Paul Burns established Woodennickel Solutions 15 years ago in British Columbia, Canada. He started online and has stayed online. Paul’s full-service bookkeeping firm specializes in virtual client management for medical offices, their related organizations, and charities. His niche was made for times such as these.
Connecting with clients without the luxury of face-to-face interaction may seem like a new reality for some, but existing business models were being disrupted long before remote working became a necessity for survival.
Paul has seen the learning curve take a sharp jump skywards in the last few months.
Everybody’s changing, learning and growing faster than they wanted to, but now that they’ve been forced into it, they’re becoming more comfortable.Paul Burns
We asked Paul for a few tips on managing clients virtually.
How do you create connections with your clients?
I think it’s about being there. Being accessible. I find that with support tickets, for instance, some clients view support tickets as distant. They prefer to talk, so instead of the support ticket, they can chat with me live. One of the things that I have done is set up a chat room, which they access through a link. I turn it on in the morning when I sit down on my desk, and then if a client needs to reach me, they can just click the link and ‘knock’ on the virtual door. It gives them the ability to reach out anytime that they want to. They also have the chat option on my website but the video is quicker and more personal if they need something quickly. Many of my clients use this system. I think just knowing that this is available for them is what makes the difference.
How do you get tech-shy clients on board? How has the current situation changed their feelings about working virtually?
I’ve kept on progressing and pushing our clients to be more online and cloud-based over the years. I would say right now all of them are above 95% in terms of cloud adoption. They are virtual when it comes to payments, income, bills and accounting. The current situation has created a surge in online usage and is changing how the remaining 5% of my cloud-free clients and vendors function. Clients that were unsure about technology are getting over their nerves. They’ve gone out and bought themselves a computer camera, now that they have to. We are all on a fast upward growth curve right now.
What are your three main recommendations for a business that wants to move into more virtual client management, especially now that it’s a necessity?
Build an accounting software stack. You want your bills coming to you online, and you want your payments online. That’s the infrastructure that needs to be set up before anything else. Step two is to be very clear with your clients about your parameters and how things work. Where do you stand with paper? I always make sure my new clients know we will do all work online, no more dropping by with paperwork, I lay the groundwork early. With existing clients I converted all of them more slowly and introduced new software over the years. The third step is dealing with the vendors, especially with electronic payments. Some are more hesitant to give out banking information. I try to educate, and make sure they know that direct debit is safer and easier. Altogether, it’s a setup of the systems, a layout of the parameters with your clients as to how you’ll work and then it’s an education for the employees and the vendors of the companies that you’re paying.
What is one of the most important aspects of a website for virtual accountants and bookkeepers?
It’s really important to build yourself a support page. I have a support page on my website that covers multiple queries. A client recently called and asked me about TD (Toronto Dominion Bank) forms. In response, I filmed a video explaining how these forms work and attached it to my support page, so that the next person who emails me about it or calls, will be referred to that clip. I recommend continuously building on the information as you get it, every week. Every call with a client is helping to develop and strengthen my support page.
What’s your overall impression of how clients are coping in this climate?
People are considering the whole picture. Not just what they can get out of it but, can we manage this and still contribute to society? That stands out to me from the standpoint of managing clients online.
As we continue to adjust to a new way of working, virtual pioneers like Paul Burns will keep guiding their clients through the big changes coming our way. As Paul said, the current climate has forced us to gain a wider perspective of how we function as professionals, but more importantly we are finding that client connections can be made both offline and online.