The business owner on the other end of the line still sounded shell shocked. His bookkeeper had just walked into his office to announce she was quitting. He was calling us for some emergency transition help.
Like many small businesses, this woman ran his whole back office operation. She managed cash, she paid the bills, she did the invoicing. She was there when they started the business at the kitchen table, and she was still there when they had 20 people and a shiny new office.
Granted, she wasn’t always fast, or always 100% accurate, and sometimes she and the owner had differing opinions– but he was completely blind-sided by this announcement– she had had enough.
Unfortunately, this happens more than we’d like.
I’ll generalize for a moment because in 90% of these situations, this bookkeeper is a woman. Whether it’s a family friend, a wife, a sister or daughter or– if you were lucky– someone trustworthy you hired when you were first starting out.
I call these the Wonder Women.
Why? Because despite having zero accounting background, zero QuickBooks experience and no mentors within the organization, they have somehow drawn on some internal super power of scrappiness and have managed to teach themselves enough to keep the company paying their bills and getting cash in the door.
Their hearts are good. They WANT to do a good job, and they try really, really hard. In all honesty, they deal with a lot of flak from everyone, they accommodate for their lack of knowledge with their own paper-based, manual, spreadsheet-type of workarounds. And they keep chugging along, doing the best they can with the skills they have.
But there comes a point where things start breaking down.
We’ve seen these Wonder Women managing the cash flow of $10MM companies in their head or on spiral assignment notepads. We’ve seen them working ’til the wee hours of the morning. We’ve seen them try to catch up with the list of ever-growing responsibilities that keeps getting thrown at them. They get stretched way too thin, and while they may complain, they are often dismissed. In reality the owners are so disconnected, they have no idea why their “simple” request isn’t so simple after all.
And eventually, as is bound to happen, something big falls through the cracks.
And, often being the one blamed for the ensuing chaos, the Wonder Woman lays down her superpower cuffs on her desk, stands up, says “Enough.”… and walks out the door.
Many, many businesses we work with have this one central person managing the finances for the business, and it is extremely risky. Many times she is the only one with banking access, an understanding of QuickBooks, and is the one who calls in payroll.
It’s a house of cards. And business owners know it deep down.
So what can you do?
- Download her brain. We’ve been working with a few clients to document the accounting processes of their organization, while simultaneously looking for ways to streamline the accounting operations. This knowledge transfer from the bookkeeper into our knowledgeable “hands” not only helps us, but provides a backup plan for the owner should something happen to his bookkeeper.
- For goodness sake, get her some training. Without exception, every one of these Wonder Women we have worked with was eager to learn. They want to know how to do things better. They want to improve themselves. Get her into a QuickBooks course, have us come in to mentor and coach her 1-1 or have your accountant do it. They are like sponges when you work with them– soaking up as much knowledge as they can.
- Get her off the island. The accounting department in most organizations acts as its own little island. No one knows exactly what they do all day–except they are always “so busy.” Segregate the duties of the accounting person, push down clerical work to less-skilled but competent employees and have her focus on more cash-generating activities like collections or sales administration. This way, should there be an unfortunate or sudden departure, the impact is minimized as much as possible.
- And, yes, you need to get her some support. Bookkeepers are not cheap CFOs. Don’t keep trying to pretend she can step up. She knows it and you do too. Build an infrastructure around her if she is valuable. Get her some support below and above. Upgrade her computer, get the latest software. Stop being cheap when it comes to your accounting department. (There. I said it.)
In summary, I have the deepest respect for these Wonder Women. They started out with the business when it was small (and manageable) and, with little in their arsenal, managed to handle the bookkeeping for an organization that has grown faster than their skills can keep up. I think it is important to acknowledge that fact.
So before you put another thing on your Wonder-Woman-bookkeeper’s desk, think about her skills and her abilities and make sure you shore up her resources before she lays down her superpower magic cuffs and says… “I’m leaving.”
Should you need help shoring up your Wonder Woman (or Superman) bookkeeping person, give us a call. We offer 1-1 coaching, workflow assessments, streamlining and automating your accounting processes through technology, and CFO and Controller support.