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: