is only amplified as you use automation tools. The client will be paying less and less for better results. That’s just not win-win.

Charging a flat fee is usually a welcome change from the client’s standpoint. But for us, it’s a scary concept. What if you underestimate how much work is involved when first taking on a client? What about all that “incidental” work that clients like to throw our way? How can you predict a flat fee? If you’ve tried this, you know that more often than not, bad estimating can put you out of business faster than charging by the hour! That is, unless you learn how to do it well very quickly. Pricing and packaging your services can definitely be tricky.

The other choice is value pricing. You heard Mark mention it in the video above. It's what he's known for. The idea of implementing value pricing is a very popular topic among bookkeepers and accountant. But the concepts can seem somewhat abstract to grasp, and actually putting it into practice even fuzzier. I can honestly say, though, after some intense focus, I’ve cracked the code on value pricing and been able to use it with great success consistently. What I’ve learned from Mark has helped a lot, and now he's come up with a method to shortcut the whole process.

That’s why I asked Mark to join me to concisely give us what we need to understand to move effectively toward more profitable pricing practices and do it quickly. That’s exactly what he did on the recorded webinar included with TFB Packaging & Pricing. On that bonus training (#3) he demonstrated in real time a very specific method for getting fast results that’s nothing short of brilliant!

You can learn how to access that highly popular training, along with related information on how to put your service packages together and the different pricing options available to you (even if you're not quite ready for value pricing). Click here for more info.

What's your opinion? Do you think we have a pricing problem as a profession?

Tagged As: , ,

  • November 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Oct