EP125: Elaine Orr - Why Technology Is A Bookkeeper's Best Friend

Your tool belt.

Like any professional service provider, from a plumber to a dentist to a hairdresser, you need quality tools to do the best possible job for your clients.For bookkeepers, those tools come in the form of apps and software.

These days they are a must to run your bookkeeping business effectively.

Our guest today is one of the first in Canada to embrace and use bookkeeping apps. With years of experience, her intuition is always spot on.

Elaine Orr, who is the CEO of BalanceSheets.ca, has over 30 years of accounting and bookkeeping experience and a strong interest in using technological innovations to maximize efficiency and reduce data entry.

During this interview, you'll discover...

  • Different accounting and bookkeeping tools and software

  • The pros and cons of working virtually

  • The best apps for your lawyer clients

For Elaine’s LinkedIn page, click here.

For her Twitter, go here.


Michael Palmer: 01:15 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I'm your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a great one. Our guest has 30 years of accounting and bookkeeping experience and a strong interest in using innovations in technology to maximize efficiency and reduce data entry. This along with her passion for small business and entrepreneurs means she can quickly get to the fun part of helping owners understand their financial reports that they can make so that they can make better-informed decisions about their company. I pulled that right off of her website and I absolutely love it because she's making it fun to understand their finances, helping small business. I love it. Elaine Orr, welcome to the podcast.

Elaine Orr: 02:05 Thank you very much, Michael. I'm pleased to be here.

MP: 02:07 Yes, well it's our pleasure. And as we were talking briefly before we, we started the show, we've been bumping into each other for some time and you have been instrumental in the industry in Canada and really North America, uh, helping people take the leap to success around technology.

EO: 02:29 Yes. Yeah. Well I did, I did start using technology almost well at what I call the accounting technology that almost as soon as it was available in Canada. So, you know, just conversations that I've had with people formally when not being presenting in Informera, like when I've just been networking the both centered around accounting technology.

MP: 02:48 Yeah. Fantastic. And so before we get into some of the things that you've been up to and where you, you've been going to tell us a little bit about your story, how you got started and ended up where you are today.

EO: 03:00 Well, I guess that was the classic email bookkeeper that I worked for an accountants firm first of all. And then the, there wasn't a lot of bookkeeping available in that, that office, so I guess through mostly the rents. So eventually I worked myself out of a job there. Then he went out on my own in 2000 and steps, just hung out a shingle and started doing bookkeeping by myself, hoping that it would give me the flexibility that I needed for my lifestyle with busy teenagers in the house and things like that. So, so yeah, I on my own in 2006 and then gradually grew and hired subcontractors and then hired my first employee in 2012 so I've been going since then.

MP: 03:47 Beautiful. And, and you really, as you mentioned, you've embraced technology. Have you always been like that?

EO: 03:54 Well, I've always been, I've always been keen to jump on new gadgets and new toys and things like that. And then that's brilliant. Shiny. But that's not what I always used to. You know, I, when I first started doing bookkeeping for small businesses, I was using the traditional desktop software, so like QuickBooks desktop and simply accounting as it was then. In fact, I, I seem to remember taking course and simply accounting on dos. So that's how far back I go with it. But as soon as, as I started to use QuickBooks online, which was at the end of, towards the end of 2012 when it was first available in Canada, then I've, I'm really starting to embrace that and found that, uh, it was, it was a great fit for most of my clients.

MP: 04:43 Mm. And, and 2012 for quickbooks online. That would have been very much early days. A lot has changed since then.

EO: 04:51 Oh it was, it was definitely early days and there was a lot to, lots of little things going wrong with it. And we were on the phone to, um, the accounting support team all the time with things that we were trying to get fixed or, yeah, it definitely wasn't the product that it is today.

MP: 05:08 Yeah, definitely. And, and so you embrace technology early on. How, how's that journey been with your clients? Because it's not just you that has to embrace something new, it's also you taking something new to your clients very often. What's that been like?

EO: 05:23 Well, it was, it was gradual. You know, I had, I was lucky enough to have a couple of clients who were, were very tech-savvy and keen to try new things themselves. So I floated the idea past them and said, would they be willing to, to go on to this new brand new QuickBooks online that we were using at the time. And when we first started using QuickBooks online in Canada, there was no means to conveyor from your desktop software file to the cloud version of the software. So that was a big decision for people that it meant at first that, so if you can bear to do, would have to lose your history that you already had in your software. So many people weren't interested in doing that. So it sort of confined me to really just some new clients that were coming in that are suggested that they would go on QuickBooks online or on cloud accounting software at the time.

