postheadericon Live Blog

C2 Online Blog 2

rss

Expect expert advice.


Don't Overestimate Your Emailing Skills - Time to Brush Up On Your Email Etiquette C2online

We've talked about how important communication is in bookkeeping in one of our previous blogs, Stand Out as a Bookkeeper: 10 Tips for Superior Communication Skills. If you're operating your bookkeeping business out of the house (or anywhere, really) email is most likely your most common form of communication with your clients. 

Email is like an old and faithful friend; it certainly hasn't gone anywhere and doesn't seem to be fading away. But because it's been a common tool for so long now, have we forgotten our etiquette? Are we so focused on tweeting that email has fallen to the back burner? We thought a refresher on email etiquette wouldn't hurt - especially if it's your dominant communication medium.

Your Professional Email Address

It all starts here since there isn't much emailing without it. Your email address is like a first impression so it should be professional; a branded email account linked to your business. Something like, imaproudsoccermom_97@hotmail.ca, won't do you any favours so keep the cutesy stuff for your personal account. If you have a website with your own domain, use that for your email. If not, you may want to consider paying for domain name registration and hosting. Or use Google Apps for Business which allows you to use an email address with a domain, as well as other business tools.

To, Cc, Bcc - Who Goes Where

'To' is the direct recipient(s). Seems simple enough but there are still some tips to keep in mind. If you're sending to a group, don't put your entire address book into one email. It's an eye sore to have an endless string of email addresses in your message. As well, if you're sending out to a group who don't know each other, they may not want their email being shared with the masses. Consider sending separate emails or use bcc.

Cc is carbon copy for recipients who are involved yet the email is not directed towards them. Consider who is being cc'd and if they need to be included in the email. 

Bcc is blind carbon copy. The direct recipient won't see the bcc so it's a bit sneaky. Basically, this is used to keep someone in the loop. They're not involved in the conversation and it's not necessary for the recipient (for whom the email is directed to) to know.

Subject - A Strategically Chosen Few Words

This needs some good content so don't leave it at "Hi." For business purposes, ensure the subject is meaningful and reflects the content of the message. A lot of people rely on the subject line to look for past emails and for filing them.

The Crux of it All: The Message

Various aspects of the message to be aware of:

  • Tone. First, consider who the recipient is. Do you know them well? Is this a new client? This will set the tone of your email which is hard to do since this can get lost in an email. For example, if your message is too short. If you're too much to the point and don't take any time for salutations or closing, you can come across as terse. And then there's the all caps. STOP YELLING AT ME! All caps implies yelling and most times, is not well perceived by your reader. Best to avoid it.
  • Length. If it's too long, you'll appear as rambling on. Your reader may lose interest and your message will get lost in the rambling. You want to get your point across but not be terse (it's a fine line…).
  • Spelling & Grammar. Your professionalism shows in your writing. Use proper sentence structure and correct spelling. Email is not a tweet. Or a text. Avoid slang, abbreviations and acronyms that look unprofessional. Anything beyond FYI may lose your reader.
  • Formatting. This will help you get your message across. It will make it easy to read by laying it out properly with paragraphs, bullet points, etc. An organized message will also make emailing more efficient: if the recipient understands you, it pre-empts further questions and eliminates unnecessary back and forth emails.

Email Tag Alongs: Attachments

Ensure that whatever you're attaching to your email is relevant and useful. Try to limit the number of attachments by collating them, if possible. Check the file size and compress it before sending - nobody wants a 7MB incoming email bogging down their inbox and freezing up their system. And don't forget the attachment(s) when you send your email… this is where proof-reading will help you.

Following Up With Email Replies

All the same rules apply as above. When replying to an email, check that you've answered all of the questions in the original email. Don't give your client the impression that you're not interested in them or giving them the time they deserve. In their minds, if you're brushing over their emails, what else are you brushing over?

Reply All. Use this carefully and think about who needs to see your reply. Just because you were sent a message with other recipients doesn't mean everyone needs to see a reply from you. And—very important—do not hit 'reply all' when you've intended to hit 'reply.' You can accidentally send something that shouldn't be seen by someone and could get you into a lot of trouble. Always check before you hit send.

Brushing up on your email etiquette will help you maintain a good email relationship with your clients. So don't overestimate your emailing skills and underestimate the importance of good communication. 



What Makes a Good Bookkeeper…. Good? 10 Tips for Finding a Superstar Bookkeeper C2online

We've talked about it in our previous blogs because it's something that every small business owner has to think about. Do you do your own bookkeeping or look to outsource it? It's an important decision because there's no getting around having to manage all the paperwork that comes with running a business. For a lot of entrepreneurs, there eventually comes a time when you have no choice but to invest in a bookkeeper.

But what should you look for in a bookkeeper? What makes a good bookkeeper… good? Here are 10 tips for what to look for in a superstar bookkeeper. 

1. Education and Qualifications

These are some of the main factors that you need to consider when choosing your bookkeeper. There are three types of certifications in Canada:

  • The Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada (CPB - Certified Professional Bookkeeper)
  • The Canadian Institute of Bookkeeping (CB -Certified Bookkeeper)
  • The Canadian Bookkeepers Association (RPB - Registered Professional Bookkeeper)

If you want your bookkeeper to have payroll responsibilities, you will want someone who has at least a minimum certification level with the Canadian Payroll Association. 

Are they accredited by a professional association? Bookkeepers who belong to a professional organization have to abide with a code of ethics, plus you can contact the association itself in the event of a problem. 

Ask if they're doing any continuing education with additional classes or self-study. This will show their commitment to enhancing their skills and staying up to date. 

2. Experience and References

Education and training are important, but there is no substitute for experience. And even better, experience with small businesses in your particular area of business. Certain industries call for specialist knowledge and an understanding of the particular issues involved. Avoid bookkeepers who mainly work with big corporations; the issues that come up for small business are different than those that a bookkeeper would encounter with larger companies. Look for three years of full-time experience providing full-cycle bookkeeping to businesses similar to yours. 

Candidates should substantiate their claims through references. Small business clients can vouch for a bookkeeper’s timeliness, quality of service and their personality. Also ask for references from professional accountants they've worked with who can comment on their technical skills and proficiency. These accountants will know how much or how little time they had to spend cleaning up the bookkeeper's work at year end. This is also important if you already have an accountant that you want your bookkeeper to work with—check that the candidate has had good working relationships with these accountants.

3. Detail-Oriented

It's no coincidence that this is at the top of the list. It is one of those essential traits that a good bookkeeper should have and you should be looking for. Detail-oriented bookkeepers have the level of accuracy and precision that the work requires. Someone who wants to categorize every expense item as “miscellaneous,” for instance, isn’t going to do you much good at the end of the month. Being thorough in your documentation is critical to accurately reporting your financial information. Attention to detail is a must! If they come across as frazzled or disorganized, it's time to move on. 

4. Analytical Skills

The other essential trait you're looking for is their analytical skills. Once your detail-oriented bookkeeper organizes the information, they now need to analyze it. Part of their job is reviewing and deciphering this information to help you make important business decisions. Analysis of financial documents is crucial and a good bookkeeper will be able to do this well.

5. Time Management

A good bookkeeper knows how to organize their time for optimum results. They should be able to prioritize, allow time to focus on problems and solutions, and schedule frequent reviews and updates with you. If they have good time management, they will be proactive and complete tasks with a deadline such as monthly financial reports, filing taxes, claims, etc. And if problems arise, you need to know that your bookkeeper will inform you in time to do something about them. It doesn't do you much good if you need to be constantly checking up on your bookkeeper because they don't have the time management skills required for the job.

6. Excellent Communication Skills

This isn't something that is normally associated with people who talk of debits and credits, but the best bookkeepers are more than silent number crunchers. Unless you already know the ins and outs of the finances of your business, you are relying on your bookkeeper to relay this information in a manner that you'll understand. You should be making business decisions based on your finances and you must have a bookkeeper that can communicate this information so that it's useful and meaningful to you.

7. Passion and Personality

These are the less obvious personality traits that you should also consider. First, your candidate must love numbers and have a clear understanding of math. There are no maybes in summing up totals or calculating balances. And don't underestimate personality. It's not a trait most people look for in a bookkeeper but you're forming a relationship with this person to talk about what's going on in your business and what the numbers show. It's important to find someone who you can get along with and relate to.

8. Trust and Security

You are sharing sensitive financial information so client confidentiality is crucial. It only makes sense that you trust the person you're handing over confidential numbers and bank account information to. Ask what security and privacy measures they have. Is the data that they hold for your business secure?  

9. Technically Inclined

Today’s bookkeeping is automated, even for the smallest of businesses. So it doesn’t make sense to partner with someone who is not technologically inclined. They should be familiar with Word, Excel, email, the internet and some kind of bookkeeping software. Bookkeeping software allows for much simpler, faster, and more sophisticated analysis of your company’s information. It will also improve the productivity and performance of your bookkeeper's work. (More efficient work means less hours charged to you!) The right bookkeeper will have the skills to accomplish this. And your financial data should be kept on a hard drive, not on a shelf.

10. Rates

At the bottom of our list, but hardly an insignificant question, is how much they charge. And what does this include? Rates can be a wide range anywhere from $15 per hour to $100 per hour depending on their skill level and experience… as well as the complexity and volume of work your business requires. Some bookkeepers will offer fixed fees per month. With bookkeeping, as with most other services, you generally get what you pay for. Ine
xpensive rates can turn out to be more expensive if the bookkeeper takes more hours than someone at a higher rate. Remember that this as an investment that will save you more money over the long run.

Ask about any additional costs such as:

  • Set-up fees. Setting up a new client can be a very time-consuming process so get a cost on this.
  • Retainers. Some bookkeepers charge in arrears for their services.
  • Miscellaneous charges. Ask about additional charges for photocopying, printing, files, binders, courier, faxes, etc.  

Preparation, knowing what your business' requirements are, and knowing what to ask candidates will guide you in your search. Put the time and effort into finding that superstar bookkeeper - it will benefit you and your business in the long run.

