Increase billings (and value) for existing QuickBooks clients

By Joe Woodard, AccountingWEB QuickBooks columnist

Offer low cost group training to your existing clients at least twice each year

When seminar delivery was limited to large meeting rooms in hotels or convention centers, the average accounting professional found it cost prohibitive to offer training to clients. As an alternative, some accounting professionals built in house training rooms that doubled as conference rooms to hold anywhere from 10 to 25 people. This also was a very costly prospect and accounting professionals who work from their homes were not able to do even the conference room approach.
 
As for QuickBooks training, years ago Intuit made the mailing lists for registered QuickBooks users available to trainers, almost guaranteeing a high level of attendance. With the risks minimized, many accounting professionals offered QuickBooks training in their local markets and some QuickBooks experts even became full time trainers, teaching their custom curriculums in various markets throughout the U.S.
 
The QuickBooks end user training environment is very different for two primary reasons:
 
1) QuickBooks no longer sells the lists of registered QuickBooks users and,
2) QuickBooks works with a single training partner – Real World Training – and helps them to market their seminars. Since Real World Training offer seminars in every major market – and in some smaller cities as well – the local accounting professional cannot effectively compete.
 
Now, there is a new technology available that brings the local accounting professionals back into the game, especially when offering QuickBooks training to their own clients. The technology is called Webinars. Webinars are Internet hosted training sessions where you broadcast your computer screen to numerous people who have joined the Webinar remotely – using any web enabled PC. The attendee doesn’t have to have QuickBooks installed and they don’t have to be technically savvy. There is no configuration of the attendees’ computers required – only the installation of a small utility that they are promoted to install the first time they attend a session (for most Webinar services).
 
The author’s recommended software application to offer Webinars is Go To Meeting/Go to Webinar. When you subscribe to this service, you can conduct web meetings where everyone in the meeting can speak during using the telephone conferencing number and the host of the meeting can pass control of the screen images to anyone in the meeting. This tool is great for large meetings (e.g. with several people at your client’s office) or for one on one meetings (e.g. sessions where you watch the client work through an issue in his QuickBooks data file or where you work on the client’s data file while they watch).
 
The training potential for this technology is tremendous. You can schedule numerous Webinar training events and email invitations to your clients. You can charge for the training or you can offer the training as a free service to your own clients. Your decision whether or not to charge for the training could vary from session to session. You might prefer to offer basic QuickBooks training for free and then charge for more advanced training. As a member of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor program, Intuit makes free training materials available to you so you can train your clients without having to invest time developing a curriculum. If you join the speaker’s bureau you have access to an even wider (and more in depth) slate of QuickBooks training materials.
 
However you conduct your training, the benefits to you as the accounting professional are clear. By offering regular training to your clients you:
 
·         Strengthen your relationship with your existing clients
·         Foster new consulting opportunities through your regular contact with the clients and by exposing your client to new technologies and QuickBooks features.
·         Encourage your clients to invite other small business owners. This expands your exposure in your local market and generates new work.
 
Analyze your QuickBooks data files at least quarterly
 
Regardless of how experienced or well trained QuickBooks users are, they will almost always create data entry and setup errors over the course of time. It is important to regularly analyze the condition of the QuickBooks file to provide reasonable confidence in the accuracy of the data. Many small business owners spend tremendous human resource energy to maintain accurate financial information in QuickBooks while, at the same time, they have no confidence in those numbers to make strategic decisions about their businesses. When you analyze the data file for regularly, you can provide this confidence at least quarterly – if not monthly.
 
As an industry, QuickBooks advisors seldom attempt to communicate the value of periodic data file analysis services. Advisors understand that their clients need these analytical services, but they tend to provide QuickBooks consulting only after their clients create errors in their QuickBooks files – rather than taking preventive steps to help prevent these errors. In other words, If clients don’t call with QuickBooks questions or concerns, advisors often don’t provide any consulting – at not until the consultant has to prepare the income tax return using the unreliable QuickBooks data.
 
As a consultant, consider the benefits of providing periodic data file analysis services for both you and your clients:
 
·         Your clients will have reasonable confidence in the accuracy of their QuickBooks financial reports at several times throughout the year, not just at year end after you file the Company’s annual income tax return and send Journal Entries for the client to enter.
·         If you do not do analytical services throughout the year, you will have to analyze all 12 months during tax season – in order to prepare the client’s corporate income tax return. There are two problems with doing the analysis during tax season:
 
1.      This is the busiest time of the year and as a consultant you probably don’t have time to conduct as thorough an analysis, and you certainly don’t have the time to work with the client to make transaction-level corrections to the data file.
2.      Both the 12 month analysis and the tax return preparation fall under t he same engagement. Since this data analysis and data troubleshooting is time consuming, you will often write down tax preparation fees – or you will send a highly inflated invoice to the client that they must pay at one time. If you had performed the analysis quarterly, the fee would have been spread across the year. As a result, you may increase your billings (including non-tax season billings).
·         You can couple the analysis and correction engagements with quarterly or monthly financial analysis services. Once the financial reports in QuickBooks are accurate to within immaterial discrepancies, you can use products like the one available at www.greatstatements.com to automatically create financial analysis reports for your clients.
 
