Episode #029 The Bookkeeping Project Part 6

If you’ve felt overwhelmed trying to optimise your workflow (or your team), then this episode is definitely for you.

 In it, Amy talks about the quest for the perfect workflow, and touches on some of the challenges of building a team.

 The key message of this episode is, “A little bit of perfectionism is cool, but too much will send you backwards.”

Podcast Info

Episode: #029

Series: General

Host: Amy Hooke

Guest speaker: None

Topic: The Bookkeeping Project Part 6

Useful links

Join Pricing Webinar – Job Scope & Health Check

Organise Stuff With Airtable 

Join The Bookkeeping Project 

Read transcript

Good morning, welcome back, and thanks for joining me again today. And just before we start, so today we're going to be talking about the bookkeeping project because it's the last Friday of the month. Or the fourth Friday of the month I should say.

Welcome to the variety of podcast listeners

So, before I jump into a couple of things that's happened this month in Off the Hook Bookkeeping, I just want to say hello to all our listeners outside of Australia. So I didn't actually realise, but the podcast has some analytics. I went through and I had a little bit of a look at that, and it's been great to see all our listeners growing. So the first thing that surprised me about the number of listeners that we've had on the podcast, is the number of men listening to the podcast. So that was actually a surprise for me because in the bookkeeping industry we're 86% female, our Facebook group's about 97% female. However, our podcast listeners are 25% male. So about 75% women, which is quite different to the other statistics.

So that was kind of cool. I put a little post in the Savvy Bookkeeper Facebook group, and I asked who are all these guys listening to the podcast, and a bunch of them came out of the woodwork. So that was good, but obviously there's men out there in our industry, male bookkeepers who are listening to the podcast, so I just want to say hello. Yeah, it was just a bit of an eye opener because I didn't, you know, obviously because of the ratios in the industry, and the ratios of our followers and the members of our Savvy community, because the percentages are so low, that number actually took me by surprise.

So, the other thing that took me by surprise is all the different countries where we've got listeners coming in from. So obviously Australia was number one, very closely followed by the USA, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand. So those ones really didn't surprise me. But the ones that did surprise me were the rest of the list. So we have listeners coming in from Spain, Germany, Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia, Japan, Fiji, South Africa, Vietnam, Switzerland, Cuba, Israel, Malaysia, Argentina, and Armenia. So hello to everybody listening in from all of those different countries. It was just a huge eye opener for me, because it just made me realise we're a global community of bookkeepers.

It wasn't really something that was on my radar before, you know, obviously I just sort of think a lot about the Australian bookkeeping industry. But anyway, so yeah welcome to all of our bookkeepers in the big wide world… world wide bookkeeping family. Thanks for listening in. I really don't know how you guys found the podcast, but I'm glad that you did. And so it's good to have you along.

Update on the bookkeeping project

So for those of you who are just listening in for the first time today, we're talking about the bookkeeping project. The bookkeeping project is basically a little experiment that I started at the start of the year, which was to start my bookkeeping business up again from scratch, and kind of share insights into what I'm doing in the business.

Onboarding and getting client feedback

I've got another new client this month, which was… that was really nice. Nice, smooth onboarding process which I've got down pat now. I put all my documentation in place and even, so this month I finished off… I did my, set up my new client forms with the little survey at the bottom so I can collect feedback as soon as the client signs up. I like to track feedback from my customers as they go along the journey, just to kind of see what their experience is like with onboarding process and as they kind of go through various steps. So whenever I create any kind of form that a client has to fill out, I always put a rating at the bottom. I ask them how many stars out of five and then I'll ask them to say why did they give that many stars, just to kind of collect that little bit of feedback there.

Airtable and getting yourself organised

So I'm using this awesome software called Airtable. I'll actually pop a link in the notes for you because this is a software that I've been using amongst the Savvy community. I discovered it through another bookkeeper. She just mentioned it in a session, and I thought, “Wow, where have you been all my life.” I have been struggling with Asana for some time. I really… it was just one of those softwares where I loved being in. I just felt like I could never find anything or I just never knew what else to get, so it made me feel very confused. And so, you know, I guess after 12 months of kind of wrestling with that, I found Airtable. Now it's not exactly the same thing, but when I asked this lady who told me about it, when I asked her what is Airtable, she said to me, “It's kind of like a database and a spreadsheet and a to-do list.”

I was like, “Oh okay.” That didn't make sense to me at all. But when I saw it, I thought, “Wow, this is kind of amazing.” So their tagline is organise everything or something like that, organise pretty much everything or something. And really since I've been using it I've been organising pretty much everything with it. So we've been working on setting up our kind of workflow in there, so we've got a little, what do you call it… we've got a work in progress, One Set Up, and we've got one called Team Priorities, which we're using to just kind of keep a track of any tasks that are non-client related that people are working on and that sort of thing.

So we're just using Airtable for that. So we're just using it to pretty much organise everything, and we also use it for templating some templates and things like that for our clients, and sharing information. So that's been fun. Now although that has been fun, I've also been setting up my new CRM, which has been great, integrating that with PandaDoc which I use for my proposals, another very handy software for getting all your stuff done. So I got all my STP documentation done this month, which has been very good. I actually ran a webinar to… I'm running another one shortly as well… to kind of show what was happening in the STP workflow area of, yeah, so I've done that. I'll be running another one again shortly, so I'll just pop all links for everything that I mention in here, obviously, as I usually do.

But yeah, so I've been… really this month it's sort of been about getting organised. Obviously things get busy and then you get a bit all over the place and then you kind of pull things together again, so that's been my world for the last month. Very focused on STP, getting all the STP documentation and all that sort of thing sorted. So that's been a kind of big thing to get over, and then also doing my own STP for my own team and everything like that has been also fun. What else is happening? So, even though I've had a good run with Airtable this month and with the new CRM, I am finding myself really… I'm in software frustration land at the moment.

Software frustration land

I don't know about you, but I really… I don't know, I think I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with software programs these days. So when I first started off the hook bookkeeping first time around, I was like, wow, like I just thought software, all these software programs were so amazing, and I was so excited and I'd be able to learn a new software program in 5 minutes, and all that kind of thing. And then I kind of got a little bit obsessed with trying to find like the perfect software set up where everything integrated seamlessly, and really like making my workflow all electronic and automated. I kind of became obsessed with automation and all sorts of things.

That was, you know, it was sort of how Savvy became a business in the first place, I guess through this evolution of searching through different software platforms and everything. Savvy kind of evolved from that. Yeah, so anyway, it was all happy days for quite some time. And I think about… I'm going to guess about six months ago… it actually happened, and this month it's kind of come to a bit of a head, but about six months ago my brain just suddenly went, “No more software programs.” It was like my brain just rebelled on me. So up until that point I was very excited about always trying these new platforms and sort of getting everything to be set up properly.

And then I reached a point about six months ago where I realised it's never going to happen. I started to realise that this idealistic view of a seamless, perfect, ecosystem of softwares that's going to help me operate my business in a completely automated fashion is not real. That it's actually pretty much a complete fantasy. Not completely I guess, but I think it was this month, so about six months ago my brain started going, “I don't want to learn any more software programs. We've learned enough software programs now.” And then what happened is, so once your brain gets to that point, then there's kind of the next stage where your sort of wanting to not do the software programs anymore, but you haven't found the perfect system yet and so you're still kind of going along trying to figure it out.

Then this month, my brain just did a double, “No”, like a big kind of, “I'm so over trying to figure out this perfect system.” Yeah, I just kind of had a bit of a software meltdown in a way. So a couple of things went wrong. Yeah, I guess I just kind of had this big eye opener about like I sort of started to realise what I was tying to do, that I was trying to perfect it too much. And then also the other thing that I realised as well is that, you know, I tried to save money. So when I look at… one of the reasons I got into all of these different softwares is because I was always looking for a cheaper way to do everything.

