Farming Out Your Finances: Fiscal Responsibility for Entrepreneurs – Two Sides of the Same Coin

An article co-written by two career Virtual Assistants, discussing the decision to outsource their invoicing and billing chores.Fiscal Responsibility for Entrepreneurs – Two Sides of the Same Coin

There are “word” people, and there are “number” people. I’m not a number person. I still remember my days in algebra, trig, and even calculus. I remember them with disdain. Yeah, I can do it, but I hate it. Basic bookkeeping? Shudder

And to add to my dilemma… I must know the particulars of my business and my finances at ALL times. I’m a detail nut. So the thought of turning my books over to someone else… well, I don’t THINK so!

But, I found myself dreading the first of the month – every month. I HATE asking people for money. I love my work, I adore my clients, I even enjoy my extended hours and my sometimes-crazed deadlines. But billing, invoicing, data entry, QuickBooks, and running reports? Ewwwww!

I finally decided that rather than being a crazy woman, I should at least consider the possibility of turning it over to someone else. But, was I really making enough money to turn it over? Could I afford it? And, more importantly, could I release that portion of my business to someone else?

So I watched myself, as I did EVERYTHING else first. Billing fell to the side. When I did it, it took all day, and I was in a foul mood, and I hated my life for those hours. I started figuring out how much money I could make during the same amount of time if I were writing and consulting with my clients on their marketing strategies. I could be doing what I love and what I do best… or I could do my accounting. I realized that it was crazy to wait another second. I hired a bookkeeper.

When I started seeing my own progress, and started feeling my own fiscal freedom, I chatted with Vice President of Membership, Christine Whitman, and urged her to do the same. I told her how liberating and, yes, even profitable I found this decision.

Since taking the “plunge”, we have both had outstanding results with our own bookkeepers. It has made such a difference, this business changing and quality of life enhancing decision, we felt compelled to share our stories with you.

Angela’s Story

I hired someone with excellent ethics, a broad perfectionist streak, and someone who ADORES crunching numbers. And, I learned to let go. I request formal reports monthly and get verbal updates on the phone once a week. Daphne gets copies of everything. She says she wants me to spend less here, and more there. She tells me how it will affect my taxes. She says… “In order to reach your goal of a freestanding office, we need to pull in X amount for the next six months.” She says, “I want you to open a savings account for the business.” At this point, I’m no longer a control freak. I just say, “Sure, consider it done.” Then I do it and I do it with a smile.

I pay her well and she works hard. I can’t imagine going back to doing this myself. I’d rather be flogged. Daphne even collected from three “deadbeat” clients, with professionalism and grace. I’ve only written off one “bad debt” since she took over earlier this year, and that was for under $100. That beats my own record and one of those successful collections paid Daphne’s fees for over two months! She keeps an eye on my timers and my work for each client, compared to their payment schedule. She has no difficulty saying… “This client owes you too much, you need to stop work here until they catch up.” She is efficient and pleasant with my clients, and I hear nothing but good feedback from her contacts with them. She’s a real bulldog, but so very PC. She gets the job done, and I have no worries.

I called her two weeks ago and said “I want to buy a new external hard drive, a thumb drive, some office supplies, new stationery, and a memory upgrade.” She said “Why do you need the drive, and how will it help your productivity?” I told her I needed one onsite, one offsite to protect client data, and that a local store had a special for an 80 gig for under $100, that the thumbdrive offered an onboard immediate backup of my timers and hot client projects, and that the upgrade would make multitasking easier. She said “Do it, you need the peace of mind, you work hard.” She then told me to price the stationery and gave me two locations locally to check that do great work and told me to get back with her before placing that order, once I have an estimate.

Last week she called to say, “We have enough in the account for you to begin the building, call the footer guy and have him come dig the footer and schedule him to pour the concrete. Let me know when you need to cut a check for lumber and supplies.”

So, at the end of this month… I’m taking off a week to build my own freestanding high-tech office in the edge of the trees here on my backwoods Kentucky farm. Maybe this isn’t a “traditional” vacation, but it’s my first one in years, and it keeps me smiling. Would I have done this without Daphne? Yes, eventually. Maybe. Or I might have put all my profit into things that buy me less peace of mind, and fewer long-term solutions to daily issues. I may have been facing another winter without an office I can leave at the end of my day and walk 500 feet to where I live. I may have been dreading the first of every month still, perhaps even hating my business and my work instead of loving every minute of it.

If there is something in your business that makes you crazy… hire someone! Life is short, you work hard. Enjoy everything you can, and hire out the rest. Now, I have to go admire the hole in the earth, freshly dug yesterday, that will be my office this time next month if all goes according to plan.

Christine’s Story

I was flummoxed. It seems as though money is coming in every other day; either checks or to PayPal. I always knew my practice maintained a healthy cash flow. Still, my bank balance never changed much at the end of each month. Where was all the money going?

I am so busy managing the business of my clients, I tend to ignore the needs of my own business. I was clear on one point; I did not have time to go looking for the cash leak. I, the VA, needed a VA. I found the perfect candidate, a bookkeeper by trade who happened to be local to my area and who came with outstanding references.

We had our first meeting face-to-face. My VA asked a very poignant question, “What do you hope to get out of your business?” I sampled several one-word answers before I settled on “Security.” We talked about how I define security and then we dove into my “books.” I didn’t actually have books; I had some receipts, credit card statements, and my bank statements. All those records disappeared into a black tote and headed out the door. First meeting over.

Two days later, I had “books” via email. Real P & L reports, real income and expense statements, charts, graphs, trend lines, my whole business history in one well managed, easy to access and easier to understand file. I also received a planning tool that required me to plan for income and expenses before each month started.

I was very excited and started using the planning tool right away. I had to call my VA when I di
scovered an expense category I wasn’t comfortable with; “Allowance.” My VA informed me that I had been flagrantly committing the sin of mixing business with personal funds. I was also informed that I did not need to plan for allowance, that number would calculate itself after I entered all of the other numbers.

Still a little concerned, I completed the Plan. My allowance for the month came out to be MINUS $320.00! I called my VA again, “Hey! My Plan shows a profit but my allowance is a negative number, what’s up with that?” I was firmly reminded that my goal was Security, that savings comes out before anything else, and that if I wanted a positive allowance, I had better increase billing or reduce expenses.

Needless to say, I went back through my Plan and diligently analyzed each expense and trimmed wherever I could until my allowance became an acceptable positive number. I have been working the Plan for a few months now. My VA and I telephone conference twice a month to discuss the Plan for the coming month and the results of the previous month. So far, I have beaten the Plan once and fallen a little short twice (guess where the shortfall was made up…Allowance!).

I no longer mix business and personal funds, I try to stay within my expenditure budget, and I am very diligent about keeping track of billable hours. My VA keeps all of my records, helps ensure adherence to the Plan, and takes care of all my billing. Together, and with very little effort on my part, we have turned my flourishing practice into a profitable business. I highly recommend that all VAs get a VA to manage their books. After all, we all know that hiring VAs makes good business sense

This article first appeared in the November 2003 issue of the IVAACast.