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Jennifer Lang


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How to Work with Clients in Different Time Zones

December 26, 2016 / by Jennifer Lang posted in Santa Monica, Los Angeles

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jennifer-lang.pngWorking remotely opens a whole network of possibilities. You can collaborate just as effectively with a client who's halfway around the world as one who's right around the corner, provided you account for the difference in your time zones.

All it takes is being flexible with your availability and establishing procedures to avoid communication breakdowns.

What Time Is It? That Depends …
In an increasingly global economy, many U.S. companies have to adjust to doing business 24/7. When it's 9 a.m. in Kokomo, Indiana, it's 7:30 p.m. in Kolkata, India. Three p.m. in Beijing is 2 a.m. in Boston.

Fortunately, most Supporting Strategies clients are stateside, meaning that time differences are fairly minor. Still, you need to be aware of them to avoid miscommunications and missed communications.

You also have to be careful not to inconvenience your client. Say you're in the Central Time Zone and you call an East Coast client at 11 a.m. your time. Well, it's noon at your client's office, so your call could interrupt their lunch hour. Or if you're on the West Coast and you call a client out East at midafternoon your time, they could be preparing to leave for the day.

So that leads to the first rule of communicating with a client in a different time zone: Schedule calls whenever possible. That provides an opportunity to select a mutually convenient time and for each of you to prepare. Once you've determined a time that works for each of you, schedule regular calls at that hour to discuss routine business.

Be Proactive
If you're not instantly familiar with the time difference between you and your client, apps such as the Time Zone Converter can help you figure it out.

Be sure to include both your local time and the client's local time in your email when you set up a call. Otherwise your phone might ring at 8 a.m. when you're expecting a call at 9 a.m. Really, it comes down to being proactive. Don't allow a miscommunication to occur when you can easily avoid it. And by taking control of the process, you can also set your expectations for the client.

Establish Clear Deadlines — But Make Yourself Available, Too
Many of your routine client communications can be conducted by email, which resolves most of the time zone issues. Still, it's important to establish response deadlines. The deadline, whether it's one business day, 48 hours, a week — whatever — can vary depending on the nature of the business or the complexity of the request. The important thing is to set a reasonable timeframe and stick to it.

Despite all of your best efforts, you might still need to make yourself available outside normal business hours to accommodate a client in a different time zone. As long as both parties are considerate of one another’s preferred working schedule you should be able to collaborate harmoniously with minimal disruptions. Being thoughtful and flexible in these ways creates the opportunity to work remotely with interesting clients all over the United States — and beyond!

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Outsourcing Accounting Options: Which Is Best for Your Business?

December 20, 2016 / by Jennifer Lang posted in Santa Monica, Los Angeles

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jennifer-lang.pngIn a recent post, Supporting Strategies' Garrett Smith made a compelling case that growing companies should consider outsourcing select non-core business functions.

Basically, the point of the article was that the more responsibilities the business owner can hand off, the more they can focus on their company's reason for being. If you're in the medical-supplies business, you should spend your time figuring out ways to sell more medical supplies. Time spent on anything else takes away from your focus.

As Smith noted, accounting is one obvious business function that is ripe for delegation. Let's take a look at the three basic options.

1. Full-Time
If you have a full-time bookkeeper or accountant on staff, you've already effectively delegated this responsibility. The question here is one of value. You need to calculate the cost of that full-time staff member relative to their production and then determine whether it is possible to outsource that position to a more cost-effective part-time resource.

When comparing costs, be sure to factor in not only a full-time staffer's salary, but also the cost of their benefits package, employment taxes and insurance, use of office space, etc. Then it becomes a simple bottom-line comparison.

2. Part-Time
If you're a small-business owner who's wearing too many hats, including a bookkeeper's, you face a dilemma: You don't have enough bookkeeping or accounting work to hire another staff member, but you have too much to effectively handle yourself — or to pile on one of your already overworked employees.

The solution is straightforward, particularly if you're looking to outsource a few tasks like payroll, accounts payable or accounts receivable rather than the whole accounting cycle: Pay an hourly rate or flat fee each month to outsource those responsibilities. Chances are you and your staff can use the time you free up to bring in enough new business to more than offset the cost.

3. Special Projects
This takes that logic a step further. If you need help with a temporary or short-term challenge, such as your tax returns or an audit, you can bring in an outside accounting-services firm to help. You might also go this route if you grow to the point where you need to update your business infrastructure.

For example, say you want to implement a new system of inventory tracking and integrate it with your overall accounting system. Your best option is probably to outsource that job to an accounting-services provider with proficiency in that particular software.

Choosing the Best Option …
You know your business better than anyone else. You also know better than anyone else which of these outsourcing options would best fit your company. Options 2 and 3 are relatively easy to jump into without a lot of commitment, so often our new clients start off this way and grow from there. Consult your CPA or other business advisors for recommendations and further guidance in helping you make this value-creating decision for your business.

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Best Practices for Successful Time Tracking

October 13, 2016 / by Jennifer Lang

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jennifer-lang.pngI’ve never liked the terms “outsourcing,” or “sending work out-of-house.” These terms seem to imply that you’re sending parts of your business out of sight and out of mind, but as a provider of outsourced bookkeeping services, I know that this is far from the case. This is why I encourage my clients not to think of what they’re sending out so much as what they’re bringing in: a team of experts, a new set of resources, and most important, a valuable partnership.

Time tracking is a good example of how a partnership strategy with clear communication can ensure success when working with an outsourced firm. The concept of entering and approving time is straightforward, but in practice, many difficulties can occur if the system is not implemented and managed properly. A poor system can cause payroll to be late, incur extra work to fix incorrect time entries after payroll is processed, and create churn in reminding people to enter and approve time entries.

A unified voice and clear communication

There may be several parties involved in time tracking: management, employees and contractors, in-house HR/accounting, and a vendor HR/accounting/payroll company. With so many different groups involved, communication is critical. Make sure that the rules are agreed on by all parties, and communicated in a clear and consistent manner. Even though there are internal and external groups working together, the process should appear seamless to the employee entering time.

Take the time to train

The next step is to train the employees and managers. Do they understand how to properly track their time and meet the deadlines for time entry and approval? Do they know whom to turn to if they have a question or problem with time tracking?

I recommend that you set up a system for training, review, and management so that employees know to enter their time before the deadline, a reminder system for late time entries, and a review period for managers to approve time entries. Assign a point person to answer questions and provide additional training as needed. There will be a transition period while everyone learns the new time tracking protocol—build time into your roll-out plan to allow for this. This extra effort to train employees and managers in the beginning will pay off with a smoother payroll process on an ongoing basis.

What happens if?

In your time tracking strategy, include instructions and protocol for handling problems. Make sure that everyone involved—employees, managers, internal HR/accounting, and the time tracking vendor know what to do if an employee submits an incorrect time entry, or if a manager approves a time entry by mistake. With a protocol in place, you can save your team from numerous emails and frustration.

A successful partnership

By communicating expectations between your HR services provider, your internal accounting department, and your employees and their managers, you can help to make your payroll process run smoothly and establish a positive working relationship between your outsourced and internal services providers.


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