Episode #049 Creating a Positive Bookkeeper Culture Where We Can Thrive
When a client reacts emotionally to ‘bill shock' it can hurt our feelings, pride, financial security and sense of personal value. We need a safe place to ask for help and relieve frustrations. But is making fun of clients in private Facebook Groups a temporary fix to a bigger, more serious issue?
In this gutsy episode, Amy Hooke puts her professional reputation on the line, by exposing a toxic culture in online bookkeeping and accounting communities.
The real message of this episode is: “Mushrooms may look pretty, but they are poisonous and deadly. And in the same way, making fun of clients appears like harmless relief, but it's toxic for our communities in the long term.”
Host: Amy Hooke
Guest speaker: None
Topic: Creating a Positive Bookkeeper Culture
Amy Hooke: Hello, happy Friday. Thanks for joining me again today. I would love to speak to you about group culture in online Facebook groups for bookkeepers and accountants. So this has come through both some things that have happened recently and also just my longer term experience in my journey with my business. Which some of it I've already shared in other episodes about the change of heart that I've gone through personally, which has given me a greater level of empathy for business owners. It's still a work in progress because obviously there still can be times when business owners are going to push our buttons. But what I want to talk about here is a group cultural mindset that you may or may not be aware of in our social media circles. Which I believe is in the long-term unhealthy for the industry, for our profession and for our relationship with our clients and with other bookkeepers.
Amy Hooke: I just feel that it's time to talk about this and I may need to cover it in a couple of episodes because there's a few different elements to what I want to speak about. But I guess today I'll start with kind of the high level overview of sharing with you what my heart is, where I'm coming from in what I'm going to share. So that and give you a little bit of a background of what led me to have a change of heart and why I've changed my perspective and why I'm trying to do things in a different way, if not already doing some things in a different way. So I want to share this with you just from a perspective of somebody who has done all of the things that I'm going to describe. And to let you know that some of the behaviour or some of the things that I've said and done might be some of the worst examples that you hear about.
Amy Hooke: The reason that I'm telling you that is because I want you to hear that this is not coming from a place of judgement , but it's coming from a true place of a real heart change that happened to me when I took a step outside the bookkeeping industry technically. Which we'll share a little bit more about in a minute. To come back into the industry and just seeing things from a very different perspective. So I'll share some of what that perspective is. I'll share some of the things that I've been observing in our online culture and why I think that those things are a problem for us, for our businesses, for our clients and their businesses, for the bookkeeping profession as a whole and also to the larger scale of the world of small businesses. Which is really something that potentially can have a flow on effect to the rest of our country given that small business owners make up 6% of the population in Australia.
Amy Hooke: I don't know if you've heard of a theory called tipping point but I believe that the way that we influence business owners can actually affect donation as a whole. So because of that I believe that we are in a very trusted position, not just with the clients but actually a trusted position in the roles that we hold within society. So that's why I'm going to share this with you. And yes, I realise that I am talking on a podcast so it might seem to you that this is a one way conversation. This is just Amy sharing her views and opinions, which is fine, but I want this to be a conversation. I want this to be a two way conversation and so although you can't directly speak back to me, although feel free to if you want to, although make sure you note down what you said so that you can send it to me by email. I'd love to hear from you, , that's my email address.
Amy Hooke: I would like to actually know what we talked about in our conversation today. I want you to think about what you've observed, perhaps what you've done yourself. Perhaps you've done things like what I've done. Perhaps that you've had misunderstandings as well. Whatever it is, once you hear what I say, if you're standing up in a position of, “Well I would never do that and I don't.” Or if you're in a position of, “Yes, I've observed that and I don't like it and I don't know what to do about it. Or I've observed it and I am trying to do something about it.” I'd love to know those things. Or if it's something that you're currently doing now I just want you to know that I'm not judging you but I am asking you to stop. I am asking you to consider that there is a better way and I'm happy for you to share that with me too.
Amy Hooke: If you hear what I have to say and you think, “Amy, you are absolutely off your rocker. You're misinterpreting things. You don't know what you're talking about.” Or anything like that, feel free to send me those emails as well. I really don't mind because I want to hear what you have to say. It's really important that all your voices get heard, not just mine. Yes, this is the bookkeeper's voice and I'm in this episode, The Bookkeeper. However, the reason that I started this podcast is so that bookkeepers can have their voices heard. And that means that I want to also hear from you. So please do that. Please email me . Not yet wait till I've done the episode, but I'd love to hear what you're talking about in this conversation.
