Marketing Letters: Spread the Word by Reaching Out

(This is an updated article written about using marketing letters from back in 2008! Some simple marketing principles just don't change, and this is one of them.)

One question I'm (still) asked quite often by bookkeepers who want to start their own bookkeeping business is, “How do I get my first few clients?”

My response to this question is usually, ‘What have you done so far?'

Have you considered using marketing letters?

While most bookkeepers get the majority of their clients from word of mouth, the catch is, how can you find new clients when you need or want them? it's certainly not effective to sit around just hoping and wishing someone makes a referral to you, is it?

I'm a big believer in attraction style marketing (that's getting clients to find you), but at times we just need to be more proactive to get what we want.

Marketing letters are a tried and true (albeit old fashioned) way to get the attention of prospective clients who may, in fact, be in need of a bookkeeper at the time they receive your letter, but didn't know where to look for you!

It will feel serendipitous to them!

Sending out personalized letters via postal mail was one of the most effective tactics I used when I got my business started way back in 1990. Of course, times have certainly changed, including effective digital marketing methods. But here's the thing. Because of all the electronic upgrades, this ‘old fashioned' method can be even MORE effective than it was back when I got started! You'll certainly have a lot less competition, which is an advantage right away.

Build Your List

The most responsive recipients will be those who already know you. So the first people you write your marketing letters to should be family, friends, and those who currently provide services to you, such as your doctors, insurance agent, accountant, etc.

The next best list of people to write to are those who are part of a specific industry in which you would like to specialize.

What types of businesses are you already familiar with? Are there any clubs or associations for that industry? If so, you may be able to purchase a list of their members in your area to whom you could announce your services.

If your specialty is not very narrow, you may also be able to send a mailing to a list of members for your local chamber of commerce or other business organization. If you are a member, you can position yourself as reaching out to fellow members, and even offer them a special one-time deal.

The purpose of your letter is to get the attention of business owners who may need your services. The trick is to get their attention. The challenge is, you have competition. Small business owners are constantly bombarded with sales messages.

So how can you rise above the “noise” and get your audience's attention long enough for them to recognize the benefits you have to offer them?

Write a Compelling Letter

When composing your letter of introduction, be aware that the receipient is looking for what matters most to him or her. The question they are asking themselves is, “What's In It For Me?” (also known as WIIFM).

Don't make the same mistake 95% of the bookkeepers I've seen make when attempting to market their services. Don't talk just about yourself! Your prospect doesn't really care about you. Sorry. What they care about most are the benefits you have to offer them and their business.

Here are some important points to keep in mind when figuring out what to write in your letter of introduction:

Point #1 – Your letter must focus on the big benefits your prospect gets for working with you. This is made more powerful if you offer something of value that isn't available with just any bookkeeper. (This is one reason specializing can give you an edge with a targeted audience.)

Point #2 – Let them know that you feel their pain. Usually the reason your prospects know they need your help is because they are experiencing some type of problem that's hurting their business. Maybe they are getting slapped with a big, unexpected tax bill, or they're afraid they will because they have no idea how much money they've made without up-to-date bookkeeping records.

You can use this common situation to demonstrate how your services will save them from the need to ever feel that pain again, but instead, put them in control of their taxes and their profits.

Point #3 – Keep the letter to one page with a clear call to action. Most business owners are short on time, so they will want to get through your message quickly. Use bullets and short sentences, and bold the most important points. Make it clear what they need to do next. Tell them to call you or email you to get the benefits they want.

The Fortune Is in the Follow Up

Sending out just one mailing will not fill your business with new clients. To get the most reward for your marketing efforts, you must follow up, and do it consistently.

Repeat your mailing at least three times, a month or two apart. You can use the same letter, or write a few different versions. In either case, your name and what you have to offer will start to become more familiar to your prospects. This alone, over time, almost guarantees you'll get results.

For the fastest response, pick up the phone. If you follow up your letter with a friendly phone call a week later, you will immediately distinguish yourself as a serious professional. More often than not, these calls will turn out to be surprisingly positive.

And there's no need to worry. When calling prospects, no hard selling is necessary. Just a brief call to confirm that they received your letter, to answer any questions they may have, and to see if they, or someone they know, are in need of your services. Quick, friendly and to the point.

When it comes to getting new clients quickly, being proactive can really pay off.

The fact is, there is a huge number of small businesses truly in desperate need of help with their bookkeeping. When you focus on the very real value you have to offer your prospective clients, you will not only get their attention but, very likely, their business too.

If the idea of sending out marketing letters make sense, but you're still trying to figure out how to get your bookkeeping business off the ground, or you want to move your existing practice to a completely virtual business, then my free report surrounding how to get started and market an online bookkeeping business will help.

