EP111: Debbie Roberts – How To Speak With Your Legacy Clients

The next growth phase.

It can be scary.

Pure Bookkeeping co-founder and co-author of The E-Myth Bookkeeper, Debbie Roberts has been there.Back in her bookkeeping business days, she spent 12 months trying to manage the transition including preparing her legacy clients.

Change wasn't easy, but with the help of proven systems, software, and standard operating procedures, she managed to effectively communicate with those clients to begin a smooth evolution of her business.

During this interview, you'll discover...

  • The steps you need to take to successfully speak with your legacy clients

  • Bookkeeping standard operating procedures

  • Different systems and software for bookkeepers that could help in their next growth phase

To find out more about Debbie, visit here

For her Facebook page, click here.

For her LinkedIn page, go here.

To check out her book, The E-Myth Bookkeeper, click this link.

To view the Jetpack Workflow Integration, explore here.


Michael Palmer: 01:17 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I am your host, Michael Palmer. It is always great having today's guest on the show. She brings amazing insight every time she joins me. She's the Co-founder of pure bookkeeping, author of the e myth bookkeeper and a fantastic human being. Debbie Roberts, welcome back to the podcast.

Debbie Roberts: 01:38 Thank you so much, Michael. I'm very excited to be here.

MP: 01:41 It is always such a pleasure to have you and I know in my travels of late to a few different conferences, you're one of the favorites out there that people listen to your episodes and absolutely love listening to what you have to say. And so it's another opportunity for us to dive deep into the things that you're seeing that are happening in the industry and what's really going on.

DR: 02:07 Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

MP: 02:09 Absolutely. And so for those of you that have already met Debbie Roberts, you will know exactly who she is. But for those of you who, this may be your very first episode, we will put links in the show notes for you to go back and have a listen to some of the earlier additions where Debbie's been on the show with us. So we're just going to jump right into all of it right now and start talking about what's going on in the industry and really Deb, you've been mentoring bookkeepers for years and wow, this whole concept of the phases of business where people are from startup to moving their business to maybe six figures and then, and then beyond the, the next phase of growth for particular bookkeeping business owner and of late, you've been doing a lot of work which which you like to call the next growth phase. Tell me a little bit more about that phase and what you've been experiencing.

DR: 03:05 Sure. There is. Having been through it myself, a and the pain associated with moving from sort of what we're talking about is you've, you've, you've reached that point where you, you're running a successful practice so you're on your own or you're toning over the amount of money that you think is suitable and what you're aiming for a successful practice. You fall up and you start to think I probably need to recruit and that that is a tipping point to be at, well, the decision point then is am I going to keep growing or will I stay just on my own? In my own experience, I came across that as well. It was kind of a, uh, a quite a barrier, which it is for most bookkeepers who reached that tipping point. But what I decided was I had a pretty big vision, um, to replace my husband's income in 10 years. So I knew I needed to grow beyond myself. And I also, I made a decision as well that I didn't want to turn people away because I knew I could help them and I really felt for them. And so I wanted to keep growing so I knew then the next phase was going to be recruiting, which was pretty scary.

MP: 04:20 Hmm. You know, it, this whole concept of turning away clients is difficult. That's something I hear often. You're in the business to help people and so to have to turn them away is, it's, it's, it's really difficult. And you, and I think on the other side too is you want to be able to grow your income, but, and so turning away clients is kind of reverse thinking, but at the same time, even if you did add those clients, if you're not in the right position in your business, if you don't have things set up properly, it can actually do the reverse of growing your business.

DR: 04:56 Oh, you will absolutely grow a world of pain, which is what I did for, for some time before I met Peter Cook, who was my business coach for 10 years. Those of you who don't know my story and then worked on it was paid or that first said, do you think if you took the systems you had in your head and wrote them down and had taught someone to follow those, would that work? Would that solve your problem? And I went, oh yeah, maybe that could. And that was a 10-year journey, um, creating those systems. But it was those systems that actually enabled me to grow a large business or a successful bookkeeping business with 12 staff.

MP: 05:38 Yeah. A, a breakthrough really for you was creating the systems and processes that would enable your business to run in, in a form having automation.

