EP23: Mira Salter - The Power Of Having A Bookkeeping Niche

Niverville, Manitoba.

The population is around 3500.

You'd figure running a bookkeeping business there would be extremely challenging.

Well, it can be unless you're our guest today, Mira Salter.

She is the owner of Emerald Tree Accounting Services who found a way to be a success despite operating her business in a small town.

Her secret?

She discovered a couple of niches by catering her bookkeeping services to non-profits and parishes in her surrounding area.

Her business has been doing extremely well ever since.

During this inspiring interview, you'll learn...

  • Why focusing on a specific niche can lead to more business

  • Why you should always get referrals from clients you love

  • Why you should take advantage of networking opportunities

To find out more about Mira, visit here.

To access the script for generating referrals from your customer base, sign up for our free resources.

This episode was voted as one of the Top 10 Recommended Interviews to Inspire You to Build Systems into your Bookkeeping Business


Michael Palmer: 00:51 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I am your host, Michael Palmer, and I am super excited about today's guest. She is an inspiring bookkeeper from the great Canadian province of Manitoba. Mira Salter is the owner of Emerald Tree Accounting Services and has been a Pure Bookkeeping licensee since September of 2015 and her story is one of overcoming the barrier of operating her bookkeeping business. And what I would say is pretty small town to becoming a success through hard work determination and being open to new ideas. And so we're gonna have some fun talking about these new ideas with you, Mira. So welcome to the podcast.

Mira Salter: 01:32 Okay, thank you.

MP: 01:34 So Mira, tell us a little bit about yourself and your bookkeeping business journey up to this point so the listeners can get an understanding of you.

MS: 01:44 Okay. First off, I did start off doing bookkeeping on a part-time basis because I had a full-time job and it was hallways, tough to build clients and everything and I couldn't do it on a full-time basis because it wasn't just providing enough income. I then had met somebody and we worked as business associates for a couple of years and decided to become partners and we thought that was going very well for the first little bit. And then things, unfortunately, didn't work out and we ended up having different views of how we wanted to run the business. And then it ended up where I ended up having just hard all over with my business. So that was kind of tough. But all that time as an IPBC member, I remember seeing pure bookkeeping and how all the stuff that you guys provide would help to organize.

MS: 02:40 And I think that was our biggest drawback as well as we just weren't as organized as we should have been. So I figured, Oh, I'm going to go ahead and purchase my license and get everything I needed and hope for the best that it will help me grow my business. And once I joined in 2015 I started the process of reading everything, getting trained up, trying to get all the manuals and everything is done, which was quite the task. Quite a lot of information that I didn't realize I should have already gathered and put together, but kinda, you know, left it, you know, for last-minute they get, oh I'll get back to it. Maybe you know, a little bit later and then later, but later never comes along because you're always swamped trying to keep things caught up. So the information that pure bookkeeping had online was a big help in getting me organized.

MS: 03:34 And once I got organized, I started also using the Pure Bookkeeping Sales and Marketing Techniques and that's what I started trying to use to get new clients and start building up again. It was a little difficult at first just because, you know, I'm not used to doing sales, it's not my forte. I'm a bookkeeper. It's really tough to sell things, you know, not being a salesperson, but being an entrepreneur you have to be able to do that. So I kind of force myself and I decided to go into a specialized niche of nonprofit because I had a client that was a nonprofit parish and school. And so I got involved with them and kind of got my word out with them, used my presentation and I was able to get three new parishes on in a very short time. And so far this year it's, I pretty much recouped what I would have paid for in the license and everything and more. So I was really surprised at how quickly the pure bookkeeping system really, you know, worked for me and was able to give back what I invested and more. I really was skeptical at first that you should be able to, you know, recoup everything within a year or less. And

MS: 04:58 I guess that's true if you follow the system.

MP: 05:08 Well, thank you for sharing that and for sharing your success using the pure bookkeeping system. And what I'd like to talk about is that that whole concept, what I love about your story is that specialization in that very narrow niche of working with parishes and as well nonprofits. Tell us a little bit about how you thought of that. You know, you had a customer, but were you concerned about doing it? Cause a lot of people get concerned about having such a narrow niche.

