How to Create a Payroll Plan with Your Client Using QuickBooks Online Payroll

How to Create a Payroll Plan with Your Client Using QuickBooks Online Payroll

When meeting with new clients for the first time, one of the most important topics is how they handle payroll for their company. Let’s face it: payroll is complicated and it is our job as their trusted advisor to help our clients stay compliant and identify the most efficient and effective way to handle payroll for their company.

Clients come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s our job to get to know our clients well in order to serve them best. This means not only listening to your client, but looking at their past actions and habits. While some are vigilant about managing their payroll obligations, others need a bit more help. Many honestly think they understand the law and their payroll-related obligations, but are either misinformed or don’t stay up to date with changes. Others are disorganized or unpredictable, to say it nicely, and forget filing deadlines or miss required payments. These clients usually end up paying costly fees and/or penalties for amended returns, and interest.

The good news is that Intuit® offers payroll solutions that will fit both types of clients. Those who want a full service option to manage their payroll taxes and filings use QuickBooks Full Service Payroll, while those who want to be more involved, but probably shouldn’t be, rely on their accountants to help them; in this case, we use QuickBooks Online Payroll.  This article focuses on QuickBooks Online Payroll which is more hands-on for the accountant.  QuickBooks Full Service Payroll is a good option for accountants who don’t want to be involved with payroll taxes and filings, or are too busy to manage the compliance aspect.

QuickBooks Online Payroll allows me, the accountant, the flexibility to create a payroll system that gives my clients control over their payroll, while allowing me to monitor compliance and the way entries are posted to the general ledger. One of the main reasons I recommend QuickBooks Online Payroll is that it lives right within QuickBooks Online; everything is in one place and really easy for me and my clients to access and use.

I’ve developed three steps to create a plan for managing payroll through QuickBooks Online Payroll that will save you and your clients time.

Step 1: Assess what payroll responsibilities your client can handle

Look at several factors to determine your client’s comfort level. Important questions to ask include:

  1. Does the client have cash flow issues and postpone making required payments?
  2. Is the client too busy and forgetful?
  3. Does your client possess the skills necessary to do their own returns?

Be honest with your client when making your assessment. I had one who insisted she knew how to handle payroll, but did not make timely payments. She was great at handling the human resources aspect of payroll, such as collecting required employeee forms and running weekly payroll, but would forget to schedule her required payments. By the time I would come out to close the quarter, she had already made late payments and was assessed penalties. It wasn’t until we added up all the payroll penalties and interest payments that she owed that I was able to convince her that she needed help.

Step 2: Decide how you will be involved in payroll

Once you determined what your client can handle, decide where you should step in. QuickBooks Online Payroll gives you flexibility in payroll processing, and because it is built in, you and your client have access to it wherever you have an internet connection. This provides easy access and easy collaboration. For example, I can log in to QuickBooks Online Accountant each month, and click on the Employees tab and “To do” to make sure my client has completed all necessary tasks by the required dates. I can also set up the reminder schedule and filing preferences; all the client has to do is follow the “To do” list.

Payroll processing is split into four distinct functions:

1. Employee and payroll set up and maintenance.

  • Collecting required information and forms from new hires and managing employee benefits.
  • Data entry and set up.

2. Payroll processing (creating paychecks)

3. Making required payments (taxes, contributions & other obligations)

4. Filing payroll tax returns.

You can segregate duties between you and your client based on their comfort level. Built-in tools within QuickBooks Online Payroll make this easy for both of you. Some possible ways to divide up responsibilities:





Client has limited or no understanding of payroll processing or is unreliable


  • Prints checks or direct deposit paycheck stubs
  • All tasks except printing

Client is busy but wants to run payroll for employees. Misses payments and does not want to file tax forms.

  • Collects required information and manages employee benefits.
  • Creates and prints paychecks or paystubs
  • Adds/modifies employees
  • Schedules tax payments
  • Prepares and files tax returns

Client has good understanding of employment and tax law, is timely and organized – does not want to file tax forms.

  • Collects required information and manages employee benefits.
  • Adds/modifies employees
  • Schedules tax payments
  • Reviews entries & payments
  • Prepares and files tax returns

Client has good understanding of employment and tax law, is timely and organized and is comfortable filing taxes.

  • All Tasks
  • Reviews entries and returns


I find that my clients fall into all four of these configurations and that is what makes QuickBooks Online Payroll so great for my practice! First of all, it’s very easy to set up and navigate, and because it is web-based, I can easily jump in and help clients no matter what level of guidance they need. I don’t have to wait to schedule a visit to their office or use remote desktop applications that tie up their computer while I work. We can both continue to be productive and that saves us both time.

QuickBooks Online Payroll also sends my clients automated emails to remind them to run a payroll or that tax payments and filings are due. I can check to make sure they have made the required deposits by viewing the status right inside the Client List QuickBooks Online Accountant. If my client missed a payment or has forgotten to file, the lettering in QBOA turns red – a visual indicator that there is a problem that must be addressed.

Step 3:  Train clients on the procedures to complete their portion of the payroll plan

I usually spend at least two sessions with my clients reviewing the procedures that I developed, and making sure they know what they need to do and how to do it. That way, if the client seems uncomfortable or things aren’t going as planned, I can adjust the plan as necessary.

By following this 3-step plan, my clients are clear on what’s expected of them and it’s much easier for them to stay on track. Plus, since I’m able to go in and check their payroll and their books as well as take care of any of the responsibilities that I take on, I’m confident that the payroll is being done correctly and accurately.

One of the biggest benefits that I like is that QuickBooks Online Payroll eases the pain of recording payroll entries because it’s built right in. With outside or manual payroll services, it’s a challenge to correctly record the payroll entries on the books. When paychecks or taxes are deleted, voided or edited, QBO is also updating automatically.When payroll is run or a tax liability is paid in QuickBooks Online, the entries are automatically recorded in the general ledger and posted to the correct account. This saves me tons of time when I reconcile payroll at period end. Payroll totals are listed right inside the Employees tab, and the Tax and Wage Summary report, found by clicking on the Reports menu and selecting payroll, helps me double check calculations and tie payroll amounts to the trial balance.

Super cool extras that Intuit has built into QuickBooks Online Payroll that I really like:

  1. Downloadable forms necessary to register a business to do payroll such as the SS-4, state registration forms, and new hire reporting are in the Taxes and Forms menu on the Employer Set Up page.
  2. The payroll setup interface is well designed and easy to navigate. It is organized like a checklist of items needed to completed in order to run payroll.
  3. The ability to have multiple payroll schedules allows you to set up additional reminders. For example, one client has hourly employees that are paid weekly and commissioned sales reps that are paid monthly. QBO Payroll will send an additional reminder email to let the client know that they have an additional scheduled payroll to process.
  4. Add-ons such as pay-as-you go workers compensation insurance, free direct deposit and one of the newest features, 24-hour direct deposit.
  5. The ability to track multiple work locations in different states. (Although not in a single paycheck)
  6. Compliance reminders via email and within the Payroll Center in QBO Payroll inform the client of tax and employment law changes that may affect them so they can stay up to date.

Using QuickBooks Online Payroll has helped me streamline my clients’ payroll. It allows me to collaborate efficiently with my clients, and set up systems and controls that help me monitor and resolve compliance issues quickly and easily.

Editor’s note: Be sure to read Carrie Kahn’s series on payroll that delves into more detail related to using the different versions of QuickBooks Online payroll: