When I was asked to write this, I thought it would be a slam-dunk, easy article. I thought that the things I wish I’d known before starting my own business would come fast and furious; this piece would just write itself! The list would be much of the same stuff I talk about with clients that are just starting out.
Boy, was I wrong. The list didn’t start out about what I wished I had known before starting my own business, but instead, it started out with what I actually HAD known, and had prepared to handle:
- It would take a while to feel comfortable. I knew this before committing to my own business – I would be worried about where the next client was coming from until I had been working with the same five to 10 clients for at least a year. I planned the transition: working nights and weekends while still maintaining my full-time bookkeeping job. When the time came to make the decision to either turn down clients and projects or quit my job, I was ready. These days, I’m comfortable … but not too comfortable. I’ll still occasionally suffer that panic attack of, “Oh no, I haven’t had ONE lead come in this week!” And, then, I’m back to hustling to make sure we always have some in the pipeline.
- Setting goals.From the start, I kept just a simple spiral notebook to plan my five-year, one-year, quarterly and monthly goals, in relation to revenue, types of clients and what the plan was to achieve them. Fifteen years later, I still do the same thing … only that “notebook” is now on my iPad.
- It would be more than a 40-hour work week. Growing up the daughter of a small business owner, and having spent a good six months working nights/weekends to build a client base, I knew all too well that for the first few years, the hours would be crazy. I even distinctly remember having that conversation with my husband: it would be more long hours, but the upside would be that eventually I wouldn’t have to work 80+ hours and that I’d have more flexibility. This proved to be 100 percent true – these days, I have plenty of time to drop off/pick up kids from school, take an afternoon off to take the kids to the pool or meet my husband for lunch.
- Put away money for taxes.I have to thank my mom and dad for this one. From the time I got my first job, my mom always told me to take half my paycheck and put it into my savings account. Watching my dad run his business and save for taxes was also helpful. Some of the goals that I handwrite every year is setting aside more than needed for taxes, and a dollar amount that I want in the savings account by the end of the year. Any “unplanned” income gets put away as well.
- Not every prospect would be the perfect client. When I first started, I took on everything that came my way – no matter if I liked or disliked the client and/or project. It’s still something that I tell new ProAdvisors®: take on everything. I knew it would not only be the only way to figure out exactly what type of person I wanted to have as a client, but also what type of services I would offer and what sort of industries to learn more about. These days, my partner Shannon and I have it pretty much nailed down so that I can usually tell with just a few emails back and forth, or a short phone call, if a lead will be one that will work out. (I still screw this up sometimes and that’s okay with me – I learn another question to ask, or about a red flag I may not have noticed before.)
- Hire for personality, not just skills.I have to give a shout out to my dad for this one. I remember him telling me one day when I was in high school about a new “kid” he’d hired that really didn’t know his way around a job site, but my dad hired him anyway: “I can teach someone to drive a nail and brace a wall, but I can’t teach them personality.” I’ve hired three people in the 15 years that I’ve been in business, and the only one that was a mistake was the one I hired strictly for skills. My partner, Shannon, was hired in 2013 to help me with a couple of my accounts while I was in Australia teaching QuickBooks® Online (QBO) for Intuit®. At the time, she knew next to nothing about QBO, but within a year, I asked her if she wanted to be my partner.
As you can see, those are the things that I did know about, things I did plan for and things I still keep close to the surface even after all these years.
When I started thinking about what I wish I had known before I started my business, but didn’t, it turned out that, as always, the devil is in the details.
- Hiring is difficult. What I didn’t factor was how hard hiring can be. How do you know when to hire? How much do I pay someone? Where do you look? How do you screen applicants? When will I have time to train them? As we grow, I still struggle with all of these questions.
- Make sure my office gets a cell signal. What I didn’t even think about was whether I would have a cell signal where my desk is located in my house. As it turns out, my “office” (I use quotation marks because it’s really just a corner in our finished basement, not a true office with walls and a door) gets an abysmal signal; since I use my cell for work, I rely heavily on Wi-Fi while at my desk. I’ve also found that in warm weather, I tend to prefer to take calls outside and walk around pulling weeds.
- How hard it would be to stop working.I knew I would have to work long hours when I first started, but these days I don’t have to work nights and weekends. Working from home makes it hard to set boundaries. Since I have to drive my kids to/from school, swim lessons and marching band practice, I have sort of a weird work schedule. I create a to-do list each night for what I need/want to get done the next day, and most of the time, I can get all of it done before dinner. Sometimes, I’m guilty of seeing an email come in on my phone at 8 p.m. and think, “I can just take care of this now,” and then grab my laptop. Emails from clients that late almost NEVER need to be dealt with then, but my thinking is that it’s easy to grab my laptop that’s just sitting right here on the coffee table and take care of it.
- It’s okay to spend “big” money … on the right tools.This was a recent lesson and it’s still a tough one for me. In 2016, I purchased a 27” iMac for my office. It had been a “reward” for hitting revenue goals I set in 2015. In 2017, it started shutting off randomly for no reason. I took it in to get fixed, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal to work from one of the older, smaller MacBook Air laptops. It wouldn’t have been, but I realized that I REALLY needed a large screen to do webinars for Intuit. Hooking up the aging 11” Air to my 27” monitor, and trying to present, was too taxing on the little laptop. I had NO idea when the iMac was going to get fixed (or if it even could be) and was lamenting to my friend Richard Roppa about it. He put it all into perspective for me: “Just BUY A NEW ONE. Spend the $2,800. This is a tool that you absolutely need to run your business, and it’s only a fraction of your gross revenue.”
- How easy it is to get distracted. Laundry, Law & Order, tending to my Cat Cafe, texting my sister, interacting with my Facebook group, or sending pics of our cats to my husband and daughter during the day. There are a million things that can be a distraction to me while I work – regardless of where I work! I find the obvious is true: I’m more focused if I’m sitting at my desk working, and not in my living room or out on my deck. For this reason, I tend to really only work in those locations on things that don’t need 100 percent of my brain power: managing emails, working on social media and my own books (you fellow bookkeepers know what I’m talking about!).
- Busy doesn’t = productive. I think this is something that really only sunk in over the last five years or so, and I didn’t realize that I had learned it until I read this article by Larry Kim. I’m not a good multitasker, and even the way Shannon and I track our client workload reflects this: we track by task, not by client. We have a Google sheet with tabs for each task, such as managing bank feeds, payroll and bank recs, rather than by client. It’s easier for me to make my brain do all the same sort of work for each client than it is to move on to the next type of work. I also learned to say no: to leads with inventory and e-commerce, to the high school acquaintance starting a business that wants me to do her books, to checking my email every 10 minutes. When I’m making a to-do list and there’s something that takes less than five minutes, I don’t put in on the list. I just get it done or delegate it to Shannon, our admin, or the Fin app.
I’m so glad Intuit asked me to write this article. I don’t think I ever gave myself much credit for knowing the things I did before I started my own business, and I certainly wouldn’t have recognized the things I didn’t! I hope some of them help you in your journey to starting your own business.