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Communication: the key to successful remote bookkeeping

In my last blog, I wrote about the concept of remote bookkeeping or telecommuting. I explained what it is, why I do it and how it works. I ended the blog by saying that remote bookkeeping can only work well when there are good communication systems in place. This applies to both the bookkeeper and the clients. If either party falls down on the job, then the professional relationship is threatened and can possibly fail. In short, the key to a successful remote or virtual bookkeeping relationship is clear and constant communication.

bigstock_Golden_key_in_keyhole_16975937In my experience as a teleworker, communication is king. It is important in any professional relationship but even more so when that relationship is virtual i.e. you do not work face to face with someone on a daily basis. Put simply, the virtual relationship can be devoid of all key indicators that help us connect as human beings like:

  • eye contact
  • body language
  • emotions
  • visual and audible undertones

Because of this, the possibility of good communication between both parties is threatened from the get-go. As such, the virtual/remote bookkeeper must ensure that other methods of communication are satisfactory enough to overcome the absence of the human factor. These methods may include:

  • regular virtual meetings and discussions
  • clearly written requests and confirmations
  • responding in a timely manner

Further to this, as in any relationship, communication within the virtual bookkeeping relationship is a two-way street. Both parties must attend to their “communication responsibilities” in order to ensure a successful outcome. Both the bookkeeper and the client need to aim for clear and constant communication between each other and should action the following suggested strategies in order to achieve this level of communication:

Bookkeeper:

  • Always have a signed engagement letter in place. The engagement letter clearly states your responsibilities to the client and how you will work with him/her.
  • Ask the client to indicate his/his preferred time to communicate – which day, what time etc.
  • Find out what method of communication works best for a client i.e. email, telephone, text messaging, Skype etc.
  • Organise and schedule regular meetings. These should be video-based via Google Hangouts or Skype because it’s important to see one another.
  • Don’t be afraid to get on the telephone – sometimes email isn’t enough.
  • Ask questions always – never assume anything.
  • Tell the client if you run into problems. Don’t avoid these types of issues as this will only lead to further problems. Always be honest with the client.
  • Ask for permission to complete a task – don’t assume the client wants it or needs it.
  • Be aware that sometimes words and phrases can be misunderstood. For this reason, always review meeting discussions before they end and send notes via email after telephone calls so that misunderstandings can be avoided.
  • Put all requests in writing. Send an email to confirm what you agreed to do via meetings and telephone conversations.
  • Report to the client each time a job is done or action taken via email. Advise him/her about where you are up to, what’s completed and what still needs to be done. Keep your client in the loop.
  • Answer emails/voicemail in a timely manner and/or at the time you agreed to answer them at the beginning of the contract. Not answering messages conveys the message “you don’t matter to me.”
  • If you know that you won’t be able to answer messages, set up autoresponders for your email system and/or leave an automated message on your voicemail to explain why you cannot answer the message and when you will be answering it.

Client:

  • Answer emails, voicemail, text messages within 24 hours.
  • Attend virtual meetings no less than once a month or more regularly if needed.
  • Ask questions! If you are unclear about what your bookkeeper is doing, you need to ask for clarification.
  • Provide requested data and answers to questions within 24 hours or by an agreed date.
  • Confirm action requests in writing i.e. email.
  • Remove possible misunderstandings by providing further explanation of what was first meant or intended.
  • If you cannot be the first point of contact, provide an alternative contact e.g. secretary, personal assistant etc.
  • If you are not satisfied with a job or outcome, tell your bookkeeper.
  • Allow and encourage contact between your bookkeeper and your accountant.
  • Be open-minded and accept or at least try out your bookkeeper’s suggestions and ideas.

Conclusion:

For most relationships, communication is the key to success. It’s a two-way street and when one partner slows or stops communication, the relationship will begin to die. Without clear and constant communication,

  • misunderstandings occur,
  • important issues are handled improperly or worse, forgotten,
  • mistakes are made,
  • negative feelings like frustration, anger and confusion start to bubble under the surface
  • resentment builds and can lead to the end of the relationship

……..and this is what can happen within personal relationships so imagine what can happen between a bookkeeper and client whose relationship is virtual………

You guessed it – exactly the same thing. The outcomes are less than favourable usually resulting in the end of the relationship. At best, the relationship continues but professional consequences are poor and inconsistent. At worst, both sides are wounded, negative feelings abound and professional reputations are hit hard.

In short, nothing good can come from poor communication and this applies times ten in terms of working remotely as a bookkeeper. Keeping communication clear and constant between both parties at all times will ensure that the option of failure is about as “remote” as the working relationship itself.

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In my next blog, I’ll tell you about our secure client log-in facility which is connected to our project management software called Teamworkpm. This is the core of our communication system between us and our clients and helps us action many of the above communication strategies without even trying. Until then, happy reading!