EO: 06:20 Um, but I like to think this is, I pat myself on the back could be in first for this, but, um, when I was at the Sleeter conference in 2013 with Marnie stretch at the time, um, they had this set up at the, the intuit at booth that if and only applied to the staff from the US two businesses from the US if you brought your company file on a stick, they would convert it to do QuickBooks online. And Marni and I pestered them because we weren't able to do this in Canada. So right at the very end of 2013, the eventually came up with the way that we'd be able to do this, this do a conversion so that I could move my existing clients onto cloud accounting software. And I remember getting an email from the tech team in the states to see, we think we're ready. Do you want to try it out? And it was at lunchtime on the 31st of December and it was like for dinner with my friends and I left them to go back home to the office to try to be the first person to conveyor a file so that it was open up code accounting software to my business owners that had already been on desktop software. So that was my first well done.

MP: 07:37 And so were you the actually the first person to do it and get it up?

EO: 07:40 As far as I know, I was, yes.

MP: 07:43 Well, as far as we know, we're going to say that you were told that. That's cool. That's really cool. And, uh, and so how was that embracing technology early on? How has that impacted your life? What have been some of the pros? I'd love to hear some of the cons that you've gone through as well.

EO: 08:04 Oh, well let me start with the cons that I went through because, because we were converting files onto, um, onto a cloud accounting software right at the start. Um, like I say, it wasn't the program that we have now. There was a lot of little hiccups and bumps along the way. And I used to tell the, um, [inaudible] to tell the intuit staff that sometimes I felt, felt like the Canadian, a Coleman in all, like we would be to test any for them. And you know, you'd just, you'd fly it out past myself to see whether it worked tonight and you'd soon here if we couldn't get into work because we'd be the first ones to come back and let them know that it, that it wasn't working. So there was a lot of kinds in it to start and just that we weren't used to as well.

EO: 08:47 There was the idea that we wanted it to work exactly like desktop software. We didn't understand that it's a completely different beast than software. When I first started in 2013 I was putting clients on QBO and on the Zito as well at the time getting used to both of them, which I had heard about both of those softwares at, at the Sleeter conferences and getting used to both of them and putting my clients onto those things. It was a gradual process because some of them just weren't ready for it. And I'll be honest and say I lost some clients who weren't interested in it. But by then by 2013 I decided that that was the way my practice was going to go on. By 2014 I wasn't accepting any clients that still use desktop software.

MP: 09:39 Excellent. And so I was going to ask that question is like do you still do work with people on non cloud accounting?

EO: 09:48 Well we do still have, um, I was personally, I'll still go into clients that use desktop software, um, but not for ongoing bookkeeping engagements. I want to like monthly visits and things like that to them. But um, if you're, if you need this set up in desktop software or do you need some troubleshooting or you know, the will they want to conveyor onto long software. I'll still go in and work with them but we do, I've got a secret couple of clients that I still work with. They're on sage 50 and they are what I call my nostalgia clients cause they were my first, they were my first clients when it went out in my own in 2006 and I'm also, they got tickets for the grandstand at the Highland games where I keep those people really close to me.

MP: 10:37 Perfect. The ones, the customers that you love, you, you a, you keep them very loyal.

EO: 10:43 So yeah. So I don't think we take on any new ones though that are still working on accounting on desktop software. The only ones that I've done recently, they are working on desktop software with for security. They don't, they don't do anything on the cloud in their, in their business. It was very secure and everything had to be just on one laptop, not even connected to the Internet. So I set up QuickBooks for an international organization and were very concerned about security,

EO: 11:11 no tier that has some serious implications. Uh, you know, working for like spy, spy agency.

EO: 11:19 Okay. It was definitely legit, but um, yeah, I can't talk about it.

MP: 11:24 Perfect. That's good. I always love a little bit of cloak and dagger. Um, it keeps, keeps the day interesting. Well that's, that's great. Now you, so, so, so in terms of what your lifestyle is like now that you've embraced the technology w the, the benefits really, what's WhatsApp and like now that you, you work way more virtually?

