Gearing Up
11 min read

Hiring for a remote accounting and bookkeeping firm

By Leigh Doyle

When Nancy McClelland parted ways with a full-time employee, she took a moment to re-think the structure of her firm. 

“It really started the gears turning in my head about how to hire an accounting and bookkeeping staff so you love working with your team,” says the owner of The Dancing Accountant in this episode of Gearing Up.

Hiring for a 100% remote accounting and bookkeeping firm

As Nancy’s firm grew, she realized that building her accounting firm in a traditional way was re-creating working conditions she and her staff didn’t love. She explains the a-ha moment that transformed the structure of her firm and why other firm owners need to get really clear about how their work is meaningful for employees. 💡

Watch the full episode now to learn: 

  • 💃 Why Nancy is known as The Dancing Accountant 

  • ❤️ Nancy’s favorite tool in her tech stack 

  • 🧑‍💻 Three things employees want from work

  • 🧩 The non-traditional structure of Nancy’s team 

Be sure to check out Nancy’s award-winning blog on TheDancingAccountant.com.

Gearing Up is dedicated to amplifying the creative and smart ways accountants and bookkeepers overcome the day-to-day challenges of running a successful firm.

If you’d like to share your knowledge on an upcoming episode of Gearing Up, submit your challenge + solution using the form.

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 bookkeepers about what tools and strategies they use to thrive.

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Gearing Up episode transcript:

Blake: Hello, Blake Oliver here. And this is Gearing Up, a series by Relay. Relay is business banking designed for accountants and their clients. Just like me, they're obsessed with making firms more effective and efficient. So in each episode, I talked to real accountants and bookkeepers about one challenge they faced in their firm and how to solve it. Today, we have Nancy McClelland of the Dancing Accountant on the show. Thank you for joining Nancy. Are we gonna get to see any of your dance moves today?

Nancy: Not today Blake, I'm so sorry. I hope that's not a huge disappointment but I'm very glad to be here regardless.

Blake: And I am glad to see you there and it looks like you are in just a lovely place right now. Where are you located?

Nancy: We are in Merida, Mexico, which is in the Yucatan peninsula. It's pretty much straight south of Peoria, Illinois.

Blake: And how did you get there? Is that your normal location? Is this a pandemic related thing?

Nancy: Every year we spend the worst of tax season somewhere sunny in Mexico, because when I'm working that many hours, it's just nice to be working that many hours and have the sun shining on you. And so we were actually here in Merida when the pandemic hit. We came with two carry-on bags planned to stay for two and a half weeks and ended up not coming home for 16 months. So, now we live here four months out of the year.

Blake: The Dancing Accountant. What is the reason for that name for your firm? Where does that come from?

Nancy: So I was dressed up for an event that was, at actually a pro bono client of mine, Unity Park in the neighborhood. And we were, it was an event where we were like teaching little kids dance moves. And I walked up in full costume, mini skirt, tall boots, all of that. And I saw not one but two clients that were hanging out, picnicking with their kids. And one of them said, "Hey, kids, look, it's the dancing accountant." And I was like done, renaming. There it is. I wanted something that would reflect me and it would reflect the fact that I'm a fun, colorful person. And I wanna have personal relationships with my clients. And so it kind of keeps the folks away that I'm probably not so interested in working with.

Blake: My second question is, you said we, is that your team, is that your family? Who is the dancing accountant?

Nancy: We, the Dancing Accountant is bigger than that. There are nine of us, my husband and myself. I'm the only full-time person now which we'll talk about a little bit more later. And then I have an amazing team of folks that I work with all over the country.

Blake: So Nancy, tell me about your technology stack. What kind of tech are you using at the Dancing Accountant?

