When most accountants and bookkeepers first start their accounting practices, one prevailing piece of advice is to pick an industry niche and develop specialized accounting services. This makes sense, after all, accounting niches are a tried and tested way to be competitive and grow your firm. However, trying to pick a niche can cause undo stress and an unclear marketing strategy if you don’t have enough accounting experience. This is the exact situation that Morgaine Trine found herself in just five years ago.
Our guest for this episode is Morgaine Trine of Honestly Bookkeeping, a bookkeeping firm helping small businesses stabilize, strengthen, and sustain their finances. Whether you’re looking for monthly bookkeeping services or a trusted bookkeeper to help clean up your books, Honestly Bookkeeping offers smart, long-term strategies to help business owners sustain their businesses.
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For those of you reading for the first time, Relay is a business banking and money management platform designed for accountants and their clients, and we’re obsessed with making firms more effective and efficient. Gearing Up, hosted by Blake Oliver, CPA, is dedicated to amplifying the creative and smart ways accountants and bookkeepers overcome the day-to-day challenges of running a successful firm.
In each episode, we ask a practicing accountant or bookkeeper about one challenge they faced in their firm and how to solve it. If you’d like to share your knowledge on an upcoming episode of Gearing Up, submit your challenge + solution using the form.
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WATCH: Gearing Up Episode #13 with Morgaine Trine
Bookkeeping firm spotlight: Honestly Bookkeeping
Founded by Morgaine Trine in 2017, Honestly Bookkeeping is a female-owned, completely virtual bookkeeping firm serving over 50 clients (though this number is a moving target). Honestly Bookkeeping provides a range of services, including basic bookkeeping work, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll processing, sales tax management, and advisory on how to set up efficient firm processes.
With a background in Ancient Mediterranean history, Morgaine has a love of travel and a deep fondness for history. After working at an investment firm for a number of years, and learning about wealth management and financial operations, she was inspired to start her own bookkeeping company.
Accounting and bookkeeping technology stack
Honestly Bookkeeping’s tech stack includes:
Xero as the accounting software of choice (more on this later)
Relay for business banking
Gusto for payroll
Veem for various contractor payments
Liscio for client communications
Loom for client and team communications
TaxJar for sales tax management
How do successful firms solve day-to-day challenges?
Find out in Gearing Up — our bi-weekly video series. Blake Oliver talks to practicing accountants and bookkeeper what tools and strategies they use to thrive.Subscribe
Challenge: How to determine your accounting niche
When Morgaine first started her bookkeeping firm, she enrolled in Ben Robinson’s Bookkeeper Business Launch in order to learn the basics of bookkeeping and start her own firm. Both within that course and within other business groups, there was a big push to niche down into a particular industry and offer specialized accounting services.
“And I was having a big struggle with that because I didn't come from a background where I had like, you know, 10 years as a vet tech and it would make sense to do a, you know, vet only bookkeeping firm,” said Morgaine. “So I just sort of picked a niche and that was online female entrepreneurs because, you know, I'm a woman and I'm online. It's a virtual firm, I thought, ‘okay, that'll be easy.’”
However, even after Morgaine had niched into an industry, she found that she didn’t really understand the challenges and the type of support the businesses in that space needed.
One of the advantages of niching as a firm is that you get a really in-depth understanding of that specific niche. With that, you can market more effectively to that niche and be more efficient in your operations. However, Morgaine initially struggled to find that industry niche, which resulted in ineffective marketing and not being able to develop her expertise in one particular area. The other challenge was, Morgaine did not want to just be a generalist because it felt like going against really best practices in terms of niching.
Solution: Niching by process and technology
Rather than niching by a specific industry like real estate, non profits, dentists, healthcare, or a specific service like auditing, advisory services, tax planning, tax services, or CFO services, Morgaine niched based on a certain type of customer or client. While it was a slow process to find her current niche, she has developed a business model that is ultimately based on process and technology.
Working with clients who were on Xero or willing to switch
One of the first things Morgaine did was: “I said, ‘Okay, I'm done with QuickBooks Online, not doing it. I'm going all in on Xero.’ And that was a really, really good first step for me because I absolutely love Xero, and the types of clients I was finding who were already on Xero, we were just really clicking.”
