Rock Stars and Receipts: Bringing Bookkeeping to Creative Clients with Receipt Bank
Life has a funny way of bringing us back to where we belong. When I was younger and still living in Denmark, I served drinks on a charming little boat that was permanently moored in a Copenhagen Canal. With cabaret at night, I was constantly surrounded by different performers and creative people and oh how I loved being around so much talent.
These days, I still surround myself with creative people but in a much different capacity. As a bookkeeper, I’ve naturally gravitated back to creative souls. Working with them is invigorating and exciting. And, in some small way, I feel the work I do for them makes me part of their work.
A Boutique Bookkeeping Practice for Creative Clients
My foray into bookkeeping started when I was on maternity leave and found myself with time during the day as my newborn daughter slept. Bookkeeping interested me because I wanted to do something that was stable, would earn me a decent living and allow me control of my own time. As I looked at my daughter sleeping as I studied away, I knew whatever path I took should leave me plenty of time to spend with her.
I took advantage of the quiet time to complete my studies. I then went out and got as much experience as I possibly could. This landed me a full-time bookkeeping gig at a company that provides full service financial management for musicians. This was my first real taste of helping creatives deal with their finances.
For a while, I also worked for a speaker's agency, where I handled speaker payments and accounts receivable, as well as payroll. At the same time, I designed and published a website and started to build up a freelance clientele as a bookkeeper under the company name Counting Clouds.
Things took off from there. I started getting more and more recommendations from clients and accountants, so I opened up an office and hired a second bookkeeper to work with me, who’s still with me today.
Since then, we’ve grown the team and our business. I’ve hired a third full-time bookkeeper and a couple of part timers. We’ve expanded to service around 70 clients—musicians and other creative types. We do everything from quarterly business activity statements to weekly account keeping for small businesses.
Understanding the Creative Mindset
Part of our success is based on location, as our office is in an area of Melbourne that’s home to many small creative businesses. The last thing a lot of them want to do is spend time accounting and bookkeeping. They just don’t have the capacity or the interest.
In some ways, I’m a translator. Many creative people don’t speak the language of business. They can’t always express their sensibilities and difficulties to financial professionals. When they sit down with me, some of what I’m saying can go right over their heads. Their eyes may glaze over, and they might lose interest in my explanation.
Part of my job is to help them understand that they need to stay on top of their financial records. In the past I had to ask them to drop off boxes of invoices and receipts. Then I’d manually enter the data for every transaction and file every piece of paperwork myself.
I’ve even had to shake down some of my clients for receipts. If they provided me with three receipts, I’d have to ask them to find the other fifty they’d neglected to give me. Although it never actually came to this, at times it felt like I was driving around the neighborhood, popping into workshops and studios, ordering people to empty their wallets and pockets, while barking “I want to see all your receipts!” You don’t want to mess with me when it comes to record keeping.
With all these receipts comes manual data entry, which leads to a few problems. For starters, the process creates a lot of tedious work for me, and it generates unnecessary expenses for my clients. Then there’s the matter of records retention. Here in Australia, businesses have to keep financial records for five years. This much filing and archiving can put a strain on creative entrepreneurs who want to get on with the business of making, doing, and selling cool stuff.
Working with so many musicians—some of whom are fairly big recording artists—I’ve come to learn that they’re not the best at keeping receipts or tracking touring expenses. The quality of the information I was able to get under such circumstances hindered my ability to serve them well.
Breaking Down Barriers
I called my business Counting Clouds, not just because it’s whimsical but because everything we work with is cloud based and paperless. We use Xero to do bookkeeping, accounts receivable and payable, payroll, and BAS preparation for our customers. About a year and a half ago, I started looking at ways to streamline the data entry process. That’s when I discovered Receipt Bank.
Initially, I saw Receipt Bank as a way to cut down on my own data entry time, but then I started to introduce it to our customers and that’s when I started to see the real benefits. After we’d tried the software with a few clients, we rolled it out as part of the package that we offer to everyone. I thought they’d be skeptical, but when I started to tell them they would no longer have to keep all their receipts in a box—their ears perked up.
For my clients, Receipt Bank couldn’t be easier to use. Some of them have installed the app and use it to funnel data directly to us with the quick snap of a photo on their phone. Others upload all their information to a DropBox folder.
The ease of use makes Receipt Bank perfect for musicians who are on the road. Everyone has a smartphone nowadays, so the app is always at hand. I love to imagine one of my clients coming off stage after a gig with sweat dripping off of them, thumping down onto a chair backstage, then taking a few quick photos of receipts because they’ve got some free time. I don’t know if it’s as glamorous as I picture in my mind, but it’s definitely that easy.
However, Receipt Bank isn’t just for rock stars. If you work with a regular supplier who usually sends their invoices via email, you can teach them how to route their bills to your Receipt Bank email address which in turn, connects directly with their accounting software package.
Receipt Bank also works for online purchases. You know those “thank you” e-mails and order confirmations you get from places like Amazon and eBay? You can route them to your Receipt Bank e-mail address as well.
Building a Niche and Making Time
I couldn’t have grown my business this fast without Receipt Bank. It’s not just software to simplify the bookkeeping process at a reasonable cost, but also a valuable selling tool. I’ve had new clients come up to me and say, “I still have to send all my paperwork to my bookkeeper every month, but my friend has this thing on his phone. What’s that all about?” Talk about word of mouth!
Receipt Bank also saves me a lot of time—around five or six hours a week! This allows me to spend more time focusing on my clients. I can look at exciting new opportunities, like integrating their accounting software with their inventory systems and online stores. I can assist them with setting up systems that can help them grow their businesses and their revenues. I can help them have more control.
But that five or six hours a week also gives me more control over my personal life. I became a bookkeeper shortly after I had my daughter because I wanted to build a better life for us as a family. Growing a business that caters to creative types is not my only measure of success. Having more time with my daughter is another personal victory. You can’t put a price on that.