How One Accountant Has Been Staying Sane in 2020

Oct 8th 2020
President Ritter Accounting & Consulting, Inc.
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COVID-19 generated fear in the masses. “Non-essential” businesses shut down, we stayed home, and so did our kids. We became teachers. Business may have stopped for many, but life and work did not stop. They changed drastically, but they went on. 

On March 19, I got the news that my daughter’s school would be closed until further notice beginning the following Monday. That is when COVID got real for me. On one hand, I was excited about the prospect of sleeping in. I had not been following reports about the coronavirus. I avoid watching the news; it is too negative. But schools closing got me watching and, as expected, made me panicky. I decided the stress caused was unhealthy and stopped watching after a masked/goggled/gloved $600 trip to the grocery store in early April. I got a lot of crazy lady looks. Normally I use Instacart, but the shelves were cleaned out, and my shoppers were not picking suitable replacements.

Turns out, when you choose to observe reality in real time rather than through the lens of the news, it becomes clear that the news is hugely exaggerating and sensationalizing rare and negative things. What is interesting to me is that during the Ebola outbreak, I wanted to self-quarantine. I did my virology research project on Ebola. I explored becoming a doctor, pharmacist and a whole gamut of other professions before settling on accounting. The death rate of Ebola ranges from 25–100 percent, with severe and long-term complications for survivors. There is a limited supply of a vaccine for one strain, but viruses mutate. So, that vaccine may or may not be effective. The coronavirus death rate is uncertain but estimated at 3-4 percent. And, it caused a global shutdown.

Accounting is “non-essential,” but we are busier. Our clients are calling us to help them with their unemployment applications, their PPP loan applications, their EIDL applications, grants and, now, loan forgiveness applications. Tax deadlines were extended, as if anyone wants tax season to last longer. Clients want to know the tax implications of the situation and how they can pay back the least possible. We do not know the answers yet, since the decisions are murky and ever changing. Unfortunately, some clients may need guidance on dissolution. Others just need assurance that with good cash flow monitoring, they can weather this storm.

With all this, many practices had to closw their offices and implement a remote work environment which, if done efficiently, also means a paperless work environment. If that was not a challenge on its own, we now depend on our clients’ computer skills to meet virtually and provide documents electronically if they had not done so before. That leaves some of us with teaching those skills, which is not new for me. I have always had a remote practice.

Before starting my practice, I worked in corporate accounting and pushed a remote work agenda at the companies I worked for. It was inevitable that my practice would be remote and paperless. I did not have to go through the major pain of trying to decide if I would need to buy laptops and implement a VPN or switch to the cloud during the pandemic. I was already using the cloud.

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Here are the apps my practice uses to maintain a paperless and remote work environment:

1. QuickBooks Online

2. GSuite (Google Drive for file sharing, Gmail, Google Sites-New, Google Forms and Google Calendar)

3. Microsoft Office (Google Sheets is too limited. Accountants need the full features of Excel.)

4. Practice Ignition

5. Acuity Scheduling (I use this for managing my schedule. It is connected to my website, Google calendar, Facebook or anywhere a client can potentially make an appointment. I block time for working on the business and limit my hours using Acuity.)

6. Phone.com (To have an 800 number that forwards to my cell phone if the virtual receptionists are not on duty.)

7. Rewind for Accountants (I use this to back up clients’ QuickBooks online files, which is the accountant’s responsibility if you did not know. QuickBooks will not restore to a prior point if you or your staff make a major mistake. Rewind will. If you have QuickBooks Online Advanced, backups are included. Most of my clients do not need Advanced at this point.)

8. View-only access to all client accounts

My practice is not yet as sophisticated as Heather Satterley’s of Satterley Consulting. I attended one of her apps classes at QuickBooks Connect, which is a fun and informative conference. Heather has workflows that are almost completely automated. My practice has not yet tried Zapier and Karbon. We have more work to do. Clients who refuse to use the cloud are not ideal for us. Learning what an ideal client is has been a new adventure. Before I started with my business coach, I believed that any client was ideal. I thought I had to take what I can get. Not so.

I want to highlight a few benefits of the shutdown in the spirit of positivity. I learned to prioritize my time, stop being a perfectionist workaholic, and enjoy time with my family more. I also set some healthy boundaries with my family and with clients. My second-grade daughter is learning how to edit PDFs. I had not learned that skill until I was in the C-Suite. She knows video conferencing, typing and playing games on apps to learn math and reading. She is teaching her 4-year-old brother while she is doing her work, and they love it. She manages her own time. I do not hover over her, and she has taken control. I started a vegetable garden and, so far, it is not dead.

There's more: Some employees now appreciate and cannot wait to get back to the office just so they can focus on work. Other companies are learning that those huge rent bills they are paying for their offices may pay more for an illusion of control over their staff than anything else. There are companies that are learning that empowering their teams and other forms of intrinsic motivation are more effective than the fear and control technique. Their employees are more invested in and committed to their jobs than their managers may have assumed. Other employees are clearly not. 

Life is uncertain, and technology is changing it faster than ever. We must constantly reboot, shift priorities, learn and focus on what really matters to us. We must turn down the noise and pass off the tasks that are below our pay grade. If we cannot, then we will live out other people’s agendas and waste the minimal time we have to live out our own. Let go of the control. Delegate. Stay sane.

Do not stay safe in your comfort zone.

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