Michael Palmer’s story with Pure Bookkeeping started when he was living in Australia. He met Peter Cook, a renowned business coach, who introduced him to Debbie Roberts, an expert bookkeeper and founder of Pure Bookkeeping. The amazing work that Debbie had done to grow her business, overcoming the barriers that hamper most small business owners when they can no longer do all of the work themselves, inspired Michael. He joined the organization to help it grow further. In 2013, Pure Bookkeeping launched in Canada, and it is now active in Australia and North America. I had a chance to sit down and speak with Michael about bookkeeping and running a successful business.
Q: Pure Bookkeeping has built a profitable international business in an industry that is undergoing a lot of changes. What is your secret sauce to success?
The secret sauce is simple, but hard to replicate. We operate under the ideology that every single task that needs to get done in the same way needs to be documented. If the task isn’t documented with the "how" and the "why", it won’t be completed in the intended way. For instance, if I were to ask you to get me a chair, it would seem like a simple ask. However, I have a very specific type of chair that I want. When the chair doesn’t work out, it’s not your fault that you got the wrong chair, it is my fault because I didn’t explain what I wanted specifically. Additionally, I can give explicit instructions on the chair that I want, but you also need to understand the why, because otherwise you will just think that I want a chair, and misunderstand or disregard my instructions.
Adult learners need the what and the why, otherwise they won’t follow the instructions, and it’s all a waste of time.
Q: It’s interesting that you bring up learning. One of the things that we see is that there is a resistance to change in our industry. How can people learn new ways and overcome this resistance?
People are busy, and they have a pre-defined view of the world that is nearly impenetrable. All of us are guilty of putting things in boxes in our heads and thinking that the way things are is pretty good. When you combine being busy with the belief that the way things are is pretty good, the result is a wall of resistance. The stronger the belief that the way things are currently done is pretty good, the stronger that wall will be. The learning process needs to actually interrupt people enough that they listen to the why. If we get to the point where people understand why this new process or tool is better, we can create an opportunity to show them a new way.
Q: You are an advocate for technology and efficiency at Pure Bookkeeping. How should businesses approach new technologies?
Technology is there to make our lives better. We live in a world where we are constantly under pressure to work faster, better... because if we don’t do it, the next business will. The problem is that a lot of the technology out there is not great. There’s a great concept in Michael Gerber’s book, which is “you want to work on your business, not in your business.” This is not a new concept, but the point is that you shouldn’t do things the way they have always been done. The people who will succeed are the ones who interrupt what is working (and this is not a natural thing to do) to go work on their business. They will look around and try to see what can be done better. Fortunately, there are technologies like Plooto that do help businesses improve their businesses.
I’m the type of person who wants to try new technologies, but I’m skeptical. I want to understand what it is, how it works, and how it integrates with my business within 15 minutes of using it. That’s what I would recommend for other businesses.
Q: What are some of the tips you have for businesses that want to get started with new processes or technologies but don’t know where to begin?
Michael Gerber recommends basically blowing up your business and starting over, but this isn’t really a solution for the time-starved. The concept is really powerful, however. Asking yourself, what if I could create a brand new business today - one that is built the best way? It helps you understand the areas of your business that are outdated or broken. Countries have had to do this – think of Japan, Germany – and they were able to become titans of industry because they could use the best systems and technologies available at that time.
The first thing to do is to document what you have now. Business comes down to about 10 different pillars – Marketing, Sales, Finance, etc. Draw them all on a whiteboard, document who is doing what and how it is leading to the end result of revenue. Evaluate how you can stop and work on one piece. There is no magical potion to make your business a more efficient company. You need to stop, think, document, and make decisions to transition and do things differently.
Q: What are your tips for small businesses so that they can have a successful relationship with their bookkeeper?
Find a bookkeeper that has a track record of driving success and growth for the business. How do you find this person? Find another business that is thriving, and they will refer you. Don’t ask what they are going to charge you. Bookkeepers are one of the most important pieces in the business. If businesses don’t have their books handled impeccably, their growth will be stymied.
What will your bookkeeper look like? They will be a powerful communicator; they will have a very specific way that they want to do things; they will be working with the best companies in the area; they will give you clear information that helps you understand how your business is going to perform on a regular basis. They are going to highlight areas that need to be improved. Bookkeepers do more than just reconcile your books. If you aren’t getting more from your bookkeeper, you aren’t getting the advantage of having someone mind your finances and help you make better business decisions.
Pure Bookkeeping is the brainchild of Debbie Roberts, a long-time bookkeeper based in Australia. Debbie had been a bookkeeper for 20 years, but she wanted the flexibility and freedom of being her own boss. She decided to start her own business and launched to great success, getting many clients right away. However, within 18 months she found that she was working more hours and making less money because she was cleaning up the messy records that other bookkeepers had left behind. She had trouble expanding and outsourcing work because she was unsure that she could find talent that upheld her high standards.
She then met Peter Cook, who helped her scale the business by documenting and creating systems around everything she did as a bookkeeper. With these standardized processes, Debbie and Peter were able to build a business of 12 bookkeepers.
*Michael Gerber is the author of several business skills training books and courses.
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