Help for Working Virtually and Growing Your Practice in Uncertain Times

If you've been running your practice virtually for some time, keeping your business running on an online-only basis is not as stressful as if you've not quite gotten there yet.

Sudden change, however, is always stressful.

In uncertain times some businesses who have what is needed most in such circumstances start to gouge prices due to the high demand. They're looking to cash in on short-term gain without considering the long-term fallout. That's not a win-win solution.

By contrast, there are others who are stepping up to find ways to do what works for all concerned because they care and realize we are all connected. An example this week is how Amazon is hiring 100,000 workers, making their surge in demand benefit those who are losing work (and taking the pressure off their employers who may not have the resources to continue paying them while operations are paused).

Help for Bookkeepers and Accountants

One of my strategic partners is stepping up to support our profession to make working with our clients on a virtual basis faster and easier, no matter what level of remote services you offer now (or need to).

The good people at SmartVault told me today that they want to respond to customer needs during this difficult time. After speaking with many of their customers now facing uncertainty with their businesses (and their clients’ businesses), they’ve come up with some things that may help, especially to quickly transition to working virtually with clients and team members, as well as to support existing SmartVault users.

First – a discount. the discount that's typically reserved for annual plans to include monthly plans is being extended through July 31, 2020 (for new accounts opened by April 30).

Second – training. SmartVault is waiving all onboarding & training fees through April to help get users up and running quickly.

Third – digital signature integration.  For those of us who need to now use electronic signature capabilities, most SmartVault plans already come with a free DocuSign account. SmartVault will give you 100 free envelopes to help you get started. By the way, that saves you $200 and is far better than having a subscription account directly with DocuSign because the envelopes never expire and there's no monthly subscription fee for this function!

Free Class – If adding automation and electronic signature capability to your onboarding is something you've been meaning to do (or must do going forward), I just taught a webinar class last week for SmartVault on how to use this feature with a mapped out workflow and demo.

You can get free access to that class here

Finally, for existing SmartVault customers, you get extended access to the seasonal licenses (if you're using them) through July 31, 2020 (typically access ends April 30). And you can also take advantage of the same offer for 100 free DocuSign envelopes, you just need to ask for them.

How to Take Advantage of These Special Benefits

If any of this would be helpful to you, here's how to take advantage of it:

1. Schedule a free one-on-one consultation where they will give you a demo and answer any questions you have for helping you use this to work virtually with your clients and team.

2. If you decide SmartVault is a good fit for your needs, just ask the account manager for any or all of the benefits mentioned above, and they'll take care of you.

And just in case you're wondering, I am not an affiliate on this special offer, so I don't get paid to tell you about this. SmartVault is offering this to make it easier for us to work virtually and get set up quickly. They play win-win, and that is why I work so closely with them!

My recommendation is to take advantage of setting up a secure online portal to use with your clients and team, including electronic signature capabilities, if you aren't already doing this. I personally use the SmartVault system with DocuSign because it works well and is secure. These special bonuses make it easy to move in the direction, and saves you some of the costs.

Clients need our help during these troubled times, and having online tools like SmartVault take some stress off of getting it all done… and your operations will benefit long after Covid-19 settles down.

What have you been doing to navigate the changes we're facing now? What challenges are you working on and want help with? Please comment below.

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Virtual Bookkeeping: 7 Ways to Go from Offline to Online

Author's Note: Virtual bookkeeping is more important than ever in light of current challenges! This article was originally published in 2015 but has been updated and expanded for 2020.

If you're currently serving clients on site (in their office), or even if they're coming to you to drop off their info, how can you upgrade your business and make the transition to an online bookkeeping service?

Here are 7 ways to move from a traditional offline bookkeeping business to an online, remote bookkeeping service:

1. Cut back your dependence on paper

These days most of the information needed to get the bookkeeping done is now available in electronic form. As a virtual bookkeeper, you can use automatic bank downloads to gather the vast majority of the transactions flowing through your clients' bank and credit card accounts. Bank statements are also available as PDF documents. Your clients can even snap photos of paper receipts with their smartphones, or forward the email versions to provide the “paperwork” you need.

2. Become a more proactive communicator

When you don't see your clients in person, it is more important for you to reach out to them via email and phone frequently. Set regular appointments to review their books and get questions answered. Hold online video meetings to nurture the inter-personal connection. (Yes, that means getting on camera!) Your services will feel more personable and professional to your clients, and will help you and your clients stay on track too.

