Bookkeeping and Technology - Part 3: The Big Picture

Today I conclude this 3-post series about bookkeeping and technology. In true Eric fashion, I have managed to take a simple idea and turn it into thousands of words.

This final post is going to take a sharp 180. The first post talked about my initial foray into running my own online business. The second post talked about the tech that I use for work. I'd like to finish the series with a few thoughts about tech itself. Has is made my work easier than when I worked offline?

No...I don't think it has.

Let me explain.

In order to really get a good answer I thought about my ideal scenario. If I could set all of the parameters myself (hours, clients, income, etc.) how would I choose to spend my week? Here's what I came up with.

  1. I'd work with 2 clients.
  2. They would be local.
  3. I'd exclusively use desktop software.
  4. I'd meet with my clients once a week to pick up new paperwork and talk about the latest numbers.
  5. I'd work consistent business hours Mon-Fri.

All 5 of these point have something in common. I currently do none of these.

So, 2 obvious questions here. Why would I want to do this, and why don't I?

Why?

Those 5 points also have something else in common. I think this is a checklist of the ways to give clients the best service possible. Let's break it down.

  1. Working with 2 clients means I would be spending almost 20 hours a week on each. That extra time lets me learn everything about their business, and over the course of the year I'd get to know them, their staff, and their patterns. I could really study their strengths and weaknesses and give them detailed advice on how to improve their bottom line.
  2. Local clients can get face to face time with me on a regular basis. There's something much different about being able to go to their office or their store and see how the business works. I can meet the staff and run deposits to the bank. Heck, if they offer a service I use I can even become a customer.
  3. Desktop software is faster. It doesn't rely on an internet connection. Even in 2015 my connection isn't 100% reliable. I can control my file backups and restores. Since my clients are local and I'm meeting with them weekly ubiquitous online access isn't as necessary.
  4. Picking up paperwork in person keeps me top of mind. Unless I lose the papers out the window on the drive home there's no security risk. The weekly meeting lets us discuss strategy, answer questions, and just build a rapport. Since we're local there's no lag or dropouts, and I find it much easier to reschedule a meeting that's 5 minutes away.
  5. This one benefits us both. They know my office hours so they know when they can reach me. We have the same time zone and same holidays. And, for the sake of my health and sanity...I don't work around the clock.

Why not?

If there are all these good reasons to work this way, why don't I?

Bookkeeping is a funny industry. 30 years ago you could get hired on as a full time bookkeeper, even at a small to mid-sized business. You wouldn't roll up to the office in a Lexus, but you could support a small family. I'm not sure when that changed, but it was somewhere between when I got my first bookkeeping job and when I started raising a family.

Running a business for 40 hours a week means I'd have about 20-25 available for client work. Then I'd need to find 2 local clients who needed the same type of personalized service. Finally, I'd need to bill them almost double my current rate so I could afford to live while still shutting down at 5 every day. Yes, I know about "value pricing" (aka flat rate instead of billable hours), but there's still only so much value I can create in 20 hours.

Technology doesn't always improve our lives...it allows us to adapt to the way life is changing around us.

Companies like FreshBooks give us ways to do bookkeeping online. Dropbox gives us a way to share files instantly from half a world away. Skype lets us have our weekly meetings.

Does that mean I'm unhappy with my reality? Not at all. I work with some amazing people. People I would have never met without this technology. I have clients thousands of miles away who are incredible to work with. But...I'd do an even better job if I was there in person.

I think that's why we are so obsessed with technology...myself included. The better it gets, the closer it gets to the real thing it's replacing. It will never quite reach that reality but we continue the chase none the less.

As you can see it's an interesting question. If life hadn't changed my need for technology would be minimal. Since it has though, I find myself unable to function without it.

What's your take?