Episode #005 Sharing Knowledge: the key to keeping the bookkeeping industry alive with Kathryn Barkla

Kathryn Barkla speaks to Amy about the challenges that bookkeepers who are not yet Registered BAS Agents have. And about the difficulties faced in getting clients, knowing what they are allowed to do, and finding a bookkeeping mentor.

The real message of this story is: “Sharing knowledge and helping others is what keeps our industry healthy and alive”.

Podcast info
Episode: #005

Series: General

Host: Amy Hooke

Guest speaker: Kathryn Barkla (Relationship Manager)

Topic: Sharing Knowledge: the key to keeping the bookkeeping industry alive with Kathryn Barkla

Read transcript

Amy: Hey thanks for joining me. I’m here today with Kathryn Barkla and you might have seen her around the Facebook group. She is our client relationship manager. Hey Kathryn.

Kathryn: Hey Amy.

Amy: How you going?

Kathryn: Good thank you.

Amy: That’s good.

Kathryn: Thanks for having me on.

Amy: No worries. Yeah, we just wanted to welcome you into the New Year, and we’ve got some exciting things coming up this year, and today we’re just going to have a little bit of a chat, just so that you can get to know Kathryn, and hear a little bit of her story and about her passion for the bookkeeping industry. She’s got some good stuff to talk about today. Kathryn, do you want to just give everybody just a little bit of your background in the world of bookkeeping?

Kathryn: I started bookkeeping a little bit by accident.

Amy:  Just fell into it.

Kathryn:    Well, it was one of those stories. I did kind of fall into it.

Amy:          Love it.

Kathryn: Previously I was an admin and communications manager, and then we were having a baby, and we lived in a small town, so I needed the flexibility to be able to obviously have a job, but also I needed someone to look after my son. I started doing some VA and online business management work, and found that the clients I was having, their bookkeeping was a mess.

Kathryn:  They had no idea what they were doing, there were no invoices being sent, so that’s how I fell into bookkeeping. I landed my Cert 4, and yeah, I started on that path. I’m still very new to bookkeeping, so I’ll be coming up to my second year this year, but I had been doing bookkeeping and financial controls and everything in my previous corporate world, so it’s not too far removed, but I did see an opening in that space.

Amy: That’s great. It’s actually, even just knowing the little amount of time that you’ve been in bookkeeping, you’ve evolved from being a virtual assistant into bookkeeping, but from having conversation with you, you know so much about the bookkeeping industry, and it’s not like you just know stuff, but you also have this real passion for bookkeepers and it’s very refreshing to see that. I guess it’s coming in with fresh eyes, isn’t it? To see the industry from a different perspective.

Kathryn: Yeah, I think there’s still a perspective out there that it’s really still old school. I think one of the really big things that I’m really passionate about is how we get new bookkeepers into the industry, and how we encourage them, and how we can foster them to become great bookkeepers. Because I think it’s a great industry and there’s so much to learn and there’s so much to know, that I think the space will expand a lot more into the future.

Amy: That’s great. Because you hear a lot of things going around at the moment about all the fearfulness about changes in technology and that kind of thing. I even heard someone say a couple of weeks ago that bookkeeping is dead. I think it’s just one of those things that I guess I always thought, “How can bookkeeping…” It’s not the world’s oldest profession, but it’s one of them, and bookkeeping has been around for I think it’s like 4000 years or something like that.

Amy: I’ve been studying the history of bookkeeping, and I think to myself, “Bookkeeping ain’t going anywhere”. But it is going through changes, and so.

Kathryn: Yeah, I think the change makes people fearful. I think what we need to remember is that change can sometimes be really good. It can be refreshing, how we do things can be completely different. It can be amazing to transform things, and one of the things I think with being a new bookkeeper is there is so much to know and to learn. I think we need to remember with new bookkeepers and people that have even been in the industry for a little while, we’re not going to know everything.

Kathryn: I think yeah, I think the way social media’s working and communities are working, there’s a real space to encourage people to work together.

Amy: Yeah, that’s right. You were saying when we were chatting just before the podcast about when a new bookkeeper comes into the industry, someone who’s studying and they’re potentially looking for someone to mentor them in their BAS agent skills… Do you want to say a little bit more about that? Even the struggle that you’ve had in that space as well.

Kathryn: Yeah, it’s been really tricky. I think being a new bookkeeper, you don’t know all the things that you need to do. You need to be making sure obviously that you’ve got your insurances and you need to be doing your hours, but how do you find someone who’s going to mentor you? How do you find a BAS agent that is willing to sign off on your hours and work with you? And you need to be able to find clients that are happy that you’re not ‘fully qualified’ and all those things, and you’re not going to up and ruin their business.

Kathryn: It’s tricky to find the balance because you don’t want to seem like you don’t know anything, but you also need to have some support, and I think that’s one thing we could do a lot better for people coming into the industry. The question is how do we access those people? How do we find the people? How do we know how much to charge per hour?

Amy:  Yeah, that’s right.

Kathryn: We can all say those really embarrassing questions about what we started our hourly rate on, because you don’t know what to charge.

Amy: Exactly. For fear of asking a silly question, I think I’m going to ask a silly question. But as a BAS agent, do you actually have to tell the client that you’re getting someone else to do the BAS? Is that part of the legal requirement?

Kathryn: Yes. With your letter of engagement, you need to specify who is mentoring you.

Amy:  Who’s supervising you?

Kathryn: Yeah, who’s supervising you, all of their BAS agent details, contact phone numbers, all those sorts of things. It’s a separate part of your letter of engagement. You need to obviously [crosstalk 00:06:43]-

Amy: You’ve already been presented as though somebody’s holding your hand, so I guess there’s nervousness of new bookkeepers being able to approach someone. Whereas-

Kathryn: Absolutely.

Amy: If the client’s engaged by the BAS agent, is there a requirement to disclose that the bookkeeper doing the work is not a BAS agent? I don’t think so.

Kathryn: [crosstalk 00:07:04].

Amy:  I don’t think so.

Kathryn: That could be an anomaly in the system, that could be [crosstalk 00:07:14]-

Amy: I love finding anomalies in the system.

Kathryn: …conversation for another day.

Amy: That’s all right.

Kathryn: Again as I was saying before, you have to have clients that are willing to be happy that some of their lodgement fees may be higher, because someone else is going to externally review everything that’s been done. It’s going to be lodging the BAS, and all those sorts of things, so you’ve got to find, as I’ve said, clients that are happy to do that.

Amy: Yeah, that’s right. It’s funny actually, because I guess me asking that stupid question, are BAS agents required to disclose a non-BAS agent doing the work if the hiring arrangements happened the other way around? Because if you’re a non-BAS agent going out there looking to I guess recruit a mentor who’s going to mentor you in that BAS agent role, versus if you’re a BAS agent and you have somebody working under you who’s still studying their skills, you don’t have to disclose that.

Amy: I think that brings us into the next question that I really, I guess both of us have on our mind, about why is there such a shortage of qualified bookkeepers and registered BAS agents that are willing to step into that mentorship role and put their hand up and say, “Hey, I’m available as a mentor?” Given that there’s so little places for the studying BAS agent to actually go and find that person.

Kathryn: Yeah. To be honest, it’s really restrictive. There’s only probably a couple in Victoria that are-

Amy: Where do people go? Where do they go if they want to find a bookkeeping mentor?

Kathryn: I’ve been through ICB, and I know, I believe ABN-

Amy: ABN.

Kathryn: … has a very similar-

Amy: They do, yep.

Kathryn: It would be nice to link and have a bit more mentorship within community of bookkeepers, and try and encourage… But I know it’s tricky, that everyone’s going to say, “Look, I’ve got my own business to run” and that is really true. Like, we’re trying to make money, we’re trying to service our clients and all these things, but for the industry to continue, we need to encourage new people. We need to somehow link in how you start your business, how you get on the path to being a BAS agent.

Amy: That’s right.