So I'd see a software program and, you know, it'd be quite expensive and I'd think, “Oh there must be a cheaper way to do this. And I can kind of do it myself.” So I went on a bit of a mission to find these better solutions, and you know, I wouldn't really listen to insider industry. I'd always jump outside the industry. I'm like, you know, bookkeeping industry is so small and we only ever hear about certain types of software, so I don't want to use the ones that everyone recommends in the industry, I want to use my own, the ones that I researched on my own. I want to kind of come up with my own ecosystem of software add-ons and everything.

So yeah, basically that was my journey. And what's happened is, I've gone and done a complete loop and I've come back to some of the original software that I was looking at right at the start. And I thought, “Wow, like if I had have actually purchased this more expensive software at the start, instead of trying to kind of perfect everything, I probably would have saved like thousands…. Actually let's be truthful, tens of thousands or more of dollars trying to, you know, yeah that I wasted trying to sort of figure it out.” So anyway, lesson learned. Thankfully a valuable lesson and the good thing about it is a lot of the bad expensive lessons that I've learned with trying to get this perfect workflow system, has meant that I've been able to actually… you know, once I figure it out… I'm able to share it with you guys.

I share things with the Savvy community once I've gone through all of the trial and errors and maybe I've tried 10 different ones and all that kind of thing, so.

Not everything has to be perfectly automated

Yeah, so that's been good, but it's been, you know, it's been good to kind of realise that not everything has to be perfectly automated. I think that it's easy to get addicted to automation and things like that. But the thing is I kind of reached a point where I'm like I don't even like automation anymore. I'm just going to go back to like sending manual emails and things like that. And so I've gone through and I've been setting up a whole bunch of different email templates and things like that, so that I can kind of manually email people, especially when I'm talking about the marketing side of things as well.

Everybody knows when they're getting an automated email, marketing email, and it's really impersonal and so, you know, I find that people respond a lot better if I do regular normal emails as well, which is nice. So just kind of, I guess for me, the big lesson this month is stepping back a little bit from trying to automate everything perfectly and just go, “Okay like there's going to be some systems that are not perfectly set up in this seamless workflow, and that's actually okay.”

Notice when you're creating over-automated systems just to compensate for a certain staff member

And then, I guess the other thing that I realised as well is that a lot of the over-automation and over-analytical workflows that I was trying to create, some of it came as a result of having staff that weren't where I needed those staff to be.

It was a bit of hangover from previous to starting the bookkeeping business back up again, but I'd had an admin staff member who needed to be micromanaged because she really wasn't at that level. I started to notice this, sometimes when I meet with my clients as well and I hear them talking about their workflow and their automation and everything, it sort of reminded me of this bit. When you have staff members on your team that really don't know how to be proactive and kind of… they don't really know how to do things, you will actually find yourself tending towards having to create more and more very detailed systems. Whereas if you have competent staff then your systems and your processes only kind of need to be outlines. They don't need to be micro step by step.

And I started to realise that a little while ago, and I have seen… you know, I speak to my clients and sometimes when they're talking about these very, very detailed systems that they're trying to create, I kind of would then say okay, we'll start to have a little bit of a look at their staff and the team that they're working with. Actually just maybe have a little bit of a peek at whether the overuse of systems is really to try and compensate for incompetent staff. Yeah, so I guess that's a question worth asking if you've found yourself in that situation. Maybe that's something that's going on there.

I mean look, team frustration. Like I've talked about software frustrations, but team frustrations like that's a big real reality as well. Obviously software can become very frustrating, and every software, you know, promises to be able to reduce staff time and things like that, but it doesn't always work out that way. And then, I mean, yeah, and then obviously the frustrations that you can have with your team members. I can't count how many bookkeepers that I've met with this year that's just talking about some of the difficulties in being able to build a team. You know? Or they have great staff who leave too frequently, or you have staff that you have to micromanage and things like that. Like it can actually be really hard.

And then you know obviously once you get a great staff member you want to keep them. Obviously that doesn't always work out as well. Managing staff is an entirely different skill set to bookkeeping. It's like using the other side of your brain, basically. You know? Like having to be analytical and look at spreadsheets all day long and, you know, working. Accounting software is the other side of the brain to what it takes to actually coach or mentor people, and nurture team members, and get to know them, and spend time training them and everything like that. So you're engaging the other side of your brain.

So, I think, I mean I know for me as a bookkeeper for many years, I.. you know, like that one side of my brain was worked very, very hard and the other side was kind of quite weak. When I first started managing staff for the very first time, I just remember thinking like as soon as a staff member would talk to me, and I was trying to concentrate on something analytical, it just felt like my brain's going to explode. It's like, “Oh my gosh like why are you talking to me?” Like it's very frustrating to be able to switch from this kind of engrossed detail into having a conversation with somebody who's interrupting you.

I remember saying to my boss at the time, this was when I was working at the accounting firm, he said to me… he was the one that explained to me, he said, “Well it's the other side of the brain. Like the part of your brain that needs to converse with somebody, and show empathy and understanding towards them, it's actually it's the other side of the brain.” I have to think for a second which side of the brain that is, because I don't know about you, this is the weirdest thing. I've never met anyone else like this except for my stepbrother. So I don't know my left from my right.

Like spontaneously, I always mix the two up. I don't know why but my brain always sees left and right like the total opposite. And so the only other person who I've met who like has that so chronically like me is my stepbrother. I remember one day we were driving along, and I said to him, “Turn left,” and I mean to say turn right. He turned right because when I said left, he turned right because he mixes up his left and right as well, and so he actually turned the right direction. So he turned the corner and said, “Oh sorry, I think I turned the wrong way.” And I said, “No, no, that's the right way,” because we both mix up our left and right.

I don't know what it is, but it's like when it comes to saying what's left and what's right, my brain always swaps it around, so. That's a little bit of useless knowledge about me that you probably have never known before. I do not know my left from right. And my husband always says to me, “When you put your left hand up and you stick your thumb out, it will be an L shape, and it's L for left.” And I'm like, “Oh my gosh, like how do I know which hand to put up, at the time.” So when we're in the car and we're driving, I always have to say, “Go that way,” and point, and he has to do the same to me, so.

Anyway, yeah, it's interesting trying to navigate through life like that. So anyway, so we're using the two different sides of the brain. So I think it's, yes, it's the left side that's the analytical side, and the right hand side of the brain is the creative relational side of the brain. So yeah, just something to keep in mind when it comes to working with your team, and also even deciding if you're wanting to have a team, because you know, I think a lot of people when they start their bookkeeping business, they don't actually realise… yeah, actually it was funny. So in the Savvy Bookkeeper Facebook group, I was saying to people, like basically when we first started the group, we made a rule that you weren't allowed to post about bookkeeping in the group, you're only allowed to post about business.

Difference between business and bookkeeping

And it was really funny, like no one was ever posting anything in the group. When I started to ask people why, I started to realise that the bookkeepers in the group, like even really smart ones that I knew didn't know the difference between what was bookkeeping and what was business. And because they didn't know the difference, they just never posted anything in the group. So then after that, like then I had to actually start saying, like to discern like what's business stuff and what's actually bookkeeping stuff. So bookkeeping's obviously doing the client work, and business stuff is marketing and sales and onboarding clients and building a team and all that kind of thing.

So, I know it sounds really obvious but, I guess yeah, like because we're so much in bookkeeping mode and you go online in Facebook groups and to ask technical bookkeeping questions, and so you're kind of in that mindset. Every now and then you might ask a question about something business related, but there's not really that kind of distinction between when you're in business mode and when you're in bookkeeping mode. But I guess being a bookkeeper versus being a bookkeeping business owner, they're actually two different things.

And so back when I was a contractor, I used to tell everybody that I had my own business, because I was a contractor and I had some clients, but I didn't actually realise that a contractor is not a business owner. It's a type of business. I guess it's like a micro business or something like that, but it's not the same thing… it doesn't require the same skill as running an actual business where you've got a team. So I think in that case you would call… I mean, so you've got a practice. So a practice is really… like a practice can be you, so it's sort of like the business revolves around you. It's about you and your knowledge, whereas a business is where you have a team and you have systems and you're kind of leveraging off of the team, and the business doesn't center around you.

