Tim and Ruthy sit down with Kim White of Cherryland Accounting, in Traverse City, to talk about how safe online practices are important not just in your personal life but as a professional as well (including VPNs on vacation- stay off the hotel wifi, guys!) as well as how Kim connects to her customers on a personal level to be a better accountant.
Well, hello again, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the Terrapin Small Biz Connection we have a special guest this week, Kimberly White from Cherryland Accounting and Tax Services here in Traverse City. She’s a small accounting firm, small business accounting firm, has been doing this in our neck of the woods for a number of years. Hello, Kim, how are you?
Hi Tim, hi Ruthy.
So give us an idea Kim, about your practice, your accounting business. What kind of sectors you handle, or just a general flavor of how your outfit operates currently?
Sure. most of my clients are small local businesses and we do their accounting bookkeeping. We do a lot of payroll. And we do income taxes as well. That’s a seasonal thing with tax season. Tax client wise, we run the gamut of everything.
How, how did you get into this business, Kim?
Well I went to college here locally, and started down the computer industry. At NMC, they have you take business courses unless you’re going into the mathematical programming. And once I was in that class I started to realize, “Hmm. I kinda like this!” I’m good at it. I had taken a bookkeeping class in high school and enjoyed it. So I just decided to pick up more of that.
It worked out well. There are, maybe, 2 or 3 people who found me later- you know, a business that my dad worked for who hired me to do their accountaing, and some of their family. There are a lot of my customers from 30 years ago or so that I am still the accountant for today. So I’ve just grown it over the years.
Listeners probably know this, but Ruthy is my daughter. And I want to ask her, Ruth, does what Kim is describing here sound familiar? Starting small with some customers and then just building fout from there?
Absolutely. Yeah. You’re their person.
Yes. Part of the team. I feel that way with a lot of my clients and their businesses as well. I’m part of that team, that family.
So what’s your favorite thing about running your company?
I think the flexibility, although I have the same issue that a lot of people have with this, those of us who are self-employed. I mean the flexibility is why we’re self-employed, in large part, right? It’s helpful that, especially as a mother, with my daughter, even though she is 23 now it was nice when she was growing up and I would pause my work- I might not be able to just drop everything and go to her, but it was close- and I can go to her when she needed it.
And as a parent that’s huge, isn’t it? I mean, especially in the climate that we’re in at the moment,. I also work from home and I have been very, very lucky in order to build a life around my business as opposed to the other way around. That’s been a huge blessing for me. It means a lot when you’ve got kids.
I do have to say that even though I am self-employed, I am also probably a workaholic. My husband will look at me funny and say, “probably??”
But that flexibility is important, isn’t it? I’ve been asked this before, I might be off answering an email or something and someone will say to me, “Man, you’re always working” But to that I say, it’s the opposite actually. I’ve got more flexibility due to technology, because I can take care of something quickly or hand it off to a staff member. Whereas before, I used to sit in the office so I could make sure to catch that phone call. But it’s not as binding now, with the tech we have. That flexibility is one of the reasons we get into building small companies.
Also, since the advent of smartphones, I’ve seen it more flexibile. We went through this the other day, didn’t we, Tim? We were taking the grandkids for a hike and you had a customer email you had to stop and take care of for a while. And then we were able to just get on with our hike. So to have that level of flexibility, it’s a huge thing for self-employed people to have.
Yeah. I like to joke that I can push a payroll from my laptop in Florida on my friend’s balcony of her condo.
Well, and maybe even England, as I recall, when you were on your trip there.
Yeah! that would have been me, logging payroll from my laptop in London, yup.
We got a call from Kim who was saying, “Hey, I’m in London. I kind of need some help here.” We were able to get the VPN set up and she was able to work safely from London for a bit which was really helpful. So yeah. There’s actually flexibility on both sides.
Yeah that was fun. People think, why are you emailing me in the middle of the night? And I’m like, because the middle of the night in London is the middle of the day where you are!
You’re saying to them, “Guys, I’m following the sun here, I’m on the other side of the Atlantic.”
Greenwich mean time means something, okay?
I would imagine you probably have this conversation too with business owners. One of the things I encourage business owners to do as we talk about the technology spend for example, is to have all that in the same spot in the expenses,
One of my goals has been, I’m looking at those business bank statements or one of the folks that works for me- that we’re looking at everything going on in their business bank account within days of a transaction coming through. We’re downloading that data right off their online banking. We’re looking at their debit and credit card expenses and so, if we catch an inconsistency, you’ll be able to address thatright away.
That’s an overlooked part of any professional relationship is being the watchdog. It’s what we do here at Terrapin, as you know, Kim, for you. We keep an eye on the backups. We keep an eye on the firewall. We do these watchdog things. Your doctor does that for you. When you go in for a yearly physical, he or she saying, “Ok how long have you had this spot in your arm?” They’re being a watchdog, which is what we get paid for as a professional: to use our expertise, to watch out for, to apply that knowledge that we have. People sometimes fall into checkbook accounting where they think, “I got a bunch of money in the checkbook, I guess business is going great.” And we really don’t understand or pay attention to things in the way your accounting firm would be paying attention to. It’s in the actual chart of accounts and the profit and loss statement, what that’s actually telling us in as far as the balance.
