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).

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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.

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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?

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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 asĀ  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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