Consult on at least one product that integrates with QuickBooks
 
The demand for experienced, high-quality QuickBooks consulting is constantly on the rise. As a result, many accounting professionals establish very lucrative practices by providing no services other than QuickBooks consulting. However, growing your practice involves both the quantity and the quality of your clientele. For the price, QuickBooks is a tremendously powerful software solution. However, even with QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions solving the needs of many larger businesses, most QuickBooks users with annual revenues in excess of 5 million dollars find QuickBooks to be a little “cramped.” Though the list below is far from comprehensive, some of the critical limitations in QuickBooks that are specific to larger business include:
 
·         Inventory Limitations. For example, QuickBooks cannot:
o   Record Unit of Measure conversions as part of a Build transaction. You can choose different units of measure when you purchase products or raw materials and you can use different units of measure when you sell products. However, you cannot change the measure of units that you remove from your inventory to manufacture products – recording as a Build transaction in QuickBooks.
o   Track scrap/waste/damage as part of the manufacturing process
o   Process information from bar code scanners
o   Track inventory in multiple locations. (Note: QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions uses technology developed by Velocity Inventory to track inventory in multiple locations beginning with version 8.0 (i.e., 2008). However, this is handled technically by using QuickBooks with an integrated product. You can integrate QuickBooks Premier with Velocity Inventory as well.
o   Apply date-driven price levels
o   Apply quantity-based price levels
o   Value inventory using LIFO or FIFO
o   Track serialized inventory
o   Track expiration dates or obsolescence dates for individual parts or products in inventory.
o   Track revision levels for individual parts or products in inventory.
 
·         Payroll Limitations. For example, QuickBooks cannot:
o   Process payroll for employees who work in more than one state each year.
o   Process certified payroll (e.g. for contractors)
o   Allocate company-wide payroll taxes to more than one General Ledger account or account type
 
·         Customer/Client Management Limitations. For example, QuickBooks cannot:
o Store an unlimited amount of text in each customer record. When users reach the maximum amount of text allowed, they have to archive the text by copying and pasting the text into another database.
o   Handle more than 7 custom fields on the customer setup window.
o   Store multiple billing addresses per customer.
 
·         General Limitations. For example, QuickBooks cannot:
o   Allow more than 30 users to access a single QuickBooks file simultaneously.
o   Create Time Detail reports where the time notes do not truncate.
o   Automatically close/distribute Retained Earnings to multiple Partner equity accounts.
o   Track the company’s stock portfolio through by updates through the Internet (as with Quicken).
o   Produce any 1099 forms except the 1099 Miscellaneous
o   Run efficiently with larger data files (generally more than 250 MB with QuickBooks Pro/Premier and more than 500 MB with QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions. Note: The recommended limits above are not absolute or technical limits. Our recommendation is general and is based on performance concerns. The condition of the company’s hardware and the number of users logged into the file simultaneously affect QuickBooks performance with larger data files. Also, Intuit regularly produces updates as releases and new versions that are designed to increase file performance. Still, the file size is not as scalable as programs that operate on robust database engines like those offered by Oracle.
o   Allow users to access numerous areas of the program unless only one user is logged into the file, operating in single user mode.
 
Certainly Intuit is aware of these limitations and each year QuickBooks users and consultants can delete some of the entries from their QuickBooks “wish lists.” However, it will take year for Intuit to fully address all of the needs of the larger business – if they really ever can do so given the retail price of the software and the ever evolving needs of businesses. As a result, if you intend to grow your practice both vertically (by increasing the average sized client in your client base) as well as horizontally (by increasing the number of clients in your client base), you have two overall options: You can become certified and offer consulting services for more robust accounting solutions like Great Plains, MAS, Timberline, Solomon, etc. And/Or…you can consult on robust, scalable and industry-specific products that integrate with QuickBooks. The benefits to the latter option are:
 
Less cost for the client. Since the client will continue to use QuickBooks for much of their accounting, the client invests in a product that solves his/her specific (and perhaps industry-specific) needs. For example, the client can integrate QuickBooks with Fishbowl Inventory (www.fishbowlinventory.com) and still use QuickBooks for payroll processing, Accounts Receivable/Payable, General Ledger/Financial Reporting, Budgeting, etc. Both the purchase cost and the consulting involved in the implementation are less expensive than mid-market accounting packages. The client’s learning curve is also greatly reduced.
 
·         Better retention of larger clients. Unless you consult on numerous mid-market accounting solutions, your client’s decision to purchase a more scalable accounting solution will, by necessity, take you out of the loop. However, if the client continues using QuickBooks along with an integrated product, you retain the QuickBooks consulting work even if you don’t consult on the integrated product the client selected.
 
·         New Billings from Your Existing Clients. If your client chooses to integrate QuickBooks with a software program for which you provide consulting services. You not only retain the client, you will often multiply your annual billings for the client by as much as 400% in the first year and by as much as 200% in subsequent years.
 
·         New Clients. When you prove yourself to be an expert on a product that integrates with QuickBooks, the developer of that product will often refer their customers to you for consulting. Many of the software developers even have structured programs (e.g. VAR programs or other reseller/consulting programs) that are designed to generate leads for you and to support you as you consult with the client.

About the author
Joe Woodard is an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and Intuit Solution Provider who has taught over 20,000 QuickBooks consultants across the country. Joe works with Intuit, state CPA societies, and Atlanta-area CPA firms to present advanced QuickBooks instruction to accounting professionals and software consultants. Joe has earned a unique relationship with Intuit as a trainer, consultant and author. Joe has built two successful accounting software consulting practices: the first in New Orleans, Louisiana and the second in Atlanta, Georgia – Creative Financial Software (CFS). In addition to consulting with small businesses, CFS provides advisory services to CPA firms and other QuickBooks ProAdvisors/Intuit Solution Providers across the country -- helping them to better service their clients who use Intuit products. Joe recently hosted the first annual "Scaling New Heights" QuickBooks conference in Atlanta.

See all articles by Joe Woodard.

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