Today, I want to talk about self-awareness and why it’s such an important topic when you’re running a bookkeeping business. Your level of self-awareness can either hold you back or propel you forward in business, especially when it comes to hiring, managing your team, and your business relationships in general. As a manager, business owner, and mentor to other bookkeepers, I’ve noticed that our ability to grow and succeed is often directly related to how self-aware we are. Allow me to explain…
What happens when you start to build a team
In the beginning, when we’re running a small business, we do everything ourselves. The bookkeeping work, customer service, sales, marketing, IT, admin… everything. But if we do a great job of wearing all these hats, two things happen:
- We get lots of new clients
- We get really busy and need to outsource some of the jobs
That’s when most of us start to build a team. Usually, we juggle junior staff and contractors to find the right fit, offload some of our work, and manage everyone ourselves. To most bookkeepers, that probably sounds like a dream. And sometimes, it can actually go really, really well. Isn’t that what we’re meant to be aiming for? Reality check! Worst case scenario, it fails epically, we give up and go back to doing everything ourselves. And I see that happen a LOT.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
Best case scenario, it all seems to work, BUT we get in this little bubble and start to actually believe our own publicity – that we are the best, and there’s nobody else out there that can do things better than us. And that’s a HUGE mistake. The problem with hiring juniors I’ll be honest. In my own business, I really struggled with this. I didn’t have a lot of budget to work with or the flexibility and freedom to be able to afford people with plenty of experience. The ones I could afford couldn’t work to the level of quality that I wanted to provide for my clients. Maybe you can relate? When you’re a small business owner who wants to build a team or scale up, you’re constantly on the lookout for people you can pay less per hour than what you would pay yourself. (Side note: do you even know how much you should be paying yourself? Probably not. I’ll write more on that in another post.) We do the math in our heads: “Well I earn X amount and I charge X amount, so I need to hire someone who charges X amount less.” And it sounds logical, doesn’t it? But hiring inexpensive juniors, staff, and contractors can cause three big problems:
- Frustration in our business. It really limits our choices to people who are less experienced and who just can’t meet our standards.
- A false sense of security in our own abilities. Since there’s no one to challenge our belief that we’re the best at what we do, we keep on believing it.
- Juniors need a lot of time invested in their training. Because most bookkeepers wait until they are completely full-up before starting the hiring process, they have no time to train the person. In the end, it costs you more time than if you did it all yourself.
Reality check: if you’re paying a low, minimum wage or somewhere just above minimum wage to a staff member, then don’t expect them to do as good a job as you – and certainly not better. That wouldn’t make sense!
But everybody’s doing it!
So, if hiring juniors is so problematic… why does everyone do it? Honestly? I think because it’s standard practice. No one ever questions it (until now, I guess!). We automatically assume that running a business and managing people means finding people who are less experienced than us. And it’s not just bookkeepers or business owners who do it. It’s common practice in every business, in every industry, at every level. Just about everybody does it. But is it really the savvy way to scale and grow your business? Is it really better to find people who are less smart than you and hire them to do the jobs that you don’t want to do? Like the admin jobs, or the jobs that are getting in the way of you being able to do the “real” work? Sometimes, just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for your business. A little side note… how do junior bookkeepers get experience, then? Just like I say to start-up bookkeepers “don’t take on start-up businesses…they don’t have money and neither do you.”… I say the same with staff. We think we should hire the less experienced person first and later get a more experienced person when we can afford it. But that’s not the best way to operate. The right time to give a junior bookkeeper experience is when YOU are an experienced employer who can dedicate the time to training and afford all the time and patience that takes. So junior bookkeepers can learn from you and in your business… but only when you’re at the right phase.
Smart people hire smarter people
I want to introduce you to a new way of thinking. A new strategy to hiring and growing your business. I’ll sum it up in three words: Hire smarter people. I’ve never heard anybody else say they use this strategy in their bookkeeping business. But I did it, and it works. I hired people who worked above and beyond my capabilities and let them add value to my business. I’m not just talking about hiring someone to help with your marketing or your sales. I’m talking about the bookkeeping side of things too. Instead of hiring a junior bookkeeper, get someone who’s way better at bookkeeping than you. And yep, I can see you cringing right now. The reason you’re cringing is because you are in the bubble and you think that you’re the only one who can do great bookkeeping. But trust me, these talented bookkeepers DO exist, and if you’ve struggled to find them in the past, you’ve been looking in the wrong places. I’ll give you a hint: they’re the ones who charge the high hourly rates. Some of them even charge more per hour than you. Hiring a good bookkeeper to work in your business might be more expensive, but it’s also way more effective. They’re smart. They’ll do the job faster and more thoroughly than you. Imagine what that could do for your business!