EO: 11:44 Well, you know, when we started out, when I started out, I was only going to work three days a week because I wanted to keep some time for family, but soon enough I got requests from other clients for in all of the, by referrals and they'd heard from some of my own clients and they really need yourself and that's hard to turn down. So before I knew I was working not only five days a week, but I was working evenings and weekends as well to catch up with clients who didn't need me to actually visit them at their own site place. So, and then when I took on staff as well, they were all still going out to clients. So that's it limited to how many clients I could have. I mean there was only five days in the weekend and you can only do so much on evenings and weekends too.

EO: 12:32 So it sort of limited me to that. So I was working on site and then I'd send by Clark, make staff to work on-site as well. At client's place of business, I had to pay them mileage. So that was an expense that I had to do. And we also, I moved out from my Home Office and we rented an office, but for the, there was three or four numbers that the town and they rented an office and clients could come and visit me there. And, um, we'd also be out on the roads like a c I'd be paying mileage for a client, for my staff to go visit clients. But when we moved the more we moved into accounting technology, I think it was in the summer of 2015 that my, my staff, where the staff were or looking for daycare for the kids, they were putting their dogs and dogs and cat, Doggie DPR and things like that to come into my business.

EO: 13:24 And I suddenly realized that we were all working on cloud technology in the same building. So I was paying rent and it was paying for Internet at this office building when everybody was, my staff are inconvenienced with the further on family lives. And in the summer of 2015 I said to them, how would you feel about just working at home? And they were thrilled at the idea. So we did that. We just gave up the office and we worked, we all started working from home and by then we'd, apart from these nostalgic clients, we pretty much eliminated anybody that needed us to, to go to be on-site anymore. So since then I've just, we've all worked remotely. We get together when we need to. We do screen shares if we have to, but completely eliminated the need for, for having an office. And now we've been a remote team where we haven't lost any productivity, sent them an actual fact. It annoys me that if I have to travel to a client to do some work because of that travel time. So it, and the other thing is that it means that when I do meet up with my clients that we're actually discussing their financials and sitting down and going over the numbers and explaining it to them and answering questions rather than going there to type in their invoices. MP: 14:42 That's fantastic. Now you working remotely can be challenging because you, it's not like real, we call this now is like there's virtual and there's like, you know,

MP: 14:51 face to face, like in the physical, physical space there, it's different. And so what advice would you give to our listener if they are thinking about doing more virtual work and having their team maybe work from home? What would be some advice to make sure that goes successfully?

EO: 15:10 Well, in some ways, um, I don't feel qualified to give advice because I did actually have the staff and they knew the work practices and the knew that I trust them and everything before we went to reborn and haven't actually hired anybody since then who, you know who I, I haven't seen the, the work methods and you know, in front of me. But the only thing I think that I would see is just to do a lot of screenshot in at the start, if you can have them in your, your own office to get them up to speed with the few clients that you want to. Like when I take on a new client, I usually get to take the file first of all and have a look at it and find out, you know, set up what methods we're gonna work with or an accounting apps and from the ecosystem we're going to use.

EO: 16:04 And then by the time I hand it over to one of my staff members, they've gotten me to ask questions of if they've got any problems. And then of course if you've got new staff or new clients, you just need to keep on top of that because you can be in there the file as well as one of the wonderful things is that this person working on the file, me, the accountant and the client can all be in the same file at the same time. So you can actually see when there's, if there's going to be difficulties coming up and you can nip them in the bud right away.

MP: 16:39 That's great and, and definitely, yes. Uh, thank you for sharing that. In terms of your experiences, you had the staff and so it's a bit different if you were to start with someone who wasn't, but I think the idea is to try and replicate some of that if you best you can to make sure that you get on the same page and that sort of thing. Now I'm really curious about your, you've embraced technology early on. What kind of technology are you excited about today? Anything that new that you're looking at and thinking about adding to your practice?

EO: 17:13 I think the next thing that I want to be looking at from my practice is something like chatter.

MP: 17:21 Chatter. Yes. Is that a salesforce product? salesforce.com product or..

EO: 17:26 I don't, I don't think so. No, it's chatter's based in, um, in Calgary they were, did the IPPC conference as well and they're one of the, the, um, I think the one of the contestants in the QuickBooks 100 a hundred k out showdown at San Jose this year.

MP: 17:42 Okay. And so chatter tell us about it.

EO: 17:45 Well, I still have to learn to find out photos or I don't know that much. Well, it's like

EO: 17:50 this is, we might have to have you come back after we do the app showdown in San Jose.

