Bookkeepers are the beating hearts of businesses


18th March, 2022

Bookkeeper on tour: A timely reminder that we’re all human

Leanne Berry discusses the traits that make her profession so special while on the road with the ICB Australian Bookkeeper Summit.

Yesterday, when Amanda Linton got up on stage at Sydney’s Rosehill Racecourse, you’d be forgiven for thinking that her horse had just won the Golden Slipper Stakes.

“How good is it to see everyone in person?’ she asked the crowd. The response was an almighty roar of agreement.

In her role of CEO for the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB), Amanda, like me, is now three weeks into the Australian Bookkeeper Summit tour and I’m confident I can speak for us both in saying it’s reactions like that from our peers and colleagues that keep us going. You simply can’t get tired of the excitement and reciprocity that comes with a long-awaited reunion among kindred spirits.

But we’re not visiting every Australian capital city for the good vibes (that’s just the icing on the cake); we also have serious work to do in offering support to some of the hardest working, longest suffering professionals in the country.

Sharing a drink called loneliness

“Our annual membership surveys tell us that around 59 percent of our community are sole practitioners,” said Amanda. “That’s not quite as high as it used to be, but it’s still a significant amount.

“It has shifted in the last few years as more people band together to form multi-person practices, but it’s still a clear majority of the bookkeeping profession that are going it alone.”

The passion and depth of care that Amanda clearly has for solo bookkeepers stems from the fact that, like many of us, she has spent a significant portion of her own career as one. In fact, she represents something of the bookkeeper archetype: a woman that has spent decades consulting and advising small businesses not as a means to make money, but in an effort to support the people she cares about. It’s easy to forget that many of us got into the profession when, back in the Dark Ages, the introduction of GST and BAS made running a small business much more complicated for our friends and partners.

So as I looked around at the cheering crowd yesterday, I realised I was looking at what was overwhelmingly a group of people who’ve not only been deprived of quality time with friends and family for the best part of two years, but who had already chosen something of a lonely road in the first place. Rather than being commended for our work at the coalface of small business support during these times, the work of both accountants and bookkeepers instead goes largely unsung. But for that moment at Rosehill, none of it mattered one jot.

Stepping back in order to move ahead

As nurturing as bookkeepers tend to be, our passion for doing the right thing by our clients can often be our undoing, and Amanda’s presentation struck to the core of this matter: sometimes being a professional actually means we need to put our feelings aside in order to consider the big picture. When we don’t, we risk not only our client relationships, but also our personal ones. And, in fact, we risk degrading our physical and mental wellbeing, too.

“There’s a real risk in that our feelings for wanting to help people can lead us to overpromising and setting ourselves up for failure, which is the worst form of unprofessionalism.” Amen to that.

We as bookkeepers have huge hearts, so Amanda’s speech is a timely reminder to make sure we take the time to be tactical and refocus our goals around not only what we want to achieve, but what we can achieve. Tactics like dressing down when the situation calls for it (that power suit doesn’t need to come out of the closet at every opportunity!), learning how and when to say ‘no’ to clients, and even giving ourselves permission to take a break before we’re pushed to breaking – these are all things we should think of as secret weapons when it comes to running our businesses in a professional manner.

READ: Face-to-face reunions bring bookkeepers joy

Reaching out with open arms and open hearts

I know that Amanda won’t mind me saying this, because she’s very transparent about it herself, but her passion for helping support fellow bookkeepers stems from the simple fact that she’s been there, done that, and then gone back again. And again.

The verve that she applied in her own solo practice led her to becoming convinced she needed to grow it. So she did – all the way up to supporting about a dozen full-time employees. She was juggling accreditation, industry learning, business learning, social commitments and family commitments on top of it all, and I know for a fact that brought her close to the point of breaking.

Amanda, being the amazing soul that she is, turned it all around the moment she saw the writing on the wall. Speaking with her after the presentation yesterday, I know she wants every bookkeeper in the country to be spared that pain.

“I raised the topic of impostor syndrome during my talk and I’ve already had three women come up to me and thank me for simply raising the subject.

“I get it. The fear that we’re not meant to be offering guidance in what is traditionally seen as a male-dominated space – the world of business and finance – can be absolutely crippling for many women in bookkeeping.”

Just hours after Amanda gave her speech, Business Insider reported that female students of finance and economics consistently rate their skills lower than their male counterparts, even when their test results prove otherwise. It would seem this imposter syndrome could be ubiquitous across age groups. In this light, bookkeepers can be role models and exemplars for younger women who so desperately need us to be visible in order for them to succeed.

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On the other hand, with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours set to rise significantly, plus the biggest change since GST arriving in the form of STP Phase 2, and whatever natural or man-made disaster is lurking around the corner, bookkeepers have their work cut out for them now and well into the future. It’s for this reason that the work MYOB and ICB are doing to support this profession is absolutely critical. It’s also why we need more bookkeepers to join with us in reaching out to support our peers whenever and wherever possible.

After all, networking isn’t about generating ‘wins’ or learning how to get one up on the competition for bookkeepers, it’s about forging bonds between people. And I can’t think of a more deserving group to work with.

Next week, Leanne tells us she’ll be writing in on the topic of skills shortages, outsourcing and contracting for bookkeepers and other professionals.