As a bookkeeper, building a thriving practice is a dream that can be challenging to achieve. It requires strategic planning, execution, and a secret sauce recipe that works for you and your bookkeeping business.
After many years of building and growing my own bookkeeping practice, I have discovered seven key ingredients that have helped me achieve my dream on my terms, and become The Strategic Bookkeeper. Let me share them with you.
The first ingredient in my secret sauce recipe to a thriving bookkeeping practice is your organisation's personality. It's your vibe. Your vibe which attracts your tribe.
Your brand is not a brand asset – a brand asset is a logo, a brochure or a website.
Your brand is your "why". Why do you exist, which is the ultimate outcome you want for a client. Your brand is why you exist, and it's backed up by how and what. So, how do you achieve your "why" for your clients and what you do (which is your services)?
I dig deep into this through my book – The Strategic Bookkeeper, but for now, let me give you the three key benefits to brand, which are:
You absolutely need to attract clients to your bookkeeping practice. When you are in buying mode or in research mode, you want to connect with the person or the brand, and brand is about competitive advantage.
I know you don't want to compete on price. You want to compete on value, and outcomes, and more, and so brand is absolutely about competitive advantage.
This is about your organisation's vibe attracting your ideal tribe. It's about connection.
It may sound a bit strange – menu in a bookkeeping practice – but please do not think about a restaurant menu. Think of a day spa menu with beautiful images, which quickly relaxes you and connects you to why you're in the day spa.
Your menu is actually a key digital brand asset, like a multipurpose brochure. Your menu is how you start with "why" when you're talking to prospective clients about what they need and want.
Bookkeepers naturally lead with "what" – they talk about the features, the functions, and the tasks, "I do bookkeeping. I can catch you up on your books". I'm a bookkeeper, but I have a powerful menu that I use in my process to prevent me from starting with "what" and to help me start with "why" every single time.
People don't actually buy what you do, and they certainly don't want to pay a premium for the what. They buy why you do it, why you exist. Meaning, they buy benefits, not features. So to give you an example, here are three possible benefits that can come from bookkeeping:
peace of mind
a thriving business
Your menu should be built to talk to your prospective clients and your clients in this language. If I was to summarise the benefits of the menu in one short sentence, it would be to improve conversion without a focus on price, conversion of prospects into clients, and conversion of basic bookkeeping clients into strategic bookkeeping clients with outcomes, and value, and benefits as priority rather than price.
As I mention in my book, I could write an entire separate book on client attraction alone. But to keep it digestible, you can absolutely find tons of information in the Attraction chapter of my book, and then you'll find a playbook to further help you with that information.
Bookkeepers need to understand that simply finding new clients or generating leads on its own does not build a thriving practice. The ability to convert more leads into high-paying clients and turn those clients into raving fans, sell succession services, and retain them forever is where the transformation happens – not when you find a new client.
If you are struggling to make client attraction strategies work for you when they seem to be working for other bookkeepers, I would suggest that it is definitely because you don't have all the other pieces of the puzzle in place. Being great at what you do doesn't necessarily mean you have the skills and experience to run a successful business, which is why getting all the pieces of the puzzle in place is what makes everything work.
So start with brand and get that right, then get your menu in place that it is just so incredibly powerful, and then that will lead to your client attraction strategies working so much better, which is why it's the third step. I call these steps and ingredients, because they do work in order. You need your brand in place, and you need your menu in place, then client attraction is going to work better, but they're also a recipe because when you combine all the seven ingredients in harmony, they work.
Back to client attraction – the key strategies that work for this is no big secret. The secret lies in how you make them work. So the ones that work really, really well are business networking. Getting out there, meeting people and building relationships.
And then, nurturing your database. Once you are in practice and you start to meet people and build relationships, you are building a database. So investing in that database, and segmenting it, and keeping in touch with everyone is one of the very powerful strategies. Definitely, relationships, referrals, and partnerships is where it's at, but getting everything into your database and nurturing that database, keeping in touch with everyone is really important too.
In my book, I go into all the different strategies and I also go into the paid strategies like SEO and Google AdWords, and I help you with how to make them work.
