The wrong way to handle small business accounting

Last night I finished the messiest and most stressful small business accounting job ever encountered in a 30+ year career. They will keep their bank financing, but at enormous personal cost to all of us.

I just finished billing a bad stress-filled accounting job that took most of my time for the past two weeks. Preparing the invoice took more than four hours yesterday on a Sunday; I finish halfway through the Eagles game. There were many hours of computer works, dozens of emails, long phone calls, and text messages at all hours.

In the end, nobody was happy. My wife is upset that I charged so little and was unavailable all of this time. The client is upset that I charged so much and acted startled by my summary and invoice despite our many communications on the topic. Other clients are upset that I delayed their work projects for two weeks. My sub-contractor accountants are upset that I dismissed them midway through the project for not having the skills necessary for this difficult job. I’m upset that I violated several of my own business practices in an effort to help a client caught in a difficult situation. I haven’t been to the gym for weeks. My own business marketing plan is decimated this month; my business coach is frustrated and the money already invested there to build momentum is wasted. There are likely to be other “fallout” negative effects including being unprepared for legal cases this coming week. I don’t know yet, but my lack of faster action might have triggered complications in another client’s tax penalty.

I agreed to take the job only to support the company’s treasurer. I like him as a person and empathize with his business goals. He had his back against the wall facing pressure from his board and his bank. I see the loyalty and the “get ‘r done” aptitude that I bring as keys to the success of my practice. In the end, we will meet the primary goal: the business will keep its bank financing. We will both survive to battle another day. But what a tortuous way to accomplish what could have been a routine business process. Now, in the post-analysis, it is easy to identify ways we could have done better.

This was a learning experience for sure. It hammers home one idea: hourly rates are not workable for small business accounting! Short term accounting function by a treasurer are not a substitute for a stable long term controller. I am making changes to my practice to avoid a repeat of this stress ever again.

Another earlier blog post on this topic: https://tonynovak.com/why-hourly-billing-rates-are-a-bad-idea-in-small-business-accounting/

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