Learn more and get your free copy here

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How Much Should You Charge for Bookkeeping Services?

What do you charge for bookkeeping?One of the first questions bookkeepers and accountants ask when getting started in their own bookkeeping business is, ‘How much should I charge for bookkeeping services?' But that question also lingers long after you've been running your practice for years!

Many bookkeepers still charge by the hour, while others use a flat fee, and still others use the method given the most lip service in recent years – value pricing. Alternative methods combine several of these, or use the number of transactions or revenue as the measure for arriving at a fee for services.

Until recently, charging by the hour was far and away the most popular bookkeeping pricing method. That's beginning to change. It must, given the ongoing disruption causing downward price pressure in our profession due to advancing automation and efficiencies.

When we can leverage technology to get the time-consuming tedious part of bookkeeping done more quickly, it's a losing proposition to charge by the hour. You will make less and need to spend the found time to take on more and more clients, just to make the same revenue as you did in years past with fewer clients. That's a losing battle.

While there are lots of theories on how to best charge for bookkeeping now, the truth is, technology or not, there is no one perfect way to do it. At least not yet.

How Much Do Others Charge for Bookkeeping?

Most of us try to take a cue from our colleagues who have (successfully) gone before us when it comes to pricing. Of course, bookkeeping clients and projects come in different sizes and levels of complexity. So we're still faced with the same brick wall.

There's no one best formula for charging for bookkeeping across the board.

That said, it does still help to know what others are doing as a starting point. That's why for years a helpful source of comparison has been the Intuit Rate Survey. It has been a go-to resource of at least trying to ‘ballpark' whether our fees are in line with what others say they get for their services.

In all honesty, however, I've personally found in the last few years the Intuit surveys to be less helpful than they used to be. (These surveys typically come out every couple years.) That's probably somewhat due to the changes in how we are charging for bookkeeping services these days. It's not simply an hourly fee anymore Additionally, I've noticed that what's being measured now doesn't fit as well to practically working with clients ‘in the trenches' as in prior years. Maybe it's just me.

But that's why I was happy to participate in a brand new benchmarking pricing study for bookkeepers that was conducted this past summer by Mark Wickersham, the well-known pricing thought leader. His new study, which digs into specific client situations, seems to be much more in line with what we need to know on a practical level. It provides an international sampling of over 2,500 bookkeepers and accountants – not just the US QuickBooks ProAdvisor community. So I'm happy to see the wider view of what's actually being done in our profession.

Interestingly enough, more accounting professionals participated from Canada than anywhere else. So that was a new twist as well. The full report is long (90+ pages!) and there are lots if interesting insights and even case studies about what is really happening with pricing in our profession. Some of those include:

  • We're moving away from hourly pricing (for the reasons mentioned above)
  • Flat fee pricing is becoming most popular, but many of us are still struggling with it
  • Value pricing, while popular in theory, is still not typical
  • The key factors involved in bookkeeping pricing challenges
  • The effect qualifications have on pricing
  • The effect specialization has on pricing

Clearly, pricing is not a simple matter, but it is vital to building a successful bookkeeping business. In fact, how we approach pricing, especially in these changing times, is something we need to give more attention to as a profession if we want to prosper. I firmly believe that. Otherwise we will be crushed by the increasing pressures that are pushing our perceived value down, and with it our prices.

A good place to start is digging into your own pricing. Take a look at the surveys. In particular, you can get a free regional version of the Wickersham study (or you can buy the full report, if you want to really geek out on the details)

Click here to get a free copy of the survey.

How to Make Pricing Easier AND More Profitable

There seems to be one leverage point that can almost automatically make it easier for you to raise your prices, no matter which pricing method you choose… and the evidence of this was in the Wickersham report too!

It's specializing your practice. It's another topic most of us have heard much about, but few have taken action. Finding a niche feels like it means saying no to potentially profitable business growth. A risky idea. The reality though, is counterintuitive.

The Wickersham study revealed that specializing your practice puts you in a position to charge much higher fees than those who run a general practice. In fact, you can reasonably raise your rates by more than 35% percent for the same services, according to the study.

Specializing has many benefits for efficiency as well… which also goes straight to your bottom line. The catch is that it feels a bit scary. And if you do settle on a niche, what do you do with all your existing clients who are spread across various business types?

Those are the questions I've set out to answer in this month's TFB Premium class entitled, “The No-Risk Way to Find Your Bookkeeping Niche.”

Click here to learn more about the TFB Premium membership

If you're running a virtual bookkeeping business, building a niche practice will be your easiest way to raise your rates, become instantly more profitable, while exploring the best pricing methods for you!

