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How One Bookkeeping Firm Transitioned to a Cloud-based Practice

 In this article, Bill.com interviews Cindy Henderson Magner, founder of BBK |beyond bookkeeping. Magner discusses how she moved her bookkeeping firm – and her clients – to Bill.com and the cloud. 

 

Please describe your firm. 

My firm, BBK | beyond bookkeeping, positions itself as “new school bookkeepers.” We focus on a strategic approach: identifying issues, providing guidance and helping our clients apply their financial information effectively. In order to accomplish this, we have to deliver bookkeeping solutions that save our clients time and money while also creating peace of mind.

 

What prompted your move to the cloud?

In March 2015 after my maternity leave, I sat down with the firm’s director of operations to discuss the state of the business. We discovered that in order to create more efficiency and profitability, our firm needed to reevaluate the types of clients we worked with and we needed to move them to cloud-based solutions such as Bill.com.

We had grown slightly complacent as a firm, which meant in some cases we were working with the solutions, processes and preferences dictated by our clients. Was it profitable for representatives of our firm to receive paper checks in the mail and deposit them at the bank? Did it make sense for us to print and mail paper reports because a client refused to review them electronically?

It became clear that, in order for us to move into our new school bookkeeping position, we needed to lead the way for our clients and show them the tools and processes they require to succeed.

 

Tell us about the steps you took to move to the cloud. 

The first step was to sell from the inside out.

Our most precious commodity was the firm’s bookkeepers. If they were excited and supportive about cloud-based solutions, they would serve as technology ambassadors for our clients. We were using some cloud-based solutions. We had a strong adoption rate for Bill.com. However, we knew we needed to expand.

We held a summit of all 13 bookkeepers in March, where we showcased cloud-based solutions and emphasized that the movement to the cloud was happening quickly for the firm. They needed to adopt now or get left behind.

Turns out, it wasn’t hard to sell them on the cloud. The bookkeepers saw immediately that the cloud made sense. They were chomping at the bit to move forward.

As a follow-up, we asked the bookkeepers which clients would convert quickly and which might not. This helped us plan a tiered rollout.

 

What was the next step?

Next, we had to plan for and prepare the clients. We identified three types of clients.

The first segment consisted of those who would move to the cloud easily. If a client had, for example, asked about what solutions we recommend or if they preferred to work from mobile devices, then we knew they were ideal targets.

The second segment consisted of everyone with access to bookkeeping through a desktop solution. There would be a bit of work required to convert them, but it wouldn’t be overwhelming.

The last batch consisted of the clients who would require a greater effort, such as those who relied on the desktop version of QuickBooks Point of Sale that didn’t integrate with QuickBooks Online. We also had several tech startups that created spreadsheet templates to import into QuickBooks Desktop. This would be the last group we’d target.

After identifying the targets, we set up a communications plan to introduce and navigate the process. This multi-touch program consisted of calls from me to introduce the firm’s new vision and the cloud. Then we shared plans with the clients to outline the steps involved. We also provided toolkits for bookkeepers such as pre-written emails that explained critical components of the process.

 

Explain how you staffed to suit this transition.

To successfully move our clients to the cloud, we knew we would need to supplement our staff. We hired an onboarding specialist who handles the actual conversion process. He accelerated the process significantly.

Prior to conversions, he reviews the databases and creates online subscriptions. After the conversion, he pulls reports and compares them to the desktop reports, checks on apps and then notifies the bookkeeper when everything is ready to go.

 

How did cloud-based operations change your ideal client profile?

We had to redefine what type of new client the firm wanted to work with. We didn’t want to be the firm that would work with just any business. That would ultimately impair the inroads we had already made toward instituting cloud-based operations.

If a business wants to work with us, we tell them that they have to work with Bill.com and other cloud-based solutions. There is no compromise on that front. We explain the benefits, recommend solutions, convert them, train them and provide support on all fronts.

If they refuse the cloud or perhaps cling a bit too tightly to their paper-based operations, that’s a tipoff that they might not be the right fit for BBK. We refer them to another firm.

 

What did you do with reluctant clients?

While a majority of our clients joined us in the cloud, we did have some difficult conversations with existing clients who didn’t want to make the move.

If the client didn’t want to change, we made the decision to walk away. We had a thorough process: Send a notice, have a conversation regarding the direction the firm was moving in and then arrange to efficiently off-board them with referrals to other bookkeepers. 

We took a hit – about 10 percent of our yearly revenue – but with the new model we are quickly rebuilding and replacing that revenue.

 

What results did you see from moving to the cloud?

We have converted roughly half of our client base, with plans to convert the remainder in the next three months. Our goal is to be 100 percent in the cloud by the end of the year.

Funny enough, some of the clients we thought we’d lose were the ones who surprised us. One client whose retail business operated on a desktop point of sale system happily agreed to make the change to a cloud-based point of sale system. We didn’t think he’d be willing to make such a significant shift. Now that he’s made that switch, he’s even more interested in cloud-based solutions, and we have plans to accelerate his adoption. 

Sometimes there are options to ease anxiety. For example, if a client hesitates to move data 100 percent to the cloud, I offer solutions such as ordering a monthly CD of images from Bill.com that serves as a tangible backup. That extra layer of security, although not necessary, can help to convince them.

For the most part, our clients are happy to have things made easier with the cloud. For BBK | beyond bookkeeping, the cloud helps us cement our position as trusted advisors while reaping benefits such as profitable and efficient operations.

 

About Cindy Henderson Magner

Cindy Henderson Magner founded Beyond Bookkeeping in May 2005 after receiving her MBA from San Francisco State University. After several years working in nonprofit economic development, her entrepreneurial drive led her to business school with a goal of finding a way to increase U.S. job development through micro-enterprise creation and growth. Her research identified a lack of financial controls and an inability to interpret financial statements as the reason many small businesses fail.

BBK |beyond bookkeeping was established to enable Magner to share her knowledge and offer the critical insights, training and tools that put small businesses and startups on the path to success. She also holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. 

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