Kathryn: We need to think about that a bit earlier with people, so that they understand what they need to be doing. Because there’s always lots of questions about, “How can this person only charge this much?” This person might not know what they should be charging [crosstalk 00:10:05]-

Amy: Well, that’s right. When you’re first starting, how would you know?

Kathryn:              You might not know how long a bank reconciliation’s going to take you for a certain account, if it’s got so many transactions. So there’s intricacies that [crosstalk 00:10:19]-

Amy: It’s so true. I’ve been bookkeeping for 20 years before I started my business, and when I started my business, I didn’t know how to scope a job, because all of my work had been given to me. I never thought about how long things took. I just did it, and then got my pay and went home. Whereas, once you’re running your own business and you’re having to talk to clients and the clients are asking you how long something’s going to take, and then you say, “How long’s a piece of string?” I think really once you become an experienced bookkeeper you’re able to know how long that piece of string is. You start to be able to at least give a ballpark estimate, but it takes a long time to get there, in running your own business.

Amy: I think what you’re saying is really good, and I like it when new ideas get introduced that challenge my existing ideas, because I’ve gone through lots of different phases myself in business, so I remember when I first started, I hired a uni student to help me do some of the bookkeeping work, and he had no idea what he was doing. I didn’t have the time or the patience to develop this young man, and he wasn’t studying to be a BAS agent. He was a real newbie who had no clue, like no clue what he was doing.

Amy: That was really hard, and then I remember getting to this point of realising that when you’re running a business and you’re trying to start things up yourself, to hire someone who’s inexperienced is actually, it can actually work backwards for you. It’s not really going to necessarily turn out well so I’ve been really saying to people like, “Don’t hire newbies. Pay more money and get someone more highly experienced”. I love what Kathryn’s saying, because I think it’s really about the future of our industry, and so I think once you’re in the startup stage, it’s not necessarily going to be good for you to be working with either startup businesses or other startup bookkeepers on your team.

Amy: But once you move past that phase and you become an established business, I guess that’s something that we really need to start thinking about as an industry of bookkeepers, and people who are passionate about their business and the standard in the industry. I guess on one side, we can’t complain about the standards of the quality of bookkeeping work, but not be willing to pass on our knowledge-

Kathryn: That’s really true.

Amy: … to be able to teach the new people. ‘Cause sometimes I often wonder, I think, “What’s happening with our industry?” Are people even on the side of people coming into the industry, I don’t even know what the numbers are these days. Are a lot of people wanting to become bookkeepers? Are there a lot of people studying? I don’t even know about the growth of the industry, but I’d love to know.

Kathryn: I don’t know the numbers to be honest, but I don’t think it’s really high. To be honest, it’s not really a sexy industry. People aren’t going to go, “Oh, you’re a bookkeeper?”

Amy:  Yeah, that’s right.

Kathryn: But it may change, though, because I think there’s some funding changes this year. I think for Cert 4. I think there is-

Amy: Wow.

Kathryn: Well, it’s reduced course fees, or free course fees. I think that’s in the new space for the government. That was one of the things that was promised in the budget. It would be interesting to see if people take up that option-

Amy: Interesting.

Kathryn: … because it’s a free option.

Amy:  That’s right.

Kathryn: Or actually if they’re really interested in the industry itself. It would be interesting to compare the numbers that people would generally do it.

Amy: I definitely think so. I guess a lot of complaining goes on in our industry about bookkeeping going offshore, and sometimes I think to myself, “What are we doing about training up our new people?” And also encouraging new people who are entering into the industry to be realistic about expectations, because it’s very easy to hear, “Oh, you can be a bookkeeper and charge $60 to $80 an hour,” but as a new bookkeeper you’re not going to be charging those rates.

Amy:  I think it’s really about, I think even if we’re not in that role of specifically mentoring a BAS agent, we need to be starting to have that mentoring type of attitude, even if we’re not professional mentors, to actually be on the lookout for new people who are needing that support, and to see how we can actually give back. Because if anyone of us traces our career back to how we started as a bookkeeper, many of us will have stories about how bookkeeping really was, even like a bit of a lifeline for us, you know?