The more that Morgaine leaned into her knowledge of Xero, the more she realized the shared qualities between clients who were already on Xero and the clients that she was able to convert over to Xero.
The first quality was that they were all very process-driven, which fit perfectly with Morgaine and her team.
“And so that's sort of one of those qualities that I looked for in new clients is, you know, are you the type of person that enjoys processes and sort of the expectations that gets involved with being processed first,” says Morgaine.
Process driven and tech forward clients
How do you identify the clients that like process versus those that don't?
In order to determine this, Morgaine has a discovery call during her client onboarding process. This helps her gather the scope of what each project entails and dig deeper into the qualities and characteristics of a potential client. She has a set of questions that she asks during this call to get a sense of whether or not these clients are process-forward.
Another characteristic that Morgaine looks for in a potential client is if they have multiple businesses.
“And that's because if you have multiple businesses, you can't afford to like muck up the works. You know, like if you only have one business, sometimes you can get to the point where you're trying to hold on to control too much. And so people with multiple businesses I found tended to, again, be very process driven and like efficiencies.” says Morgaine.
Businesses looking for efficiencies
Another common characteristic that Morgaine saw in her clients was that businesses who liked things being efficient, really enjoyed processes and worked really well with her and the firm. And so sort of all of that together allowed Morgaine to realize that niching by process was how she really wanted to niche down.
“And so that really involves, you know, the tech stack that I mentioned before, all of those integrate really, really well. And so we know, like if it's an e-commerce client, here's the software we're gonna use to help manage the sales tax, the store platform, how all of that then integrates with Xero. We have all of that laid out," says Morgaine.
So if someone comes in as an e-commerce client, Honestly Bookeeping has a standard process of how they're going to work together with ecommerce businesses. When clients say, "Hey, you know, I don't really wanna make big changes," Morgaine and her team know that they may not be the right client for the firm.
Advantages of niche accounting
Besides the general benefits of niching like gaining an in-depth understanding of a particular set of clients and the ability to market your firm more effectively, Morgaine also found that niching by process brought her a lot more clients who are tech-forward. Not only is this a great fit for the virtual nature of the firm, but it also allows Morgaine and her team to work with clients who are creating really interesting custom solutions.
One of the things that Morgaine loves about Xero is their OpenAPI, and she has a number of clients who have created custom software that can integrate directly with Xero.
“One client has developed a custom EPR software, and so I'm able to really niche with that. And that specific client sells the EPR software as its own SaaS subscription, and I am right now the exclusive partner for implementing that on the accounting side of things,” says Morgaine.
“So that's been really awesome benefit of niching this way, and it also helps facilitate conversations about how best to make systems work. And so it has allowed clients to come to me to say, ‘Hey, I wanna do X, Y, and Z,’ and we're able to really create like a custom solution for them sort of as needed.”
One of the biggest problems with integrations is developers will build an integration, but they don't really think about the bookkeeping implications, and then reconciling the transactions is so much more manual than it has to be. While her clients bring the technical expertise to build the integration, Morgaine advises them on how to do it in a way that works with bookkeeping and accounting. One day, she hopes to have a developer in-house who could build these custom solutions for clients.
“I've gotten very direct with my feedback for certain integrations in terms of being, like this isn't working, here's why, here's how you need to change it. And I've been able to successfully get a couple of integrations to make those changes, which has been awesome, you know, 'cause it doesn't benefit just me and my clients but everyone who's using that service.”
How to connect with Honestly Bookkeeping
When asked about her goals for the future, Honestly Bookkeeping continues to grow and hone in on its specific niche.
Morgaine and her team are currently working on a three-minute podcast called Follow the Bookeeper, which is part soapbox, part behind the scenes, and part like industry knowledge to sort of allow business owners a peak behind the curtain of what goes into running a bookkeeping company.
Big thank you to Morgaine for joining us for this episode of Gearing Up. To connect with her and learn more about her accounting firm: