Why my relationships love my office visits

From the Archives

Originally published January 7, 2015

I love visiting the offices of the nonprofit and small-business relationships I maintain for part-time income. And don’t worry; relationships are what most businesses call customers or clients. I prefer “relationships” because the other two words are so clumsy. Anyway, whether I’m juggling a full-time job and independent contracts or doing independent work only, my visits to relationships’ offices are few and far between. It makes sense that my time there must be planned and spent carefully and purposefully. I derive personal enjoyment from spending them with them, and they’ve come to appreciate what we’re able to accomplish while I’m there. Here are some reasons they relish my infrequent visits to their places of business.

My visits are infrequent
That should say it all. The number one reason for anyone to be glad for a visit from me is that such visits are infrequent. I admit to a big personality, one that is best taken in small doses. Like once a month or once a quarter. How much intensity can a relationship handle anyway?

They take our work more seriously
This is not a joke. The bookkeeper-wife of one my relationships told me this the other day. When I suggested that we check in more frequently by phone to ensure that their accounting records are clean from month to month, she said, “We like it better when you come here because we take the work more seriously when you’re in the office.” Apparently, my presence draws out the gravity of their accounts the way a phone conference cannot do. Go figure. (Pun intended.)

I roll up my sleeves and dirty my hands
Granted, I’m among the nerdier accountants who truly revel in investigating accounts and answering tough questions about financial statements. In that way, I don’t dictate to my relationships what’s wrong with their books and what they must do to make things whole. This is especially true with relationships who do not have extensive accounting background. It is also true of understaffed offices. I’ve seen how quickly work can pile up on the bookkeeper in those situations, and I’m deeply sympathetic. I’ve found a healthy balance between helping relationships get better (on their own) about keeping accurate, compliant records of their finances and digging in to complete work they prefer I do for them to get them situated for the next reporting period, a tidy segue to my next reason.

I make their books whole and watch for audit red flags
Nonprofits are under a microscope because foundation and federal funding guidelines are often strict and unforgiving. Small business relationships benefit from my experience under that kind of scrutiny because I bring the same kind of attention to details that could make or break a sole proprietor or partnership in the event of a tax audit. Each month or quarter, I focus on producing a hard balance sheet (thanks to rigorous training from a CPA mentor Nancy H.) and an accurate income statement. Whether we bat cleanup once a month or once a quarter, relationships rest easy knowing that their books are squeaky clean and ready for tax calculations.

They work less at tax time
For small business relationships filing quarterly taxes, including estimated federal taxes, they have the assurance that the records on their books most accurately represent that amounts on which they need calculate their taxes. A few of these relationships have an external accountant who helps with calculations and filings. In years past, owners and partners would send bank statements, receipts, spreadsheets, and Dome accounting books to their accountants. Today, they send a balance sheet, which their accountants usually disregard anyway, and an income statement. As their accountants have grown confident in the figures in these financial reports, these have become the only paperwork relationships need send for quarterly taxes and again in time for yearly federal tax filings. All other paperwork can remain safely in filing cabinets, manila folders, hanging folders, envelopes, binders, and even shoeboxes.

I bring my famous iced tea
Some of my relationships maintain home offices, and as I can only see them in the evening during the work week, they will often set a place for me at their dinner table before we head into their office to do damage to their books or filing systems. Now the only thing “famous” about my iced tea is that is widely talked about – by me – in certain circles. Even so, I either whip up a gallon of this home-brewed deliciousness for dinner or bake a batch of brownies for dessert if I know I will be at their homes at dinner time. They seem to enjoy having one or two fewer things to prepare for dinner on those rare days. And the iced tea has been invited back even when I’ve not been.

Ultimately, my relationships and I benefit from spending time together in ways that phone calls, lengthy (preachy) emails from me, and sporadic text messages do not afford us. I’ve watched families – along with the businesses – start and grow over the years, and swapping Christmas cards and dinner invitations is a wonderful source of relationship building. For my part, if I don’t walk into their offices with a clear plan of action for maximizing my time there, I’ll request that I take some work home and schedule time with them when such a visit will benefit them most. They seem to like that, too. It’s not all one-sided, though. I love the opportunity to go somewhere other than home a few nights a month. It makes coming home more like coming home. Maybe my next post will be about why I love visiting my relationships’ offices… Stay tuned.