EP26: Melissa Lenos - How To Create A Great Workplace Culture

Bad hires.

If you're a bookkeeping business owner, you've probably had one of those.

They can be painful and toxic for many reasons including the damage they can inflict on your workplace culture.

Our guest today, Melissa Lenos of King Accounting Solutions, knows what it's like to hire poorly.

She's done it before, but she is wiser now and will share her lessons learned to help you avoid the same mistakes.

During this informative conversation, you'll discover...

  • Why you should consider looking for your ideal employee 6 months in advance

  • Why you must hire based on the job candidate's skills AND personality

  • The importance of having consistent staff communication and being available for support

To learn more about Melissa, visit here.

To access our HR job ad template and other goodies mentioned in this episode, 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: 01:28 Welcome back to the successful bookkeeper podcast. I am your host Michael Palmer and today I am joined by a woman who is the owner of King Accounting and a current pure bookkeeping licensee. In 2010 she decided to put her dream of becoming a chartered accountant on hold to do the really important work by helping companies with their bookkeeping needs and she's done that ever since. Welcome to the successful bookkeeper podcast, Melissa Lenos. 

Melissa Lenos: 01:58 Thank you for having me. 

MP: 02:00 Yes, and I just want to say it's a, it's awesome to have you because I know you are an advocate for business owners across Canada, not just in your local community or close geographic area, but you actually help owners all over the country, which I think is awesome. 

ML: 02:19 Yes, I go, so I'm in the Edmonton area and I go all through Alberta as well into Ontario, BC, Saskatchewan, and now the northwest territories. 

MP: 02:28 And I wouldn't be surprised if you started getting clients from North America based on all over North America based on the work that you're doing. So it's awesome. And I'd like to talk about that today and let's start off with telling us a little bit about your business journey up to this point where you are today.

ML: 02:45 For sure. So I started with going to college and doing administration and starting at an s e a firm and they seemed something a little bit different in me. So they actually put me through a number, the CA prerequisite courses here in Edmonton at Nate. And with that information, I was able to go and do taxes, do the audit. So I have actually all my tax and audit hours to get my ca, I guess it's called a CPA. Now. From that point, I worked really closely with one of the partners and he was retiring and so I decided to go a different direction and go into the bookkeeping world. So what he and I did was he gave me the bookkeeping clients that wanted a little bit cheaper of a bill and a little bit more information last month or on a quarterly basis. And so I started doing the bookkeeping for some of his clients, giving him a clean year-end that he could then send out statements and tax returns with very little work internally. So he ended up making a better profit with a lower bill. The client ended up having about the same bill between the two of us, but they were getting quarterly or monthly prepared income statements and balance sheets so that they could grow their business as well. And that's Kinda where I built it up from. And from me being doing it by myself to now I have four employees, three, two part-time and two full time. 

MP: 04:13 Wow. Fantastic. And so I am really curious what, what were some of the benefits that you took from your experiences that you brought into your bookkeeping business? 

ML: 04:24 Oh, from a CA firm. So definitely know what the accountants are looking for. So we don't give them a binder of stuff that they need to look through. They get a pdf of everything that they need. So I know that they need the last month's bank statement or visa statement or whatever it might be. So all of that is pdf for them. So every single item on the balance sheet has a backup so that they're not looking to see why it doesn't match. We've already done that for them. So it's saving them quite a ton of money because our rate, of course, is significantly less than a ca firm. And then the CAS can do what they should be doing, which is the tax planning and the forward tax planning. 

MP: 05:04 Right? And now you say you charge less, but I know that you have a very solid rate and in fact, your rates probably double what the rate most bookkeepers are charging. Talk a little bit about that now. I don't necessarily want you to share the empty, intimate details of your business, but share your philosophy around that. 

ML: 05:26 So what I did when I first started my bookkeeping business is I took what my rate was when I worked in the CPA firm and divided in half. So that was the rate that was being charged out for me. So I started my bookkeeping business charging $65 an hour for bookkeeping. And once I started hiring some employees, of course, the $65 an hour is a little harder to make the profit margins that I was hoping to make. So I actually moved all but my controller type clients to $80 an hour. Wow. That's where they're all at now. 

MP: 06:00 Wow, that's, that's fantastic. And thank you for sharing that. I, I didn't, uh, I think it's very generous of you to share some of the intimate details of your business, but I think it's really valuable and you know, for the listeners right now, this should be a signal that there is room to move up, enters a very important reason to, to get your rates up. Whether you do value pricing or you do just hourly pricing, it doesn't matter. It's the fact is that the service that you provide is extremely valuable. So do you want to talk to a little bit about that, Melissa? 

ML: 06:35 Yeah, so I think a lot of us as bookkeepers and what I moved from 65 to 80 I had a really hard time because I'm like, am I going to lose clients? Are they going to be upset? Are they going to understand? And it's having the confidence of realizing that you know you are worth $80 an hour or maybe it's moving from 30 to 60 whatever it might be. Right. It's understanding that what your doing for that client is helping them grow and when they see that, like almost 90% of my clients said you're totally worth it. Yep. No problem. Start charging like $80 an hour as of today. And I had no issue. I lost a few. But those are the few that didn't need or didn't see the value in the bookkeeping cause it's not just bookkeeping, it's actually paying attention to those numbers and helping them grow.

MP: 07:25 Beautiful. Beautiful. 

MP: 07:35 Now you have clients all over the country. How does, how did that happen? 

ML: 07:42 Uh, it's actually completely through referrals from accountants, hundred percent I don't advertise, I don't try and get business in, in different provinces or different cities. It's all through accountants and worth of accountants are all over the place, so it's easy to get the work in different areas as long as you're willing to travel. Lots of it, I do remotely, like Ontario, I only go once a year just to do your ens, but other than that, I can do everything remotely have, we have such a great ability with it nowadays to be able to do things all over. And so I've been able to grow that business and grow myself as well by being in different parts of the world. Right. Being in just Edmonton, it's a lot of oil fields, whereas now it was Ontario. I get some mining and northwest territories, it rentals and that kind of thing. So it's very interesting. 

MP: 08:37 Yeah. Fantastic. Now with the accountants, you know, you talked about you've got lots of experience with accountants and you charge less than what an accountant would charge. Talk a little bit about the relationship you have with them and why they see you as valuable to them? 

ML: 08:57 Yeah, so I find that the best, one of my best ways of getting work is actually dealing with the accountants. So if I have a client that I've gotten, say from another client referrals, so I don't know their accountant, I made sure that when I send in here and a couple of weeks later I check in and just ask them that when they're done year-end, can we ask the don't have a coffee and maybe we can start referring to each other for other clients. And they're all receptive to that because we give a package that makes it easy for them. It decreases the amount they're writing off. So maybe they do church the same or a little bit more than they did last year, but they're not writing off any other time because the files coming in clean. 

MP: 09:37 Mm. So really it's, you're showing a lot of value to them and they respect you back with giving their time and they get a lot out of what you've prepared for them. So it's a healthy relationship. What would be your advice, uh, to people that have never worked with accountants? Where should they start? 

ML: 09:57 Start with one of your best clients that loves you and get them to do an introduction for you. If you're a little bit scared to try and do that, introduction yourself and get the client to go to their accountant and say, you know, I'd really like you to meet my bookkeeper. These are the things that I love about her at or him and maybe you guys can start a relationship where she can start doing more bookkeeping for you. 

MP: 10:22 Beautiful. Absolutely great advice. And we have a whole bunch of content that we give to our community for free inside of the successful bookkeeper community. So if you, you know, at the end of the show we'll give the link and all of that information so the listeners can get access to that to help them start those conversations and build a similar relationship with accountants that you've done. Uh, Melissa, you know, for you in your journey, what have been the things that have gotten in your way? 

ML: 10:54 Not Hiring the right people is definitely one of the hard things. Not Making sure like I'm on a cleanup job. Make sure that you're charging ahead of time because I've done a couple of cleanup jobs now that I didn't charge ahead of time. And the, you take a look at the bank statement and you're like, oh yeah, they have money, but by the time they get you the last bank statement, they don't have any money and you're on the hook. Right? They've got the information they need to get their filings done, but you're not getting paid because they have no money. So definitely one of those things would be pre-charge for cleanups. 

MP: 11:30 Pre-Charge for cleanups as a golden one. And there's an interesting thing about those cleanup stories because you're not the first one to have that problem. In fact, it's, you know, I've worked with bookkeepers from uh, Europe, Australia, United States, Canada, and we were talking, we're getting into the thousands now and everybody's been barred at some point by the cleanup. And it, you know, from a psychological standpoint, people that have problems, typically we'll be problems. I mean it's just the way there's a high likelihood, it's like going to the casino, right? There's a high likelihood you're walking out with no money. That's just the way they work otherwise, otherwise, there wouldn't be a casino. Um, so, you know, go into it with eyes wide open, which is what you're saying. And I think the theme and the feedback are no, that if there's a problem, you want to protect yourself because there's likely going to be a problem. Uh, it's just how they transact. So it's a great first, first one. What else have you struggled with? 

ML: 12:28 Definitely not hiring the right employee and making sure that they are taking care of your clients the right way. One story that I can kind of give you is I had someone that was going to a client and the client, I would send them the client a bill. They'd send a message back, you know, two or three minutes later, please put through my visa. So in my opinion, everything's all good. Great. You're paying your bills. So there's, there's nothing that I've seen that's wrong. Well, I let go of the employee, I go to do the bookkeeping there and she's like, yeah, I was really unhappy with her. So make sure you're touching base, not just with the bill but with the communication to all your clients. Made sure you're, you're doing that at least one touch a year, if not every quarter or every six months, depending on the client rate. If they're not, you don't see them very often. It's a little less than you're touching base with them, but touch base that you may sure that they're happy things are being done that are supposed to be done in the, and the timing of how much work there is and how much you're actually billing.

MP: 13:40 Makes Sense. I think that's an area that could be very risky because when people are hiring staff, you know, you're hiring them to help yourself, right? Help Your Business, help yourself get out of, you know, whatever amount of workload that you have. So you could risk looking at the staff like, oh, they're here, I'm happy. I just want it to work out. You know, it's almost like if you could call it happy ears or happy eyes, like I'm only gonna see the things that are good because it's, it's helping me. But you actually asked those questions and were willing to hear the unhappy information, which you had power now to do something about it. Did you ever struggle with, you know, worrying about what might happen if, if you lost your staff or, or if you lost a client? Well, how did you deal with that? 

ML: 14:33 So I've done both. I've had both happen. I lost a very, very large client of mine. Like it was, you know, five to $10,000 a month client due to the oil field industry. And they chose to go with an internal controller for their companies, which they offer to me. But I was trying to grow a business so it didn't make sense for me to take a full-time CFO position. So I lost that client. And when I first lost it, it was like, oh my goodness, what am I going to do? But you know what? Things happen for a reason. And I am a true believer of that. And when I lost that client, I had a disability to help my employees grow because I had a little bit more time. And I also had the ability to go and spend more time networking with business people in my community as well as networking with accountants. And I've replaced all that income within six months. 

MP: 15:30 Wow. Wow. 

ML: 15:31 Yeah. Yeah. And on the employee side, I fought with myself to let an employee go because I thought, how are we going to take all the work that she had? Get it done still. But you know what, when you take out the negativity and your business, cause that was my problem was there was a negativity issue. Everyone just piles together and gets the work done. And the change in the attitudes made it so that all the work got done that much quicker because everyone was happy. So as hard as it might be that you're losing that, you know, 40 hours a week of help, or maybe it's only 20 hours a week help, it does make a difference to make sure the culture in your business is good. 

MP: 16:22 Mm. And how do you make sure that your culture is good? What are some of the things you do to either keep the culture or create the culture? 

ML: 16:35 Um, so I'm, I think a fairly, um, nice boss, but if your work's not getting done, that's not okay. So we've added a bunch of policies and procedures in place, which we didn't have before, which has helped as well as just being available to all the employees for any question. We've made it because we work everywhere and we work at clients and we work at the office in the city and we work. I also have an office inside my house for all of us because we work all over the place. We don't always touch base physically all the time. So we implemented a daily email that all of us send out an email when we first start our day, let everyone know where we're at, what we're doing. And then we try to always be together on Fridays to work one day a week together. And it's really helped the culture. 

MP: 17:28 Very cool. So you're, you're doing that by just texting people or emailing. How does, how does it work functionally? 

ML: 17:37 Well, we all send out an email first thing in the morning to let them, everyone else knows where we are and what we're working on because there's always that chance that somebody is working on something and that client sent an email with some more information. So bye. As a touching base and saying what client we're working on today, it's solving a lot of issues where the person that's doing the work isn't emailing the client for the information that's sitting in my email. So it's just always touching base, always having those touchpoints. And I'm always available whether I'm on vacation or I'm at a client by employees, always know that they can call text or email for help. 

MP: 18:16 That's great. And do you, so you use tax? What, what, what way do you find, because it sounds like you have a high level of communication, which is, I mean that's a starting point of culture, right? If you're not communicating, there's not going to be much that will be a culture of no communication. What technology or things do you find or are most effective for you? 

ML: 18:36 So we use email of course, cause that's easy. We all have iPhones. So we do Imessages with the group texting. Of course, we also have a program that's called Brain, which is through Microsoft. Um, and I think they just changed their name to Skype, the Skype app. So we're able to message each other as long as we're on the computer at any time. Um, so and then the phones of course. So we have multiple abilities to touch base, which is awesome. 

MP: 19:05 That's great. Excellent. So your staff, so you've hired staff. How have you been able to hire good people into your business? 

ML: 19:16 Pure bookkeeping HR has definitely helped 100%. Um, prior to being a licensee. The one employee I have, and I don't suggest this because it's not the best way to do it, but it worked out really well for me. I was at a client where I was the controller and I decided to leave because I wasn't okay with some of the things that were happening. And the girl that I trained to replace me called me about six months later and said, I don't agree with what I'm having to do. I'm leaving. So I heard her 

ML: 19:49 right on and excellent 

ML: 19:52 trader and I knew her abilities. So it worked really well for me. It's probably not the way most people want to hire because you don't want to be stealing people from clients or prior clients, but a, in this case, it worked out well. Um, but indeed is a glory to the website to use to put your ad out, um, because it has that ability to send messages out and you can get them to answer a couple of questions. Like, I require my employees to have a vehicle and, um, a driver's license because we're all over the Edmonton area, which means driving to dream valley or white court or whatever it might be. So that's one of the questions. So if they can't say yes to that, then I'm not wasting my time looking at adding a resume. 

MP: 20:37 Beautiful. So tell, talk a little bit about the pure bookkeeping HR program. How have you used it to improve your business? 

ML: 20:46 The exams like to I hired before pure bookkeeping, I hired a lady that she used to own a business, did her own bookkeeping. She told me in the interview, she interviewed really well with fantastic. She sits down in the office with me cause I usually spend a couple of weeks with them in the office with me not going to clients. And I'm like, okay, here's the bank statements. I need you to do this bank rec. And it's one of those I pick the clients that I know are super like they only use their bank account for business. They only use the bank account to pay for things. So it's an easy file. Right. And she sat there for about 10 minutes staring at the screen and I said, do you not know how to do a banker? She's like, no, I never did that. I always had my bookkeeper do that. Oh Wow. And it was like, but you said you did your own bookkeeping. Well, I put everything together and then I sent it to the bookkeeper and I'm like, you know, this isn't going to work. Right. Give me the name of your bookkeeper, maybe I can hire her. 

MP: 21:51 Wow. Well, you were lucky that it didn't cost you. What do you think the cost of that higher costs you? 

ML: 21:58 Okay. You know, a few hours of my time, which of course it's very, very limited time. Right. The thing that we all run out of, but um, it could've been way worse. 

MP: 22:09 Absolutely.

ML: 22:11 And that's, that's, you count myself lucky and I do an exam for all of my hires prior to Pure Bookkeeping. After I hired that person, I had actually created a QuickBooks and a person had to come in and do a few things and I had fake bank statements and whatever to see how that they did. But now that I have Pure Bookkeeping, I don't need to develop that myself.

MP: 22:41 That's right. You know, it's interesting. People talk about skill and character, right? You hire for character versus skill. What would you say about that? 

ML: 22:50 You definitely want them to be able to fit into your culture because you don't want problems internally where people can't communicate or this person doesn't like working with this person or that person doesn't like working with that person. So definitely has something to do with character and their ability to be personable within your own group. But skill is super important. And I would say 75 skill and 25% being able to be in your culture. And I wouldn't hire because of the skill I would hire because both of them work together. 

MP: 23:26 Yeah. But the really great point, right? A man, you can do personality tests till you're blue in the face, but if the person doesn't know what they're doing, that's not going to work either. And you could train them. But really the training cost is going to be extremely high. Why not try and find someone who both has the skill and the character and that's what the jewel and crown that you're kind of looking for. 

ML: 23:47 Yeah. So I started looking a good six months prior to meeting someone. 

MP: 23:52 Nice. 

ML: 23:53 You can find that perfect person. 

MP: 23:55 Very cool. Very cool. So in terms of where your business is going, what's next for you? 

ML: 24:03 Well, I actually just hired an HR specialist, so I'm finding more and more clients that I have need HR help, but they don't need someone in their full time just like they need bookkeeping but they don't need someone in there full time. So I just jumped off the wedge and hired an HR specialist. So she's on with me part-time and she's doing memos on stat holidays and what the requirements are and policies and onboarding and all kinds of things. So that's the new, the new direction and added scope of your accounting solution. 

MP: 24:42 Love it. That's so fantastic. You can feed both businesses with the uh, the added solution. 

ML: 24:49 Yes. So we just added a trading name and we're going with king business solutions. So beautiful new things happening. 

MP: 24:58 Exciting. Well, you are one of those people I think of often around just being a true entrepreneur and a true service to small business owners and the ones that have you are lucky to have you.

ML: 25:10 I got to say. Yeah. It's fantastic to have worked with you and be working with you. 

MP: 25:17 Thank you. I, you know, I love what I do and I love being able to help clients. It never was about the money, it was about being able to help them during the year instead of after the year. So, 

MP: 25:27 Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. Well, you know what, let's end on three business success tips that you would give to our listeners. I look like I needed to provide you that. Oh, it's so much better when you don't have time. When it's a, when it's a surprise and we don't do it that often, but I think a, you're probably come up with some goals right out of the gate. 

ML: 25:50 Um, uh, find a way to network inside your community. Um, I use, uh, BNI. It's fantastic and it's a great way to grow relationships business-wise and personal and be able to be part of your community. You always want to be a part of the community and be able to give back. The other thing is giving back. So I volunteer for personal tax season for old age homes as well. This year, I'm actually doing the cross cancer clinic as it's very close to my heart as my mom passed from cancer. So giving back to the community is huge and just keep your values, your business will grow because people hear about you. I was never part of the chamber and I decided in December to be part of the chamber here. I'm a Duke. And the first comment I had when I walked in was, I've heard so much about you, I've heard so much about you. And I talked to people and they're like, oh, I heard about you at the chamber. And I'm like, I'm not even heard of the chamber. But having your values in and working and doing your business based on your values will help you grow your business. 

MP: 26:59 Really, really valuable. See Melissa, it's all there. You don't need to prepare for anything. Those are extremely valuable. And I will say that we have some really cool free complimentary resources that will help people, the listeners with the success tips that you gave. So there's some really cool scripts around networking and hiring and all sorts of good stuff inside of our complimentary free, if you will, Successful Bookkeeper community portal where we have all sorts of resources and you can get that. If you go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com and sign up, you'll get access to that instantly and as a kind of a bonus for this. For this episode, what I'm going to do is I'm going to put one of the ads that we use inside of our hiring system. I'm going to post that up and give that away for free so people can have a look at how we start to open up and invite people to actually be a potential employee of one of our licensee bookkeeping firms, so will be a little gift. I'll add to this episode. If you go to this specific episode in the portal, you'll find that Melissa, you have been great. Let's tell people if they want to find out more about you or get in touch with you or perhaps we have entrepreneurs or business owners listening to this podcast. If we do actually have, which is, which surprised me, but uh, how can they get in touch with you? 

ML: 28:25 Uh, well we're just doing an upgrade to the website as I don't use my website to grow my business. I haven't really done much with it. So it looks like an accounting function did only me, which it's not. So we're doing that upgrade right now, but you can find me@wwwkingaccounting.ca or you can send me an email at Melissa. That's m e l i s s a f King accounting.ca or my phone number is also always available. So, (780) 446-5901.

MP: 29:00 There you go. Awesome. We'll have all of that information at your likely driving or doing something right now listening to this. Don't put yourself at risk. You just go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com and go to this episode. We'll have all of Melissa's contact information as well. Melissa is an avid contributor to The Successful Bookkeeper Facebook group, which is a private group that you can request access to. It's one of the benefits of joining our community is you get access to this community. You can interact with Melissa, ask her questions, and find her there and work with her on Facebook. So, Melissa, it's been great having you. Thank you for joining us and I wish you the best this year. 

ML: 29:43 Thank you very much, and I just wanted to put it out there to everyone. My tagline is, do what you do best and outsource the rest and just remember that out there. 

MP: 29:52 Awesome. Thank you, Melissa. Thank you. That wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time, goodbye.