DR: 05:51 Oh yeah. Well, and run without me. So that was my main goal, although on my big vision to replace my husband's income along the way of that, I also had my own personal goal, which was to do less bookkeeping. Um, and it's when you get to the point where you're doing this bookkeeping, that it frees up more time to work on your business. It gives you flexibility, it gives you the ability to have the lifestyle that you want while still earning the income. So when you're on your own, if you don't work, you don't get paid. So it's growing your business past, that means that you still get paid and you don't, you're not actually doing the billable hours. So if we were to to look, there's going to be listeners that are at this phase in their business where they want to take it to the next level.

MP: 06:44 Where should they start thinking?

DR: 06:46 The very first starting point is they need to talk to all their clients. Because I'm sure they'll be in the same position as I was cause I hadn't set expectations that I was growing my business. So I had these legacy clients. When I got to that point where I thought, yes, I do want to grow my business. I had these legacy clients where I hadn't, I hadn't set that expectation with them. It was when, when I started working with them, it's, hi, I'm Debbie Roberts. I'm going to be your bookkeeper. Let's get started. Um, and I didn't have any systems in place. It was all in my head. So they engaged me to do the bookkeeping and I was the one with the intellectual property and I got the work done and I went away and came back the next day or the next week or whatever it was.

DR: 07:33 So these legacy clients and you get very attached to them as well. And I had a client, for example, for 10 years before I told him that I was going to replace myself. Now I know for a fact that this is a big, a big roadblock for pretty much every bookkeeper where they have these legacy clients. And they thinking, I want to grow my business. I now realize, okay, yes, I do want to take that step, but you can't do that obviously unless you set the expectation or change the expectation with your legacy clients. And so that means a conversation and it took me 12 months to have that conversation with each of my clients. That's how many clients I had and I had to go to each one of them and sit down and explain. It was a difficult conversation. It was quite often more difficult.

DR: 08:32 I made it into a more difficult conversation in my mind and it actually turned out to be, there wasn't anyone that said, oh, well if you're going to do that, if you're going to put in another staff, I'm not going to put you, you know, you can go now, not one person, not, not. I didn't lose one client because of this conversation, because of the, of explaining that I was transitioning, but a now our own fears. We were afraid that we might actually lose those clients or were afraid they were. You know, how are they going to react? Will they get angry and I've got to deal with all of that. It's quite, it's quite a difficult time. And that 12 months, I remember that quite vividly, even all these years or since then, it was quite vivid, the feeling I had of being anxious about every single conversation I was actually avoiding having a conversation with one particular client.

DR: 09:26 I'd gone through everyone and there was this one client where I was going there a day, a week onsite, a day, a week. So it was, uh, one of my best clients. He was solid. He paid me on time. He was, you know, I was part of the family people. This is very common thing that, that you encounter. They only trust you. You get invited to their family birthdays, you get Christmas presents. It's, you really become part of their lives. And, and I've heard so often people say, oh, but they only like me. Yeah, I understand that. But if you are, if you've made the decision to grow your business, they will learn to love someone else and they will become attached to someone else if you manage that really well. And that was, that was my job for 12 months, is to manage the transition to say I'm going to replace myself with so-and-so over the next few months.

DR: 10:22 And then transition that bookkeeper in. And there was one client who I resisted that for a long time and a paid kid saying to me, when are you going to speak to that doctor? When are you going to speak to the doctor? And I go, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm going to do that. And I kept putting it off until finally I thought, I can't go back to Pete and say, you know, I got too busy again. I can't have that excuse as old. And so I finally broached the subject with the specialist and he said, oh great. Okay, well that's fine. When is the person starting? And all that time when I've been creating, he's going to say this and then I'll say that. And then what if he says this, I'll come back with that. I created this whole conversation in my mind about how it was going to work and he just said, yeah, great.

DR: 11:10 Okay, well I trust you. I'm so, I'm sure you'll make it work and I'll let you know if it's not. It was all very straight forward. So a lot of stuff we imagine that that is one of the biggest hurdles is to go through, so the first step is to create a list of your existing legacy clients and write down things. I like excel spreadsheets and budget, whichever platform you use, but you have columns and you put things like the name of your client, how, how many hours a week or month, whatever it is that you do for them, whether it's onsite or offsite, what software they're using, if they've got staff. Just a brief dot points of what kind of processing it is. What you're trying to determine there is how complex it is, you know, whether it's got a lot of payroll or does it have inventory, things that are a little bit more complex.