Amy: For example, new mums working at home, or some people that have disabilities, physical disabilities, that kind of thing. People who aren’t able to go out and work in a normal job, bookkeeping has opened up with all the technology, it’s opened up a whole new world for people that couldn’t potentially be in the workforce, to be in the workforce. Brand new mums give birth and come home and do a bit of bookkeeping.

Kathryn:  Yeah, that’s how it works.

Amy: You could never do that. People used to have take a year off or two years off, or 10 years off, and here we are, all these amazing women in this industry, able to actually make a life that they just couldn’t have. I think yeah, I’d like to have that kind of mentoring mindset, like on the lookout for how can I impart my knowledge instead of trying to hoard our knowledge?

Kathryn: I think that’s really important too.

Amy:  [crosstalk 00:16:08].

Kathryn: Even in workplaces, if you see or you’re working with someone who you think could be great at doing the next stage, you could encourage them by saying, “Do you want to try this? Do you want to look at something else down the path?” You could encourage them to do extra training, or to do a course or something like that. I think that’s really important as well. Even in workplaces compared to having your own business. Yeah, no I really think that’s a really important thing that we need to be on the lookout for.

Kathryn: Because we don’t, as you said, offshoring is a big thing, and if we want to make sure that we’re looking after our industry and we’re growing the industry, we need to make sure that we’re encouraging people who already work in the industry, and how we train them and all those sorts of things.

Amy: That’s right, that’s right. Because I mean, you can look at the demographics of the bookkeeping industry, so a lot of bookkeepers are in that 45 to 55 age bracket, like that’s probably the highest demographic and then you’ve got some on the other end and whatnot. In the world of business, coming into the age of being business owners, you’ve got the millennial population, so I know some people cringe when they hear that word, but actually Kathryn and I, we’re like these borderline millennials.

Amy: We’re sitting right on the edge, but we laughed the other day, because we both agreed that we’re millennials at heart. We love the technology, we love the millennial lifestyle of being able to work from where we want to, and being flexible, and working from home, and collaborating with online teams, and learning hundreds of different softwares in one week and all that sort of stuff. I think one thing we do need to recognise is that it used to be the baby boomers that were the huge mass of population, but the mass of population that’s coming through, they’re millennials.

Amy: We’re going to be inundated with millennial business owners and millennial bookkeepers, and lots of people of that generation, and I can tell you what, these are smart, savvy people, and they know, so I think sometimes we worry about companies that might be offshoring bookkeepers to these companies and that kind of thing. They might be recruiting bookkeepers overseas, and then reselling their time to local bookkeepers and then we feel like they’re undercutting the industry, but the thing that we don’t realise is how smart business owners are.

Amy: Business owners, any business owner, can jump on an online platform and find themselves an overseas bookkeeper without having to use a bookkeeper as a middle person, or an offshoring company as a middle person. People know these days where to find their own team members, and so from the millennial generation, you’ve got people that say, “I have no problem with working with an overseas person”. You’ve got this world of business owners that are coming through, they know how to use Xero, they know how to use software. Okay, we’ve seen lots of rescue jobs, like maybe 90%, so maybe they’re-

Kathryn:  [crosstalk 00:19:27].

Amy:  … not as good as they think, but you’ve got this generation of people, they’re so savvy. They know how to find stuff and they know how to find competitive rates for things, so we need to step outside of that old school bubble, and start to think, ‘All right, well what does the future of the bookkeeping industry look like given that so many things are changing and we do have these younger people coming through that have the need to be supported by the people who do have all the knowledge?’

Kathryn: ‘Cause entrepreneurs, it’s a big thing, and I know people either love or hate the word.

Amy: Everyone’s an entrepreneur.

Kathryn: Everyone’s an entrepreneur.

Amy:  Or a mumpreneur.

Kathryn: Yes.

Amy:  Don’t get me started.

Kathryn: Don’t get us started on that track. But everyone will know someone who’s dabbling in their own business. In that space, there are a lot of business owners who still need assistance. So, we really need to embrace new business. Sometimes it’s not bricks and mortar stores anymore. It’s not your traditional IT company. Even the way business is has changed a lot as well. I think how we bookkeep and how we interact with business owners will eventually change as well.