3. Switch to online software

Doing the books on desktop software can make it difficult to work with your clients, especially if they are doing some of the bookkeeping on their own, such as the invoicing, or paying their bills. This is a big reason some clients want us to work in their offices. But using web-based software (many of which include mobile apps too) is a much more convenient choice. It allows both you and your clients access anytime, anywhere there's an Internet connection. Examples are QuickBooks Online or Xero.

If your clients need to stick with desktop software, there are tools that can make it accessible via the Internet, such as hosted desktop solutions, or cost-effective synching apps. But as online solutions proliferate, you'll likely want to limit the software you will support. Sticking with only a few makes your life a lot easier.

In a pinch or if you have a client that just won't move off of their desktop software, you can go back to what can still work, which is to remote into their computer using remote desktop software. While a bit clunky and takes cooperation from your client, it still works.

4. Set a schedule and build systems

When we think of our bookkeeping business like a machine, we can create an efficient routine that will have a big impact on profit and how many clients you can serve. Create your own internal scheduling system for getting client work done and you'll easily be able to grow your business in a predictable way. One free tool that can be used this way is Trello or even a simple online calendar like Google.

5. Migrate existing clients gradually

While the benefits of working on a virtual basis with your clients may be obvious to you, they may not be to your clients. You will need to explain why working off-site is beneficial to them. (HINT: More convenient access for everyone). Change is usually uncomfortable. So make it easier on your clients by moving forward gradually. Transition just one client at a time, starting with the simplest set of books and/or functions.

NOTE: The Covid19 crisis, while drastic, does prove to clients the value of having the flexibility to perform important business functions virtually. So something good that comes out of the situation is that clients will likely more readily understand that working through the Internet is something good for their business (and could possibly open up some consulting-level services where you can help them expand these capabilities to more of their business operations!).

6. Commit to continuous learning

When you decide to use technology, one thing is constant: Change!

This is the reason that you want to start with the basics (like choosing the online software you will support going forward) and narrow your focus to just a few tools. Then become an expert at using them fully. This positions you as a specialist and will make you more attractive to clients who are embracing online technology. That means more clients who want to work the way you do – virtually (and you can raise your rates accordingly)!

7. Get support when you need it

No bookkeeper is an island and we can't know everything. So don't even try! Take advantage of what software vendors have to offer us. Reach out for training and support when needed, since your success is their success!

Connect with other virtual bookkeepers and accounting pros online for tips and resources that you may not find on your own. Ask questions, share your challenges and help others with theirs. Together we are stronger!

Accounting technology is moving at a rapid pace, and it's making core bookkeeping services more efficient. Yes, some clients still do want on-site, paper-based bookkeeping, but more and more clients are embracing virtual technology and looking for bookkeepers who can work remotely. You can be that bookkeeper! The old “traditional” on-site bookkeeping is becoming obsolete. Start now to more your business online one step at a time, starting now!

Which area will you focus on first?

By the way, if you're looking for ongoing online training that you can implement bit by bit to grow your virtual bookkeeping business from sales to apps, then this would be a great time to join us in TFB Premium monthly classes.

If you're in the beginning stages of setting up your virtual bookkeeping business, you might find this free report a better fit for your needs right now instead:

“How to Quickly Find New Clients and Market Your Bookkeeping Business Online”

Posted in Articles, Virtual Bookkeeping | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Key to Growing Your Bookkeeping Business

So you've been working on growing your bookkeeping business?

I've got both good news and bad news for you.

Bad News First

I'm hearing from more and more bookkeepers who are getting really frustrated with the changes that are being thrust upon us as a profession.

  • Key apps are being acquired, aren't working anymore, disappearing, or are becoming over-developed or overpriced (or both!)
  • Clients seem to be getting more demanding, yet think our service fees should be “cheaper” with expanded scope and faster response time.
  • Competition is growing from big accounting firms and software vendors alike. It seems everyone wants to offer low-cost bookkeeping services and squeeze us right out of the picture!

Have you been feeling the pinch from these changes happening around us yet?

Yeah, I'm not just hearing this from colleagues, but seeing some of these effects in my own bookkeeping practice too.

But I don't really see these changes as all bad, and they don't have to get in the way of growing your bookkeeping business either.

I am concerned, though, that some solo bookkeepers and small bookkeeping practices are going to find themselves left behind and irrelevant in a few short years. That said, there are some fantastic opportunities emerging for us too.

In fact, some astute bookkeepers are already seizing these opportunities and are not only getting premium fees for their services, but they literally can't keep up with the demand for the clients who are lining up to hire them!

But how do you find those opportunities and what can you do to make the shifts needed to start thriving in this fast-changing bookkeeping world?

Enter the Good News

I've been in business for a LONG time (um, dare I tell you this – I started my first business back in 1990! Yeah, I'm THAT old!).