DR: 12:06 And the Thunell column that I always recommend putting in is an excuse the language, but a pain in the backside column. So these are clients who might be a little bit antsy, a little bit touchy. You know who I'm talking about. You'll be thinking of people now, they ring you, they're anxious, they contact you a lot. The thought of telling them that you're going to replace yourself with another bookkeeper, that's they kind of alert on the alert, you think, oh, I don't know how they're going to react. So have them on that list and then sort them from the easiest clients, easiest processing to the most difficult down the bottom, or if you really want to knock off the big ones first, do it the other way round. But I started with the easiest ones because I needed to ease myself into what the conversation was going to look like with those people. And I know I got better than at the conversation, so that as I moved down to mind what I considered to be my difficult clients, the ones that might object, I already had the message down pat. So that's a really useful exercise to go through that physical things so that you can see visually what you're dealing with.

MP: 13:26 Absolutely. I love the, I love the idea of basically categorizing your, your client base so that you can see what, what's ahead of you, what you've got, where you should put the most attention, uh, and, and how you're going to divvy up, up to work. Really in terms of you, you were bringing on staff in, in this next growth phase, there's going to be staff involved. What are some things that people have to think about in terms of their business system? You had created a very strong standard operating procedures and maybe explain a little bit about standard operating procedures. I mean, you've written e-myth bookkeeper, you read e-myth the book that was written over 35 years ago and, and one of the most sold books on the planet to small businesses around building systems in your business. But yet I think a lot of people don't fully understand the complexity and, and required detail of standard operating procedures.

DR: 14:27 MMM. Yes. You can't have too much detail. Uh, that's essentially what it is. And what I created, which is now part of the Pure Bookkeeping system, is the bookkeeping standard operating procedures. And the detail in that for your checklists is needs to be excruciating. I can remember thinking as I writing the instructions, so we've got checklists and then we've got manuals which explain what's in the checklist and honestly it's, it's kind of makes me scratching my skin at the moment. It kind of makes your skin crawl. It can be so excruciating the detail because the things that are common mistakes, which I made in my business as well, was riding these checklists. I'd go bang, Bang, Bang, Bang. I think those are the top six things I need to do. They'll, they'll know the other stuff. I'm sure they'll do these other things. I don't need to document that because all good bookkeepers know how to do that or know that they need to do that.

DR: 15:31 But that, that is, that's the mistake. They actually, you have to walk them through each step individually and in excruciating detail and unfortunately there's no easy way of doing that except starting. And again, I used excel. You might use jetpack workflow, put something online so that you've got your checklists all there. But don't assume that the bookkeeper to start off with, don't assume they're going to do it right. And don't assume that they're going to do it the way you wanted it done. So that is, that's a big thing cause so even if you've got an experienced bookkeeper, my saying is if you put 10 bookkeepers in the room, there would be 10 different ways of doing the same thing and half of them, it'd be wrong. So you can't assume that they're going to get it right. And don't assume that they're going to do it the way you would do it. They were two of the biggest mistakes I made, the assumptions that I made when I was starting out.

MP: 16:30 Yeah, absolutely. And I think the, the interesting angle here is, is that a business owner or a person that's decided to build a bookkeeping business has a certain way of thinking. And a person who wants to work for a bookkeeping business has a certain way of thinking. And then there's a person who eventually wants to own their own bookkeeping business and wants to start by working for a bookkeeping business. So all these different ways of thinking. And if you, if you put all three of those in a room doing the books you'd have, you'd have different ways of doing the books, but you'd also have different attitudes towards doing those things. So you know, the willingness to do it somebody else's way or how you would, you know, tackle something. And would you cut this corner? Would you, you know, you have to go that much here or this.

MP: 17:25 So if you're the owner of the business, that's your duty is to determine what, how do we, how do we do this? What is our business going to be about? Are we going to be doing it, you know, with the extra effort and extra detail on all these steps or, or, or not. And so that, that can, I think people often forget about that. The people you're hiring to, the business, the aim, the whole point is to actually have a system, a business that runs independently of the creator. And you can't do that unless there's one way to do a majority of the work.