That’s why building a team who helps create a collabroative aspect in your business is so important, right? You might think, “Oh, I’m just a one man show,”, or “I’ll just take care of this in my own time or in my own office” But you’re missing out on that greater collaboration that helps you bbuild a much stronger business at the same time.
Kim, can I ask you, withthat being said, what changes do you think is coming in the future? What are you looking forward to?
Let’s say an accountant leaves a big firm. They used to work for a big CPA firm. They prepared taxes for that firm. And now they decided to work out of their dining room, preparing taxes. They’re paying a multiple thousand dollars outlay to get into a new tax program. Or they can go to TurboTax, download the program, and prepare five tax returns. That tax program costs around a hundred bucks and you can get five returns done and you don’t have to have any professional credentials. You don’t have to have the ID numbers with the IRS. The IRS does not know who the preparer is. The IRS assumes you did that return yourself, but you didn’t. You paid your neighbor, paid your friend. You paid the guy that used to work for the accounting firm half of what you paid beforehand. And those folks might be less likely to do the continuing education because of how expensive it is.
So what is, what is happening to curb that behavior?
The IRS can’t stop the Turbo Tax because taxpayers have the right to self prepare their tax return. And it has a place in the world, TurboTax does. They have a great interview process that they walk people through that picks up things that asks them the right questions. They’re the same questions that I would ask. So in that regard, it absolutely has a place in the world. They don’t want to remove that software. But I see them making a stab at changing it and making it more difficult for people to get around that… although it’s hard because you have to balance the rights of the taxpayer with the need of doing it the right way.
It’s just never a good idea to see who can do it the cheapest. Our listeners have heard me on this for several months. Some things just require expertise, as does technology. I like to say, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. You think, “Boy, if I can get it done for 150 bucks, that’s sweet.” But that doesn’t mean that you’re not taking a risk that had you really known what you should have known beforehand, you wouldn’t take that risk. So sometimes we just have to be a little careful about getting too good at deal on any of this stuff. Cause that can be pretty big risks to your company and your company’s ability to exist and stay existing.
I feel like accountants, sometimes computer nerds, people who use the left side of their brain- the more analytical and statistical side of their brain, they can sometimes get a little deep in the weeds. It sounds like you can connect to people on a human level. Tim can do that too. Frankly, it’s rare.
That has been referred to as the curse of knowledge. If you asked someone like me, what time is it? Sometimes I go into the history of the wristwatch and how we started measuring time with sundials.
I love you, Tim.
But really, if you act like that, you lose people’s attention and you can’t follow through with the original request. The ability to actually speak it in English, meaning just the common vernacular, can be pretty darn valuable. Because people like Kim and I have no problem doing the weedy, nerdy explanation. But you have to have the ability to then say, “and here’s what that means.”
Exactly. To break it down.
It’s meeting people where they are. I think that’s very important part of business. It’s creating those relationships with your customers, where you have the ability to meet people where they are, as opposed to trying to explain it from the way that you see it. Having that connection is really important.
I just like people, I mean, that’s where I was coming from with creating the relationships with the clients that I have is: I like them as people. It makes me want to help them down the road.
There’s an old saying that “a prescription without a diagnosis is malpractice” and we can’t make a diagnosis unless we have information. So we ask questions. Sometimes it could be a little bit irritating, especially if you’re not sure about the trust factor, but it’s only is because I have to know everything going on before I make an accurate diagnoses and we start addressing the problem.
That’s really critical for any small business and small business owner, to know they’ve got someone who’s on their team, who they can just talk to like that. That’s really quite significant. It’s pretty significant what you’ve done.
Well, Kim, I think I’m actually going to jump in here and let you probably get back to work. Can you, can you let listeners know what’s the best way to get ahold of you?
My website is cherrylandaccounting.com and people can just submit a contact form right on the website.
Thanks Kim. It was great. We really thanks for your time. We sure appreciate it.
Hi, again, welcome back to Terrapin Small Biz Connection with your hosts, Tim Gillen and myself, Ruthy Kirwan. We are back again, this the part of the show that we like to call Tim’s Takeaway where Kim has left our chat, and it’s just you and me kind of chatting about what we chatted about. Today, I want you to expand a little bit for me here about the tech safety aspects that Kim has put into her business.
Kim, as you can tell from that conversation, is pretty tech savvy and she certainly isn’t afraid of technology. But as a tax preparer, there’s a lot of really stringent security stuff that she needs to have in practice, both as a legal requirement, and also as an ethical requirement. She needs to protect her customers and her client’s data as she works with it, as she transfers things back and forth.
She’s traveling a lot too. So that takes on this extra importance.
