In November of 2019 I shared this post with the Woodard Alliance online community forum. "This year I struggled. I struggled with time management, depression, stress. With the slight capacity I had, my focus went to my family as they had a hard year as well. There was a seizure, death of a close loved one, an autistic niece who needed help in school. I made a choice to be available to them, but my clients hit the back burner. I have kept up with the absolute necessary and even thought I was doing pretty good. Even taking on new clients. This morning, I am realizing that I am not delivering value because I don't have any capacity. (Thank you Joe Woodard for speaking on barriers to excellence). I am so far behind, I don't see a way out. I am good at what I do, but life kicked my rear."
The responses, support, and wisdom I received still astound me.
Now, just over a year later, I wanted to update with the changes that have taken place.
I again have had a tough year - as have a lot of people. I weathered the death of not one but two family members. I moved across the country, bought a house that needs work, and lived in an Airbnb while all my stuff is in storage (including my office - I've been using my "mobile office" which fits in a backpack). I lost my 2 biggest clients and a of couple smaller ones. In spite of all of this, I am not behind in my work and I am not stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed. I was even able to take a two-week vacation in January (with my mobile office in tow). I’m providing more value to fewer clients. AND MY INCOME IS ABOVE WHERE IT WAS A YEAR AGO!
Here’s how I went from burnt out and overwhelmed to being on top of my game and taking a vacation in January. I believe you can do this too!
First step: Get Caught Up.
- 1. Realize you are not alone. At some point, everyone gets beat up by life, falls behind, and feels there’s no way out.
- 2. Make a list of everything you have to do. Use Excel, Asana, Trello, a piece of paper, or whatever will work for you. Don’t worry about being fancy, just get it out of your head.
- 3. Organize your list. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to identify what is Urgent and Important. Organize from most important and urgent to least important and least urgent.
- 4. Delegate. Get whatever you can off your plate.
- 5. Protect your sanity. Don’t take any more “new” clients or projects. You don’t want to add anything to your list.
- 6. Stay in productive mode. Remove all distractions that you can. Check your email once at the beginning of the day and once an hour before the end of your day. Silence your phone and only check it at certain times. Log out of Facebook and Instagram during work hours. Say no to shiny new webinars. You know your big distractions and vices. Set boundaries and don’t allow these to own you.
- 7. Daily work. Finish your necessary client work and then move on to something on your list.
- 8. Eat, drink water, sleep, and take breaks. You have to take care of yourself. Most people wouldn’t list their mind and body as business assets, but they are the greatest tool you have. There was a Stanford study that showed productivity dropped significantly after working 55 hours in a week.
Second Step: Create Your Ideal Practice.
Once you are caught up, you need to take steps to avoid falling behind again. In the summer of 2020, I took the Ideal Bookkeeping Practice class offered through the Woodard Institute. Over these 10 weeks, I transformed my entire bookkeeping practice and set it on the road to being ideal. This is what has allowed me the freedom to take a vacation in January. I do not work for Woodard (nor have they paid me to say any of these things), but my life has been transformed along with my practice and I have to shout it from the rooftops. The following are the steps I worked through that I believe have set me up to not ever fall behind again. You can do this on your own, or you can enroll in the same course that helped me.
- 1. Find a community of other like-minded people in your field. People who want to grow and learn and who will offer accountability.
- 2. Define your vision, mission, and purpose (VMP). Joe Woodard says that your vision statement is “the intersection of your higher principle, who you are, and the change you want to see in the world.” Vision is why you do what you do. Mission is what you do. Purpose is how you do it. It takes a lot of work and time to clearly define your VMP, so don’t get caught on this too long. Just start thinking about why you are here on this earth.
- 3. Define your ideal client and your ideal services. In other words, choose a niche. The more specific you get, the easier it is to work through the rest of these steps and the more value you can provide to your clients. It is helpful here to look at your current client base. Go ahead and rate them from most favorite to least favorite. Why is that client your favorite? Why do you cringe when that client reaches out? Do the same with the services you provide. Which ones make you want to get out of bed in the morning? Which services do you dread?
- 4. Develop your tech stack. What technology do you already use? Are all your clients using it? Are there areas where you are doing something manually that could be automated using technology? How do you communicate with your clients? Is the technology you use secure, standardized, and have the features you need?
- 5. Standardize and document your processes. Start with an excel document or even a notepad and write out what you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. List if there are unique things you do for a single client (though sometimes necessary, keep these to a minimum as they are not standardized). I started using Asana to list out my client work. Each client is a project and inside each project I have repeating tasks assigned to me and due on a certain date. I have created templates for each of the services I provide that can easily be copied and pasted into a new client project.
- 6. Learn and implement higher level services. If all you offer is basic compliance bookkeeping, you will get swallowed up by low cost, mass bookkeeping services. Your income is set by big companies who can automate much of what you do and they are now your competitors. If offering advisory services is scary to you, look at it another way. You are probably already offering your clients advice or acting as a sounding board as they talk through their business finances. That is advisory. Now, start charging for it and develop that skill.
- 7. Move toward value pricing. There is a journey to value pricing and there are many articles and videos out there to help you. My first piece of advice is to charge for all services you are providing. We as bookkeepers often give away our time, knowledge, and abilities for free. Stop doing that. Be clear with your clients on what is in the scope of your agreement and when something goes outside that scope, charge for it. My second piece of advice is to get paid upfront for the work you do.
So, how did I get from there to here? I worked through these two steps that I outlined above. First, I got caught up. Second, I created the ideal practice for me. I’m still on the journey and I’m thankful for the community who allows vulnerability and encourages growth.
Keep growing. Keep learning.