Teaching new businesses how to do bookkeeping
Accountant & Bookkeeper Stories
5 min read
Julie Russell empowers her clients by teaching them how to do bookkeeping. Read more about why her people-before-numbers approach works so well.
Julie Russell loves bookkeeping, but she’s far more interested in people than numbers. She used to run a small pub in the south of England, and later looked after the accounts for other pubs in the area. Now she’s the founder of Julie Russell Bookkeeping, a firm that prefers to keep things personal. Julie empowers clients by teaching them how to do bookkeeping and understand their own accounts. “My job’s not just about crunching numbers all day – I’m doing it for the people behind the numbers.”
Her goal is to make bookkeeping easy for people overwhelmed by their finances. She sees herself as a bookkeeping interpreter, turning financial jargon into plain language. “My market is people who are confused, people who don't like reading stuff on websites, people who just want some words behind the numbers.”
Learning how to do bookkeeping at the pub
Julie taught herself the basics of bookkeeping while running a small pub in the south of England. “I found I preferred doing the books to pulling pints,” she says. “When I left the pub I applied for the first accounting job I could find.” She soon started working at an accountant’s office at the reception desk.
“At first I was just sorting out bags of old receipts tied up with bits of string. I sorted them into piles and eventually into spreadsheets.” Julie learned a lot about accounting on the job, but she soon realized her opportunities would grow if she had an official qualification. “I was being paid four pounds an hour, but charged out at 40 pounds an hour. I thought ‘maybe I could have some of that!’”
Over the next three years, Julie took accounting and bookkeeping night classes, ticking off all three levels of City & Guilds bookkeeping and accounting. By attaining level three, she gained the highest available bookkeeping qualification in the UK.
Founder of Julie Russell Bookkeeping
Auckland, New Zealand
Teaching bookkeeping to new businesses
Before Julie Russell Bookkeeping
Managed the accounts of various pubs in England
Growing her business, sailing her 1950s yacht
Starting her own business and moving to New Zealand
In 1997, with her qualifications in hand, Julie set off on her own. In those days bookkeepers didn’t often have their own business, so she worked as a subcontractor. She still loved the pub environment, so started out by looking after the accounts of some in the local area. She enjoyed teaching clients how to do bookkeeping themselves so they could take greater control of their finances and their business.
While working as a bookkeeper, Julie met her future husband, a New Zealander doing extended travel in the UK. After a short trip to New Zealand, Julie fell in love with the country, and she and her husband soon returned to raise a family.
The struggle of being away from home
When she moved to New Zealand with her husband, Julie had no intention of continuing with bookkeeping. “Getting into bookkeeping was a lifestyle choice. I was a single mom when I started in the UK, and it was easy to work from home in the evenings and weekends. I could even have the school holidays off.”
But after being in New Zealand for only six months, Julie got talked into doing bookkeeping again at a party. She started looking after the books for a small tech startup. She was familiar with the work, but the biggest challenge she faced was loneliness.
“The hardest part for me was the isolation. I was away from my home country, sitting at my dining room table thinking there was nobody else out there. That’s when I discovered the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association, and found out there're quite a lot of people like me.”
Keeping the business small and personal
Julie likes to form close bonds with her clients – so she’s careful not to market her business too broadly. “I don’t want to push it to everybody and anybody. I’m just looking for the people I want to work with,” she says.
Julie’s business has grown organically, mostly thanks to referrals. “I like to keep it small and personal – that’s my way of reaching my target market. I work with very small businesses, one-man bands that don't know where to start,” she says. “I enjoy teaching people how to do bookkeeping – the basic stuff they often don’t think about when they want to turn their passion into a business.”
“I think it’s surprising how close you can become with your clients,” Julie says. “The clients I've had the longest I consider my friends. They might call me at three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘I know it’s your day off, but could you do this for me?’ And I can say ‘no I’m sitting on the beach!’ But it’s nice they feel they can ask me,” she laughs.
“My job’s not just about crunching numbers all day – I’m doing it for the people behind the numbers.”
Small success stories
Julie sees her clients as friends, so she always celebrates their successes. “I got a fantastic email this morning from a guy I've been working with for about five years. He started as a small startup, he got funding, he worked hard and now it’s a four million dollar business,” she says.
“He emailed me to say ‘You’ve been amazing, but we’ve grown so big we need somebody in-house now.’ I’ve helped him grow his business big enough that he doesn't need me any more – to me, that’s a success story.”
The joys of being in charge of your own future
Julie always enjoyed bookkeeping for small pubs, but she never planned to turn it into a career. Now, running her own bookkeeping business, she’s happier than ever.
“I love being in charge of my own future. I love knowing the decisions I’m making are for me, not for somebody else,” she says. “If I make a mistake, it’s only my fault. I can shape the business in any way I want to. I have a vision of what I want in the future and I can work towards it.”
“There’s this funny idea you get when you choose to start your own business. You think you’ll have a lot more time off and a lot more money – which is of course rubbish,” she laughs. “But the business is more than just my livelihood now. It’s my passion. It takes up a lot of time, but I just love it – there you go, I said it. I love it!”