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Virtual bookkeeping services are becoming more and more common. I recently flew across the country to meet with a client I’ve been working with remotely for over a year. He’s a rare exception. I have many clients with whom I’ll never meet in person.
Here’s an example of how I am able to work virtually with clients. It’s all about the apps.
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.
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 so-called “Invoicing Firm of the Future,” which clearly produced the invoice in a desktop version of QuickBooks. If there is anything I’ve learned from the provider’s side, it’s that I’d better be using these 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, ask why not.
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. They should be producing content to establish themselves as a thought leader and show you what they know.
This way you don’t have to rely on the claims they make about what they can do for you. You can see it firsthand. The fact that your prospective virtual bookkeeping service understands this is a good sign that they understand how to be a successful virtual bookkeeping service.
Are they putting out videos? Podcasts? Blog posts? How are they demonstrating their knowledge and expertise?
This is true of any business, of course. But at Nerd Enterprises, 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. Of course you’d want any bookkeeper—in person or virtual—to have experience in your industry, but when you’re relying on apps to work together remotely, you better make sure those apps are suited for your business or market.
Ask your prospective virtual bookkeeping service if they have experience in your industry and how many clients they have in your industry.
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” miss the boat here. They do some, but not all, of the above. This is a problem, because you can’t run a proper virtual bookkeeping service unless you have the entire process in place. That is the key. You can’t use the apps but still price by the hour. Pricing by the hour suggests a certain lack of experience in the new way of doing business.
You want 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. You want a firm that has the right systems in place so that you can have what you should be able to have easily. In other words, you need access to weekly reports that are accurate and reliable so that you can make 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 1,000% 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 your feeling is not a resounding “Hell yes!” then it’s “No.”