When I started out in business, I did a lot of networking to attract bookkeeping customers. I even joined BNI (Business Networking International) which helped me explode my business, ahem, literally. BNI had many wonderful advantages and I really noticed a push from the collective to “grow” my business.
However, BNI’s definition of “grow” was to get more customers. Since I was new in business, I took my cues from the more experienced people, and my impression was that my business success was determined how by how many customers I had. As time went on, during the 15 min of freestyle networking prior to the meeting I felt like I had to share how well I was doing in business. I would share how many customers I had gotten from BNI and how many staff I had hired as a result of the growth. At my peak I had 5 part-time staff working for me.
I had studied The E-Myth Revisited and learned what it takes to build a business. I was new and easily influenced by outside forces, taking my cue again from more experienced business owners instead of my own internal guidance. I was so inspired by Michael Gerber’s vision that I was working on developing a business based on this book (create systems and hire staff).
But you know what? All that came crashing down about 9 months later. My business exploded (more accurately, my sanity exploded, and I had had enough stress!), and I ended up selling 85% of my customer list to another bookkeeping firm as the business I had built for myself was unsustainable.
For me, an unsustainable practice included:
Working with customers who were demanding, unappreciative and disorganized
Working with customers who were price sensitive
Doing work that was unsatisfying (sorting disorganized paperwork, constantly following up with customers who were missing paperwork)
Being unable to bill customers for work to date since I wasn’t able to complete it because they were slow to send me information.
Always being behind in my bills since my customers were slow to pay me once I did actually bill them.
Working evenings and weekends to support my staff and then get my own work done
Not taking any time off for fear of getting so far behind that I’d be unable to catch up once I returned, since I was already working so much
Having so many customers that I was always worried about missing deadlines even when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep
Giving up my social life since my business was sucking the life out of me
After that, I basically disappeared from the business world for almost two years, working in the shadows with what few bookkeeping customers I had kept. During those two years post-explosion, I spent a lot of time soul searching. Where did I go wrong? Clearly I love business and I enjoyed serving business owners and it was easy for me to attract customers so I had the right pieces in place, what happened?
My conclusion was that I didn’t start with my own “Why”.
Michael Gerber and The E-Myth Revisited does not start with Why. It starts with an assumption: “you had an idea to go into business and therefore this is what you need to do to be in business. You need to create systems and hire staff.”
BNI does not start with Why. BNI starts with an assumption: “you joined a networking group so that must mean you want to grow and our definition of “grow” means to get more customers.”
To start at the beginning then and ask the question “Why am I in business?” My answer is, I’m in business to create the life of my dreams. The purpose of my business is to serve my life. And the life I want is a life of flexibility and fulfilment.
We truly are in the best industry in the world. The possibilities as a bookkeeper are endless. We have the ultimate flexibility with location due to the internet and technology, and having the skills of an exceptional bookkeeper can result in excellent pay for our knowledge rather than how many hours we put in. We really can leverage our time and put in minimum hours for maximum pay.
A sustainable bookkeeping practice then, is about creating a business to serve your life. Whatever that looks like is completely up to you, not anyone else’s definition of what it should look like.
For me, a sustainable bookkeeping practice includes:
- Having quality of life including peace of mind
- Loving what I do every day
- Loving who I work with every day
- Being fulfilled in the service I provide
- Working with customers who truly value the service I provide
- Being challenged in a good way
- Having the opportunity to grow mentally by developing my skills, knowledge and expertise
- Having the opportunity to grow emotionally by developing my skills to have tough, uncomfortable conversations
- Earning the income I need to create the life I want
To build a sustainable bookkeeping practice, you need to start with Why. What is your “why” for being in business?