DR: 18:03 Yeah. And you also, so when you're having that conversation with your legacy clients, when they are nervous about you leaving because perhaps you, and certainly in my experience, I rescued them so that they were in a mess. They had mess left behind by a bad bookkeeper. Um, many of the listeners would, would, uh, understand that would have had that experience. So they're feeling they might be feeling a little bit nervous. And my conversation was, listen, I'm going to guarantee the quality of the work. That's it. Boxtops with me. Whatever happens, you will not have to deal with. I'm dealing with that now. The only way I could guarantee the quality of the work is to make sure the bookkeeper was doing it the way I wanted them to do it. And not to assume that they would cause that they won't. They won't.

MP: 18:59 Absolutely. And so now there's this interesting development with workflow software. Workflow software wasn't accessible. That was probably exist and probably nothing compared to what's available today even then. But if you wanted workflow software, you probably needed to go and get $500,000 to buy a big p big honking piece of software from SAP, uh, and, and, and then spend another $500,000 implementing that, uh, SAP, uh, software enterprise software. Today there is software like carbon HQ and Arrow and jet pack workflow and a sauna and Trello and teamwork. By Google, I mean all of these pieces of software that enable you to bring to life all of those standard operating procedures in a closed loop system, which is really exciting.

DR: 19:56 Oh, if honestly, the opportunity for bookkeepers now is like to reach the levels that I reached. I believe it's possible to do that much quicker than I did because of these fabulous software programs. My business was built on the back of excel spreadsheets, but I had to pay an operations manager 60,000 to 70,000 Australian dollars a year to run my business, basically. So that's what it cost me every year to run my business. And you can get these programs now for, you know, just such a small amount and ha, but not only that, you remove the human error kind of thing where something falls through the cracks because I forgot to check that thing over there. You have things like jetpack workflow and, and the other ones that have all your checklists on there and they have alerts and, and, and the other big thing is, um, tracking all the emails that go through with your clients. I had to create folders in, you know, in the, in the email platform that I was using to, to keep all the folder or the emails together for each particular client. It's just so much more streamlined now. Um, so people, that's where, that's the exciting thing about the industry.

MP: 21:21 Absolutely. And we're hearing lots of our community talking about what this is doing to their practice. I was at a bookkeeping conference recently and speaking to a couple of, uh, of our community members and, and I said, how, how are your staff liking using jetpack workflow? And they said, well, we love it, but our staff love it more. And I just about fell down when I heard that, you know, bringing in a new piece of software into an organization, it's always like it's changed. And so anytime there's change, people push back on change. But if the software helps your life get easier, if it makes your job easier, if it works for you, then those users are going to love it because they're like, you just made my life easier. Oh yeah. And so I'm really, I'm super excited about that. And, and one of, uh, one of our community members, Lisa Campbell Marquese actually work to put pure bookkeeping into jetpack workflow. And so it's helped, you know, we're talking about 20, 30 different community members that are now using this in their business. And it's just, it's just taking their business to a whole new level. So for, for those listening, if you're interested in, if you haven't looked yet at workflow software, we'll put a link in the show. Lisa has put together a video of how she's using workflow software and a, it's very, very good to just sort of understand where the opportunity lies using workforce software. And in this case it's with jetpack workflow.

DR: 22:54 Oh yes. It's um, it's a game changer. It's absolutely a game changer. And I was so excited when Lisa put her hand up to work on their project too because the automation of the pure bookkeeping system, well that's the future, um, where you typed the systems that I created, which are all very thorough and in excel and, and been developed even by our community over the last eight years. Um, put them in an automated platform, uh, where you can set up all your bells and whistles and, and notifications and all those sorts of things that that's a game changer.

MP: 23:31 That's really, uh, yeah, that's very exciting.