Which pricing methods have you tried, and with what results? Have you considered specializing your practice, or are you a hard core generalist? Please contribute your comments below.

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Password Security: Simple First Steps to Protect Against Cyber Crime

The #1 vulnerability when it comes to cyber crime for accounting professionals and small businesses alike is human error.

95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error”

Those errors usually happen because of inappropriate disclosure or handling of passwords and login credentials. This happens in a variety of ways, which sad to say, I see often among many bookkeepers and accountants.

  • Sending and receiving login information (including passwords) via unsecured email
  • Storing passwords on sticky notes, spreadsheets or Word documents with no protection
  • Using only a few simple, easy-to-guess passwords on many different sites (to make it easier for us to remember)
  • Routinely sharing login credentials with staff, without internal controls
  • Keeping the same passwords for years

None of us is perfect (including me), but we need to be paying more attention to the growing risks and liability related to these practices. Cyber crime is on the rise, and we’re a prime target.

Why We Need to Be Concerned

Cyber attacks that are financially motivated are increasing and the criminals are switching to easier targets, according to the Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report

The easy targets for these cyber attacks are small businesses, since they are easier to trick into exposing passwords and logins credentials.

According to Hiscox 2018 Small Business Cyber Risk Report, “Small businesses are less likely to have strategies in place to ward off attacks, detect them early if they do occur, and reduce the damage. And, they are less likely to be able to withstand the financial impact of a hack or breach.”

We are prime targets because we are privy to, among other sensitive information, bank account logins and bill payment systems, often with permissions that allow transfer of funds. The criminals want to see us make mistakes they can exploit.

So, would you say it’s important for us to educate ourselves and our team on how to properly handle the sensitive information we work with on a daily basis, including passwords?

In a word: Yes. It's mission critical!

The good news is, with just some small changes in procedures, we can drastically reduce the risk of hackers getting access to or cracking vital passwords.

Simple Password Best Practices

Here are just a few important methods you and your team can use to tighten up password handling. These are simple and cost little to nothing to adopt into your regular daily practice.

Use a unique password on each site you log into – Doing this helps to limit exposure and damage should a breach occur.

Use long passwords that aren’t easy to guess – That’s a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Using a sentence that sprinkles numbers and  punctuation throughout that only makes sense to you is a good choice.

Use a password manger – Using a program such as LastPass or RoboForm make it far easier to use strong passwords and securely store them. They include a password generator function too. So you only need to memorize one master password. Best of all, you can have your passwords accessible across all your devices for added convenience.

Turn on multi-factor authentication – Also known as 2-factor authentication. It’s when a code is sent to you via text or email to gain access to an account after login. Yes, it can slow you down a bit and be somewhat inconvenient. But this is a powerful layer of security few hackers will be able to break (at least for now). If it’s available, especially on financial accounts, turn it on.

Get your own login – Most business bank accounts will allow a bookkeeper or accountant login with read-only access. Wherever possible, you want to have this set up for each of your clients' accounts. It protects both you and your clients, and avoids violating most banks’ terms of service for using their online banking website.

Learn & Share

Cyber crime of late has disputedly been said to be more profitable than the drug trade! Whether or not that is an exaggeration, the truth is cyber crime is significantly on the rise. It's a key threat to bookkeepers and accountants working with clients through the Internet.

As virtual professionals we must take the initiative to put protective practices in place to avert disastrous mistakes. Implementing good password handling habits is a good start in the right direction.

To make it easier to raise awareness and share this information with your team and clients, you can download this handy PDF one-page list of key Password Dos & Don’ts.

Click Here to Download the Password Do’s & Don’ts Cheat Sheet

If you've got password security under control, or you'd like to dig deeper into many more  simple and inexpensive ways you can significantly reduce your risk of being a victim of cyber crime, consider joining us this month for the August TFB Premium monthly training session. The class is called, “Cybersecurity for Bookkeepers – 2019 Update

Learn more about TFB Premium here

Have you developed best practices of your own when it comes to managing passwords? Please let us know in the comments below.

Also, this topic is so important for us as virtual bookkeeping professionals. Please share it with others. It's one of those “little things” that can make a big difference!

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Cyber Threats & Insurance for Accounting Professionals

The rate of cyber threats and attacks on organizations in the financial world seems to be on the increase. And while we may think that it's only large players like iNSYNQ and CapitalOne, the reality is, ALL of us are at risk.

This month we are focusing on several different angles of how we can protect ourselves and our clients from a cyber attack. One key area that I haven't been hearing near enough about is adding the safety net of insurance.

Questions come up like…

“Does my Professional Liability (Errors & Omissions) insurance include cyber protection?”