Working with millennials

So that's kind of a bit of a… I mean that's a distinction that I'd heard before, so. Yeah, so anyway, you know building your team can be really frustrating, but I guess it's just really persevering, and also understanding the culture now. You know a lot of workers that you're going to work with are going to be young, I'm going to say the M word, millennials. I know a lot of people who tend to, you know, put a negative connotation on millennials, but I have a secret to tell you. I am a millennial. You never would have guessed it because I am right on the border, like 1980… I was born in 1981, so now you know how old I am. So 1981, well actually 1980s, the borderline for cut-off date for millennials. I don't know what the younger end is, I can't actually remember.

But so William and I, my husband and I are borderline millennials, and so is Katherine, she's our client relationship manager and working at Savvy. So we're borderline millennials, and it's really cool being a borderline millennial because when you sit right, and for some of you you might be borderline onto other generations, so I think what is it? GenX? So millennials are GenY, then you've got your GenX, which is your kind of 1979 and earlier. And then prior to that you've got your baby boomers. I think that's the next one along. So in between baby boomers and GenX, you've got your borderline people there. So every generation has their borderline people. So basically, yeah, William and Katherine and I are borderline millennials. And so the cool thing about being a borderline millennial is that you're both a millennial and a GenX.

And the cool thing about that is you have a deep understanding of kind of both. You're sort of sitting in both worlds. And so it's been really cool to be able to embrace the new way, the younger way of doing things, and not being kind of stuck in the old school. So yeah, I guess as you move through the generations, you kind of have mixtures of the bordering generations. And so I think one of the really important things when it comes to team, because obviously Katherine and I are the same age and so is William. We're all like basically born in the same year, so we're right on that border. But we love the millennial lifestyle. We love the remote working, working from home, you know, we love the flexibility and we want to make a difference in the work that we do, and have purpose in our work. We love the flexibility, we love to be able to change up what we do, and that kind of thing.

But the rest of our team, like the rest of our… all the rest of our staff are young. Like they're all like proper millennials. They're millennials that don't have any snaking through gray hairs or anything like that. So they have all their hair, so. They're basically… yeah, so we've got, apart from the three of us, we've got a young team. So it's really about understanding the different generation of people who are coming through, and understanding how to relate to people that are not of the same generation as you, and to be able to kind of blend the two together.

That's why I love being on the border as well, because you've got your kind of more, you know, you've got your older generation of people who are more traditional and obviously they've gone the depth of knowledge and the long term of knowledge, but then you've got the young people who have got really fresh ways of doing things and different outlooks. And to be able to kind of blend the two together, like I think that, you know, the older generation's bringing the stability and the younger generation's bringing a lot of creativity. And it's not to say that you can't have it the other way around and everything, but it's really I think being able to understand people who are from a different generation too can actually help a lot when it comes to the team.

I'm not saying that everybody who's had bad experiences with staff has done something wrong. But there is always a tendency to blame the employees, whereas sometimes I think, I don't know, I've seen like various comments on Facebook, and heard various bookkeepers talking about their staff. And you know sometimes I think like the way that they talk about their staff, I just think, “I don't really blame them for leaving.” Do you know what I mean? Like, it has to work two ways. If you're not willing to kind of make it a two way street, and if you kind of… you know and especially with millennials, they really don ‘t like being bossed around. But they do like some structure, it's just got to be done in a particular tone. I guess with the respect to know that they can manage their own thing.

But you know also encouraging them, “Look if you don't know how to do something you're not in trouble, but actually come to me and I can help.” So yeah, so that's all good. So, yeah I think that's probably all we'll cover today. It's just, yeah, it's been a good month, but it's been also a challenging month with my brain just going, “No, I don't want to focus on all this automation anymore.” But it sort of feels like I'm still going to keep going because the business is not set up the way that I want it yet. So, yeah you know it's just one of those things, isn't it? You got to live in the tension between knowing that you're not where you want to be and keep making steps forward even when you have those days.

And trust me, like I have these days where I'm just like, “I don't know if I want to keep going. Like it's too hard.” Sometimes it feels too hard. And then you kind of wake up the next morning and you're like back at it. So anyway, I hope you've enjoyed today and I will see you again next week. Have a great weekend.