Welcome to another in a series of profiles spotlighting the 2015 Firm of the Future finalists. In this new article, we feature Cindy Schroeder of Bright Bookkeeping. Be sure to scroll down to see her video.
Elizabeth Johnson: Tell us about Bright Bookkeeping.
Cindy Schroeder: Bright Bookkeeping is based out of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. We have two part-time employees and about 50 clients, and our clients are mostly service based. Our mission is to take away our clients’ accounting headaches. They started their business because they had a passion and their passion was not bookkeeping.
EJ: What does it mean to be a Firm of the Future?
CS: To me, being a Firm of the Future means I have the ability to work with my clients remotely from anywhere. When I first started my business, I worked from my clients’ offices so I was driving all over the place and it got very tiring and limiting. I’m part of the Chicago QuickBooks® Group and attend the Sleeter Conferences, and I kept hearing about cloud-based apps and different ways to work with your clients remotely. So, I started to look into them. Now, I’m able to work with clients remotely using apps such as SmartVault, Bill.com and Hubdoc.
EJ: Tell us about your evolution from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online?
CS: When I first started my business nine years ago, I was a certified ProAdvisor® just using desktop. At that time, QuickBooks Online was not as robust as it is now, but the product has improved dramatically over the years. The pivotal point in our shift was in 2012 – we started using Right Networks for hosted desktop and then moved on to QuickBooks Online. Now, about 70 percent of my clients are on QuickBooks Online and the rest are hosted. Currently, our business model is to only take on new clients that are using QuickBooks Online.
EJ: How does the cloud impact the way you do business? Are your clients all local?
CS: It allows me to help more business and gives me the flexibility to work anywhere. My family has been going to Disney World a lot (we have annual passes), and without being able to work remotely, that wouldn’t be possible. The majority of my clients are local, but I do have clients across the country that I’ve never met. And, for those who are local, it was a mindset shift: showing them I don’t need to be there physically to get their work done. That is something I’ve been working on the past couple years to get everyone switched over.
EJ: What apps do you use?
CS: We use SmartVault to pass information back and forth with clients. I don’t like to send financials through email so it’s a great way to have an electronic filing cabinet. I also use Bill.com for paying bills for my clients that I do AP and AR for. It’s a great way to avoid having to approve checks; it puts all the emphasis on the clients to approve the checks. I’ve also started using Hubdoc so that I don’t have to go to all of the bank and credit card websites anymore – it just pulls in all the information. I just go to one website and everything’s there, so it saves a ton of time!
EJ: How do you research and decide on the software and apps partners that you use?
CS: It’s difficult, and I know talking to other bookkeepers that it’s a pain point because there are so many apps out there. In the Chicago QuickBooks Group and another group that I started, Bookkeeping Buds, which is made up of bookkeepers in the area, we bounce ideas off each other and bring problems to the group to see if others have solutions. I also attend conferences like QuickBooks Connect, as well as go out and meet vendors, to learn what’s out there.
EJ: Have any of your clients had unique needs that you’ve had to find an app for?
CS: Most of my clients are pretty straightforward, so they have been using basic apps such as Bill.com and TSheets. I have a few nonprofits, so I am looking into Method: Donor to see if that would be a good fit for them. I also have clients that use Shopify and PayPal, which may also eliminate some of the data entry with the apps.
EJ: Can you share a time that you helped one of your small business clients overcome a challenge?
CS: The biggest challenge that I help business owners overcome is the lack of understanding of what is going on with their business. I help them get more organized by tracking everything in QBO, and help them understand where their money is coming from and going. I try to make things easy by talking in real terms that they will understand.
EJ: You have a small business, being the sole full-time employee. How do you decide when you should scale? And, how do you see your business growing?
CS: That’s been a big topic of discussion lately. In order to scale, I’d have to bring more people on board, and that opens up a new set of issues. I have been working on getting things in place, such as documenting all my processes, in order to move in this direction. I think my business can grow by better identifying our niche markets and possibly a Disney Division.