MS: 05:39 No. Uh, you know what? Initially I, the reason why I chose it was because my current client was a parish last church, but the people that were running it and that were involved was great and it was more of an eye-opener to see how well they ran and how well they treated the people around them. And when I really got involved, I realized what a need there really was for professional bookkeepers there. Because you know, with nonprofit, they all looked for volunteers who were not bookkeepers or who have retired accountants or maybe retired bankers or whatever to help them do the job. But didn't really know the accounting concepts and how to record things and even just simple thing as filing they charity returns and everything. So that's when I noticed that, you know what? Everyone's doing it differently if I can get in there. And so my concept is to say, look, I can do all the bookkeeping for you guys and streamline everything so that all the parishes are doing it the same way. When they do consolidate all the financials as the head office, it will be a lot easier.

MP: 06:56 That's great. You know what you, you know that whole concept of positioning yourself and figuring out what's the real problem that's going on with these people and then coming up with a positioning conversation that helps you position why you're a great option and Voila. Now, when I saw you at the IPBC conference, I was blown away by what you told me in terms of the results that you had with doing this. And you said, Michael, you know, I went and I niche and I was just blown away by the results that you were able to produce within that short period of time. With that narrow niche share a little bit about how were you surprised by how effective this was?

MS: 07:39 Actually he high was, because I would have thought that the, you know, with parishes or any nonprofit churches would want to keep somebody who is more like within their, I guess religious background kind of thing so that they wouldn't be, uh, uh, receptive or somebody who maybe was just like an outsider who didn't share the same religious beliefs as them. But a lot of them are a lot more business savvy than we think. And the, they, they still have the same issues as anybody else. They have to deal with CRA and they realize that if they don't get their stuff together, they will come under fire from CRA and be audited. They could lose a charity status and all that issue. So I think that they realize that having all these people who are volunteering is great where it comes to health, saving them money in the end, but we also realize they're not doing it properly, which ends up costing them more money because then now they have to actually hire an accountant or an accounting firm to get everything done properly and file properly and report it properly. So it's not benefiting them to have people who are not certified and to do this work. And the way I'm doing it is I’m also trying to use the value pricing packages so it’s a lot more easier for them to budget. It’s more reasonable for them. And you know, if there’s a lot of smaller parishes, I can combine them because the volume is so low and give them one price and then they split it between however many parishes that they have but are willing to get in together.

MP: 09:21 Wow. It's remarkable. And you know, I think this is, it's not just a challenge that people have with nonprofits or parishes and those sorts of things is that you, what you've done is you've helped your prospects understand the value of what it is that you do. Like you say, everybody uses, it has to use CRA and there's a cost to not having things done correctly. There's always a cost to doing things one way or the other and you position it really well with your customers saying, look at this is past to get done. This is going to save you money, it's going to save you time. And it then becomes valuable. And then you've taken it a step further, which is have some package pricing, which makes it very clear and easy for them to budget. Well done. Thank you. And what have been some of the responses from your customers? 

MS: 10:09 Oh, nothing but praise is so far, which is like knock Homebush here. I'm so happy. But you know, I'm also using the pure bookkeeping system to make sure I have that manual in place. Everything's in place. All the procedures log in and the audit trail for them to follow as well for me. But as far as I can tell right now, everyone's happy. Uh, we have a couple of opportunities that will be coming up for other major parishes that we are going to be presenting to. So we're getting that done and started and you know, I'm hoping it will go well and to expand. Like I already have one employee now as well, so wow, that's a big step for me. 

MS: 10:48 So my own employee and you were, you were literally, it's September of 2015 so that's, we're getting on a year and a half now. You've gone from almost zero revenue to now having another staff member that's working with you. Correct. 

MP: 11:05 Wow. Beautiful.

MP: 11:12 Now talk a little bit about some of the things that you felt like, you mentioned a little bit about sales, right? You're not a salesperson and we talk about that a lot on the show, right? It's bookkeepers. I mean, don't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if 99% of them said, yeah, this is not something I look forward to. I mean there's a lot of people in all industries that they'll look forward to sales. But how did you take that step to say, well I'm going to do this and I, I'm going to go ahead and just do it? Like how did you, how did you make that happen for yourself? 

MS: 11:43 Um, well like I said, I was lucky though that I already had a client that was the parish. So I was able to contact the head office there and I talked to the CFO person there and I presented my idea using the presentation that was given was the share bookkeeping as well as I had the current client who was one of my references. So he really liked the idea of streamlining everything. I'm putting it all together. So that's how I got started. I just kinda like approach them and I guess it also helps that my current client was so impressed with me. He totally encouraged me to go ahead and talk to them. I'll back you up. I will be your reference if you need. So it helps you know when your clients really give you that nice boost to boost that confidence level that you know, you really need to do sales.