“Don’t be threatened by people smarter than you” – Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks
Outsource the hard stuff
The thing about outsourcing is, it’s not just for handing off the easy stuff, the basic tasks, and the stuff you don’t enjoy (although it’s great for that too!). I’m willing to bet you spend a lot of time trying to do things that are far too hard for you, because they’re not in your zone of genius. For example, here are a few things I’ve recently outsourced to contractors or team members:
- IT – I’m not that great at it, I don’t enjoy it. Actually, if I’m honest… I hate it. It takes up too much of my time and hurts my brain-cells.
- Sales calls – I love making sales, but I don’t really enjoy getting on the phone to a total stranger. My client relationship assistant loves calling people to introduce them to my services, and then when I jump on the phone, it’s not so hard. Another way I “outsource” my sales is to get to know people online and build real relationships with them – with a little help (no…actually a lot of help) from my team.
- Admin – Definitely not my zone of genius, but I have some wonderful people on my team who excel at it.
- Marketing – While I’m pretty good at marketing (and I enjoy it), I’m certainly not as good as some. Having people around to help support me with marketing strategies and execution means I can get more done, more quickly, at a higher level.
- Automation – Oh my goodness, this one was the clincher! Because I actually thought I was great at this. Turns out that I’m actually quite crap at it. I called in an expert and she and her team had to do a “rescue” job on my CRM and email automation.
- Copywriting – I love writing! Except when I don’t. I’m a perfectionist and I tend to “edit as I write” which means that I really struggle to finish a blog post. So instead of forcing myself to do all the writing myself, I get some help. I plan each post, record my ideas as rough notes or audio, transcribe the audio, and then my copywriter tidies it up. I go through, approve stuff, and tweak everything so it’s all my own thoughts and wording before the post goes live.
- Branding – This is one area that I thought I was a genius in but it turns out my graphic designer can do a way better job.
It’s such a relief to accept that these people are actually smarter than me, they’re more capable, and they have more experience. And yes some of them might charge more per hour than what I do. Actually, some of them charge a lot more than me! But that’s okay. Because they tend to do the job a lot better and faster than me, and it frees me up to do the things that I’m really good at – things that help my business go in the direction I want it to go.
“Only do what only you can do.” – Unknown
Change starts with self-awareness
If you’re feeling super uncomfortable at the idea of outsourcing (let alone getting people on your team who work at a higher level than you), that’s okay. It’s normal! I don’t expect you to suddenly jump on board with my strategy, even if you kind of agree with it. It’s a process. And it starts with self-awareness. What I mean by self-awareness is… you need to examine your thoughts and beliefs, the things you accept as truth, and see if they’re actually true or serving you properly. Let’s start with a common one: you’re an amazing bookkeeper and no one can’t do it as well as you. Reality check…
“The first step of change is to become aware of your own bull$h!t.” – A really smart, anonymous person
You might be a very good bookkeeper, but if you’re running a bookkeeping business, it doesn’t matter how good a bookkeeper you are. People run successful businesses all the time who have no clue about bookkeeping. Running a business and managing staff are different skills to bookkeeping. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best bookkeeper in the world if your staff are leaving, does it? When you’re self-aware, you start to realise that becoming successful is less about trying to prove that you’re the best bookkeeper in the world, and more about learning good business and management skills. You start to realise that there are people that are smarter than you who could be a real asset to your business. And that’s when you start being more strategic and outsourcing to people who will help your business grow.
Start practising more self-awareness with some hard questions
So, where do you begin? Well, don’t go out and hire a super expensive staff member or contractor right after reading this article… it’s a process, remember! Just start by working on yourself and practising some self-awareness. Ask yourself these questions and try to think about your answers:
- Do you believe there are people who are smarter than you and more capable than you?
- Do you feel threatened by people who are smarter than you?
- Are you willing to bring those types of people into your business?
- Are you willing to bring in people who might suggest better ways to do things in your business?
- If this is a bit of a struggle, why?
- Are these thoughts serving you or holding you back?
Over to you…
I honestly believe that if you start asking yourself these questions and practising more self-awareness, you’re going to start to have breakthroughs. And I’m very excited to hear about them! Want to share your thoughts about hiring?
What approach do you take? What’s worked? And what has not worked for you? Feel free to leave me a comment below!
P.S. I’ve put together a few resources to help you. A “stress test” you can take to see how stressed you are and how that could be affecting your work performance or putting you at risk of serious health issues. A business plan template to help you to do things in the right order. If you have any questions join The Savvy Bookkeeper Facebook Group.