We have a new directory to assist you in your search. C2online's North American Bookkeeper Directory: www.c2online.ca/BookkeeperDirectory.aspx



Stand Out as a Bookkeeper: 10 Tips for Superior Communication Skills C2online

As a bookkeeper, you're providing essential bookkeeping services for a variety of businesses. But did you realize that you're also providing a communication service?

Many of the frustrations experienced between business owners and bookkeepers comes down to poor communication. Because bookkeeping is a critical part of any business, good communication skills are vital in this area. Important financial information needs to be presented properly to clients so that it makes sense, is useful and meaningful, they understand what is going on with their business, and allows them to make good decisions.

This could be your advantage. Your superior communication skills could make you stand out among your competition. This is an essential trait that potential clients are looking for and there's no doubt that referrals and word-of-mouth will bring more business your way.

Practice these 10 tips and let them be your competitive advantage:

1. A positive and respectful attitude.

Set the tone of your conversation. If you're having a bad day, if there's any negativity associated with the conversation, all of this should be put aside. For best communication, try to keep the emotions out of the way. When a negative confrontation is necessary, mix the negative news with positive news; start and end the conversation on a positive note. Do not speak when angry. When emotions are running high, it is best to postpone important conversations if possible.

2. Get to know your clients.

Find out what is important to them; this can help you improve your level of work and guide you in the services you provide. Give them the service they want and they will be satisfied.

3. Determine the preferred means of communication and when.

Some like email, some prefer a phone conversation. When you can, use their preferred method. If your client calls you, call them back. If they send you an email, reply to their email. Don't mix up the method of communication. Also, be respectful of sensitive information and decide the best method to maintain privacy. Finally, determine when to communicate. Are there certain times of the day that the client doesn't want to be disturbed? A restaurant owner won’t appreciate a phone call in the middle of their lunch rush. Equally, you have your own set work hours. Discuss contact times that work best ahead of time.

4. Sound professional.

How a person communicates impacts how others perceive that person professionally and personally. If you sound professional, your clients will see you and your work as professional. This applies to both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Verbal Communication:

  • Speak clearly. If people are asking you to repeat yourself, try to do a better job of articulating yourself in a better manner.
  • Avoid raising your voice. Some tend to yell when they are especially passionate about an issue or trying to get a point across.
  • Pronounce your words correctly. People will judge your competency through your vocabulary. If you aren’t sure of how to say a word, don’t use it.
  • Use the right words. If you’re not sure of the meaning of a word, don’t use it. Avoid slang words.
  • Slow your speech down. People will perceive you as nervous and unsure of yourself if you talk too fast.

Nonverbal Communication:

This applies to all written words, such as emails, spreadsheets or reports. When structuring your written forms of communication, keep these in mind:

  • Decide what type of written correspondence is the best for the situation and decide who your audience is. This will determine the message, structure and tone.
  • Be aware that the tone of a conversation can often get lost in an email.
  • Break up your text so that it is easy to read. You want your recipient to be able to pick out the key information by just scanning the document. 
  • Brush up on your spelling and grammar skills. By providing your clients with proofed, error-free writing, they will see your professionalism in the project.
  • Proof-read and ensure the information that you are sending out is organized and mistake-free. 

5. Don't waste time.

Plan ahead and organize your message so it's clear and concise. Try to collate and deal with communications in one go, rather than making multiple requests with multiple conversations. Don't waste their time - or yours.

6. Show an interest.

Don't be distracted, show boredom or a lack of interest in the conversation. Do not constantly think about what will be said next or focus on other activities; make sure there is no competition for your attention like other people talking nearby. The client should feel as though they have your undivided attention. And do not interrupt when they are speaking. If you must say something, make a mental or quick written note and speak when they have finished speaking.

7. Listen. But really listen.

Active, effective listening is harder than you think. When you listen, you're understanding the message. And if you're not sure, ask and clarify. Clear your mind of all other thoughts and concerns and listen intently when others are speaking. 

8. Confirm the message.

If you were listening, you may think you have a thorough understanding of the message that was being presented. But to be on the safe side, paraphrase and repeat what the client has said to ensure understanding. They will have confidence in you if they know that you are understanding them and their needs. Show them that they and their business are at the top of your priority list.

9. Be accessible and responsive. Maintain regular contact.

Make it easy to communicate. Regular communication keeps you connected with your clients and lets them know you are on the job for them. Be sure to let them know when you have questions, and keep them informed. Respond to your clients soon as possible. If you can’t respond to requests within a reasonable time frame, then at least acknowledge the request. Let them know that you received their message, you're busy at the moment but will get back to them by a certain time. Don't leave them hanging with an unanswered message.

10. Be honest and build trust.

Mistrust can impede communication. Always tell the truth in your business dealings. Not only will it be easier when the truth is told, it improves the relationship with your clients. Establishing trust in business is an important aspect of being successful.

Your entire service is based on communication whether it's face-to-face, via email, over the phone, online, or through email. Let these tips guide you to become a highly respected, in demand, professional bookkeeper.

 


CMS Website by WebmontonMedia.