Over the years I learned one “secret” that has consistently opened major doors for me to see the road ahead, upgrade my skills, and learn from those who are creating amazing success….and have some of that success rub off on me in the process.

The secret?

I attend professional conferences.*

This year, there's one conference that I am super excited about because it is the FIRST of its kind. It's a professional conference designed exclusively for bookkeepers! Most of the other conferences I attend, us bookkeepers usually have to adjust to whatever accountants want. We're kind of the tag-along kids.

Not so for this brand new event!

It's called BKX and many of the speakers are bookkeeping firm owners who are here in the
trenches with us. There are also some key thought leaders who have specific business topics that we need to really prosper (the parts that most of us are not paying attention to, but need to in these changing times so we don't get left behind).

This conference is designed to catapult your bookkeeping business success!

While the doors just opened up to the public a couple weeks ago, it's already half sold out! (There's a limit of only 350 delegates) and members of the new Digital Bookkeepers Association got to sign up first. (You'll hear more about that at the conference)

I will definitely be there (I'm honored to be one of the speakers), and I bet you'll recognize
some of the other names on the speaker list too. But before you check out the details…

I have even more good news!

I know that taking that first leap to make the investment needed to come to an event like
this can be really scary. So I had a discussion with the organizer and talked him into giving YOU a discount of 30% off the published rate. (And just in case you're wondering, no, I don't get paid anything if you sign up for the conference).

I just want you to see for yourself what a HUGE difference it makes to….

  • Make connections with colleagues who have solved the issues that you might be stuck on
  • Ignite fresh ideas, best practices and get some hands-on training on exactly what will grow your business faster and more effectively
  • Network with influential people in our profession (and beyond) who can lift you up and
    give you a fresh perspective (and strategies) on hitting your goals while building in balance.
  • And so much more.

If all this sounds like something you really want….

Here's what to do next:

1. Go to the official BKX Conference Website to get the details

2. When you register use the Discount Code: Gabrielle30 (case sensitive) to get 30% off your ticket

IMPORTANT: This discount is only good through March 31st. So don't take too long to think about it, or it will cost you 30% more to join us.

I truly hope to see you there since I know that this event will be like no other, and with it being a relatively small event, it's the perfect way to get high value without the mega-conference overwhelm.

* In the current environment of Covid-19, it is too early to know if it will affect the BKX conference or not. So I'm planning to attend as of the writing of this post. Many events are being rescheduled or will go online. That may happen with this event as well (I have no “inside knowledge” of that, I'm just looking at this from a wide view along with other conferences I'm attending this year)

So what am I doing about it? I'm planning to attend unless I hear otherwise. While the virus is a concern, it will pass in time and we need to continue forward with our businesses as reasonably possible. So I DO recommend planning to attend in whatever form this event takes. I know I will! 

Do you attend conferences that are can't-miss events as a way to find success while growing your bookkeeping business? Do tell!

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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, more consistently, more profitably and in less time.

We all want that, don't we? And guess what? So do our clients!

Good workflow makes it easier to scale your business, expand your workload capacity, or even take more time off, no matter what your business model is.

But what does your workflow mean to your clients? Can good workflow help you attract new clients? Can it even make them happy to pay you more, instead of always trying to get you to lower your fees?

The answer is, YES!

Workflow and Your Clients

Here's an example that illustrates what I mean. This is what happened recently in my own bookkeeping business…

While on a phone appointment with a potential client (which had come through my website), 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, this started our conversation off on a high note because he viewed me as  professional and cutting edge as a bookkeeping service business. It served as a great first impression, but also positioned my practice as a leader in my field. That also means that I likely don't charge budget fees (I don't).

So your workflow is not just about getting client work done quickly and efficiently for your internal processes. It's also about your clients' experience when working with you. When you can set up your workflow so that it's smooth and easy for your clients (most of them hate the details of their financial records), your value as a bookkeeper soars in their eyes.

Client Experience Workflow Success

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

With the example of my automated scheduling system, I put that in place years ago. The first reason was for my own convenience. It's much easier to give a link to my calendar than attempt the tedious back-and-forth to coordinate meetings via email.

From there, I added the new system to my website so it's easier for potential clients to reach me as well. So a win-win automated scheduling tool that integrated with Google Calendar was a good fit for my bookkeeping practice. (There are many available now for free or paid subscription. I use Schedule Once and love the functionality, but a popular free tool many use and like is Calendly)

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? Could you remove any existing pain or friction?

Workflow Pain Relief = Premium Value

This is an important point. If you want clients to view you as highly valuable, your workflow needs 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. Making this a smooth (even pleasant) experience 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 value goes both ways. I pay a monthly subscription price for automation convenience too when adding automation to key areas of 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. Good automation should more than pay for itself and contribute to your bottom line.

So how can you use this idea in your bookkeeping business? It begins with recognizing what your workflow is now and how you're interacting with your clients. What does it feel like to work with you?

Have you documented your current workflows? Have you considered how you can improve them with automation? If you'd like a deeper dive and some practical steps you can take right away, then you may want to join us this month in The Freelance Bookkeeper Premium class that's all about Engineering More Effective Workflows.

What have you found to improve your workflow and boost your value in your clients' eyes?

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Virtual Bookkeeping Security – What You Need to Know About Dropbox

Do you share information with your clients using Dropbox? Many of us do. But in an online world where cyber-crime is advancing almost as fast as technology, there are security issues we need to be aware of since we routinely have access to sensitive information.

Here's the Challenge

We work via the Internet because it is a win-win solution for bookkeeping services. It's convenient, efficient and faster to do everything online. So cloud-based document sharing makes a lot of sense. After all, it's much more secure than attaching documents to unencrypted email messages, right?

Yes, even consumer-level online file sharing apps do have more security than emailed documents. No question. However, if you're using the free options, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and others, you must remember what these apps are designed to do. They are intended for individuals who want to save and share family photos and largely non-sensitive information.

They're not designed for accounting professionals like us.

So the first question to ask is, ‘What level of security is built into the online file sharing tool I'm using?' Is the information encrypted while it's being transferred and while it's being stored?

An Important Distinction with Dropbox

Have you ever noticed that if someone shares a Dropbox folder with you, it can hog a lot of space on your hard drive? Have you ever wondered why that is? The files are sitting in the cloud, aren't they? In fact, if you use more than the allotted amount of cloud storage in the free version of Dropbox, you will need to start paying for extra space.

Here's what's going on.

The reason you need at least as much hard drive space on your local computer as all the folders attached to your Dropbox account is because all of those files are, by default, being copied onto your hard drive.

Did you realize that?

There is no security to protect those files once they are on your hard drive (or on the hard drive of the person you are sharing folders with for that matter), unless you are using encryption on your local computer. Additionally, where Dropbox is storing those files is not obvious. If you later retire the computer from business use and say, give it to your college-aged child, those files will still be there. Yes, you might disconnect that computer from your Dropbox account and remove the app, but that doesn't remove those copied files from your computer's hard drive. Removal needs to be done manually, if you even remember they're there.

Do you really want the risks of having clients' tax information, payroll or other sensitive documents sitting on your computer with no protection for anyone who uses the computer (or hacks in) to see?

Because the files are automatically copied to your hard drive, it has long been a reason that I do not recommend virtual bookkeepers use this tool as your client portal. However, I also recognize that in reality, many of us are still using it. (Heck, I have clients and colleagues who insist on using Dropbox for everything; I even use it for administrative / non-sensitive files.) I get it. It's convenient and cheap.

The real takeaway here is we need to think through the tools we're using, especially those that involve sharing sensitive information. The risks are real for both us and our clients.

If You Do Use Dropbox, Use Smart Sync

The good news is there is a way to save both hard drive space and improve security when using Dropbox. It's by adjusting your settings for how the files are synced with your computer.

Do this with the desktop icon app in the system tray. Here's a short one-minute video from Dropbox that shows you exactly how to do it, quick and easy.

Sometimes it's just a small adjustment that can make a significant difference. This is one of those situations.

By making folders that have sensitive information ‘online only,' you will at least remove one of the ways hackers could access your clients' sensitive information.

Remember 90% of data breaches are caused by human error. Let's not contribute to that statistic or the often disastrous consequences that can result. Let's think proactively about our workflows, from a security perspective as well as efficiency and convenience. Consider how you are interacting and sharing information with your clients. That includes not only how we send them information, but how they provide it to us.

This is one reason why I highly recommend using a client portal program that is designed for accounting professionals. Personally, SmartVault is my go-to tool for my client file sharing and absolutely for any information that is sensitive (credit card information, social security number, tax documents of any kind, etc.). Using the mapped drive feature is nearly as seamless as using Dropbox, but a lot more secure.

In fact, if you'd like to see SmartVault in action, on Wednesday, February 5th there's going to be a re-broadcast of a wildly popular webinar I did that includes a full demo entitled,
“Your Streamlined Workflow Workshop:
How to Map It. Standardize It. Automate It.”

Learn More About the Webinar Here

It's free and it might give you some ideas on how you can tighten up online security in your workflows, while improving efficiency and effectiveness during even busy times of year.

Which online tools do you use and trust to keep your client information safe?

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