Nancy: Well, our tech stack definitely reflects the remote nature of our firm. We're a hundred percent remote. So we use Dropbox Business Advance for a file server and secure document transfers which I love, it works great for us. We use Zoom for meetings. We've actually been using Zoom for years but only amongst ourselves. And I was honestly sure that clients would never, ever get on board with remote meetings until the pandemic hit. Of course, at which point they all realized that even if I'm in Mexico, in a sense I'm like closer and more accessible than ever before. We use Airtable for our database and we use ATX and then for clients, we recommend QuickBooks Online for bookkeeping, Gusto for payroll and Guideline for retirement. We really love those solutions, partially because they have that like client dashboard concept where you can access all of your clients from one list, which is actually how I got involved with Relay in the first place, is that we're starting to transition clients to Relay as their banking solution so that we have a dashboard that's similar to those other programs for banking. And then, and this feels very important to me. I would say it's my favorite piece of our technology. If we're syncing Point of Sale data, we actually have, we have a lot of shops and restaurants. So for POS, we've actually been using Shogo for years. This year, we transitioned to Bookkeep for some of our clients. And both of those programs, you map the accounts in QuickBooks Online, and they post automatically as a daily journal entry summary. This was a game changer for us and our clients 'cause we have so many different Point of Sale systems.

Blake: I imagine that when you pick people to join your team, it's not just a, can you do the job kind of thing. There's gotta be more to it. And everyone's having trouble finding talent, retaining talent. Do you have any tips for us, advice for us on how you have built your team? How do you do it?

Nancy: I had a full-time employee who, it wasn't working out and I was trying to figure out how to replace her. And that really started the gears turning in my head about how to hire an accounting and bookkeeping staff so that you love working with your team. In accounting, there's so much education required. There's such long grueling hours. You add the pandemic and you've got people really reprioritizing. And so when growing your firm, you can follow the traditional path of hiring full-time employees based on this long list of standard requirements, they have to come into the office and sit in a cubicle and work just horrible hours especially during tax season or when you're getting 1099s out. You can do it that way, but you may find yourself building a firm that you don't necessarily love working in. And in my case, as I was saying, I had this amazing employee, she was highly efficient, capable, but she really alienated the rest of us. And when you have a small firm, like you can't have one person who doesn't like working with anybody else, it can't work. We have to be a team. We have to lean on each other. When the time came, I found myself thinking a lot about, how can I prevent that from happening again? And whether I could brainstorm some more creative ways to build and grow a firm that was more focused on personal relationship.

Blake: We wanna get along with our clients. We all know, I think anybody who's a decent rainmaker in this profession knows that the relationships with the clients are super important. But we tend to forget that the relationships with the staff and among the staff and the team, let's just call it the team is equally, if not more important, because even if somebody's really productive, if they make everybody else feel bad, then it's gonna limit the productivity of the whole team.

Nancy: Absolutely. And I mean, we have as a mission for our organization, it's to provide affordable bookkeeping, accounting and tax services to local business owners. But it's not just, and the reason that that's our mission is that it's an attempt to keep small businesses healthy and preserve the character of our communities. So that the chains don't come in, they don't take over. And so, like my clients, they all know each other, they all shop at each other's stores and eat at each other's restaurants. Like it's really neighborly, but we don't think about, at least I never had really thought about how essential that would be for my team, for my daily work.

Blake: Did you end up transitioning this full-time employee out?

Nancy: Yep.

Blake: How did you change up the way that you recruited the person that came in to replace them?

Nancy: I know we're all watching a lot of like, HR webinars and that kind of thing. Like how can you recruit a team? And I am gonna reiterate some of what you're hearing over and over and over, which is flexible schedules and remote work options. Those are the two perks most wanted by workers. But the part that you don't hear in all of those webinars is that meaningful work is the number one surveyed cultural quality that people are looking for. So yeah, people are reprioritizing but they're not just saying, "I want a job that has, where I'm gonna make more money or have better benefits."

I mean, that's part of it but they want a job where they have flexible schedules, remote work options, and meaningful work. Even though I may not be able to offer the highest pay grade or the biggest benefits package. Like I know I have other valuable perks we're a hundred percent remote, we offer flexible schedules. We offer remote work options and what is more meaningful to me than like making sure that our small businesses in our communities are staying healthy. Like they're the fabric of our communities. Their uniqueness is what makes our communities livable. And so that's pretty meaningful work.