EJ: Tell us more about your second business you mentioned above, Bookkeeping Buds.
CS: Bookkeeping Buds is a national community supporting bookkeepers so that they can be as successful as possible. I have three local groups of women that meet monthly in a mastermind format and will also be starting a virtual group. The website was launched in February and includes a forum to post questions and get ideas, as well as a calendar filled with all the webinars and events bookkeepers would be interested in. We are having a Boutique retreat in June with different speakers, including Leslie Shiner and Marnie Stretch. Attendees will be able to meet vendors, such as Intuit®, Right Networks and TSheets, on a very intimate level. My goal is to be able to help all bookkeepers go remote and build their practices to the best of their ability.
EJ: What’s your advice to those who are hesitant to adopt cloud technologies?
CS: I know it can be scary. I remember the very first conference I went to that talked about cloud technology and I had no idea what they were talking about. It felt like someone was speaking another language to me. Then, I talked to people around me who were already using it and learned what QuickBooks looked like on a hosted environment with Right Networks, and how an app, such as Bill.com, could really help me. Learning from their real world experience is what helped give me confidence to try cloud technology.
If you’re hesitant about it, just pick one thing to look at, or one app that you might be interested in, so that you don’t get overwhelmed. And then, talk to people who are using it and give it a try on your own company – that way, it doesn’t affect any of your clients.
EJ: How do you bill your clients today?
CS: I use a fixed fee, but it’s not value pricing. I’m still playing around with value pricing, but for now, I have a fixed monthly fee for my clients. If clients have a project or need consulting, I can do those hourly, but for the most part, it’s a fixed fee. It makes it really easy for me because in QuickBooks Online: I set it up as a memorized transaction and the invoice goes out automatically.
EJ: How do you get/find clients?
CS: I’m big on Twitter and Facebook, and I like marketing. If I wasn’t in bookkeeping, I would go into marketing! I use Send Out Cards for my marketing program. It is an online card system that sends an actual, physical card. I think it’s very important to keep in touch with your clients on a regular basis, even if you’re not seeing them in person, so I send them cards all the time. I pick unique holidays; for example, I will send my clients Halloween cards or Fourth of July cards. I’ll also add in treats, like brownies, throughout the year – things they wouldn’t expect from their bookkeeper or accountant.
I think that makes a huge difference with my clients. I try and get to know them as people, and they appreciate it. And, the more they look at you as a business advisor, the more they will tell their small business friends about you.
EJ: What do you typically share on Twitter?
CS: Mostly information about QuickBooks Online, conferences that are coming up, new changes in QuickBooks Online and, of course, Disney.
EJ: Where do you get your social media inspiration?
CS: The Intuit Accountants Facebook page is a great resource for information to share, which makes participating in social media a lot easier. I also follow @IntuitAccts on Twitter, and other accountants and business owners who have good information, and will repost what they share. I also participate in Cathy Iconis’ weekly #QBOChat.
EJ: What makes you stand out as a bookkeeper?
CS: All my clients are important and I treat them that way. I like to build a relationship with them beyond being their bookkeeper. I also think it is important to be able to answer their questions so that they understand. Sometimes, this may mean creating different reports than your traditional financials.
EJ: What advice would you give to a firm who wants to be a Firm of the Future?
CS: Attend events such as QuickBooks Connect or the Bookkeeping Buds Retreat. Talk to people who are already doing it. If you want to be the best at something, you need to find someone who is already there and get advice from them. Most importantly, don’t be scared to try something new.
EJ: As a Disney World fan, what’s your favorite ride or attraction in the park? And, do you have a favorite Disney character?
CS: Disney World is definitely my happy Place. How can you not be happy wearing mouse ears? Walt is a marketing genius, so you can really learn a lot from being there to incorporate into your own business. My favorite rides are Tower of Terror and Peter Pan. It is hard to pick a favorite character, but Merida, Kristoff, Flynn Ryder and Baloo definitely top the list.
Editor’s Note: Click on the video below to see Cindy Schroeder’s Firm of the Future video.