Amy:  Yeah. That’s right. Why do you think it is, like why do you think it is that BAS agents are resistant, if I want to say resistant, I don’t know if that’s what they are, but why do you think that there’s a lack? What do you think’s going on there?

Kathryn: I think there’s a couple of different things. I think there’s time factor. I think there may be a fear factor. I think that that’s probably a big one – that we might lose a client to someone. They might do something completely differently to how I do it. There can be a thought of how I do something is completely different to how someone else does something. Is that going to be the right way or the wrong way?

Kathryn:  I think we really just need to share with each other. I think we really need to encourage that, and I’ve probably gone over this lots of times already, just imparting the knowledge. I think one of our, I don’t know whether it should be a pillar or something along the lines of that, we should encourage the sharing-

Amy: I love it.

Kathryn: … of knowledge. Because otherwise the industry will die. If we don’t have new people coming into the industry who are passionate about it, then it’s not going to exist. Then, you will have the problem with offshoring. We really need to foster-

Amy:   It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it?

Kathryn: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:22:42]-

Amy: I guess to some people with the old, more traditional mindset, which don’t get me wrong, because I’m on the borderline of millennial, I see both sides and I see the value in tradition. I think it is important, and I definitely respect people that have a lot of knowledge in their professions. But at the same time, it’s actually counterintuitive, and by sharing, you actually prosper more. By being willing to actually give out that information, you’re actually building up goodwill-

Kathryn: And you can learn things from each other.

Amy: Yeah, that’s right. You learn from people. Anyone can learn from somebody who’s younger than them, or older than them, it doesn’t have to be about a generational thing.

Kathryn: No, it doesn’t have to be about age, either. It can be more about experience and all those sorts of things, but yeah, slightly controversial really, is that if we don’t start to impart the knowledge that we’ve got, it’s going to be really important to do those things.

Amy: That’s right. You mentioned a fear factor, so the fear of change, the fear of the technology that’s changing, obviously there’s the fear of losing income, there’s a fear of losing clients, a fear of losing…I think you mentioned earlier about also just the… What was it? Yeah, so fear factor, and then you said the time factor. Just say a bit more about that.

Kathryn: Everyone, we’re trying to fit so much more into our days.

Amy:  Isn’t that true?

Kathryn: You know what I mean?

Amy: We want everything yesterday.

Kathryn:[crosstalk 00:24:29], we’re trying to fit in client meetings, we’re trying to fit in actually doing the work that we’ve got for clients. We’re trying to grow our businesses, we’re trying to have a laugh, we’re trying to have work/life balance, we’re apparently supposed to go on holidays occasionally. We’re supposed to do our CPE hours, we’re supposed to do all of these things, see family occasionally, have a birthday.

Amy: [inaudible 00:24:54], cook food.

Kathryn: Yeah, and have some downtime and go to bed before 9:00 at night. It’s time. So, how do we balance focusing on our business, and then sharing and feeling not obliged, but encouraged to work with other people?

Amy:  That’s right.

Kathryn:   Whether we schedule that in, I don’t know, once a week or once a month, and say, “I’m going to work with a new bookkeeper who’s been referred to them” or something like that, so that it’s a goodwill gesture, you will get something out of it as well, because you might learn something that you don’t know. But you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re sharing and imparting even some of your business knowledge on how you run your business with someone, because as a newbie, again, you don’t know all the intricacies of how you run your business.

Kathryn: It’s not until you start doing things and it’s trial and error, and you start going down the path and going, “Oh, I think I’ll do it this way” and then you go, “Oh no, that’s really not going to work for me or for my clients”. Then you go down another rabbit hole and you go, “Okay, I’ll try that”. Again, it’s time, again, it’s how do we balance our life? Yep.

Amy: Yeah, exactly. Kathryn’s generously offered a bit later in the year, what we’re going to start doing is just offering some free planning sessions for anyone who’s interested. Kathryn’s got a great little tool that she uses where you can just sit down and get that high level overview of your quarter. Do you want to say just a little bit about that? Just ’cause I’m not explaining it well.

