In 2013, I won the Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for “Start-up of the year”. During my acceptance speech at the awards gala, I thanked a small handful of people who helped and mentored me along the way, and included among those people was my accountant, Allison Hawkins. Jules likes to bring this up from time to time and asked me to share my story with you of why I felt it was so important to express gratitude towards my accountant in front a banquet hall full of influential business-people, professionals, and politicians from Windsor-Essex County.
Let me back up a bit: Before joining the team at Hawkins & Co. Accounting, I was a self-employed business owner. When I became a new mother, I turned a hobby into a business plan and ended up opening a baby boutique that specialized in natural and eco-friendly products for babies and mothers.
Since I had no formal business experience (my university degree was in classical piano performance), I read books and went to every free workshop and seminar that was offered locally – which is how I met Jules, through his involvement with the Windsor-Essex Small Business Centre. He, in turn, introduced me to Allison, who was accepting new clients for monthly bookkeeping and financial reporting services (Hawkins & Co. Accounting did not yet exist!).
Some pieces of advice that I learned when first starting out really stuck with me:
- Make sure you have enough cash
- Know your numbers, and:
- Hire an accountant, even if you can’t afford it, because you can’t NOT afford it
Possessing only a basic understanding of budgeting from my personal life, and hearing that the mortality rate for new businesses was very high, I signed on to become a client of Allison’s. I knew nothing about financial reporting or how to record my expenses properly, and so that portion of my business had to be outsourced. When you’re working for yourself you need to either know how to do something, learn how to do something, or hire someone else who knows more than you to do it for you. Since I was working on a super tight budget, hiring an accountant was the only outsourcing I did. Everything else, between my husband and myself, we figured out how to do ourselves.
Every month Allison gave me financial reports that showed me how my business was performing. If I didn’t have her, there were months when sales were high that I would have assumed I was doing great but in fact was operating at a loss, and months where I would have felt defeated when in fact the reports showed that I was heading in the right direction. And over the long-term, I could start tracking trends (i.e. what was my average gross margin over the year – and can I do anything to improve it?), and plan for the future (how much inventory did I buy last year for the Christmas season, and how much cash or credit will I need to have available for this year if I’m expecting an x% increase in sales?).
I knew other small business owners who tossed all their receipts in a box, to be sorted through once a year in a painful exercise to prepare the dreaded tax return, and who had no idea how their business was actually performing throughout the year. But in my case, by hiring an accountant to do monthly financial reporting, I never had any nasty surprises and always had a realistic view of how my business was performing. I was also able to create budgets and forecasts because I had accurate information to work with. My accountant became a trusted advisor that
I could turn to when I had questions about my business, and there was the advantage of her view being totally unbiased since she wasn’t personally invested in the business and could provide a pragmatic viewpoint as someone from outside the business. In my case, because I had a very small team and no one on my team had a strong background in accounting, hiring an accountant was very important and added a large amount of value to my business.
The criteria for the business excellence award was broad, including things from how your business adds value to the community to demonstrate that your business is financially healthy and has a viable future. If I didn’t have an accountant, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even have made it beyond the nominations stage because I couldn’t have completed the part of the application form that related to demonstrating financial performance.
And so, when I was up on the stage accepting my award, I knew I wouldn’t have made it up there without the assistance of some very key people, and as you can see, my accountant played a very large part.
I didn’t know at the time that Allison and Jules would one day be my employers. But fast forward a few years later – it was time, for a variety of reasons, for me to close my beloved baby shop. I took some time off to be home with my kids and then went back to university for accounting, so that I could, in turn, help other small business owners, just like Allison helped me.
For those of our clients who we do monthly managed services for, I can relate to you as I was once in your shoes. I known what it’s like to start up a business from scratch, to work long hours on something you feel passionately about, scraping by to pay your employees minimum wage and sometimes paying yourself nothing, believing that “if you build it they will come”, and having faith that it will work out and be worth it in the end.
I no longer serve my community through helping new parents at the baby shop. But I still make an impact through helping our Hawkins & Co. clients. Check us out online: on our website, Facebook, or Twitter, if you need an accountant in your life!