Amy Hooke: If you have courage to post it in the Facebook group, that would be amazing. Because I'd love to have the discussion there, but I will post more in the group this week, which is facebook.com/groups/thesavvybookkeeper. Or you can just type the Savvy Bookkeeper into the search bar. I also put a link in the notes and I'd love you to join the group. To join the group you must be a bookkeeper. If you're an accountant primarily offering accounting and bookkeeping as a secondary service. Unfortunately, we don't allow secondary service providers into the group. You have to be primarily a bookkeeper. We want to keep it this way because the group is really to support bookkeepers in their profession and there's lots of groups out there that accountants can join. So it's not an anti-accountant thing, it's just a place for bookkeepers. At the moment we require that you are actually already running a business. So the minimum requirement is that you must have an ABN. So if you're listening to this in you're thinking, I'd love to start a bookkeeping business.
Amy Hooke: You are not qualified to join the group. You need to get an ABN. I want to see that you're actually taking a serious step towards becoming a bookkeeping business owner. That said, at Savvy, the bookkeepers that we work with, we require our clients to have five years experience in bookkeeping. So somebody who's already an expert, they've already got their 10,000 hours up in bookkeeping and they have been running their business for a minimum of 12 months. The reason for that is because people that have been running their business lists than 12 months tend to not really… they like to sort of trial and error things. They kind of want to DIY and things like that. They want to make their own mistakes and stuff. I actually find it's very… They don't really follow the class. So no offence to anybody, but we'd like people to be at least running their business for a year.
Amy Hooke: However, you can join the Facebook group earlier than that. But if you'd like to work with myself or any of our mentors or receive any services, we really prefer that you're already an expert in bookkeeping. That even includes creating website for people who have got that level of experience, because what we want to do is we want to get the word out there about great bookkeepers. I believe a bookkeeper isn't a great bookkeeper until they have 10,000 hours of experience. It can vary slightly from person to person and obviously I will take each case as it comes. But that's kind of my rule of thumb for who my ideal client is and who we can do our best work with and get the best results for. So that's just a little bit of a background about how the group works and how Savvy works as a whole.
Amy Hooke: So now I want to talk to you about… Well, I feel I've identified… I don't feel I've identified, I believe that I've identified this toxic culture in Facebook groups and I would like to do something about it for the best interest of everybody. So what triggered me to do this podcast today was that there was a Facebook post in a group which is for accountants. I've only been a member of that group for a little while but the post was really about a bookkeeper. I guess the bookkeeper was needing to have a vent about feeling unvalued by a client. So the way that she chose to express her feelings about this, which I can completely understand her doing this because I've done this kind of thing myself. But she pasted word for word, the email that the client sent to her. The post was positioned as, “Hey, here's something funny to laugh at.”
Amy Hooke: Now, I realised that underlying this person's post, there's probably a lot of pain and frustration and hurt, pride and feelings about a client questioning her fees. This is something that happens a lot. We've all experienced it and it's not a nice feeling. I even did a podcast last week I think it was, where I talked about a new inquiry and the guy questioned my fees and I felt awful. But what I did my best to do with that podcast is to make it constructive. So I tried to say, “Okay, where was this client coming from? What might have caused him to say that?” Like, yes, look, at the end of the day, some people are just jerks but most people are not just jerks. Normally they have a reason for acting like jerks. So I guess that's part of what I'm encouraging us to do, is to think beyond what the client says and think of better ways to try and connect with that client, which I think will do us better in the long run.
Amy Hooke: So even though it might not necessarily fix that particular situation, I think that it will help. What I do with that particular client was I sent him a really helpful email on how he can best find himself the bookkeeper who's the right fit for him and for his budget. And I gave him some information about what best agents can do that regular bookkeepers that are not registered can't do. But gosh, on that episode, I just wanted to slam the this guy because I thought, “How dare you question me and speak to me like that and undervalue me?” It's funny because I haven't been in that position too many times since I started Off The Hook Bookkeeping. But I will admit that maybe about six months ago I did an episode on the bookkeeping project where I really, I bagged to this client over kind of two episodes that I kind of made fun of him, but I have had a heart change since then.
Amy Hooke: I was already on the way to having it but by that stage I sort of hadn't really had the full depth of what I now have, I guess believe is an internal value of mine and that I want to share that with you. So we all want places that are safe spaces where we can come and we can get feedback and ask questions. Some people value having a place where we can vent. I don't have anything against venting. It just, I think we can vent without causing damage. So we can be angry but I think in our anger or our frustration, we have to make sure that we're not causing damage to those around us. So I think that the way we vent and I'm not saying that we have to really screen out venting before we do it. But I guess we have to start to try and look at the underlying things that are causing us to vent and what makes these things so painful. Sometimes I think venting can unhelpful. So what happens is when a situation is really causing us to feel the need to vent, what do you think is actually going on there? What's underneath that?
Amy Hooke: The problem with venting is that if we go and vent that frustration immediately, we get that instant gratification of venting in a Facebook group and knowing that we'll get all these comments and likes on our comments. I'm not saying we're doing it for attention, but I'm saying we're getting that little hit of dopamine that comes from, “Oh my gosh, I feel so stressed.” But then you've got all these people validating you and say, “Yeah, you're right. What a jerk this client is and that kind of thing.” And it makes you feel better, but it's only temporary. So you'll feel better temporarily because you vented. However, you haven't solved the underlying issue and in fact you may have caused more damage. The reason that I'm saying you may have caused more damage is because there are newer bookkeepers in our industry or accountants depending on which group you're in. But there are people in our industry who are observing this.
Amy Hooke: They might not necessarily say anything, they might not necessarily agree. And you'll have all of these different people who comment or won't comment. And of course on a post like this, if someone comes in and disagrees that that's correct, then that person gets shut down but everybody else gets to have their say. Then the person who's disagreeing is told, “Hey, we're allowed to vent and we're allowed to express our opinions.” And it's like, well, okay, so are other people who disagree. So I think that that causes an unhealthy culture in our groups because firstly, it does create an environment where somebody says, “Well, I feel judged,” if you don't agree with my vent or if you try and bring some kind of objective perspective to this. Now, I will admit a couple of weeks ago, I vented in my Facebook group and I've now removed the post at the request of the admin from another group.
Amy Hooke: In that post I actually named the person who did something that was inappropriate and nearly all the people who commented on the post didn't agree with me. They told me off. They told me that I was unprofessional. They told me all sorts of things. And look, I went away and are reflected on that. I got in touch with the admin of the other group. I did some research on the topic of what was being addressed, which I now understand to be a formal sexual harassment. I also contacted that person privately. I let them know that I had removed the post and I also apologised to them. I'm happy to admit that posting and revealing the identity of somebody and sharing the post from another group was actually breaching the trust of the other group. So regardless of whether what that person did was right or wrong, I still think that what I did was wrong.
Amy Hooke: I should not have done that. I really did upset a lot of people who know that person or other people are member of that group who obviously felt that I had betrayed the trust of the group. So I'm willing to admit myself that I did that. I vented in a group and it was not constructive or productive and even though the outcome of the whole situation worked out well and I took away some very good learnings for it, which I'll also share it in a follow-up podcast on this topic. I still think that what I did to caused damage and yes, probably caused some damage to what people think of me. I was definitely called lots of different things and had a lot of things assumed about me and that's fine. I actually understand why and I'm not angry with those people because I think definitely on some levels they were correct.
Amy Hooke: It's just that obviously everything can get taken out of context. So that's an extreme example and I told you that I was going to give some examples of where I've probably been the worst at this. So I'm not coming from a place of like, “Oh, I'm perfect. I would never do this and I never have done this.” But I'm coming from a place of like, “I've really stuffed up a number of times but I'm willing to fix it. I'm willing to listen even though it's painful when someone disagrees on a thread.” Gosh, that night I couldn't sleep. I couldn't like the two nights thinking about some of the disagreeing comments that people gave to me that I felt were harsh. But at the same time it really hit home on how's to approach things the following day and how's to actually sort the situation out.
Amy Hooke: And what learnings I could take from it and how I could look into, “Okay, what's the underlying issue? Let's not make this about something that another person said. Let's have a look at the underlying issue. What about this has press my buttons? What has caused me so much pain that I have gone and vented like this in a group and potentially causing way more harm than what I would have intended.” I'm sure that this is where people are coming from as well. That's why I want to share my experience to be able to say look deeper because for me, if I had have waited and not vented. I vented because I was so angry and so offended by what this person had said that I just went “bleurgh”. I just vomited the post into the group and I was going to share it with protecting his identity and blotting out his name.
Amy Hooke: Then I thought, “Why should I protect the identity of someone who has really done something wrong?” That's where I crossed the line. But even if I hadn't exposed this person's details, for me it was really even venting about it in the first place was wrong on a number of levels. I guess the first level was the fact that this is my community where I am supposed to be a leader and I've used this Facebook group as a place where I can vent my own personal frustrations and I did that. If you want to call it what it is, it's called passive aggression. So that's what I did. I passively aggressive instead of approaching this person directly, I'm passive aggressive this person and I posted about them in my Facebook group. So even in a situation where I had not revealed that person's name or personal identity, I still think that to me that is still wrong.
Amy Hooke: I've come into my own community and I've just like, I don't know, I like have just walked into a room of people that I really care about and I've like dropped a big fight in the middle of the room. And people are like, “Amy that really stinks.” So do I think that this makes any difference had that been done in a group where I wasn't the leader? Well, yes. I still think the same thing. I still think that when we post our venting, we vent our emotions into a Facebook group, I think what we're doing is we're avoiding sitting down and thinking about what the real issue is. And that's why I didn't do. If I had have sat down and thought to myself, “Why did what that guy said to me upset me so much? What part it me, what button did that press?” Because there's a bottom there. What is that button? Why is it there? Why does it cause me so much pain and frustration when it gets pressed?
Amy Hooke: Like what was that all about? As I said, I will share more about the learnings that I got from that on a different episode, which will be under the same umbrella of this toxic culture in Facebook groups. But what I'm urging you to do is that just like this lady who posted in this other group sharing word for word, pasting the email that this client said, but removing their name word for word, posted what this lady said, but did some of their own emphasis mine on there. So like bolded the items in the email that she wanted us to focus on. It was framed in a way that this is something that you guys should find funny. It wasn't framed in a way of like, “Oh, I need help with this. I feel really hurt. I don't know why this is upsetting me so much. Can you please help me? Can you tell me how to reply to the client?”
Amy Hooke: Like, it wasn't a constructive post, it was a, “Hey, let's make fun of this.” I believe fully in the motivation of the person posting it, that what I wanted was to be able to vent their feelings. But they did it in a way that I felt is not constructive. Now in response to that, obviously there's a lot of lofts and wows and thumbs up and things like that, but then from there you've got about 95 comments of people responding to this in what I also believe is an unhealthy way to respond. Not one single person offered any constructive advice. Everybody made fun of this client or made comments like get rid of the client. Or posting memes and gifs about giving the client the flake or accusing the email or the person who wrote the email of being passive aggressive, whereas it was actually the poster who was being passive aggressive but nobody actually mentioned that obviously.
Amy Hooke: Then you've got people sort of justifying like, “Hey, our value is so much more than that.” Then there's those classic memes that say things along the lines of, if a client tells you, “I know people that charge less.” Respond, “I got clients that pay more.” Like this kind of meme, like yes, it's a funny image, but the thing is behind the meaning of that meme is really something that I believe it's very unhealthy for us to be expressing as professionals. Because what we're doing is we're reacting to a hurt sense of pride or difficulty in expressing our own value or even like a lack of being able to communicate. So I think that we can learn to respond to emails like that. I'll give you a few of my ideas on how I think you could go about that in a minute. But to respond to a person who's telling you, if a person says to you, “I know someone who charges less.” You got to listen beneath what they're saying.
Amy Hooke: What they're probably really saying is, “I can't afford this or I'm scared that if I pay for this, I might not have enough money for something else.” They could be saying anything under that. I think what's more important than responding, “Well, I've got clients that pay more.” Imagine you're a business owner and you're under financial stress, potentially a lot of financial stress. So you get a bill and it's unexpected or maybe it's expected that you were so busy, you just kind of forgot. And there was a misunderstanding and so you receive your bill and you think, “Oh my gosh, this seems really expensive.” But you're not just thinking this seems really expensive. You're thinking, “How is this going to impact me on the other things that I need to buy?” Now I'm not making justifications for business owners who are doing the dodgy.
Amy Hooke: Okay, we've all seen those clients who they're on overseas holidays yet they say they can't pay your bill and things like that. That's wrong. I'm not condoning that in any way at all. But what I am saying is what is the client really saying and what is it about us that makes us feel so defensive that instead of reaching out to that person and finding out if they are okay, we go to a Facebook group and make fun of them. Like not just make fun of them but post word for word what they actually said, but putting the emphasis on the parts that we want to emphasise. So we all know that there's a lack of expression of emotion and tone of voice in written communication. So we also don't know the tone of voice that this was written in and we don't know where the emphasis actually were in this person's email.
Amy Hooke: So we haven't given this person just in the same way that I did with that person who I outed in my Facebook group. We're not giving that person a chance to defend themselves or to share their full story about what's actually going on. I want to be able to give business owners a chance to be able to say, “Hey, okay, look, this really seems expensive to me because we had a child who was sick and we maxed out our credit card or medical phase or a family member just died and we had to pay for their funeral. Or somebody was in an accident or we got robbed and we weren't insured or we had a car accident and something has happened with the insurance. Like you just don't know what's caused that person. The reality is the fact that that person feels like they can come to you and be so open, to me it actually shows a level of trust.
Amy Hooke: Because most people, if they didn't trust you, they just go somewhere else. They wouldn't even bother to email you. Whereas if the person's at least taking the risk of saying, “Hey, can you please explain this bill?” I think that shows a level of trust because they're trusting that you'll come back to them and be kind and understanding and you might not give them what they want. I do agree that sometimes clients can be manipulative. They might send an email because they're trying to get a discount. They might say something rude to try and get a discount or whatever. But even so, someone who does that, often there's a reason, it's usually not because they're some evil bastard that wants to rip off bookkeepers and accountants. You know what I mean? Like normally there's a legitimate reason. I think we need to give business owners more of a benefit of a doubt that they're coming from a place that it's not a place of trying to attack us as a profession or as a human being and they probably didn't express what they really wanted to say.
Amy Hooke: In a short communication, you can only say so much. So unless you're going to type a novel length email to somebody, you don't always get to explain the full story. Usually the first communication is an invitation to a dialogue. That's how I would take it, rather than a slamming of the door in your face and this is my final decision. So that's the backstory or that's the thing that triggered me to be able to know that I wanted to make a podcast about this. You might be thinking, “Well, hey Amy, aren't you doing the same thing by now just coming and venting about this person?” My defense to that is going to be that this is something I have now given a lot of thought. I've given it a lot of thought and I know what's driving it for me now. In the past it would've been just like post because I'm offended. But here I really understand how I feel about our industry and about small business owners.
Amy Hooke: I know that I'm not sharing this because I need to vent, but I want this to be a constructive dialogue that we have in our industry because I want to speak about what I feel is an unproductive or toxic culture. So some of the other comments that came on this thread were around like basically like, “See you later. There's the door, don't let it hit you on the way out.” People using the doctor analogy or the plumber analogy like, “Oh, you wouldn't question your plumber or your doctor about their fees.” Firstly, I think that's untrue. I mean, I've got bill shock when I've received a bill from a medical appointment where I had to take my son for example. Having to get like allergy tests and things like that. Gosh you get some shock bills there and you do ask people what the fees are, especially if you're not 100% sure. You also ask them if you can claim it on Medicare and all that sort of thing.
Amy Hooke: Yes, I have been shocked by the fee of a plumber and of course I paid it, but I did want to understand why that fee was so high and then give them a chance to explain. Usually people are just happy to explain. They don't usually get… I can't remember ever speaking to a plumber and having the plumber get defensive about their call out fee. They just explain it. They don't really make a big deal about it. So I don't fully understand why we make a big deal about it as bookkeepers. But I think the reason for it is, like I'll just differentiate between a plumber and a bookkeeper. This is what I think it might be, but I don't know. And look, plumbers might get offended as well. They might not like this. But this is a theory that I'm going to put out there. You can let me know what you think. So what I think it is, is because our intellectual property lives inside our brain.
Amy Hooke: So our bookkeeping skill, when we become a skilled professional, we spend all this time and money developing our knowledge and our intellectual property. And of course, that intellectual property often lives inside of our brain. So it's kind of like part of us. Now I'm not saying that doesn't happen with a plumber. Of course, the plumber's knowledge stays in his brain, but the plumber works with his hands. So the work that he's doing is kind of like, it occurs like outside of himself and also it's tangible. You can see, “Okay, there's a new pipe over there.” I'm actually thinking this out loud right now. I think I've actually uncovered two reasons that I can see there. So firstly, the intellectual property lives inside our brains. So technically and I think this is how I felt when the client criticises my prices, I think they're criticising me.
Amy Hooke: I find it hard because the intellectual property that I hold is inside my brain and so it's very difficult to then show them what that intellectual property is and what I'm actually imparting to them. That's very difficult to do. This would be a pain point for accountants all around the world. When I was working for public company, I remember working for this company and I really loved working there. But the thing is you always get this thing like the company owners are like, “What are the accountants doing? Like they spend all this time and they always say they reconciling things.” And they don't know really what reconciling means. Then at the end of the day they're like, “Okay, well give us some result for the like $100,000 I've paid you this year.” And you go, “Here you go.” And you give them a few bits of paper. So it seems like these list of numbers that are on a page don't seem like much.
Amy Hooke: It's very, very hard for the person to see how much work went into getting those numbers on the page. So they go, “Oh, there's just numbers.” Whereas with a plumber you can see, like they've set up all of these pipes, like sure the pipes might be under the ground or under the house. You might not actually see them, but you know and trust that there are physical pipes there. Also the plumber is not going to take that as personally because the information, the knowledge and the product is not inside his brain. He works with his hands and of course he remembers how to do things with his brain, but a lot of what he does is physically. He's doing that with his physical body. So I think that our brains, I'm just going to make a bit of an assumption, here but I feel that our brains are probably more important to us than our hands. Of course, we'd hate to not have the use of their hands, but to not have the use of our brains is definitely a different level.
Amy Hooke: So that's my theory that I'm putting out there. So feel free to contribute to that or add to it or tell me that I'm crazy. Whatever you would like to do. I'd love to know your thoughts about why else do you think that bookkeepers get so upset when they face a question? Same with the accountants. I'm trying to think of another person who has intellectual property like that. So you've got a graphic designer or copywriter. The thing is what the client receives is sort of like, it's a much more tangible thing. They get like a visual logo. They get a picture of something. They can see the work that went into it. Same with a copywriter, they get text on a page, whereas people from us, they get numbers on a page and often they don't know what those numbers mean. So it's very hard for them to see the value.
Amy Hooke: So what I'm identifying is that yes, like we all know that we have difficulty explaining our value. I think this is part of the reason why. This client who had sent this confidential email was getting called a keyboard warrior. They we're making fun of her and her husband. They we're telling them next year put the price up. And a lot of people were expressing their anger and their frustration at this person. Now one person did give a constructive comment, which was about offering a spouse discount. So we talking about some individual tax returns here where obviously the husband and wife get this stuff done. I won't keep going with every single thing that was written there but most people were posting negative things. One person did actually ask like what was the tax return actually about? Seeking to clarify what kind of a job was this for that particular fee. And to try and figure out was this fair or not fair or whatever. I just kind of came in and said, “Well, look I don't pay that much for my service which I'm going to assume is a more detailed service than what you've provided.”
Amy Hooke: I pointed out that I saw in the email that this client was distressed, like clearly distressed in her email. That I felt that this comment was an embarrassment to our industry to be honest because. And look, I did say that to provoke a response because this is how I feel about this topic. This is how I've started to actually realise that we need to do something about this. So it was good. I did end up having a productive conversation with one person who actually took onboard what I said. This is kind of what motivated me to make the podcast because I thought, “Well, hopefully there's other people, like there were people that were defensive against me and said that I misunderstood and things like that,” which is fine. But that one person who took on board what I said and actually saw my point of view and even said that she felt that my comment was enlightening and thanked me for my point of view.
Amy Hooke: So I had an opportunity to share with these one person that I do understand that as professionals we are feeling undervalued and that we need a relief from our frustrations. But that I don't think it's healthy or productive to try and relieve our own stresses in what I see as a passive aggressive way and it's also a coverup for our own insecurities. I shared with her that I have the same insecurities myself and often I was the instigator of these types of posts. I loved posting in some of the Facebook groups like, “Hey, look what this idiot did,” and make fun of my clients. I'm not proud of this at all. I'm not making an excuse for where I learned this behaviour from. I think that on some level there was always something in my heart, but I learned this behaviour and I picked up this behaviour from the culture in the groups. So as I joined these groups, so if you've heard my backstory, I didn't even know there were Facebook groups for bookkeepers.
Amy Hooke: So I've only been in Facebook communities for about five years. When I joined the groups, I learned about all these problems that I didn't know that I had in especially around how clients valued me and how I should respond. So what I did was I learned this behaviour from Facebook groups and I absorbed the group culture into my way of thinking like a sponge. Then I kind of regurgitated that same culture out into the group and I was just being part of the problem. Then I had a change of heart and the reason I had a change of heart is because I'm a business owner myself. As you know, in 2017 I had started offering website design services for bookkeepers and I actually closed down my bookkeeping business to do the websites thing. Now, even though I was offering a service to bookkeepers, I wasn't doing bookkeeping anymore. So I kind of pulled back on my interaction in these groups. Like I had a season where I wasn't really in the groups. I didn't need to be in there asking questions and posting and venting and things like that.
Amy Hooke: Even though I was working with bookkeepers, I technically left the bookkeeping industry. So I had entered another industry, which I would say the website design industry, the marketing industry, whatever. So I left bookkeeping industry, moved into website design and I had to go through this whole process myself and through my own journey of leaving bookkeeping and then going on this path to pursue what I felt was my calling. I actually entered territory that I'd never experienced before. At the time when I closed my bookkeeping business, it's not like the web design business was like raking in money that made me decide to leave. I left because I trusted that this was really the path that I was meant to follow. So I didn't do it based on a financial decision, I did it based on a higher calling or more of like purpose-based decision, I guess you could say.
Amy Hooke: So I finished up all of my clients and some of them didn't end in a good way and some of them were fine. But I really jumped into this as a leap of faith and with a vision in my heart. I can tell you, since then I have been through financial hardship. I'm not talking about the normal difficulties of being a business owner, but we actually had seasons of being in financial hardship. We had times where we didn't have money for our rent. Now I'm sharing something with you, very personal here, but this is what I went through. I even reached a point where I almost went into business in a collaboration with somebody out in our industry and this decision nearly financially destroyed me and my family. So I spent a period of time, which I'm going to say estimate is about 18 months now.
Amy Hooke: I went through a season where the business had to grow or else there was nothing for us. And of course, yes, we could go out and get employment jobs and things like that. But we'll share this in another episode. I actually have a neurological condition, which I feel really prevents me or helps me or causes me struggle to work in a regular job. So for me, Savvy was it, my decision to go into this business, that was it for me. So I had to ride the waves of actual financial hardship. And you might say, “Oh, first world problems, Amy, you're running a business, how can you be in financial hardship?” But I can tell you that once you're responsible for a large team of employees and you must pay the wages, you're in a different boat. You're in a totally different experience.
Amy Hooke: So going through that financial hardship and going through change of industry, going through being in a position where I was actually seeing things from the perspective, I started to understand why my like supposedly crazy clients, how I viewed them back then. I understood why they acted the way they did. Why they said the things that they did because I was tempted in my stress and financial hardship to say the things and do the things that I did too. In some cases I literally did word for word. I treated people the way that I had been so hurt about being treated. But thankfully in most situations I was able to go, “Okay, I'm not going to take this action or speak these words because I know the impact that what I say is going to have on the other person who doesn't have the full understanding that I have.”
Amy Hooke: So I am so grateful for this season of hardship because we've come out of it. But that's just to give you an example of how hectic life and business can be. Now, I don't know if this customer was a business owner or not a business owner, it doesn't really matter because that's not the point. The point is that in real life we go through issues. Partners lose jobs and we lose income streams or we lose an ability or we have an accident or we have a mental condition that prevents us from being able to do things that we used to normally do. So as I went through this experience where the shoe was on the other foot, and I personally experienced some of the things that my clients experienced, I started to see from the other perspective. So it's not just about hardship, as well I experienced something else. Apart from the hardship that the clients might have been in, the other thing I experienced was working for people that didn't know what they were doing.
Amy Hooke: I started to reach a point where I was like, “Don't BS me. Like I want to know can you do the job?” And if the person didn't keep the job up to standard, like I would be cross and I would respond to that person. Then even in that process, I restarted my bookkeeping business and I have bookkeepers working for me. And guess what? I question their bills. Oh yes, I do. Do you know why? Because I'm a real business owner and I don't want to be giving my money to people who aren't doing a proper job, so I want to understand. Now, obviously my experience, my personal experience has shaped the way I would communicate. So for example, when one of my best agents will message me her invoice and she's billed me quite a bit more than what we agreed on for the month. And I'd explained to her what my budget was and that kind of thing. I have looked at that and been tempted to write back an email asking this, this and this and questioning her bill. But I've learned from that experience and I know what it feels like.
Amy Hooke: So what I do is I pick up the phone and I ask her how she's going and I have a conversation with her and I talked to her about the thing gently. I don't just like download my thoughts onto her because you can misunderstand when you're communicating in text. And especially because we're a virtual business, we have to be really careful. So thankfully I've learned from those things but you know what? I reached a point where I was sick and tired of contractors who came to me saying, “I know how to do this and I know how to do this.” And charging me like ridiculous contractor rights and I'll do an episode about that. Thank you very much. What I've learned about contractors, oh my gosh, I can make another whole episode about that. But having contractors come to me and tell me how much they are worth and then not deliver the outcomes and not provide the value and not even provide a good level of service. That really ticked me off.
Amy Hooke: So now I understand why business owners are like, “Hey, what's this?” And the way that they were so direct about it because you do get fed up with it. That's a passive aggressive thing in itself. You get so ticked off with one contractor and then they leave and then the next contractor comes along and you go, “Oi!”. And you pull that person into line but you're really taking out your double frustration on the previous one. So I've been through all of that myself and the reality is that as a business owner, I do want a good price that's called being a smart business owner. So we need to actually think like, “Okay, maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe when this client questions my bill, maybe I need to ring them and see if they were okay. And why not instantly talk about like whatever?” You can call them and you can just, instead of calling them and getting defensive, you can just say, “Hey, like I got your email. Is everything okay?”
Amy Hooke: I'm happy to explain anything to you. Do you know what I mean? Like if we've got nothing to hide from our clients, we don't have a problem picking up the phone. If we do have something to hide from our clients, whatever that might be, then we need to deal with that and then think, “Okay, well, it's probably fine.” So the thing is when you pick up the phone it's usually fine. Usually when you say to the person, “Oh actually this month, there was a bit extra because you bought a new car and took on a loan for example.” And I go, “Oh, okay, that's fine.” Do you know what I mean? I think we tend to make things big out in our head. When we read things on text, we're like, “Ah,” like this email just kind of… you know that feeling that email just punches you between the eyeballs and then you just like fly into defensive mode. I think like this is really not good.
Amy Hooke: It's no good for anybody. It's no good for the client. I think of times where I did that and I defended myself and then the client's probably thinking, “Whoa, I just asked you a simple question, why can't you answer it?” It was because of all these layers of issues, not just layers of issues, but also just a lack of experience in being a business owner myself. We've got to get that experience and if we can't, we just have to trust that people are not trying to be bad. They're not trying to be annoying. And to think about when we talk about those clients in our groups, are we going to pose or position what we're going to speak about in a way that dishonours that client? Or we're going to do it in an honouring, respectful way. Where we ask, “Hey, how can I make this better for the client?” Obviously it's not always going to work out, but we can do it in a better way. So part of this experience that I've had, I will be developing some guidelines for the group, for the Savvy Facebook group.