She works from home, too. And one of the advantages of owning your own thing is, you can kind of work from wherever you need to when you need to. Kim takes very good advantage of that. So she has put in place these measures to protect both herself and her customers. We have a firewall in place. She can VPN into her desktop at work and her server at work. She has full access to all of her files. A lot of it’s in the cloud. We use a server in her office and make that accessible securely to the cloud. And she uses a VPN on her laptop when she’s away from all these things, like when she’s in Europe. She’s been able to, with a software VPN, securely communicate back and forth. She also pays a little extra for Adobe Acrobat on a monthly basis so that she can securely send files, encrypted and exchange files back and forth with her clients and help them for digital signing and that they can see the documents securely. She is not afraid of technology, and has spent the time and the money and says, Tim, what do I need to do? Let’s do it. I love it from the tech guy side that we’re just able to do what needs to be done. A lot of the stuff is not all that expensive, but you still have to be willing to, to implement it and pay for it.
Now, the VPN that she uses at our office, that’s all part of our, our Terraprotect service, which provides a secure firewall device, VPN licensing, all that kind of thing.There’s no extra cost for it, but she had a kind of get used to it. She was in Europe, in England, and we get a call at the office and it’s Kim saying, “Hey, I meant to get with you before I left.” She had a real flurry of activity before she went over there , and she said, “I need a VPN put on my laptop so I can work for the hotel for awhile.”
She called you here in Traverse City while she was in Europe?
Yes. We had never actually connected that laptop, but we have the technology to securely set it all up, get it all squared away for her, all while she was still over there, so she could work a couple of hours here and there. She was in Europe for 10 days. That’s not uncommon for those of us who own a business. It’s actually easier, you can enjoy yourself better, instead of being nervous of what what might be happening in your absence. So that actually gives you freedom. Some people would think it doesn’t, but a lot of us with small business think, well, actually, that’s good freedom for me to be able to do that freely.
You were able to get onto her computer without ever having used that laptop before? You never even had that laptop in your hands. And yet you were still able to install all of that for her overseas.
Yeah. We have we have services for that. We basically send the user out to a website, they load up a little piece of software, it comes up with a number we use, and boom, we’re connected. It’s all secure. Then once it was connected, we could put all of our normal stuff on it that she had here on her desktop. And then from there we set everything up like we normally would, like antivirus protection, VPN, all that.
That just shows you that even though Kim was in England, instead of her being like, “I’ll just tap onto the hotel wifi.” She knew enough to take that time, to give you the call, to get things set up in place so that she can continue to make those promises to her customers. She followed the protocol. She followed her own systems that she had already set up.
It’s important as business owners that we resist the shortcut. It’s easy to think “Okay. I’m just going to do a couple quick things. I just don’t want to deal with the added security.” And that’s where the exposure comes from. You think about the chat we had with a client of hers that had been, quote unquote “hacked” at the IRS, where someone was able to get into their account. These things happen when we are being sloppy or lazy or taking a shortcut. Kim’s first thought was, “I need to do something here. I shouldn’t just connect onto this and work, should I?” And we wer able to say, No, no, no. You don’t want to, let’s put a VPN in place. We’ll get things going.
We just jumped on basically and set it all up for and that made all the difference in the world. And she was right. That’s where the other thing is that we talked about , this concept of the expertise, like how Kim operates and how Terrapin operates as well. We are the tech team for her operation, just like she is for her customers. She’s not an actual employee. She’s a contracted member of the team. As she discussed, she’s taken care of some folks for 25, 30 years, a lot like what our conversations have been here.
We have that ability then, as part of the team at a very deep level. Nothing happens on the technology side that, frnakly, doesn’t go through me. So that we can have a consistency of expertise. That’s a phrase that I like to use when people say, “Why don’t I just give you a call if something breaks?” They might have that relationship now with someone who just works as a one person show, or they just want to call someone when they’re stuck.You figure, “As long as it’s working, it’s okay.” And when nobody can fix it, then you call me. Well, now there’s no consistency of expertise. When it comes to accounting, that’s what keeps those certified letters from the IRS from showing up. That’s what keeps things running in a secure manner. So someone can be in England and we can very quickly get on and put her in the system, get the VPN going, know exactly what she needs, what she does, how she works, where her data’s kept, all those things. We just know. And that way we can give recommendations and advice that are applicable to her situation, which saves her time.
So that relationship building with you saved her time while she was over in England and didn’t have to explain herself or anything like that.
We all laughed about it. She said, “Yeah. I probably should have called you before I left”, but any of us in a small business about to take off on a 10 day trip to Europe knows what that last two weeks is like. It’s always a little bit frenzy before you get you’re able to leave. And we totally understood. Again, we’re used to that. That’s how it is for us. It’s no different for any of us who are in a small company, so that’s okay.
Well, Tim, I think that is the end of our half hour to hear today. I loved this conversation with Kim and I’m really looking forward to hearing everybody else’s responses too.
Yeah, she was great.
Wasn’t she? I really enjoyed myself today. All right. Well, thank you very much again, and let’s hang out again next week.
Let’s do it. Sounds good. Thank you.