EP65: Carrie Mulrooney - How To Create A Great Bookkeeping Work Culture

Bad hires.

As you probably know, they can be an emotionally, financially and psychologically expensive decision for your bookkeeping business.If you don't have the RIGHT people working for you, you'll be inviting a storm of trouble.

This is why it's absolutely crucial to bring employees on that are a fit.

How do you do that?

Today's guest, Carrie Mulrooney has some insight.

She is an expert in establishing great work culture.

Her company, Mulrooney & Associates, was named Canada's 2017 Bookkeeping firm of the year, so she knows what it takes to form a fantastic team.

During this interview, you'll learn...

  • The ingredients to look for in a terrific employee

  • The importance of staff having input on company decisions

  • Why celebrating group accomplishments together is great for morale

To find out more about Carrie, click here.


Michael Palmer: 01:18 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I am your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a good one. Our guest is the founder and CEO of Mulrooney and Associates, which has grown into a leader in the bookkeeping, accounting, payroll, and taxation industries, and has over 18 years of experience serving the Waterloo, Ontario region and beyond. Carrie Mulrooney, welcome to the podcast. 

Carrie Mulrooney: 01:47 Thank you, Michael. 

MP: 01:48 You know I saw you at the Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada, a national event and actually one of our listeners drag you over to the booth and said, this is a person that needs to be on the podcast. I went and had a look at your website and I said, wow, you have built what an interesting business and there are all sorts of signals of things that I can tell are awesome going on over, over at your organization. That's why I wanted to have you on the show, but, but let's help others understand you and get to know you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you up to this point? 

CM: 02:25 Okay. So thanks, Michael. Yeah, absolutely. So I started out doing some basement bookkeeping just over, almost close to 20 years ago. And during that time I realized that there was a real air of desperation out there for good quality bookkeeping services. That being said, I noticed that there were a lot of mistakes and errors and not good things happening from the bookkeeping industry. And um, at that point I said, you know what? I gotta do something about this. So I looked into some designations and professional associations and stuff like that. At that time, I had decided that I was going to move forward with, you know, continuing and finishing my education and working with the employers at that point before I started my business. So that's kind of where I got my start from. Just realizing that, hey, you know what? There's really something out there that really needs to be done about this. 

MP: 03:21 So when I looked at your website, I saw this great picture of you and your staff outside your building and everyone's smiling, happy. And I mean, I've looked at a lot of websites, a bookkeeping business, w websites, and I just instantly felt like, like, wow, something awesome is happening over there. I can imagine that is really been good for sort of putting out to the world what you're all about. But how did you, how did you build a type of team that looks like they're just jumping up, up and down, a happy about working for you? 

CM: 04:01 Well, I mean, we all do have a really good time. So I, our motto is, is here is that you know what, we all work really, really hard. Um, but we also work hard at having a lot of fun. So, um, you know, quite often you can come into our back area where the teamwork and you know, nose to the grindstone faces or in the desks and on the computer screens. But we have a really unique culture. And when we do our heart-hurting, Michael, what we do is we really look for the right fit for our business. And that means that it's going to be the right fit for our existing team, the right fit for our existing clients that we have. And of course, there are all the other components of education and experience that we, we like to be able to mold people the way that they need to be for us and for our services. 

CM: 04:49 So ensuring that you know, they have a great attitude, they're respectful, that they can be really diverse and dealing with all different clients and lots of different ways. So for us, the culture is, we have a really unique culture and we've just kind of built it over time. And it organically, I think sort of happen. But in my years of working for other companies, I realized that I knew how I didn't like and didn't want to be treated. And I ensured that you know what? My team gets to have some say and we get to make decisions together and we get to work together on projects and I don't know everything and nor do I pretend to. So, I always go to the team and say, hey guys, you know what, you know, we need to do something about this. What are your thoughts? What can we do? We have regular team meetings, we have really cool events that we attend. We take the team out to, you know, celebrate our achievements and our busy times of years and stuff like that. So I think that really, um, you know, just organically happens and, uh, they're a great team and we do have a lot of fun. 

MP: 05:53 Well, that's great. Well, I can, you know, I think the, there's always a, you're saying that leadership, the fish rots from the head down.

MP: 05:58 Uh, your fish is not riding. So that says a lot about you and your leadership style and what you're doing. Uh, but I'm imagining that you've, it's not all shiny. You've probably had some, some challenges along the way. Can you share, share what didn't work in your early days? CM: 06:15 Yeah, so, well one of the things that I did when I started my hiring, you know, by no means I'm a, I'm a bookkeeper by trade. So HR is, is not, you know, necessarily are a thing. I think for a lot of bookkeepers. So for me, it was, it was always a challenge in, and it still is a challenge up to these days. But I've learned and I've grown and I've, I've said, okay, this is what I'm not going to do, this is what we're not going to do next time. 

CM: 06:44 And so on. One of the things that I found was that hiring for us, which has worked really well for us is hiring young, fresh, and students out of the colleges out of the university is made a big difference. We used to at the, at the beginning we, we would hire, you know, people that had 25 years of bookkeeping experience and they were great and they knew their thing, but you know, they were always, I found just very focused on the way that they would do things. And you know, we, we like to mold people the way that we like our clients to be serviced in our accounts to be done. So realizing as we would go along and make these hires that, hmm, you know what? I don't think this is the right fit. It's not working out and bringing in those, that, that young talent, especially these days with everything going into the cloud, uh, we need, we need those young people to come in and say, Hey, yeah, we want to do these projects. We want to take this on. We want to take the lead in us.

MP: 07:38 Well, I think it speaks to the number one key that Michael Gerber and AMF and the EMF is the entrepreneurial myth. Uh, and the concept around building a business that, that works and runs on the system is that you're not hiring people that are going to figure it out and do it their way. You need people that are going to come in and do it your way, and you have your way and it's your company and it's your name on the door. And so you have to have people that are gonna subscribe to that. And so it's great to hear that your, you're winning with young, fresh talent out of colleges and universities. That's exciting. Yeah. So you are also, you've been named Canada's bookkeeping firm of the year in 2017 now this, this is a relatively new share, a little bit about what led up to that and what that's been like for you. 

CM: 08:33 Oh, well the nomination and the word came through the IPTC, which is, as you mentioned, we were at the conference just recently at the Institute of professional bookkeepers of Canada. And when I was in my early journeys of, you know, getting designations and getting educated further in the bookkeeping field, I joined IPBC quite shortly after it became the association. And I've worked really closely with the IPPC over the last, you know, eight years and we really have made a lot of progress in the time that we joined. I was a one-man show, one man bookkeeper. I didn't hire my first team member until 2010 and that was part-time. And now we've worked our way up to 1212 team members and a have had exponential growth to the point where we moved out of corporate offices in our home, um, into buying a building here in and operating that and actually now at capacity and looking to expand further into our, our locations. 

CM: 09:32 So, and building other locations. So through that journey, we've had a lot of growth and of course, you know, bringing these, these young students and educated people even in maybe second careers wanting to come in, we've really been real advocates for the IPPC and what they've done for us as bookkeepers. And you know, we ensure that all of our team are designated and certified. It's really important for our clients and for our business to have people who are professionals and educated working on their books. So I think a lot of that has led to, you know, where we're at these days and, and receiving and being honored with the amazing award of the bookkeeping firm of the year. We've had a lot of challenges. We've had a lot of growth. We've had a lot of, you know, great opportunities in the IPBC has been a huge success 

CM: 10:19 part of that for us.

MP: 10:29 It's exciting and congratulations on the award. Uh, I think it really just speaks to the type of business that you've built now as a, as an owner and someone that's gone through this process. What have you seen for you as being the key thing that you need to focus on? 

CM: 10:51 Well, I think the focus always changes and as growth has been the changes. And you know, at the beginning I was, you know, really involved in all the accounts and I knew every client I knew every due date I knew everything. So, you know, I've seen the evolution of the changes happen for us over, you know, these, these 18 years and you know, just really being aware of what's happening and being able to say, hey, we need to integrate software. We need to put new practice management in place. Being able to know when things are on my plate and say, you know what? I need to pass that down. Now I'm a, I'm at capacity. Mental and physical capacity to be able to do everything. And as business owners, we are always wearing 20 hats. But one of the things that we've done recently through, you know, these transitions as we actually have created an organizational structure chart, which actually shows, you know, here, here's where everybody is in our main focus. And our main goal is to service every customer the best that we can. Um, but putting, putting some, you know, supervisory levels and things in place to be able to allow me to go out and, and build and do business development and work with the team and ensure that we're bringing in the right sets of clients that we're able to service these clients, monitoring capacity with those supervisors and just, and just moving forward in a direction that makes sense. 

MP: 12:13 Uh, it very interesting. And, and you've, you've got a large team and you, it's not one service that you're offering, but, but many to help your clients. So I like, you know, one of the things on your website, if, if our listener was to go and look at your website, they're going to see the team. And see that there are all these different roles that people are playing. Uh, I think, I think your website is a really good, another really good example of, uh, how to put together a website. And some of the things I love about your website is your pictures. You've got a whole bunch of pictures on your website of your team, of yourself. Everybody's smiling, they're great pictures, they're professionally done. I mean, I don't even have to, I don't read any of it. I just look, I look go right there and I look and I'm like, there's something here that if I'm an interested prospect, I'm going to likely choose you. How have you found this to impact your business? Have you had any of your clients comment on it? 

CM: 13:14 Yeah, quite often we do, you know, we get business in all different funnels through referrals and you know, people driving by our buildings, senior assign, obviously client referrals, accountants and, and Google. More and more we're finding that people are using the Internet to search out. Um, we do quite often have people come in, you know, they found us on Google and they do comment, you know, oh, your website was great, I liked your website. I could actually see you and see your team. And um, and that, so yeah, we do get a lot of great feedback from that. And we work really closely with, um, a company that looks after our website and that end of things for us. And one of the things that we've worked with them for many, many years, and I remember when we first were recreating our website and doing a rebranding years ago, uh, they came into my office, they sat down, they said, okay, so we're going to take this totally outside of the box. 

CM: 14:10 And I looked at them, I said, all right, show me what you got. And you know, we did some really cooling, unique things with our marketing at that time. And even some of our print marketing is different. And quite often we get the comment from people, they say, you know, you guys aren't just like any old bookkeepers and you like to have fun and it's not boring and it's not, you know, typical accountants or bookkeepers. So, you know, quite often we do get those comments and it's really neat too because that's, that's just the way we are. We're personable, we love our people and we want to be able to show that.  

MP: 14:41 So winning formula can tell you that is the way, you know, it's every, everyone out there listening, it's maybe you're not the fun people, but whatever you are, bring that out in your website, be who you are in your website. And I can't, yeah. You know, I go to websites and I look and it's like stock photo and what, uh, you know, what a, what a waste of space to have anything but who you are and what you're all about on that website. And I can tell you, you've done some work to get found on the, on, on Google and you've done that work and it's paying off. And I can tell you in my belief is that it's because of what your web designer and the direction that you've been given. You hired a pro-Nate delivered, but they brought your personality out on that website and so people can find you all day long, but unless they're going to click and contact you, it's, it's a waste of time. Right? Yeah. So, yeah, another tip of the hat to you on that, it's really, really well done. And, and, uh, you've, you've, you've, you've done a great job there. Now you, you also mentioned on your website that you, you actually services can, may be made in multiple languages. I don't think I've ever seen that on a bookkeeper's website before. What, what prompted you to add that feature? 

CM: 15:54 Well, we have a really diverse team, which we're really fortunate to have. And um, you know, we do, we do really make a point of, of hiring diverse individuals from other countries and languages and stuff like that because they all have really unique things that they can, they can offer. In particular, one of our account specialists right now, she finished all of our accounting and bookkeeping designations in Russia and she came here with her husband for work and now she's part of our team and she can speak full fluent Russian. Obviously, we have a couple of our team members who speak Mandarin. We've got another who speaks only Spanish at home with her family and her child. So you know, we really do have some, some really unique individuals who are able to, and quite often getting it when we get those particular clients that come in that there might be that language barrier in communication, which does happen. They're able to communicate with them in that way, which is great. And I've sat in on meetings, I have no idea what they're talking about, but the client's happy and they're smiling. They're like, yes. Okay, I understand. And so it's really neat to be able to, to offer that service to our clients. 

MP: 17:01 Yeah, it's really, really remarkable. I think that's a, it's interesting. I haven't seen it before and, and I think positions you really well.

MP: 17:14 You know, there's a lot of listeners that are sitting in their car or at work and maybe they're thinking, wow, you have such a big company. How many employees are you up to now? You're, 

MP: 17:25 yeah, we're at 12 now. 

MP: 17:27 12 and 28. Yeah, that's a large firm, really large firm. One of the larger firms likely in, in your area, uh, you know, greater, greater, greater area. Now they may be thinking, Gee, how do I go from where I am now? Some people don't even want to go that, right. They, it's just not interesting to them to get to that size of business. But what, you know, can you share a little bit of how and how does, how does one even start to think about going from where you've been to where you are? 

CM: 17:58 Well, I think ultimately for me, I had a goal and I, when I realized, you know, back almost 20 years ago, how much of a need there was for those services out there. I actually looked around and I thought, okay, why are there so many CPA firms and there are so many legal firms, but why aren't there any bookkeeping firms? Like this is a service that all businesses need. And at that point I just decided, you know what, I'm like, there's gotta be other people like me out there who can do great bookkeeping services. So I'd love to build something to be able to service and help the most businesses that we can. And I think from the ground up, it just was my ultimate goal. It's not for everybody. And I know that. And you know, Kudos to all those, you know, one-off bookkeepers, because I do, you know, refer to them from time to time when we know if there are projects we're unable to look after or whatever for clients based on certain circumstances. Um, you know what, there's a need for all of all different types of bookkeeping out there. And I just went ground running and said, you know what, this is what I want to do and I'm passionate about it and I wanted to build it and I wanted to say, hey, you know what, we can help you and we can help you and help you and here's a great team of people who can do it. 

MP: 19:12 Wonderful. So it sounds like from what you're saying the key for you was your, you had your a really clear this is what I want. This is where I'm going. You had a clear goal and you've, you've built to get there any big setbacks. 

CM: 19:27 Um, I think for uh, the like the biggest setbacks and challenges we've had in the past is always been, I think from, you know, once we get to that full capacity with, you know, we've got capacity with clients, we've got capacity, the team is okay, we've got to take that next step. We've got to make that next step again. And it's always that, you know, I worked to the teams to the point where they're looking at me going, okay, Kerry, like we can't possibly take on another client and then I bring one in. They're all looking at me going, who's going to do this? And that's where I say, well, we're just going to hire another person. And my challenge and my goal are always at that point is to get more business to fill that role for that, that employee or that team member that we bring in so that they can be with us. 

CM: 20:08 You know, working from part-time to full-time level capacity from a, you know, where are we going to go? It's been a challenge. Um, back, you know, in 2013, myself and my partner were looking at, okay, well, you know, we got five people in the, in the house now and corporate offices, we're working on a 400 square feet. We don't have any more room for failing. And you know, at that point we need to say, okay, well we got to rent a space. We got to buy something. We got a cigarette. What we're going to do next. So I think for us, capacity from a, you know, a physical standpoint and then obviously from a work level has always been that challenge. But what it does is it drives me and it forces me to just go out and go, okay, we're just to get more clients. Okay, we're going to get some more space here. And it just kind of, it just happens. And um, you know, and we just, we just go with it. 

MP: 20:55 And so it's really, uh, the capacity when you, you grew out of your space, which I think is an important message, is that your business told you that it's time to get a bigger space and then to go to that next leap. You said I gotta go get more clients. When you, that goes through your head, what actions do you take to get more clients? 

CM: 21:17 Well, I typically will take a look at where are we at on a high level, who's doing what, who's, who can help me more. Because usually at that point, that means that I'm out networking and driving business and, and creating pricing packages and meeting with clients and bringing them on board. So, you know, I look at, okay, who at the time, who are my leaders, who are my people that I can rely on and I pass, you know, some of those rules and duties that possibly I can't maybe do at that time down in. And we're always shifting around. We're always moving around. So, and what I mean by that is, you know, like one of our account specialists may be focused on this type of set of accounts or here working, you know, maybe doing some off state stuff. It's like, let's pull them in, let's move this person over here now and let's, let's do a shift. 

CM: 22:03 And it happens all the time. So, and they, I think they like it because, you know, there's always something new to learn, but they have, you know, they're not stuck doing the same thing all the time. They're like, Hey, what's next? Oh, we have another growth spurt. Okay, what's, what's next and my plate, what's coming? What do I get to move out and, and how do I help that person now and be able to oversee those accounts? And I think everybody really takes full control and manages their roles, which is really neat to see because they're really proud. They call them, you know, their accounts counselor, their babies, right? So they're like, I got to make sure that this was well looked after for this client. 

MP: 22:35 Hmm. Yeah. That comes back to your culture. You've, you've built a great team that, that thinks of it that way. And that's a powerful context to live by and work by now. You know, listening to you use lots on your plate, 12 employees, growth, new people, new locations, Reese, you know, strategies, working with clients, all these things like so much time. I work with so many people that say, you know, I'm bogged down, they're bogged down, I don't have the time. They can't, you know, can't get onto growing the business. They can't get on to working on the business are too busy working in the business. How did you overcome that? 

CM: 23:11 I wouldn't say I've overcome it. I would say that it's definitely a challenge every day because as soon as I think I get a little bit further, then you know a big shift comes of business. Then it kind of sets me back a little bit sometimes. But it's always something that I'm striving for. And like I said, we've, we've put things in places like our new structure and team members to supervise and help and, and I used to think that, you know, I'd sit at my desk and I go, oh, okay, QuickBooks online is coming out and Hubdocs as a Plooto and I got to know all these systems and figure out how we're going to integrate these into our, you know, our growth and to what we can offer our clients. And, and I have to take a step back sometimes and look at it and go, wait a minute, I don't need to learn all these things. 

CM: 23:51 That's why I have these amazing young, vibrant, smart people on my team. And I say, hey guys, who want an awesome project? Paul, you want to lead up Hubdoc? Okay, awesome. Paul is now our hubs doctor. And he manages all of the hub doc clients, you know, and, and, and does the training and does webinars and stuff like that. So I've kind of given everybody the opportunity to take a project on things that typically I would think I should be doing, but I don't, I don't have to be doing, you know, and, and this is where it's great because with their expertise and their experience and their knowledge and their, you know, being young and, and wanting to do this, it allows them to show their talents, which is really cool. Um, and allows me to be able to take a step back and go, okay, good, that's flipped after. 

CM: 24:37 Now I can move onto the next thing. So it's, I wouldn't say that you know, I've perfected it. It just kind of happens as we move along and I'm, there are quite often many days or I have to make sat down and make myself a list on my desk and take, what do I need to get off my plate now? What are these next few things that I need to do? Um, you know, we're making a shift and changing some stuff up with our payroll. I've always done payroll up to the point now I'm like, okay, now I can shift it out if somebody else can manage that because of the new processes and the new programs and software that we put in place. So there's always things that I'm always looking for. Ways to change things and move things out. 

MP: 25:15 Yeah. Wonderful. 

MP: 25:23 You know, this is a, this is it. The enemy of the small business owner is to do it alone. And uh, you know, you're an example of, you know, I love that you've, you're, you're straight with it. It's, you're not, you haven't figured everything out, but you've definitely figured out how to step back and go, hey, where am I not, where am I not doing the things I need to do? Well, and then you, you come up with a solution and it was to get, you know, get a hub doctor in the house and, and delegate and get other people engaged in working on it. So I think there's a really powerful message there. Who have been your mentors, who have contributed to you to help you figure out how to get to this level of, uh, the game you're playing yet? 

CM: 26:08 Well, I would say that you know, I've, I've obviously I've had some great support from my partner, my husband and my life, which has been amazing. You know, he allowed me, not allowed me but enabled me to go back to school years ago, finish off designation. Well, you know, looking after the kids and, and the household and all that kind of stuff and mentor in a different way I guess. But I have had some associates that I've worked with for years. Some are even clients and they're my mentors. I've seen them grow, I've watched them develop in their business and you know, quite often we'll go out for a lunch and I pick their brain and go, hey, like, how'd you do that? My Gosh, this is where I'm at. We're very heavily involved in the Chamber of Commerce, our Cambridge KW and Gwelph chambers here at this end. 

CM: 26:50 And I'm involved in a lot of programs. Um, I had up some peer to peer facilitating groups as well as chair some of the networking groups. And the chamber has been really good support for me. Um, they offer great, great programs and things that I can get involved in where I'm just sitting in a room with a bunch of CEOs saying, okay, I've got an issue here. How, like does anybody have any suggestions? And you know, I'm able to, it all stays at the table. It doesn't leave the room. And I'm able to get out there and get that support that I need for my business. And you know, sometimes you can't always go to your partner. You can't always go with your team. And, and there are just those situations where, you know, I'm like, I look for that. I need somebody to help me and guide me here. So, because, you know, sometimes you just, you do sit in your office and you go, hmm, how am I going to deal with this? How am I going to manage this? So 

MP: 27:41 I love it. There are just so many best practices for an entrepreneur reaching out, asking for help, observing others, learning, being curious. These are what lead to great things in the future. And you know, that's the opportunity that you have as a bookkeeper and working with businesses. You get such an intimate view of what's going on in so many different businesses. That's gold. That's, that's your intellectual property. That's your knowledge. That's uh, and, and so many people don't get those kinds of views into a business. And I think often people discount or take for granted how powerful and valuable that is. Not only from your own learning but also the ability to, to make the difference for those people that you're working with those different cause you're bringing that back to them. Likely. Uh, the other piece that I heard that I want to really bring forward and highlight is you really speak from, you know, when you're sitting with a client, you're sitting with the client as an equal. 

MP: 28:42 And that is a mindset that I would say is one of your success strategies is, and you might not need to even know that it's one of them, but your a person that is not looking at them like you're lesser than them or greater than them, but you're looking like an equal and when you come as an equal and enables people to work together. Yeah. So for the listener, think of it that way. You own and run your own business, whether you're solo or you have 12 staff, you are a person that is running your business. So every single client that you work with at the top, they're running their business regardless of the size of it. You do meet on equal terms on some level. And so think of it that way. It will increase the chance that you can have rapport and respect, mutual respect with those people. 

MP: 29:29 And then that opens up the door for opportunities that Carrie here is just really masterfully done in her career. So my, again, tip my hat to, that's fantastic. Yeah. You know, Carrie, this has been absolutely terrific and I always go over and I'll look at the clock and go, wow, we've already gone through time. Um, you're an inspiration. I think for our listener. You've done some great things. You're running a great business, you're helping small businesses in our country really, you know, congratulations. And I'm sure people will want to learn more about you. What's the best way for them to do that? 

CM: 30:07 Well, um, you know, I'm always around and available like our military team, you know, depending on situations. I mean, there are lots of things that I get involved in. I'm involved in many groups and networking groups. Like I'd mentioned, I do a lot of presenting. I'm on the Program Advisory Committee for the Conestoga College for the bookkeeping programs and stuff like that. So if there are lots of ways to, you know, be able to connect with me and, uh, you know, have a conversation, whether it's over, you know, click chat on the phone or through an email or even just, I'm coming out to one of the events. You know, there's, there's always lots of opportunity for, for, for ways to be in touch. 

MP: 30:46 Beautiful. Well, we'll have a link to your website and, uh, and if there are any other links you want us to post, we can certainly do that. But, uh, this has been really fantastic and thank you again for your time, uh, to be here today. 

CM: 31:00 Thank you. Thank you, Michael. 

MP: 31:02 Well, that wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's inspiring guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time, 

MP: 31:15 goodbye.