Amy Hooke: Because there are things that I notice in other groups, which I just don't want that culture in a group because I don't think that it's healthy. And obviously I need to abide by those rules as well. Just because I'm the group leader doesn't mean I get to do whatever I want. I also need to abide —
Amy Hooke: What do you think about all of this? I know I've said this a few times but please, give me your thoughts. I want to know what you've noticed, whether you agree or disagree with me. Any other thoughts that you want to add to this? How do you feel about venting in Facebook groups? What do you think? What do you want in your community? What do you want in a community? Do you want to log into Facebook and see other people venting or do you want to see some more constructive conversations?
Amy Hooke: Give me all your thoughts about this. If you've done it or if you're doing it yourself or if you agree with me or don't agree with me. Let me know. I want to know about this because obviously I can make all of these assumptions based on how I feel about a certain thing and an issue that I feel that I've identified but I would also like to see it from your perspective. Look, if I need to calm my farm, I'll do it. But if this really is an issue that you've noticed, I want you to tell me and to tell each other. Because the way that we can do this is to communicate with each other about how we feel. And look, there are always going to be other groups. Like if people want to be able to just spend explaining Facebook groups, maybe our group isn't the right place for them.
Amy Hooke: But at the same time it's not about putting a cap or a lead on people's emotions entirely. People need to be free to express themselves. But I think when we express ourself, we need to make sure that it's constructive and productive to those people who are listening. We need to consider the old saying about treating others the way that we want to be treated. And that means if we wouldn't want our service provider, like let's say, all of us received services or other people, just picture for a moment that you are receiving a service from somebody and whether it's about bill shock or whether it's about something else entirely. Just imagine that that provider or maybe even you said something to them that you wish you hadn't said, whatever it was. Just imagine that that person then went and posted in a private Facebook group of their industry and then all of the other providers in that field then came along and posted memes and my jokes about you and made fun of you and told them to charge you more.
Amy Hooke: And all of these kinds of things that I feel are really insensitive, imagine that happened. This is part of what started to change my heart as well because I started to think, “Oh my gosh, like if someone posted this stuff about me, even if they don't reveal my name, I just feel like I would feel so ashamed. I would feel hurt, I would feel betrayed.” I just know that none of us would really honestly, truly want that to happen to us. So I think that we need to treat other people the way that we want to be treated. We need to consider people's circumstances. We need to have empathy for them. We need to reach out to them even when they being potentially aggressive or rude or we feel put down by them. We need to set aside and type time to see why did they things push my buttons and look, maybe this is a journey that we're all on as a community.
Amy Hooke: Wanting to see and understand our value and to be able to communicate our value. Because I know how frustrating it is when you can say the value that you offer but the client can't see it. And it's just like, “Oh my gosh, like seriously, can you just do an accounting degree and work as an accountant for a little while just to… or work as a bookkeeper and see what it feels like to be one.” Instead of feeling like that we need to take a step back and go, “Okay, how do they feel in their profession?” Maybe they experienced the same things that you do. Maybe that person who's picking apart your fees, maybe they constitute to them. Oh here's a brainwave. Maybe they're in their own toxic culture in Facebook groups and they're being told to question bills about people or you just don't really know where people are coming from.
Amy Hooke: So this has been a huge eyeopener for me. It's really helped me to get to the bottom of why I feel the way I feel and to understand how I actually feel. I guess being intellectual people, we don't really like to think about our feelings all that often, but I think that we do need to do it. We need to have a think and go, “Okay, is this thing that's been said that hurt me so much is it affected my pride? Has it affected my financial security? Has it affected my emotional stability? Has it affected my relationships with other people or my reputation?” What got affected? When that person said the thing that they said, what did it press? Is it reminding me of something that happened to me in the past that I haven't dealt with? All of these things. These are hot issues.
Amy Hooke: It's nothing to do with the client. In fact, I think like I had a business coach who used to say to me, “Every difficult client is a messenger to help you grow in your business.” I think that's so true. If those difficult clients can come and expose things within us, hot issues that we need to deal with. And they help us to get to a new level of freedom and a new level of being able to express the value that we offer, then I think it's worth it. So yeah, like that's the end of the episode. But I hope that you enjoyed it. Please get in touch with me. Please join the Facebook group or consider coming to work with me and my team. We'd absolutely just love to have you in our community. But tell us what you want in the community.
Amy Hooke: Like what kind of community do you want? Is there one that you wish existed and you feel that it doesn't, whatever it is. Whatever you need, we want to understand so we can see if we can provide that for you. If we can, we will and if we can't, there's heaps of other places that you can go. I am rambling now. It's the end of the episode. So I'm just going to say, have a great weekend and goodbye. I will see you or you will hear me next Friday. See you then.