The Truth About Starting a Bookkeeping Business

I’ve been in business for myself for 14 years, and while most of it has been great, I’ve had my ups and downs just like other business owners. Like most entrepreneurs who started out, I felt I had a service I’d like to offer, so why can’t I start my own business?

I hear that the idea of starting your own business begins with a conversation around the dinner table, over a cup of coffee or lying on a beach – and it was no different for me. My thought was that I have a business background and experience in the corporate world for a number of years, so I should be good to go.

And go I did, jumping into the deep end with both feet and starting to doggy paddle like crazy.

Unlike many new businesses, the first couple of years were good. I had a few steady clients, could pay my bills, and was able to set my own hours to spend more time with my very young daughter. It was everything that that I thought it should be. About 4 years into this venture, I gained more clients and hired some subcontractors to handle the overflow – still thinking that I was doing well. Fast forward another 6 years and I now have an office space, overhead and full time staff, and now with the addition of some new service offerings, I’ve started to experience some dramatic growth. I thought to myself that I had really made it!

What I didn’t realize, until 12 years after I had started my business – yes, that isn’t a typo, it was 12 years – was that I hadn’t really started a business at all. What I had done was create a job for myself. I had a website, business address and a government-issued business number, so I must have had a business for the last 12 years.

However, in 2012, having reached a wall, I hired a business coach, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in the course of my business. One of the first things he showed me, was that all I had done was create a job for myself, not a business. He helped me to understand the difference. If I didn’t go into the office for a week my business would fall apart, wouldn’t it? I first said, not at all – I go on vacation and my business runs fine.

But does it really? I was connected to my business all the time via email, phone, text, and you name it; I was still working even when I was in another location or sitting on a beach. So, could it really run without me, if every decision was still being made by me? If I went away for a month, what would happen? I realized that it would fall apart, and I wouldn’t have a business OR a job when I returned. Something had to change.

The first thing I’m going to share with you – that took me 12 years to learn – was that you don’t have a real business until you have a “Commercial, Profitable, Self-sustaining Entity that Can Run Without You.” It is so fundamentally important; I’ll say it again. You have not created a business unless the business can run without you – you’ve only created a job for yourself.

If you sit back and think about it, it makes perfect sense. Ray Croft doesn’t need to be at every McDonald’s restaurant every day. Scott Cook of Intuit probably isn’t participating in every single meeting for each of his global offices. Steve Jobs didn’t handle every function in the Apple organization. He created an organization that could, and did, run without him. It continues to function, grow and succeed, long after he has gone. Can your business do that? Mine certainly couldn’t, and quite honestly, it still can’t, but I am closer than I have ever been to making that happen.

So, where do you begin? There are lots of things that need to be done, but the first important step is that you need systems. Systems and processes are at the core of every successful organization. They are key so that your most important asset, your team, knows exactly how you want the business to operate, whether you are there or somewhere else.

Every process needs to be documented, from the receptionist answering your phone, to the person packaging your product or delivering your service. Plus, if you ever want to sell your business at some future date, it must be something more than just you. Your ultimate goal, for you and your business, must be to make yourself replaceable – because, really, that is what you want. As tough as that may be for our egos, we want to make ourselves dispensable so that we can sit on a beach and look at the ocean while our business runs on smoothly.

I really wish someone had shared this with me when I started my business in 2000, so I’m hoping that by sharing it with you now, you will have a head-start on a journey to success.

At the very least, perhaps I will give you pause to think and re-evaluate your current organization. It does work. Prior to changing my thinking, every vacation I ever had was a maximum of one week, and I was connected to the office almost every day in one form or another. Last year, my husband and I took our first 2-week vacation and didn’t connect into the office even once! No phone calls, no emails and no texts. I’ll admit to being nervous when I walked back into the office after being away, but it all ran without me – and ran quite smoothly.

My goal for next year is continue enjoying my journey, and to become even more dispensable so that I can take a three week vacation. I wish you all much success.

About the Author

Juliet Aurora

Juliet Aurora

Juliet Aurora is the CEO of AIS Solutions, an award-winning bookkeeping firm based in Ontario, Canada. She strongly believes that small business is the backbone of the economy, and that by helping them succeed, she can have the greatest impact on the world around her. Her mission is to have AIS Solutions become the standard against which all other bookkeeping firms are measured.

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