MP: 17:56 Uh, so, um, okay. That's, that's well that's cool. So chatter's one, what is peaking your interest though? What, what value proposition do you think they're going to be able to deliver to you?

EO: 18:07 It's supposed to be very simple to you as the net. It takes your, your inflammation that you've already built into to a software like QuickBooks online and it gets your reporting so that you can ask very simple than easy questions like the general questions that without the accounting language that your, your client may have.

MP: 18:28 Okay. Very cool. Sounds interesting.

EO: 18:30 Yeah, that's the next one I want to get into. I know there's lots of people already ahead of me in that stream. I've sort of been, I haven't been an early adopter where that one goes, but he'll read a good things about it. Yeah. So apart from that, I'm pretty happy with the tech stack and I have just no, and when clients come to me to work with me, I tell them that this, you know, I figured out which tech, which of my favorite tech apps they're going to be using or that they would need an, I tell them what they're going to be put on. But more and more I'm finding that clients come in, they're already on cloud accounting software. Like it's been a long time since I heard anybody that said, you know, okay, I went to, I went to staples and I bought this accounting software and I've installed it on my computer in all and now I'm having trouble with it.

EO: 19:17 Can you come to my place and fix it? I'm just not hearing that so much anymore. I'm hearing a lot more of, you know, Oh, I signed up for this accounting software and I don't think I'm using it. Ray, can you help? So re stripped from my Home Office if I can get the cat out of the way, I, you know, I can, that's the only thing standing between me and work as a very helpful cat that likes to invade my office space. So I can just, you know, I can see what I'd be as a user and I can jump on and I can see right away what is that they're doing and they can train them right from here.

MP: 19:50 Mm. Got It. Got It. Excellent. And so, uh, I'd love to know what your technology stack consists of.

EO: 19:58 Okay. I used mostly QuickBooks online, but in Canada, the software that is used by a lot of lawyers is clear and it doesn't integrate with QuickBooks online. So I use zero from my lawyer clients because Cleo integrates with Steidl for them. So I've got a couple of lawyers on zero and I use either hubdoc or receipt. Well, every client gets hubdoc for the fetching of their bank statements and their bills and things like that. Although when all receipt bank is making some strides in that area as well. But so far I haven't switched. I haven't switched anybody off hub dot completely. If there are needs for expense for well not for expenses but for submitting invoices and bills are simple enough that hubdoc can handle it, then I'll keep them on hub, keeps them on Hubdoc and I won't give them receipt bank. Um, I find hubdocs good for in order to just submitting one page invoices and they do pretty easy simple documents and there's not that many of them. But receipt bank is, is to my mind better at doing the invoices and expenses. Because like for these down Paul, I had a pet food store that I was doing the bookkeeping for and they had um, the invoices would be like once a week they'd get invoices of like eight pages. Well, in receipt bank I can go in and merge all of those pages that they'd scanned in for me. I could go in and merge them and make them one invoice.

MP: 21:28 Mm.

EO: 21:29 Which I'm not able to do in hubdocs or I pushed them. I put those clients on receipt bank and certainly it's better for receipt bank receipt bank dashboard is better for catch up because you can go in and you can just put in, you can sort them by the name and then you can just narrow your inbox down to filters to see, okay, I only went to find this pet stores, pet food supplier, leave the invoices in here and you can batch categorize them at the time. So, and then for, um, for paying bills I use Pluto. So that's where it can have a handle. Accounts payable for myself and my clients. I use Plooto for that.

MP: 22:17 That's wonderful. So you've got, you're the way you're speaking, it's like you look at, you know, there's a couple of different situations that you find yourself in and you've got your two olds that you, you're going to use fast for those applications. It's almost like, you know, a chef talking about the kitchen. While if it's this time of year, we're going to use basil. Then if they hit, oh, we're going to tack it from a couple of different angles, but you've got your, your go. Tos, I think made it really accessible for our listener to think about maybe their business in a different way. It's like, what problem am I going to try and solve? What's the best tool? It's not like you're going to have one, one tools can solve all problems. It's a couple of ones that you know are really great that you're gonna go at this with.

