Finding My Niche

A hard lesson I’ve recently (re)learned is to stop trying to force something that isn’t meant to be.  To not emulate, replicate or duplicate.

I’ve been married for 19 years to a good man and have no children.  Because of this, I had the flexibility to start my own bookkeeping business back in 2006 while still working my full time job.

And after 9 years, I’m still doing both.

Is this failure or my niche?

Niche

Bookkeeping is my strength.  I love it.  I love digging into numbers, customizing reports, trouble-shooting problems and creating daily accounting work-flows.  Starting the business allowed me to concentrate on just that as my full time job was a combination of both bookkeeping and property management.  I was not able to use my strengths to their fullest on the job, so the business really allowed me to ‘stretch my legs’ so to speak.

The problem came when I connected/networked with other bookkeepers who ran their business full time.  Don’t get me wrong – they were a great source of inspiration and encouragement.  But they were also a reminder of where I was not – running my business full time.  I had thought that after almost 10 years that my business would’ve flourished to where I had a portfolio of clients, an employee or two and even a little place outside the house to set up ‘shop’.  There’s this place I pass by on my way to work every morning that was once a florist.  It has a nice little parking area, a main store area perfect for office space and an attached structure (that was once the greenhouse) for storage, filing and a sweet network/server/computer setup to service all types of clients from here to California. It’s been vacant for at least 10 years and right on the main road.

untitled

I dreamed of waking up early and getting there before anyone else to prepare for my day, view deadlines, delegate individual client work – working IN my business – while planning to attend small business networking events, QuickBooks conferences, continuing education seminars, getting up to date on the latest third-party apps, punching up my website and advertising – working ON my business.  Needless to say I had big dreams.

But, again, after almost 10 years, that’s all they are.

Again – does that mean I’m a failure?

It took me almost all this time to accept the fact that perhaps my purpose is just where it’s currently at – working a full-time job and running a part-time business with just enough clients to bring in that extra cash without burning me out with 7-day work weeks.  It wasn’t just that I could not quit my job (boss pays for medical and hub’s business is seasonal and unpredictable), but – in some strange way – I didn’t want to.  I did a blog post here about the stability of working for someone else.  Writing that post was my way of coming to grips with my dual-life as well as put some hard truths into perspective.  Even after re-reading it prior to writing this post, I began to wonder why it would spur me to have these feelings of failure all over again.

Because change happened again.

This past spring we had a major upheaval at my place of employment that resulted in the loss of our very large client.  We went from a staff in our office of four down to just myself.  It also impacted our sister company that did all the property preservation work.  I was immediately forthright with my boss about whether or not I needed to begin looking for another job.  When he told me no, as well as his plans to move in another direction, I felt relieved.  He had been wise about the money he had made and saved over the years to where he was able to establish some new business ventures rather immediately.  Even though I’d still be employed, the ‘volume’ of work would be considerably reduced.  Around that time the annual Scaling New Heights conference for QuickBooks users, bookkeepers and accountants was taking place.  Those I follow in the industry were in attendance as I read their updates on the groups about the great time they were having and all the new stuff they’re learning in order to serve their clients better.

Cue the longing.

My acceptance of where I was ‘supposed’ to be flew out the window as my mind began to churn.  The significant down-time I’d be having at work until things picked up was the perfect opportunity for me to get back on the wagon and build up my business.  I had let my QuickBooks Pro Advisor certifications go, my website was a dated mess and I seriously fell behind on what was new and improved in my industry.  I dove in with both feet (and hands) making lists, business plans, website re-designs, course refreshers…..you name it.  All this time I thought, why?  Why did I have to settle for the way things were?  Why couldn’t I have what I had always dreamed of?  Why was it impossible?  Maybe that old florist shop has been vacant all this time for a reason – because it’s suppose to be mine – all mine!

