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Virtual bookkeeping services are becoming more and more common. I did recently fly across the country to meet with a client I’ve been working with remotely for over a year, but he’s a rare exception. In fact, I will likely never meet most of my clients in person.
It’s true that it can be difficult to trust a virtual service with your books. It can be even harder to know which service to choose. I’ll take you through how I run my service for some background, and then relay a few actionable tips to help you choose a virtual bookkeeping service for your business.
Working with remote clients comes with its challenges. Luckily, modern technology has made it possible. Here’s an example of how I am able to work virtually with clients. It really is all about the apps. The ones I use are:
This is the “ecosystem” that I use to run my virtual bookkeeping service. With these five apps alone I can manage every aspect of my clients’ needs.
Quickbooks allows me to do the actual dirty work of bookkeeping, Zoom lets me virtually meet with clients over video, Smartsheet allows me to manage projects remotely, Slack is for messaging about issues that don’t need to be resolved over video, and finally, G Suite and Google Docs allows for easy file management.
So, what should you be looking for in a virtual bookkeeping service? Well, you should start by asking them what their ecosystem is. What apps do they use to help provide their services?
They need the following generic structure in place, which is covered by the apps above, in order:
Some of the apps might be different, but if your prospective virtual bookkeeping service can cover these five bases, then there is a good chance you’re covered.
I once received an invoice from a firm that supposedly was an “invoice firm for the future.” However, they clearly produced the invoice in a desktop version of QuickBooks, rather than using their own software. If there is anything I’ve learned from that experience, it’s that I’d better be using tools for my own practice before I can recommend using them for others. It wasn’t until after I put my own firm on QuickBooks Online that I was really able to start recommending it to clients.
Ask your prospective virtual bookkeeping service which accounting app they use for their own business. It’s a fair question. If they are not using the same tools and platforms for themselves, you should figure out why and use that to determine if you really want to work with them.
A true cloud-based business, including a virtual bookkeeping service, should be actively using social media. They should be participating in forums on LinkedIn and Facebook. In addition to this, they should be producing content that establishes themselves as a thought leader.
This way you don’t have to rely on the claims they make about what they can do for you. If they are offering advice that others find useful, then you will be able to see that rather than simply taking their word for it. If your prospective virtual bookkeeping service understands the value of adding to the conversation, then it is a good sign that they will be genuinely helpful to your business.
So, check up on them. Are they putting out videos? Podcasts? Blog posts? How are they demonstrating their knowledge and expertise?
This is true of any business, of course. At my company, one of the specific things we teach accountants and bookkeepers who want to run a virtual bookkeeping service is that they should specialize in a few industries. This is true of any bookkeeper—in person or virtual—that you would hire. It’s especially true of virtual bookkeepers, however, because this will determine if the apps they use to do business are relevant to and compatible with your business.
Ask your prospective virtual bookkeeping service if they have experience in your industry, and if so, how many clients they have in your industry. You may even ask for a few customer testimonials to be sure that the service is a good fit.
A virtual bookkeeping service is all about efficiency. Are you going back and forth with a prospective bookkeeper trying to nail down a time to talk, or do they use a scheduling app? Do they respond quickly? If they’re not efficient about this stage of doing business, this may be a sign that they won’t be efficient once you are a client.
Ask about their on-boarding process. Do they have one? They should be able to provide you with the steps. If they can’t, this may be a bad sign.
In more traditional bookkeeping services, it was more of a process to get reports out. Someone had to be there to run the report, save it in the right format, and send it out. In this age of cloud accounting and virtual bookkeeping services, they should be able to have reports sent to you on a schedule. Don’t lead them by asking if they send out reports on a schedule. Simply ask them what the deliverables will be each week or month.
Ask about reviewing reports with you. Every virtual bookkeeping service should have an option that includes this. It might (and it should) cost more than their basic level, but the option should be there.
If they are pricing by the hour, this is not a good sign. It means that your virtual bookkeeping service has missed the biggest boat of all when it comes to being a “cloud-based” bookkeeping service. The hourly pricing model doesn’t work here. They must offer flat rate pricing—a monthly fee in exchange for a well-defined set of deliverables. That is a good sign for a virtual bookkeeping service.
As an insider in the cloud accounting world, I can tell you that many “virtual bookkeeping services” don’t follow the best practices that have been listed above. Often, they’ll do some, but not all. This could mean problems for you as a client, because having gaps in the virtual bookkeeping process can lead to miscommunication and inefficiency.
To reiterate, it’s important to look for a firm that prices based on flat monthly fees, has an efficient process when it comes to handling you as a prospect, and has a well-defined on-boarding process. A firm that has the right systems in place will get you what you need much faster and at a higher quality. In other words, you need a service that will get you accurate and reliable reports without too much effort on your part, so that you can get back to making important decisions about where to go with your business.
If you don’t walk away from your initial interactions with your prospective virtual bookkeeping service feeling 100% confident that this company has your back, then just say no. Keep looking. Look for the picture I painted above, represented by your prospective virtual bookkeeping service. If you feel anything less than a “yes,” then it should be a “no.”