Bright Bookkeeping: A Business Advisor's Journey

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Welcome to the first in a series of case studies that will highlight the experiences of practitioners and their firms as they explored the world of business advisory services for their clients.

Whether you or your firm are on the path toward becoming more of a business advisor or you are considering the option, we hope that these stories will be useful to you. Below we hear from Cindy Schroeder and her firm Bright Bookkeeping.

Along with her husband and one other part-time bookkeeper, Schroeder offers virtual bookkeeping services for around 50 service-based businesses in the Glen Ellyn, Illinois, area. â€œOur typical client is a ‘solopreneur' who really does not want to spend the time worrying about accounting. We handle all the information and provide reports to them so they can make better business decisions,” says Schroeder.

The Past
Prior to transitioning, or even considering it, Schroeder realized she was reaching her capacity serving local clientele with desktop tools. Coupled with the overall lack of control of her workload and long hours on the road equaling little more than high stress and low fulfillment – she knew it was time for a change. But how?

The Challenge
By 2012, Cindy Schroeder had already been running her practice Bright Bookkeeping for five years, but felt she was stuck in an unproductive rut. “You get clients, drive to their office, and do what they want you to do. Being on the road all the time was tiring and stressful. I felt like I was working for 20 bosses instead of being in charge of my own company.”

Schroeder's own health suffered, and the burdens on her increased when her parents' health began to fail. “My mom got sick, and I knew I couldn't take care of her and still grow the business,” says Schroeder. “There had to be another way.”

The Process
As a ProAdvisor, Schroeder got a lot of support from the members of the Chicago QuickBooks Group (qbchicago.org) and heard more about cloud accounting when she visited a Sleeter Group conference.

“I slowly started to use RightNetworks [hosting service] and QuickBooks Online in order to be more available to help my mom out and realized, this is awesome. I don't have to go anywhere,” says Schroeder.

Since switching primarily to online tools three years ago, Bright Bookkeeping has completely changed.

“Now I don't take on clients unless they use QuickBooks Online. We meet at the beginning, but with so many other resources available like Join.me or Skype, I hardly ever need to have face-to-face conversations with them after that,” she said.

While she is the sole proprietor of Bright Bookkeeping, Schroeder brings her husband, Pete, in to work alongside her on projects. As an experienced controller, he also helped her refine the reporting offerings that form a core part of the service.

“Our typical client is a ‘solopreneur' who really does not want to spend the time with the numbers,” says Schroeder. â€œIt really amazes me how many people run a business and just don't have an idea. Accounting scares them. I try to overcome their fears.”

So far, Schroeder has convinced around half of her clients to pay attention to her management reports and work with her to see what the numbers are saying. She takes these advisory clients through a set process based around a small number of measures that help the business owner move in the right direction.

“We explain to them what a P&L is and the types of numbers they should look at,” Schroeder explains. “Once they learn how to read the basic reports, then we'll move on to budgets.”

Add-on Tools
Bright Bookkeeping uses a number of add-ons to supplement QuickBooks Online, including:

  • Smart Vault for transferring over all financials and obtaining statements/bills/invoices from clients. As well as offering a more secure mechanism than email, “Smart Vault helps them to see how the cloud actually works and gets them excited to learn about other products,” says Schroeder.
  • Hubdoc is a new product that eliminates collecting client statements by fetching electronic copies. The web-based product can also pull in actual bills, code them, and export them to QuickBooks Online.
  • Bill.com is mainly used for payables. It is a virtual file cabinet that allows the client to have the final say on approval, while available to the bookkeeper for coding. “Some of our clients are also using Bill.com as an invoice system instead of creating them in Word or something else,” says Schroeder. â€œThis is nice because then the invoices also import directly into QuickBooks Online without any additional entry needed.”

Obstacles
From the outset, Schroeder makes it very clear how she will work remotely with new clients. “I explain the general workflow process of what is involved and let them know that I am still available by phone and email.” For those who resist this approach, she will arrange a getting-to-know-you meeting to build their trust in her and her methods. “We talk about what their concerns are and what the big picture is for them.”

Schroeder says that taking the advisory path is a slow evolution and she's still got a long way to go. Some of her clients have still not shaken off the mindset that she's there to get their numbers ready for the tax return. “I've been giving them reports every month, and maybe half of them look.” When she does, “they start to understand what the numbers are saying and we talk about them.”

Results of Change
After Bright Bookkeeping started going remote, the firm was able to take on a larger number of clients. Despite her own health problems, and losing both of her parents, her business is still growing.

Schroeder finds she actually has more client control and freedom to work how and when she wants. While working hard, she is able to attend conferences and even take vacations without feeling she is missing work or neglecting clients.

“The new set-up also allows me to offer more services. That's why I got into this business: to help business owners follow their passion but still stay in tune with the numbers and watch their business grow,” Schroeder says.

Success Stories
One coach has been working with Bright Bookkeeping in this way for more than five years. “Her business has changed,” says Schroeder. “By discussing different numbers and reports, she's been able to reshape her business. If she didn't have me to bump ideas off, that might not have happened. We do a lot of budgeting and cash analysis with her â€“ that makes a lot of difference.”

In the time they've worked together, the consultant changed her product mix and decided to stop working from an office that didn't make financial sense. “She was just spending money on rent for no good reason,” Schroeder says.

Schroeder has been working with other clients, progressing from budgeting to more interactive reporting, using LivePlan [budgeting and forecasting tool] together with QuickBooks Online.

“LivePlan feeds right in from QuickBooks Online,” Schroeder explains. “If they have a budget, they can see exactly where they stand.” Many of her clients are not numbers people, she adds. “The LivePlan graphs make it a lot easier for them to see where they're at.”

The current snapshot of Bright Bookkeeping:

  • A growing practice serving clients with QuickBooks Online, web-based tools, and add-ons
  • Helps clients make better business decisions
  • Better work-life balance

Was this an inspiring story for you? Do you have your own questions or experiences to share related to becoming a business advisor? We would love to hear from you.

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