How to Stop Clients from Killing Your Bookkeeping Business
By Gabrielle Fontaine, PB, ASBC
There’s a reason why most of us professional bookkeepers love what we do—it’s because we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of our clients. In the ideal client relationship, we can alleviate significant stress and free their time so they can focus on building their business or doing other things they enjoy. This kind of relationship creates an “upward spiral” that helps the client be successful and also helps our own bookkeeping businesses grow.
However, I’m sure that we’ve all worked with a client or two where the relationship was not ideal—leading to a downward spiral of agitation, stress and negative feelings all around. From the research I and others have done, when it comes to the client-bookkeeper relationship, much of the tension that arises is related to the flow of information. In fact, the number one challenge facing the bookkeepers I talk to is getting the information we need from our clients.
It starts with getting the information you need.
Let’s face it, a client who does not give you the information you need to do the bookkeeping is going to kill your business. Chasing the client for information wastes your time and makes it very challenging to successfully provide the service they are paying you for—and we know who the client will want to blame when things don’t go well, don’t we?
Fortunately, as a bookkeeping business owner, you can control the quality of your client relationships, to a large extent, simply by setting up an effective workflow infrastructure and following it, as well as training your clients to use it.
Create the workflow that will help both you and your client be successful.
If the “why” of creating a streamlined and collaborative workflow is to remove friction between you and your clients, let’s focus on the how. Given that every bookkeeping business is unique, I don’t believe a “one-size-fits-all” workflow exists, but the following principles are fundamental to protecting your business from ‘killer clients’:
- Help clients go paperless. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: digital documents are the way to work virtually in terms of efficiency and being able to collaborate effectively with your clients. How can you minimize the pain of transition to paperless processing? Use the Inbox function with SmartVault. It makes going digital easy, even for technically challenged clients who cling to their paper documents. The SmartVault Inbox includes an easy scanning tool that makes conversion a snap.
- Centralize. If you do only one thing to improve your workflow right now, make it establishing centralized online document management, accessible to both you and your clients. Again, I’d recommend SmartVault, because it’s what I use myself… and love. Designating one, secure place where all receipts and financial documents go eliminates the frustration of running around gathering what you need from online websites, email, texts or even paper files. No more chasing. For the client, this approach makes it much easier to stay organized because they know where to find information whenever they want it.
- Ask for bookkeeper logins. If you’re already using QuickBooks® Online and collaborating with your clients, you’re halfway there, since your client already understands the value of online access to information. The next step is to establish bookkeeper logins for their bank and credit card accounts. This protects both you and your clients, and is a bookkeeping best practice. Your client can ask their bank to establish these for you. It’s usually an easy process.
- Whenever possible, eliminate the client. No, not literally, but from your information gathering workflow, of course. The main benefit of centralized, accessible information is that it saves time previously wasted chasing down missing documentation. If you set up a new streamlined, consistent workflow that’s automated, there’s no need for client involvement. Friction gone. Books done on time.
- Keep your automation lean. Yes, the term “automated workflow” has been used a lot in our profession, but what we might miss is that automating for the sake of automating often turns out badly. Do everything you can with what you already have, and keep your automation as simple as possible. I offer you my “cheat sheet” of which technologies and integrations I use as a starting point in my blog post, Using the Right Tech to Build a Better Bookkeeping Business. (Remember, my workflow is not your workflow, but you have to start somewhere)
There’s nothing that will kill your business and your sanity faster than a client relationship fraught with frustration on both sides. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you start with an examination of how your workflow is working (or not) now, and then make incremental improvement, the quality of your client relationships will improve and you’ll become more valuable to your clients. That’s a true win-win.
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About the Author
Gabrielle Fontaine, PB, ASBC
Gabrielle Fontaine, PB, ASBC is a freelance Professional Bookkeeper and Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor at BookkeepingDirect, which has been a 100% virtual bookkeeping service firm since 2003. You can find more of her articles on virtual bookkeeping at thefreelancebookkeeper.com.