Yes, Your Clients Can Handle Accounting Tasks. Here’s How.

Ditch the do-it-all approach for your clients, to unleash productivity and (yes, really!) deepen client satisfaction.

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If you’re looking for ways to increase profitability in your accounting firm, excellent client service is a great place to start. But that doesn’t mean you have to handle a client’s books from beginning to end.

By guiding your clients to tackle some of their day-to-day accounting tasks and keeping your focus on the work that helps them grow their business, you can improve your client’s experience while benefiting your practice.

This is what we call Collaborative Accounting™, a blueprint for working with clients that is grounded in a shared, technology-enabled workflow. In it, your clients are involved in their own business accounting (imagine that!), and you operate as a financial partner, going beyond a merely transactional relationship.

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    What Does a Collaborative Accounting Model Look Like?

    In the Collaborative Accounting model, clients aren’t left to their own devices. Instead, they work alongside accounting professionals, ideally in a shared, technology-enabled workflow, with each party taking ownership of critical financial tasks.

    As an accounting professional, you focus on the more complex or high-level tasks that match your skills, like reports, journal entries, and analysis. You provide your clients with the tools, workflow, and guidance they need to handle the front-end tasks they’re closer to every day—things like sending estimates, invoicing, and tracking expenses.

    Throughout the process, you remain an active partner, stepping in where needed, but directing most of your attention to the more specialized, high-value, advisory work that impacts the health, growth, and performance of your client’s business over time.

    Will a Collaborative Workflow Really Work?

    You might be skeptical about adopting Collaborative Accounting in your practice. If you’re thinking, “My clients will hate that!” or “They’ll make a mess that I have to clean up later!” that’s understandable. We all have bookkeeping horror stories we’d prefer not to relive.

    So what makes Collaborative Accounting different from what you’ve tried already? First, it’s a structured process with lots of support and resources built in for you and your clients. This helps your clients understand both the importance of managing pre-accounting tasks for their business (even if they don’t love it) and how to actually do it with the right training and tools.

    But the real key to success is that you and your client are working together in a single technology platform that satisfies these 2 requirements:

    • It’s easy for a business owner to use without any in-depth accounting knowledge.
    • It’s comprehensive enough for you to bring books to compliance, run reports, and get real insights to support advisory conversations.

    The FreshBooks certification for accounting professionals is a practical course on how to work in this way with clients. After completing it, Nicole Davis, CPA, of Butler-Davis Tax & Accounting, said, “Now, we can say [to clients] these are things that you can do, and I feel confident you can do them. We’re collaborating together, and I’m much more comfortable with them working in their books without me.”

    5 Steps for Coaching Clients to Manage Pre-Accounting Tasks

    If you’ve been in business for a while, your clients may have come to expect a full-service experience. Introducing Collaborative Accounting into your relationship takes careful planning.

    To help navigate that process, the FreshBooks Collaborative Accounting certification for accounting professionals includes guidelines, sample conversations, and downloadable resources you can share with clients.

    More immediately, here are some tips for coaching your clients to handle front-end financial tasks in a Collaborative Accounting model.

    1. Understand Your Client’s Expertise

    Understanding how well a client can handle specific financial tasks helps you tailor your coaching and determine what resources to share with them. Identify their pain points and obstacles in completing certain financial tasks.

    Accountant Rebecca Kittel, MBA, of Ledger Sense, feels that this type of customization is essential. She starts with a simple conversation: “The best coaching happens when I’m able to hear and learn how clients are doing pre-accounting tasks during our onboarding or routine meetings. Old-fashioned one-on-one talking—something that is often missing in our technologically advanced world.”

    2. Decide How You’ll Work

    The Collaborative Accounting model divides tasks into pre-accounting tasks a business owner can (potentially) do and accounting tasks that are better left to a financial professional. That doesn’t mean it’s a one-size-fits-all model. You determine the best breakdown of responsibilities for you and your client.

    That might mean your firm handles expense management if that’s your jam. Or your client generates financial reports. The key is that your client is involved in the accounting process, you each understand which tasks you own, and you work together transparently and collaboratively so everyone’s on the same page.

    3. Teach Them to Fish

    Now it’s time for an investment that will reap rewards down the line. Provide guidance on each task your client will manage during an onboarding session. Ensure clients have the right information to successfully handle the pre-accounting tasks you’ve both agreed they should take on.

    Training and resources may include:

    • one-on-one coaching
    • education materials
    • handover documents
    • workflow checklists for everything from estimates and proposals to invoices and payments

    If you’ve completed the FreshBooks Collaborative Accounting certification, you already have a Client Onboarding Pack with ready-to-share materials for your clients.

    Once your clients get into the swing of things, you might jump in with more nuanced follow-up training, either 1:1 or with regular workshops or videos you create for multiple clients.

    4. Automate to Make Tasks Manageable

    No one wants to spend hours recording and classifying expenses or following up on invoices. And doing these things manually leaves a huge margin for error. Instead, guide your clients to automate simple actions wherever they can.

    Get clients set up in the accounting software with automations for tasks like payment reminders, recurring invoices, credit card payments, and sales tax calculations. Connect the client’s bank account or credit card to track and auto-categorize business expenses. These automations save your client time and make financial tasks less intimidating.

    5. Choose Collaborative Tools

    The right tools can make or break the collaborative model. If your client is forced to use software they find complicated, they’ll be frustrated, make mistakes, or avoid it altogether. If you work in a separate platform from your client, you don’t have visibility into how they’re managing their data and you’re wasting time on unnecessary admin.

    An intuitive accounting platform that your client is comfortable using and has the functionality you need is the key to a truly collaborative workflow. “Having that transparency and visibility is huge,” explains Kristen Keats, CPA, of Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising. “Because if [clients] get stuck at any point in the process, we’re able to jump in, in real-time, and help them get through the tasks that they need to be doing.”

    FreshBooks is the ideal choice since it was developed with small business owners in mind. In fact, many business owners don’t even realize they’re doing accounting when they use it.

    Be sure to opt for accounting software that offers superb support for your clients so the burden isn’t entirely on you if they need help.

    Beyond accounting software, ensure any tax software, secure file-sharing app, document management tool, mobile app, or client portal you expect your client to use meets the same criteria. If the technology isn’t user-friendly, clients simply won’t use it.

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    Get Your Collaborative Accounting Certification Today

    The FreshBooks Collaborative Accounting certification gives you the foundation you need to prepare your clients to work collaboratively with you and support them long-term. With the certification, you’ll get:

    • Practical hands-on training, real examples of advisory conversations, step-by-step feature walk-throughs, and interactive case studies
    • A detailed client onboarding pack to get clients up to speed, which includes a Collaborative Accounting framework you can share with clients and customizable checklists for tasks like creating estimates and sending invoices
    • All the benefits of being a FreshBooks accounting partner, like exclusive discounts and access to dedicated, accountant-centric support

    “This is the best certification course I’ve ever seen in the accounting space. [It] actually provided a philosophy rather than just ‘[this] is how you use the platform’—something most of us are capable of using on our own.” —Kristen Nies Ciraldo, The Friday Guide

    Ready to get certified or learn more? Get started here.

    This post was updated in January 2024.

    Janet Berry-Johnson

    Written by Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA and Freelance Contributor

    Posted on September 12, 2022