Kathryn: Yeah, so what I’ve been working on in my own business really, is breaking it down, so reviewing what you’ve done previously. So how great did I do last year? Or, how did I not do things so great last year? What were my social media numbers? The high level overview but then going down a little bit deeper. How did I feel about my year last year? Was I tired? Was I stressed? Did I not have enough work/life balance? Did I not make enough money?

Kathryn:  What is it about that year that was either great or not great? How do my numbers then turn into the clients that I want to work with? Am I working with the right clients? It’s about doing a review at the end of the year, and then doing a plan, and shutting off the previous year. Then you go, “Okay, that’s what I’ve done. How am I going to grow from that?” You know what I mean? So that we’re looking into the future a little bit, but also know that you need to be gentle with yourself if you don’t do the 50 things that you planned out for the year. You know what I mean? What affected me over the year that I didn’t do it?

Kathryn: And breaking it down I think too, is really important. You might have the 12-month you, but if you break it down into quarters, and even just checking each day, ’cause I think again, we get really busy that we don’t pay attention to things, until we get to the end of the year. And we go, “Oh, I planned to do that in February, and I didn’t even think about it for the rest of the year”.

Kathryn: There is a point to planning, so there’s no point in just doing the plan and feeling great about your plans, but then not using it.

Amy:  Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. Obviously we’re not going to sit here and talk to you guys about, you know, you should share and give back, but that’s actually something that we’d like to give back to the bookkeeping community, to be able to help you get some of your time back and if we can encourage you in any way, we definitely will. That’s something that we love to do, share our knowledge and encourage you. I think yeah, I mean, I don’t know about you, but to think about the words that Kathryn said, “If we don’t start sharing and looking out for others, then our industry will die”. To me, when she said that it was like, “Bam,” right in my heart.

Kathryn:   That was a little bit harsh. Wasn’t it, really? When you read that back.

Amy: Yeah, that’s right. So, I just think it is important and obviously some people will say, “Oh no, it’s not going to die” and some people might get completely freaked out. “Oh, my goodness, it’s going to die, it’s going to die”, but let’s go somewhere in the middle and take a realistic snapshot. I mean, there have been industries that no longer exist in Australia anymore. Like, industries do come and go, and I love the message that Kathryn’s got, and the heart that she’s got for new bookkeepers entering the industry.

Amy: If you’re a new bookkeeper and you’re listening to this, please jump in our Facebook group, The Savvy Bookkeeper, and just connect with us. We don’t mind if you want to post in the group and ask someone for a bookkeeping mentor. I don’t know what will come from that, but I also want to encourage you, if you’re a bookkeeper with an established business right now and you’ve been listening to this, I want you to have a think about how you can try and set aside a little bit of time.

Amy: I always say think of it like a donation. No one expects you to donate 100% of your income, or even 50%, but if you can put aside 10% of your income to give to a good cause, then that’s acceptable. It’s the same with your time. If you can put aside even 5 or 10% of your weekly time, or your quarterly time, to invest in the growth of a new person coming into industry, then what’s happening is you’re making the industry better for everybody else. I’m just really happy that Kathryn brought that topic up today, because it’s really got me thinking, but yeah.

Kathryn: Yeah, it’s been really good. Thanks Amy.

Amy: That’s good. Just to summarise, I think really the points that I took away from this is to share knowledge and encourage others, and the other thing is to open our eyes, and to have a look around us and see who’s out there. Who are the people asking questions on social media? Even made to feel stupid, or that kind of thing. Have a look around and see what we can do, and also thinking about the big picture, the big picture of our business, but also having a mindset of thinking about the big picture for our industry, and actually not just being in it for ourselves, but to be there for the good of the industry, and for everybody in it. Thank you for joining me today, Kathryn. It’s been lovely to talk to you.

Kathryn: It’s been really good. Thank you.

Amy: And you guys will hear a lot more from Kathryn in the year to come. If you have any questions, you can ask in The Savvy Bookkeeper Facebook group, and we will see you again next week. Thanks for joining.