DR: 23:33 Yeah, it really did. I remember taking a productivity course, this was like 15 years ago and it changed my life. The, the program was called Mission Control and the concept of mission control was to put your entire life into a closed loop process. I don't know if I'm saying it exactly right, but closed loop is what's going to happen and by when is that going to happen and have that be recorded. So if, if I, if someone asked me to send a letter to somebody, the way I need to close loop, that is number one, they need to close loop it on their end by saying Michael would buy, when will you do it? They record that they've assigned it to me so that they, I know that they know that they have recorded it, that it's an existence that this is going to get done. And then for me it's to say, okay, put it in my calendar that on this day I'll send the letter and I'll know everything I need to know about doing that particular task is in the calendar and done deal.

DR: 24:32 When that's done, it's, it's going to remind me that it's done. It's got a place on my calendar. Someone I know, someone that's depending on it knows that it's you know, calendar to get it done. It's closed loop. Now what happens to my brain when that happens is my brain forgets about it because it no longer needs to be keeping track of that one item. And I think that's one of the, the, the key pieces that this is bringing to a bookkeeping business owners business is that they can, they have with this technology, the ability to create a complete closed loop system. Here's all the tasks that you need to do. Here's how to do all of those tasks and all of the, the intricate details of making sure that those tax tasks get done and get done correctly. But then as well, you have the ability to assign the work to people. You get to see all of the, the in between conversations that are happening and there's dates that you can have reminders and deadlines put on of onto that. Now what that does that is like the, that's an ancient remedy for a great night's sleep.

MP: 25:39 Oh, absolutely. And, uh, I, I, uh, probably last years of my life, um, waking up in the middle of the night thinking, Oh, was that done? Or a better ride that I used to have a pence a been a pen and paper beside my bed so that I could write down all the different thoughts cause I just remembered in the middle of the night and I know there are listeners to this program who are going through that now and it's a, and, and you may even be at the point where you've got one or two staff and you've got so many clients, you just physically and mentally cannot keep track of everything that's going on with each one of your clients. Um, so do utilize, uh, something like jetpack workflow or carbon or one of the other programs is that is really going to save your sanity and also enable you to grow a bigger business more quickly. There is one other key to that and that is recruiting and we may not have to talk about that and, and some of the things that they need to look out for when they're recruiting Markle have ween. Do you want me to say a little bit about that now?

DR: 26:51 I think we, I think we can touch upon it, but I think it's, I think we should tee that up for another conversation. I know we've talked about it in the past, but this is, this is one that pains me. Two great, great amounts is hearing about how the, the, the, the hiring has gone wrong and how much pain and suffering and cost it's causing for small businesses. And so I am sure that this is a whole episode, probably multiple episodes to talk about this and how to get it right.

MP: 27:21 Yeah.

DR: 27:22 And, and I've, and when we were talking about systems, uh, for the bookkeeping in the pure bookkeeping system, we've got the HR, the recruitment process, the, the one tip that I would give you is to find some way of testing. So it's all very well having the bookkeeping systems. But if you can't be confident that the person that you've recruited is actually any good, then no bookkeeping system that you've created will accommodate that. It won't fill the gaps of their not lack of knowledge or experience. You need to find those bookkeepers first. And the way to do that is to find some way to test them and that might be just getting them online in the software or and asking them how to move around the software. It might, you might ask them quick key questions about how would they process this if they, if they found this situation, just find some way of testing them before you actually recruit them.

MP: 28:26 Absolutely, and as well. I mean pure bookkeeping has, I think the planet's best way to do that. I mean the, our human resources program, which it's called the human resources program, but I think it's misnamed and that it's not really about human resources. It's about hiring great bookkeepers. How do you do it? Right? It's like, here's how you find them. Here's how you attract them. Here's how you test them. Here's how you validate whether they're good. Here's how you find out if they have the right character into to be inside of a, of your business. And there's all of these different stages that enable you to really get who they are within a sequence and a sequence of events. Now, here's what I hear all the time, Deb. It's a lot of work and people, people are looking for a shortcut. If there's a place to not look for a shortcut, please everyone listening, do not look for a shortcut and hiring staff and do not trust just your intuition because it likely is not your intuition that speaking, it's your deep desire to solve the problem and pain that you're in when you need staff because often you've waited too long and you need to get people in to help so you can get caught up.

