In his groundbreaking book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman talks about how globalization and technological innovation have evened the world’s playing field and changed core economic concepts as well as the way we do business.
In this new paradigm of a technologically ‘flattened’ world, more and more businesses are turning to virtual, outsourced solutions for important functions like bookkeeping.
With tools like cloud accounting and virtual meeting software, virtual bookkeepers can provide services on par with onsite consultants and in-house staff from anywhere in the world, and usually at a lower cost.
What Is A Virtual Bookkeeping Service?
Under this model, a bookkeeper works with her or his client remotely using accounting software that allows multiple users to access an account.
With this type of cloud account, you— and your CFO or CPA or whoever else you want to grant access — can see financial transactions posted by your bookkeeper and the numbers underlying various financial reports at any given time.
But just as with any bookkeeping or accounting service, trust is the main thing. Without it, there’s no foundation for a solid working relationship. If you don’t trust that your bookkeeping service is ethical, experienced and competent, it should be a nonstarter.
Why Should I Consider Using a Virtual Bookkeeper?
One of the biggest benefits is that virtual services often come with a lower cost than hiring in-house staff or a pricey CPA firm.
And the bookkeeper or service can be treated as a contractor, which provides a huge amount of flexibility since you can expand or contract services as necessary.
With a virtual solution like this, services can often be customized to your unique circumstances, whether you need them to act as an entire accounting department or as support to existing staff members.
And there’s an efficiency component as well.
Meaning, you don’t have to meet with your bookkeeper face-to-face, which can save you travel and scheduling headaches. (That can be especially helpful in larger marketplaces like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago where heavy traffic is a way of life.)
What Questions Should I Ask?
One reason some businesses shy away from leveraging a virtual service is the issue of trust, as we mentioned above. Despite a technological revolution, some businesses still hang on to the old ways, believing only an onsite bookkeeper can deliver the services they need.
They’d be wrong. Virtual bookkeeping services are very common these days, and businesses who don’t consider using them might just be handing an advantage to their competitors.
But not all virtual bookkeeping services are the same. So how do you go about finding the best, most experienced and trustworthy virtual bookkeeping service?
Start by asking some basic questions that will give insight into whether a service is right for you.
What Software Do You Use?
You need to know which accounting software they use because if it’s different than the one you use currently, you may be looking at a migration that can be complicated if not done by an experienced professional. You’ll need to know that ahead of time.
Many services offer a variety of accounting software platform options, but perhaps the most popular is Intuit’s QuickBooks. It’s pretty much the 800-pound gorilla in the accounting software realm. If they use this software, ask if their bookkeepers are certified QuickBooks experts.
Equally important is to ask questions about their software application ecosystem. Is it compatible with how you do business? Ask questions like:
- What file and document management system do they use? Is it in the cloud?
- How will they transfer documents to and from you securely?
- How do they use tech to keep the lines of communication open with their clients?
How Will We Communicate and When?
Because you will be working virtually, you’ll need to know how you can reach a professional, and when.
Do they use an online conferencing system like Zoom or Skype? And what instant communication methods do they use (like Slack or Google Chat).
Ask what their average response time is for both urgent and routine matters. For urgent matters, will they respond with an email, phone call or some other method of communication?
You need to know you have access to your bookkeeper when you need it and a virtual service should offer reasonable response times for both routine and urgent matters.
What Services Are Included and How Do You Charge Your Clients?
Obviously, cost is an important consideration but context is helpful here too. What deliverables can you expect for what you’re paying? Do they offer customizable plans?
While you should ask about specific items your business needs, at a minimum the virtual service should offer assistance with basic functions like:
- Bank and credit card reconciliations
- Financial and management reports
- Sales tax reporting
- Loan reconciliations; and
- Bill payments
Also, beware the accounting service that tries to lock you into an annual plan. Ideally, you want a company that offers month-to-month plans so you have recourse in the event you aren’t happy with the service.
Adding It All Up
Asking these types of questions will help provide insight into the experience, efficiency, competence, and trustworthiness of a virtual bookkeeping service.
Once you find the right fit, this solution could be a gamechanger. Because, in a nutshell, you can work remotely with a virtual bookkeeping service, generally at a lower cost than hiring staff or a CPA firm, without compromising the communication that makes for an excellent working relationship. When you add it all up, it just makes sense.
Steiner Business Solutions provides expert virtual bookkeeping services to small and mid-sized companies, allowing clients to stop worrying about backroom operations and helping them focus on what they do best. If you’d like to learn more about us and the services we provide, we’d love to talk.