EO: 23:00 Yeah. Yeah. I would say that for me, one of the things that's made me, because as you mentioned at the start, that I'm really passionate about small businesses. So one of the things that has been the best for me out over this, this new way of working this collaboration, know that the clients are in the software. I mean, it used to be, I just went to somebody's office and I sat on the computer that had the accounting software on it and I did all the work and they didn't look, the client really didn't understand what I was doing, but now that the clients are in the same software and doing their invoicing and they still submit their expenses and everything as well, it's really empowered the clients that they've got a lot more understanding of what is the happening with their accounting software and they can go in and around and see all the reports that they want to. So all the collaboration and the empowerment that it gives the clients has just been, um, that's been one of the best things that's happened since the accounting technology has taken off.

MP: 23:58 Hmm. I agree. It's refreshing. Uh, it really is bringing incredible tools to, to business owners that would 10, 15 years ago would, would never be able to have this kind of insight into their finances and speed to do it. And you know, all sorts of, and not just in the bookkeeping space. I mean it's a, there's a, for our businesses on other ends of our businesses, there's all sorts of exciting things that are happening. Probably even the way you're running your business. A lot of people are talking about workflow software. Have you tackled any kind of workflow software?

EO: 24:33 I've tried a few but haven't settled on one yet. There's been no real winner. We tried a Assana and it was okay then it went on and we tried teamwork and I think, I think I prefer teamwork. That's the one that we've been using most recently. I have, what's that?

MP: 24:52 Is that the Google product teamwork?

EO: 24:55 I don't know if it's a giga, a Google product.

MP: 24:58 I'm trying to think. I, there's getting to be so many. It's hard to keep track.

EO: 25:02 I don't know if it's a Google product. Um, I mean it's syncs with, I can sync it with my gmails so, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a Google product.

MP: 25:12 Oh, you know what? Google seems to be snapping up all sorts of stuff anyways, so it may, I know I've, uh, I work with a few different, uh, organizations and uh, someone put me on teamwork and, and yeah, we use the center as well. And so you're, you're, you're liking teamwork. You've used a Santa, you're looking at a couple of others. Uh, it'd be interesting to see where you are in a couple of months from now, what technology you're using from that sample. What is it that you're liking about teamwork?

EO: 25:41 I don't know that it was just so easy to set up a really light. I really like the being able to break down in each project and assign it to people and getting emails to see whether that when that project had been completed or not. So, you know, but I mean most workflows are going to do that only, but I just, I, once I started working with it, I found that it was very easy to set up and staff and subcontractors can jump on there too and I can say in the work and then again, notification when it's done. And again, our teamwork rapport for when it's late.

MP: 26:15 Beautiful. Wonderful. That a, that's a new area for you that you're tackling in your business. We'll look forward to hearing an update on that for sure. Anything else you'd like to share with the listener in terms of growing where you are in your business and some of the things that you do on an, uh, maybe on a, a daily, weekly, monthly basis to make sure that you're getting to where you need to get to in your business?

EO: 26:41 Not really. We're not, I'm not looking grow rate at this time. I'm quite happy with the size that my business is right now. So, but um, I mean I keep in touch with the, I keep in touch with staff on a daily basis. We get together and have a facetime as well. So that's very important too. But yeah, no, no, not really. I can't think of anything that we're doing, just know I haven't already shared.

MP: 27:08 That's great. Well, I know you attend a lot of conferences. You, you stay connected to what's going on in the industry. Uh, what, what would you recommend to listeners if they haven't gone to conferences?

EO: 27:20 Well, if it's in, in Canada, I would say make sure that you go to the IPBC conference because it's vendor neutral, so you get to see everybody, what they're all doing there. So I can't say enough about the IPBC conference on the IPPC itself. It's a great organization for bookkeepers and you know, it's good for accountants as well to come along and see what's happening in the bookkeeping world. Um, they keep us up to date with a lot of things. And also there's QuickBooks connect two, which will be coming up in Canada and Toronto, uh, in December. And there's a big quick boost connect in San Jose that's at the start of November as well. So, um, but I do, I do like the IPPC and maybe Accountex as well, which is the old sweeter company, um, because it's vendor-neutral too. So take the time to go to some vendor-neutral conferences so that you can find out, you know, what's out there rather than just stick to one accounting software.

MP: 28:20 Wonderful. Well, Elaine, this has been so actually inspiring to me in terms of you've gone and embrace technology. You've built a business that you're very happy with. You still go to conferences, you still investigating technology. I think you're an inspiration to the community and I thank you for your generosity of giving us your time.

EO: 28:46 Thank you very much. It's been fun.

MP: 28:48 Beautiful. And that wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's wonderful guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time.

MP: 29:04 Goodbye.