MP: 29:40 So can you know, deliver on the promise you've made all your customers, but going too fast and and rushing. The hiring process is one of the big mistakes that every single entrepreneur, I don't care what business owner, a entrepreneur, executive, you name it. There is a hard and fast saying and it is fire fast. Hire slowly because you want to get it right so you don't have to fire fast, right? When you do realize you've made a mistake, it likely isn't going to get much better. So if you can take care of that on the front end before you've engaged and brought them into your organization and put time into training them, put all that effort and, and, and time and energy into it, you're going to be so further ahead. I mean, it's just every week it seems, I have a conversation with a bookkeeping business owner that tells me about the horror story of the staff that they had. And it's not, we're not talking little bits of pain and suffering. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars in extra cleanup work. So not only do you pay people, say it had somebody on for six months and you've paid them 20 $30,000. Well, if you've got to go back and clear there could be 10 or $15,000 in cleanup work that needs to get done, can charge the client full. That's right. And it's all end and that, and we're not even getting into the big stuff where you may have caused business. Can a continuity issues with your clients?

DR: 31:08 Oh, and there's legal ramifications with that potentially.

MP: 31:12 Absolutely. So this is a big one. And I think warrants a whole another conversation. Yeah. And it's, it's one of those that we all experience in every business. And so I think we, we owe it to, to do it good justice. So keep an eye open for that apple sewed. We will do our best to get Debbie back on and have another episode and we're pretty much up at a time at Deb. Is there anything you want to cap off around this next growth phase in, in terms of where bookkeepers are when they're looking to scale up their business?

DR: 31:47 Well, I think the, the time factor is a, is a huge thing. And I remember saying when Pete asked me that question about if I could take the systems in my head and document them and I said, and I actually remember saying to him, what time of the day am I supposed to do that? Like midnight till dawn. Like instead of sleeping, who needs sleep? Anyway, that's overrated. But the fact is that you have to make the time. And uh, I guess maybe another tip, because I've spoken to a lot of bookkeepers about this recently. When I talk about making time, and this is probably another podcast here, Michael, if you are not tracking your time, I know there's a, how this whole conversation between billable and sorry, hourly and um, and value based pricing and fixed fees. And that's not going into that now, but in my view, you need to be tracking all your times so that, and that's not just billable.

DR: 32:46 You need to be tracking where you're spending your time because if you don't do that, how are you going to find out where you can find some more time? The, the analogy is with money, if you have to, if you're saving up for a holiday or a house or a car or something big and you need to say $5,000 in the next 12 months, but you've got the fixed income, you think, well, okay, how am I going to find $5,000 out of my, the income that we generate in, you know, bring home, all right, I, I better track what I'm spending so I can make decisions about where else to spend that. And then you can find that $100 a week that you need or whatever it is to save up for the next 12 months. The same with your time. I'm saying that you need to make time to create the systems or and recruit the right people and put in this automation and all those things on top of the work that you're billing out to your clients. So if you don't know where you're spending your time, how are you going to make decisions about whether where you're spending it is actually in, in PR, in the right area, and being productive?

MP: 33:58 Love that. And it's a to bring back to a productivity course. If you ever have a, if you've not done one, a productivity course, one of the key things you're going to do is you're going to track your time. Time management is difficult. There's no question about it. Managing your time. If you're in this phase of your business, it's challenging to pull yourself out of the business enough to build the systems. But if you're committed to having a business that runs itself, that gives you freedom from stress, gives you freedom to do things that you want to do, you have to commit and actually start doing it.

DR: 34:35 And I'd like to add that Pure bookkeeping can help and it may be one of the tools that you use. I'm confident that we can help you automate your business in a fraction of the time it would take you to do it.

MP: 34:50 I completely agree. I've seen people work years and years just like you did Deb, you will, you worked years and years to build this business and then made it available so that others could take it and input it into their business. Still takes work, but it'll go much more quickly. So, so thank you Deb for, for sharing that and uh, and hopefully people will be able to see some opportunity there. Not Plasia Deb, it's been so great having you on the show and I really want to have you back again to talk about a couple of these different concepts and we will hopefully do that over the next couple of months.

DR: 35:28 Lovely. I really enjoyed it as always, Michael, thank you very much.

MP: 35:32 Such beautiful. That wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com until next time, goodbye.