But as quickly as my ambitious plans for growing my business and world domination began to escalate they had (yet, again) come to a stop when reality set in.  Things picked up at work (still not the same volume, but steady) and hub was going through a change in business direction as well.  Although I had gained two new bookkeeping clients during that time, I knew that the idea of being 100% on my own was still elusive.  And it took kick-in-the-pants #2 to, at this point in time, to stick that genie back in the bottle for good.  This is my purpose.  This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is not failure.

This is my niche.

And after all the longing, envy and dreaming, I’ve finally come to grips with it to the point where I’m relieved.  It’s as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders that’s labeled ‘What I’m Supposed To Be Doing By Now’.  I had put too much pressure upon myself by trying to measure up to the standards of others in my industry.  Yes, it’s good to have something to benchmark your growth against, but if you’re not in a position to commit to that growth, then you’ll stay stationary and wind up resentful of your non-progress.

But in order to be sure my mindset doesn’t veer off the beaten path when my bookkeeping peeps head off to the Bahamas for next year’s Scaling New Heights Conference (really – the Bahamas!), I have set some personal and professional guidelines for myself to keep my current state in perspective.

  1. Acceptance.  First and foremost.  I have a job and a business. One will not be dropped for the other.  Both have been part of my ‘big picture’ for almost ten years.  There’s most likely a reason for that.  I have security, paid medical/vacation/personal/sick time, Christmas bonuses with my job plus additional income with my business.
  2. Prioritize.  In the end, it all has to get done.  But re-organizing the spice cabinet takes the back burner to getting a client’s quarterly payroll tax returns prepared and sent back.  This is where something like Steven Covey’s four quadrants can come into play. Just because I’m logged into a client’s QuickBooks account doesn’t mean I can quickly zip over to Pinterest to find a chutney recipe.  Not urgent.  Not important.  And the words ‘quick’ and ‘Pinterest’ do not belong in the same sentence.
  3. Boundaries.  I had done a post here about how I established them when a problem client had crossed mine. They still apply to clients, but now also to myself.  Unless there’s an urgent deadline, they will not be crossed.  When an email comes in during my ‘downtime’, I’ll look at it, but leave it ‘unread’ and answer it later.  I will not plan to make a time-consuming supper if I have several hours of client work to do when I get home from the office. I will make use of my ‘out of office’ reply during my annual visit to my parents.  The clothes in the dryer and soap scum in the bathtub will not be tended to in between schedule Saturday a.m. work. I must be diligent about not crossing work and personal lines
  4. Attitude. For so long I’ve wondered “Why can’t I?” Now, it will be, “How can I?”.  Meaning – “How can I budget better?”  “How can I find several more clients that fit my schedule?”  “How can I spread around the extra money to pay off debt?” “How can I better manage my time in order to have 1-2 full weekends off?” “How can I perform current client work more efficiently?”  Rather than be bitter about where I’m not, I’m going to be thankful for where I am and work it best I can.
  5. Re-Tool.  I still need to put the finishing touches on some specialty bookkeeping packages for my website, but I’m going to stress what types of businesses I will serve.  I cannot (and will not) take on-site clients (with the exception of occasional meetings).  I will only take clients who need either monthly or quarterly write-ups.  This will give me a wider berth to schedule everyone throughout the month and having a weekly client could interfere with that.  I will not take ‘on call’ clients as they can be unpredictable, especially income-wise. I need to re-tool my business so that it works around the other facets of my life – not the other way around.
  6. Streamline.  This pertains to what tools and services I will offer.  I am a Certified QuickBooks Pro Advisor so to spend time testing out other accounting software models would not be feasible.  If I get a client inquiry who utilizes a program other than QB, I will kindly turn then down.  I’ve already did that with a current client who went from this horrid web-based accounting system to one whose dashboard navigation was a joke.  I sent them an email letting them know that I would no longer be able to stay on as their bookkeeper once they make the switch-over.  The result was the owner agreeing to speak with me about switching to QBOnline instead. I had no intention of them doing this, but speaking up paid off.  I’ve enabled my clients over the years.  Now is the time for me to make things easy for me and simplifying the process is the first step.
  7. Compromise.  I need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before I consider this.  See #6 above when I said no to a client I had been serving since 2009.  I didn’t compromise my work standard and it had an unexpected positive result.  The trick will be to bend the rules without it becoming commonplace.
  8. Focus.  Focus, focus, focus.  I can’t stress this enough and my worst enemy is myself.  All I have to do is refer to the number of times I violated #3.  I start the day off with a plan and a list only to get sidetracked by something  not part of that plan.  Being in front of a computer makes it too easy to surf the ‘net when I’m supposed to be working on a client file.  Or, I just remembered the bunch of clover choking my geraniums in the flower box that need to be pulled.  Or that I have to put Drano down the bathroom sink.  When I’m in business mode, I cannot be distracted by household/personal matters.  Which brings me to:
  9. Schedule.  Everything – even what television shows we watch On Demand and on what nights, cooking, laundry, cleaning, errands – everything needs to be scheduled.  Every Sunday I plan supper for that upcoming week so I know what nights cooking is involved.  This helps me plan client work and Wednesday night bill paying as those nights will either have hub in charge of dinner or leftovers. Errands are taken care of on my lunch hour and doubles in getting additional exercise as well as recharging my batteries.  Other than the kitchen floor, sink and counter which is done nightly, the house is cleaned every 1-2 weeks, depending up what it is (wood paneling can be done every other week, whereas the tub and toilets should be weekly).  It’s only hub and I so things don’t get that dirty.  But dust does have a mind of it’s own!
  10. Balance. Working 7 hours a day out of the house means that my business and household tasks must be scheduled around that.  Down time is crucial to avoiding burnout and one can easily forget to stop, sit down, put your feet up and take a much needed break.  This is particularly challenging for me on the weekends as I have to juggling appointments out of the house then come back to do client work, clean, meal plan, take inventory of any shopping to do and prep supper.  I tout work/life balance  and need to practice what I preach.  By implementing all of the above, everything should be delegated and distributed evenly so I can sit down at 3pm on Saturday afternoon and watch that guilty pleasure Lifetime movie or spend an entire Sunday afternoon out with the hub.