MP: 12:38 Beautiful. Yeah. That's great. It's a great tip for everyone when you've got to find the customers that, that you love and that love you and then grow the business around them through referrals. Uh, and your presentation, as you said, it's a really, really smart move for you, for you mirror what, what gets in your way? What do you think is your, your biggest barrier for you running your business? 

MS: 13:01 I feel for me the um, work-life balance. I think it's trying to make sure I still have that fine line of work-life balance. Like just recently, I, it's a GSC time always, you know, everyone's got their GSE at the same time do and now it's like everyone's girls. We got the year run due at the same time. So trying to ensure that, you know, I'm always on top of everything and making sure all my clients' needs are met at the same time. But sometimes I feel as there are certain months where you know it's higher and volume than others and then there are unexpected things in the personal life that happens that you know, takes up a lot of your time. Um, uh, right now I'm also doing some basement renovation, so I really don't have an office right now. So I'm Kinda like working all over my house but trying to get everything done as well. So for me, that work-life balance is still the hardest thing for me to try to maintain. But it's gotten a lot better. 

MP: 14:00 That's great. And I think it's, it's going to be that way for a big, big portion because a lot of people do work from home and work out of the basement. And I think, yeah, I'm not sure if it was on the show, but we had the conversation with somebody else that was, you know, it used to actually think it was a Mike McCalla wits. He's actually going to be a, we've got that as a prerecorded episode coming up, which really is going to be a great one. But he was talking about in his business, you know, I had a business office and he had, you know, it was, we're concerned about what people would think if he was working from his basement at to where now it's like he encourages people to do it because things have really changed and you don't want to have lots of costs. So you work out of your basement, you're actually doing a renovation. To expand upon that, what, how have you found that with you, with you having your office in your home? 

MS: 14:49 I love having my office in my home. Actually right now the only challenge, of course, is I don't have an office. Since I'm doing the renovations, which since we are making everything bigger and better, but I do love working from home. As you said, it saves a lot on cost for overhead and I'm still home. Even if I can't be with the family, I'm still surrounded by my family. 

MP: 15:10 Hmm. Well, that's great. And with the tools that you use currently in terms of your growing your business, what is the, what's the outlook for 2017 in terms of prospecting and find new business or are you going to be doing the same things that you've done with your parishes and your nonprofits? 

MS: 15:30 Actually, pretty much it's worked so well for me that I'm doing the same thing. I've actually had mentioned before, I've got a big presentation coming up. I will be presenting to actually all the priests at the sink pharmacist area and it's because I have another one of the new clients that I got last year, you know, Kinda told us to yes, go ahead. Let's contact the CFO there and get yourself presented. And the CFO there loved our idea and he says we would love it if you guys can do a presentation to all the priests so that they can actually hear and see what it is that we can provide and how we can help them as well. So I'm hoping that that will come about soon if I think it's sometime in April and that I will grow more.

MP: 16:19 You know, and this way, I know you're going to grow more. I am very confident in your, uh, in your ability. So let, let's talk a little bit about where you're from. You're from just south of Winnipeg, right? Tell us a little bit about your town.

MS: 16:30 Right. It's never a bill. It's a very small town, but it is a growing town. We finally got Tim Horton's, so everyone's excited about that. 

MP: 16:38 And for our international listeners, that's a big deal for a small town to have a Tim Horton's, it's like a, the, it would be the equivalent of like Dunkin donuts, I guess, in the United States. And, and for Australia, it would be the equivalent of, I'm not sure what, but uh, we have a lot of listeners in Australia, but a, it's really a small town. What's the population? 3,500 I think. 

MS: 16:59 Yes. A 3,500 yes. 

MP: 17:02 Very small till now you've grown your business remarkably. And there are people that are in large centers that pale in comparison to the amount of revenue that you're doing. How, how is that, how is it that you've, you're able to grow such a large business in such a small town? 

MS: 17:19 Well, I am only about 20-25 minutes from the city, so not being that far away is, it is good. So I can still actually get clients from the city, but I also provide all my services remotely so it helps that I can get to the all these services remotely and have everyone either scan things or I can go pick up their paperwork and everything is done either on-site at my office or I remote access into their computer in some way, shape or form. 

MP: 17:48 Wow. You know, Mira, 

MP: 17:50 it just seems like every obstacle, small-town business break up really if you will, with your past partner starting from scratch. And yet it never seems like it's that daunting of a task for you. You just kind of make it work and make it happen. What do you attribute to your, you know, the mindset, like you have a very positive mindset? What do you attribute that to?

MS: 18:25 I think I've always been this way. I really don't know. It's just part of my character. I've been pretty positive and I just keep the way I think is, you know, I kind of try to go with the flow and if one way doesn't work well let's try it a different way. But I have to say, I also have a very good, very supportive husband who's been there for me and you know, been very good at supporting at all my venues and, and ideas and whether it worked or the gym and he's been the person who been stable in, you know, my life. So, uh, it really helps to actually have that support. 

MP: 18:50 Beautiful. That's awesome. 

MP: 18:59 So I'd like to ask you if there were a couple of things that you would say around your own business success tips or advice that you would give. What, what would they be to bookkeepers that are listening? 

MS: 19:10 Referrals, I think is the best thing. Using your clients as your referrals. If you have a really good client and there's someone you love working in a certain industry and they have nothing but praise for you, use them. Ask them if they know of anybody that needs bookkeeping or even just going to other get-togethers for referrals. That is a great way to get business because that's one thing I've really found that has really worked for me. 

MP: 19:37 That's great. So referrals are your number one recommendation? 

MS: 19:41 It is my number one recommendation. 

MP: 19:44 Excellent. And so what does it sound like for you when you, like how did you know how to nurture and get referrals from your client base? 

MS: 19:54 That was a process I learned when I actually, where went into partnership. My other partner was using that already as a step and she taught me to, you know, sort going to like be an IB thing or you know, like a little get-together, chamber of Commerce, go there first and then get used to the speaking. You know, because every time you go to these little meetings you gotta stand up, you do a one to two minutes, a little talk about your business and everything and then you meet other people just to build confidence as well as to meet other people. So that is a great way to start. And then the next thing is if you already have a good client base and you know what kind of industry you want and you want to keep getting those kinds of clients, then it's best to talk to the clients that you love and talk to them and say, Hey, you know what? Do you know other people who are, if he like construction in the construction that may need help? I'm more than happy. I'm taking on more people you know, and that's how you start your conversation with them. 

MP: 20:57 It's beautiful and you know why that's a treat for the listeners, what we'll do is we'll post a script for generating referrals from your customer base and we'll pull that right out of the pure bookkeeping system that you've, you've talked, talked about mirror, and we'll pop it into our free bonus resources at The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. If you go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com you can download the free resources, get access to that, and we'll have some things there. And of course, the way you've said it, a mirror is very simple, right? It's just, hey, I, I work in this industry. You're happy, how can we find other people that we can make them happy too? Exactly. Keeping it simple, going with the flow, getting referrals out there. This is the secret moves of Mira Salter who it's grown your business exponentially, multiple times over in just a very short period of time. It's, it's amazing merits. So, so excited for you for the future. Um, cue. 

MP: 21:55 Yes, absolutely. And now one last question I have for you is, is really just on, on staff. Like you've hired the staff member. How has that gone? 

MS: 22:07 Actually, that hasn't been too bad. I've had two, I had one that I had originally started with last year in April that went well for six months and then she wanted to move on and I just hired a new person about just three months ago and she's turning out really well. And I used, of course, scripts your bookkeeping system for interviews and the tests that she took in basketball helped me determine how to choose the employee and she turned out wonderfully. I'm so happy with her. 

MP: 22:39 It's beautiful. When you do it and you find someone great and they work great in your team. It's a beautiful thing. 

MS: 22:46 Yes, it is. 

MP: 22:48 Excellent. Excellent. Well, Mirror. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. It's, I know going to be an inspiration to our listeners too, to really just be positive about building the business they love. That's the one thing that really stood out for me when working with you is that you're really clear about what you wanted to create and you went out there and you did it. You took all the actions, you made, all the moves, you took, the risks, you got uncomfortable, but it just kept on doing it. So good for you. 

MS: 23:17 Thank you so much, Michael. 

MP: 23:18 Absolutely. That wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's guest and they get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time..