Virtual Bookkeeping: Working With Clients Remotely

virtual-bookkeepingI often get the question from traditional freelance bookkeepers and those considering starting a freelance bookkeeping business regarding virtual bookkeeping…

“How do you provide bookkeeping services when you are not at the client’s location?”

In fact, just this past weekend I got an inquiry about whether it is viable to work with clients using cloud-based bookkeeping software while living abroad. And my answer to that question was, Absolutely!

Why You Want to Work Remotely With Clients

Most freelance bookkeepers need little convincing that working from their own offices instead of traveling to the client’s location (whether across the street or across the state or beyond) has lots of benefits. But here are just a few of them…

  • Convenience to work on the client’s books on your own schedule
  • Save time and expenses associated with travel
  • Maximize your billable capacity, since the time savings allows you to serve more clients

What are the Challenges?

As with any situation, working on a virtual basis does have challenges, but these are beginning to pale due to improvements in technology and client trust of online productivity methods.

For you, as with anything new, there will be at least some learning curve and adjustment of your workflow procedures. But the rewards are well worth it and staying up to date on new ways to work with clients via the Internet also positions you as a true professional and may even allow you to raise your fees.

How to Do It

There are three basic ways to work virtually with your clients that leverages cloud technology (with a fourth way, that is really a return to days of old, which I’ll mention briefly)

  1. Remotely connect to your client’s computer to perform the bookkeeping, nearly in the same way as you do now if you work on site.
  2. Work via cloud-based bookkeeping software through a web browser with your own unique and secure log in.
  3. Work using the same desktop software you’re used to, but accessing it via the web using a hosted virtual desktop.

The possible 4th alternative is to simply provide complete bookkeeping for your clients where you produce the monthly reports and consulting. They won't have access to the books. To do this you could use either cloud-based or desktop software.

This last method is a return to the “olden days” of when the accountant (or bookkeeper) took care of everything and the client had no access to their bookkeeping records at all. In some cases, clients have decided that they’d rather not be doing the bookkeeping, but would rather leave that to the professional (you). All they need are the financial reports to keep tabs on their business.

In my own business, I’ve been working with clients 100% virtually since 2003. Several years ago, that usually meant we used the remote connection option (since most of my clients are very small businesses). More recently, my clients are working more and more with online bookkeeping programs (I support QuickBooks Online, Wave and FreshBooks). I have only one client that uses a hosted desktop, but this is also a very popular option for those who need the power of desktop software and the convenience of anytime, anywhere access.

Which virtual bookkeeping options are right for you? Much of that depends on the type of clients you serve and the functionality that will work best for both you and your clients. If you’d like to learn how to move your bookkeeping services to the cloud, or start your new virtual bookkeeping business for 2014, now is the perfect time!

To help more bookkeepers move to working virtually with their client… and even help find NEW clients who want to work via the Internet, join me in my popular Insider’s Guide to Your Own Virtual Bookkeeping Business

Are you already working virtually? What methods have worked best for you and your clients?

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.

16 Responses to “Virtual Bookkeeping: Working With Clients Remotely”

  • Geoff on January 21, 2014

    Great post on a daily challenge we all have 🙂

    • Gabrielle on March 1, 2014

      Glad you liked it, Geoff. 🙂

  • David B. on February 12, 2014

    Much needed content to read. I’m still very new to “working with clients remotely.” However, I’m beginning to realize how much easier it makes things. It’s certainly true that is a learning curve though. For someone who is a full-time student, I think this really helps. I have a question: What cloud based accounting software you would recommend for a non-profit organization?

    • Gabrielle on March 1, 2014

      Hi David,

      You are right that there is definitely a learning curve. Part of it is because it is intangible, so it takes awhile to wrap your head around doing it. But as I like to say, the learning is in the doing. So get your feet wet and you will learn a lot! 🙂

      As far as a recommendation for software for non-profits, I’m certainly no expert in that area and do not serve that market. I do know there is some industry-specific software in the non-profit realm, such as Power Church, specifically for religious organizations. If you want to work virtually with non-profits (there is certainly a demand for that!), you might want to do some research with our best friend, Google. Also you could get into LinkedIn groups for non-profits and take a survey to see what software most are using. I do know a good number use QuickBooks, but honestly, I don’t think it’s an ideal solution.

      Best wishes for success in your learning and doing!

  • Zain on February 13, 2014

    I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned in the past with doing business virtually, is making sure my clients are savvy enough to do it. Even teaching them can be a barrier when it comes to successfully doing business. I always feel like meeting them in person will generally be the better choice.

    • Gabrielle on March 1, 2014

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Zain. Certainly meeting in person is powerful! Of course, that depends on whether your clients are local or not.

      I have clients I’ve never met, but if / when they or I are traveling to the local area, I do recommend meeting. In fact, I will be doing that this month with two clients I’ve never met face-to-face. We’re excited about it (since we already have a great relationship, it will only make it more solid).

      As far as the clients being savvy enough to handle the virtual relationship, I 100% agree with you! Often, if a client is not open to the idea of going digital or working virtually, I simply refer them to a colleague who still works on-site with clients. It goes to your ideal client profile. If a client doesn’t fit, don’t work with them. You have clearly learned this lesson! But teaching is not all bad. You can offer training services, which can be quite lucrative. In fact, it is what helped my business take off! (I had no intention of becoming a trainer when I first started my virtual business! LOL!)

  • Dave Brady on February 15, 2014

    Great article! Thanks! 🙂

    • Gabrielle on March 1, 2014

      Thanks, Dave. 🙂

  • Ron Wells on March 11, 2014

    Gabrielle has not taken her vision to the logical conclusion.

    She is correct when she states that ‘The future of bookkeepers will be more focused on managing data flow, not data entry’. More and more professional accountants will (CPA’s) will fill this role as it requires technical knowledge, not data entry skills. This will phase out the lower end bookkeeper without professional knowledge. They are not as well qualified as ‘business advisors’.

    Finally, since it does not matter where your chair is located, more and more of those chairs will be located overseas. If you think that professional accountants in India are incapable of learning about US/Canadian tax laws, think again.

    • Gabrielle on March 12, 2014

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for sharing your insights. And I agree with you!

      Bookkeepers who only want to do data entry will find that their “job” is in danger of extinction. Hence why I believe that as long as we are willing to grow and step up to the challenge of gaining the analytical and practical skills to provide the professional guidance that our clients need, everyone wins!

      I also agree that there are skilled professional overseas who can become part of the mix, and in fact, already are! However, there will always be clients who want their financial information handled domestically, and even locally. So we are going to see a wide curve in the adoption over time.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Alex Cruzet on March 25, 2014

    I personally like to use Quickbooks Online Accountant. The majority of my clients like the fact that they have access to their financial statements whenever they want. They also enjoy the fact that they can see the work that my firm is doing for them. Of course, there are other online accounting solutions out there like Xero and Freshbooks. I think that professional bookkeepers should become familiar with each platform because some potential clients may not hire you unless you use the platform they are accustomed to.

    • Gabrielle on March 26, 2014

      Great points, Alex!

      The web-based bookkeeping software really is well suited for many clients, including those who don’t need the full power of QuickBooks desktop software and don’t want to pay the higher price usually associated with hosted QuickBooks.

      I also agree that it is important for virtual bookkeepers (especially) be willing to work with at least a few of the various online programs now becoming available. However, as time goes on, I suspect that there will be quite a few competing for our attention (and QuickBooks will start to lose their huge market share, at least in the US). So we may need to become “specialists” in only a few programs, and then partner with colleagues who have become specialists in the programs that we don’t support. For example, I do not support Xero, but have a colleague who specializes in it. So if I get a potential client that comes my way that wants to use Xero, I’ll gladly refer them to her. And since I now also specialize in Wave, she can send me any potential clients that want to work with that program. I honestly think it is all good for us!

  • Arshad on June 14, 2014

    Nice article. I am just starting freelancer virtual book keeping services. Your blog has lot of information for the start ups. Thank you for such a wonderful guidance.

    • Gabrielle on July 1, 2014

      Glad it’s been helpful to you, Arshad. Thanks for the feedback. 🙂

  • Ron Wells on July 2, 2014

    I provide virtual accounting for all my clients yet I do not use a cloud based accounting package. I use QuickBooks on my desktop. My clients do not need or want to touch the accounting software. They want the virtual controller to keep them informed of their financial status as if they were in the their office. This is possible by using a myriad of available software that connects my QuickBooks to their bank, time entry, credit card data, the government etc. No paper whatsoever. My clients do not need to purchase and maintain software and I can work on their account at any time.

    • Gabrielle on July 29, 2014

      Sounds like you have a great system, Ron. Clearly, your Ideal Client Profile includes clients who want a done-for-them approach. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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