And so I first had to get it in my head that I have something to offer that was really important but I also have a great network of colleagues in the bookkeeping world that I've been able to work with and mentor in various ways through a professional association I think you know Cindy Schroeder, right? She runs BookkeepingBuds.

Blake: Yeah.

Nancy: That group is just amazing. So like they were so helpful to me in this. So in talking through as a group, how to solve this or that problem or helping them with like CPA or firm level questions, that's one of the things that I bring to the group.

I got a sense of their like individual personalities and processes and kind of determined a few folks that I'd be excited to have on the team. And so rather than replace the full-time employee with another one, I went a totally non-traditional route. I came up with the idea of, I separated the levels of work and hired just a ton of part-time people. So now I have two part-time junior bookkeepers as employees. And those are for like regular recurring bookkeeping tasks and billing and entry level tax work. They're awesome. I love them, they both came through word of mouth, personal recommendations and they were specifically looking for part-time, remote, bookkeeping work. So people were like, "Oh, I know somebody who might be a good fit for you." And they both came through clients, word of mouth through clients.

And then I connected with other advanced level pro advisors from Buds who might have extra capacity. So these are people who already run their own bookkeeping firms. This is what they do for a living. And I reached out to them and was just like, even if it's just a few hours a week, and I decided to contract specific types of work out to them like QBO reviews, conversions, app integration, other special projects. And so they get to learn new apps and skills and tax knowledge, which they might not have, that they can then use in their own firms. So it's like the best on-the-job training that you can imagine because you already run your firm. And then I get their QBO expertise as well as the experience of hands-on client work because they already run their own firms.

Now I'm the only full-time employee. My husband's part-time. Got another CPA who's part-time and focuses on tax. She's been with me for a while, she's amazing. And her husband is actually one of my part-time bookkeeping contractors. So they're in Indiana. And then we have two part-time bookkeepers that are employees, one in Indiana and one in Iowa. And then I have these three part-time advanced bookkeeping contractors. One's in Montana, one's in North Carolina and one's in Pittsburgh. So we're really all over the place.

Blake: It seems very much to me like you are choosing to work with fellow partners in the business, as opposed to, I'm hiring you as an employee to do work for me.

Nancy: You know, I try not to use staff or employee or contractor words as much even though things are true. They are team members, we are on a team together helping each other. It's one thing to change the language.

We talk a lot about inclusive language these days, which is great. So it's one thing to change the language and have people's perspectives change along with it. It's another thing to simultaneously start from the opposite perspective and say, "Let's treat each other like team members." And then you're gonna be more inclined to use that language because I know that I can't get through a day without all of them, like, I need them. I'm not their boss in the way that they need me because they need a job. Like, no, I need them on my team so that we can fulfill our mission.

Blake: Well, Nancy, this has been wonderful and eye opening. If folks watching or listening would like to connect with you online, learn more about what you're up to. Where's the best place for them to do that?

Nancy: Well, I have one labor of love that I really want to share. And it's also the best place to find out more about me or connect with me. I write an award-winning blog, at thedancingaccountant.com. It's non-monetized. It's just a passion project where I share news and tips and resources for small business owners and their advisors.

So it's definitely a place where you could go if you're a small business owner, but also if you are a bookkeeper or a tax preparer, it's basically who I want to share these things with. Sometimes its tax, sometimes its bookkeeping, a ton of financial relief info over the past couple years, free webinars, YouTube clips, things like that. I actually started it for myself as a way to just organize my thoughts into a searchable format. And then I began using certain posts as a way to communicate with clients. And I was shocked to find one day that I had like thousands of readers. I was like, where do these people come from? How did you even find me.

Blake: Thank you. Thank you so much. I've learned so much from talking with you today. I hope we get to do it again sometime soon.

Nancy: Yeah, me too. This was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for inviting me to come in, to come out, to be here. It's been wonderful.

Blake: Thanks again, Nancy. We'll see you soon.

Nancy: Take care. Bye, bye.