The main thing here is that I’m finally comfortable in accepting my current situation. I no longer consider it the product of a failed long-time goal, but rather a successful way of blending the two while still maintaining a fulfilling personal life.  I’m at peace with it.  I’ve found my purpose.  I found my balance.

I found my niche.

 

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8 thoughts on “Finding My Niche

  1. I’ve found out about your blog through Philofaxy, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your postings, especially this one. I think it’s quite hard to figure out where our niche is, especially since it’s so easy to think about “shoulds” and compare ourselves to some sort of outside benchmark. I’m thinking through the same sorts of things right now, and your post makes a lot of sense–words to remember!

  2. Thanks for this. I love that you reframed so much. You did a lot of tough work to get to this place. My favorite quote is about becoming resentful of your own non-growth. I have done this so often. Like all good posts, this gave me much food for thought.

  3. I’m finding myself asking those very same questions lately. And have come to the same conclusion, I’m not a failure. My life seems to be taking a different direction lately and I’m finding I’m asking myself do I go in that direction? If I hold my breath and take the leap, will I fail? I haven’t decided and will have to wait to see if I should.

    • It all came down to me trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and measuring my success by those of my peers. Once I came to grips that what’s meant for others may not be in the cards for me, I was able to quit comparing myself to those farther ahead in my industry and just find the rhythm of my own purpose. It’s good to take that leap, but when you’re good and ready.

  4. Elena, I love this article! My favorite part was the focus on “how can I” instead of “why can’t I,” it speaks volumes to me! It’s a great way to reframe the situation and make it feel more in your control instead of feeling like it’s something that happened to you. I feel the same in a lot of ways, but at the same time hopeful and staying positive about my current direction. Life is rarely as we hoped it would be, but it turns out to be in many ways greater than we ever imagined. 🙂 I think that you’re a superhero with balance and I highly admire you for that and your tenacious take on boundaries. I’ll have to incorporate some of these insights into my life, thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts 🙂

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