If the word "conversion" sounds salesy, well, I did it on purpose because I know bookkeepers hate sales. If you're feeling that way, I want you to pause, and take a breath, and know that I'm not going anywhere in terms of your limiting beliefs. I want to help make your current ceiling your new floor.
When I say conversion, I really mean a way to help prospective clients self-assess their need – their desire to work with you. I've seen extraordinary bookkeepers that can't convert prospective clients not because they're not amazing, but because they don't have a way to help that prospective client. I also call them PCs just because they don't have a way to convey their value. This is about conveying your value, but the word "conversion" is there to also help you step up, step out of your comfort zone, and get a little bit comfortable with some sales and marketing terminology.
Conversion is a process, it is most certainly not going from needs analysis to your proposed solution. That is a recipe for a cost-focused client. So if you are doing that, going from doing the needs analysis to presenting your services and their attached fee, then there is a lot of room for improvement, room to learn how to use a strategic end-to-end conversion process that conveys your value and removes price as an objection. The resources in my book will walk you through all of that.
Now, when I say succession, I mean what's next. So what's next on the journey? What else is on the menu for your existing VIP clients? I call all your clients, your regular clients that are paying you on a monthly basis and trusting you, VIPs – Very Important People.
Succession is where you go beyond basic bookkeeping and solve problems for your clients, not just your prospective clients. When you bring on a new client, it doesn't stop there. We start by selling them what they want, and then we eventually give them what they need.
Succession products can be anything from investigating the numbers to any number of your secret skills productised to benefit your clients. Succession alone has the power to transform your business and your life.
The clients in my practice who have opted into succession services where we have either been investigating the numbers alone as a service or offered business strategy service, have turned out to be the happiest raving fan clients who saw their cost become an investment that, in their own words, they couldn't do without.
Succession products are absolutely the future of our bookkeeping industry. They are how you future-proof, adapt to automation, AI and robotics, and avoid having to compete with cheap overseas labor, up your value, and have more fun. Just like every element of the seven-ingredient secret sauce, start slow, and I promise to be there to keep educating you along the way.
I tend to think of the last two ingredients – systems and team – as almost like one ingredient, but I'll break them down a little right now.
You're a bookkeeper, you get systems, what and why they're important. What I'd like to remind you of right now is the primary reason they exist: They exist so you can keep your promises to your clients, and there is nothing more important than keeping your promises to your clients.
People are polite. They will say it's okay. If you break promises, if you're less than professional, they'll say, "It's okay." Behind the scenes, they will not find it okay, and they will probably look elsewhere. And so, I'm going to give you great sales, marketing, systems, and strategies, and we can put them into your systems.
We have done-for-you systems in our program, but it is so critically important to understand this concept of promises kept, and there is so much data out there on organisations that focused on that and how they saw a doubling and a tripling of their revenues and their profits from focusing solely on promises kept. If you cannot keep your promises to your clients, everything else will not have the impact that it should have, so please focus on that one and understand it's the primary reason why systems are important.
The very last ingredient is team. What I would like to tell you is about the two hats that you must wear, and must wear well. They are the leader and manager. You can do all the other stuff required to make a thriving team, but if you can't step up as a leader and a manager, you'll find yourself and your clients in a world of pain.
You'll hear other short thought leadership around team, around building a culture, and all of these other things. But please don't get caught up in trying to be like a corporate when you've got one, or two, or three on your team. You're a very small business, you shouldn't need layers and layers of management, and you shouldn't have anyone on the team winging or breaking their promises. The key to all of this is really clear leadership, really clear management, and of course, systems.
A manager has five key areas of focus: to plan, organize, staff, direct, and control. When you put your manager hat on, you need to be prepared to do those five things and to have those five key areas of focus in an uncompromising way. Those key five areas are to ensure that your team delivers on your promise to your clients, and that it’s done in a productive, profitable way. I know all this because I've learned the hard way. I've been a people-pleasing manager. I've expected team members to just do their job without the need for tight controls or for control generally, and what I've learned is that there is no avoiding managing, true managing.
As for the leader hat: A leader sets and shares the organisation's vision. That's your why – your brand – and then provides high-level direction. You need to invest in being a great leader and manager. These skills do not fall ass-first out of the sky. They're built like everything else, and you'll find more about that in my book.
So there you have it, the seven key ingredients to a thriving bookkeeping practice.