“If there ever is a breach, how does having insurance help me?”

“Will Cyber Insurance cover ALL kinds of online security risks?”

Questions like these is why I wanted to get answers from those who are in the trenches and actually are involved with how insurance plays into our overall cybersecurity plan.

Here's a 47-minute discussion I had with Jock Wols of RiskDesk and David A. Trevey, an attorney who defends litigation against professionals, including where cyber attacks are involved.

You'll want to take notes because there are some very helpful tips they both share with us!

This is definitely a case of ‘forewarned is fore-armed.'

Contact the Experts

If you have additional questions after watching this mini-class, feel free to reach out to either Jock or David (or both)!

Jock Wols
Phone: (859) 327 5594

David A. Trevey
Kinkead & Stilz
Phone: 859 296 2300

Did you learn anything new or pick up any tips from this discussion? Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post below!

Join Us This Month in TFB Premium

We've declared August Bookkeeper Cyber Security Month! As such, our Premium Members get the highly effective online class that shows you exactly how to avoid 95% of the vulnerabilities that cyber attackers look for. You even get a handy checklist and worksheet so you can get results quickly (and save money too).

Join us this month for Cybersecurity for Bookkeepers – 2019 Update in the TFB Premium Membership.

Click Here to Learn More

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August is Bookkeeper Cybersecurity Awareness Month!


Cybercrime poses the greatest threat to companies globally,” says Robert Herjavec, CEO and founder of Herjavec Group, a leading cybersecurity firm.

In the article where I first read this quote on, they begin with what Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman, president and CEO, predicted back in 2015, “…cybercrime, by definition, is the greatest threat to every profession, every industry, every company in the world.”

Her prediction is rapidly turning into reality and as was also mentioned in that article – which is important for us to note if we think handling the sensitive financial information for small business clients is not in the sights of cyber criminals, we need to think again.

“Cybercrime has no favorites when it comes to company size. Fortune 500 and Global 2000 corporations, mid-sized organizations, and small businesses are hacker and cybercriminal group targets.”

And here's the rub: According to the 2018 Hiscox Small Business Cyber Risk Report (they specialize in insurance for small and very small businesses)

“7 out of 10 businesses are unprepared to deal with a cyber attack”

The bottom line: just being in the financial field actually raises our risk of cyber attack. Yet the vast majority of accountants and bookkeepers (and vendors who support our profession) are not really paying attention or are practically unaware in day-to-day activities of the growing, grave threats we are up against.

Really! That's not hype.

I've declared August as Bookkeeper Cybersecurity Awareness Month!

In truth, October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. My plan is, however, that we, as financial professionals who are advocates for our clients' financial well-being, can use August to raise our own awareness and take decisive action to implement protective measures. Then come October, we will be in a great position to use what we've learned to help guide our clients to make needed adjustments to protect their business security on all levels.

This is not just a feel-good, idealistic statement. I'm taking action so that we can all take a hard look at how we've been running our practices and start chipping away at closing up the gaps that could easily invite disaster. (See the true stories in the downloadable PDF document below)

Throughout this month I'll be sharing information with you here on the blog
to help all freelance bookkeepers be more aware of the very real risks we
now face and what we can do about them.

We all handle sensitive information and watch over the financial well-being
of our clients. Just the nature of what we do puts us at a higher risk risk for being hacked
or even sued!

As a profession, we really need to pay more attention to this!

Save This Date and Let's Take Action Together

I'm running a new free live webinar class specifically to tackle…

  • What is Cybersecurity really and what do bookkeepers need to know about the risks
  • What you can do to protect yourself and your clients now
  • Stories from the trenches on what can happen and how you can foil a breach and minimize loss from an attack

It's entitled…

Cybersecurity & Virtual Bookkeeping:
Your Risks and Protection in Today's Cloud-Based Environment

DATE: Thursday, August 15th

TIME: 12:00 noon Eastern

Click Here for More Info & Register

PLEASE NOTE: There will NOT be a free replay of this session. It will be
included as part of a larger paid training program. So if you want to take
advantage of this important class free, you must join us on the live session.

If you feel as strongly as I do about helping fellow bookkeepers and accountants to actively learn more about the cyber threats we face, here is a downloadable info-document you can use (and share) that illustrates the very real risks we face that we might not even realize are there until it's too late.

Download a copy of this info-graphic

Thanks goes to Jock Wols of Risk Desk for creating this handy reference to start with educating ourselves, take action and set a safety net with insurance.

Have you or your clients experienced a cyber attack yet?

Please comment on this post below and share your experiences and any lessons learned as a result. Together we can make progress and keep ourselves and our clients safer.

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