As a child, Paco de Leon often felt like the odd one out. Being a female Asian-American identifying as queer, she knows how it feels to be a minority.
From a young age Paco enjoyed spending time with artists, musicians and other creatives. They were as underrepresented in the business world as she was in society. Now Paco runs a business that specialises in financial consulting and bookkeeping for these creative individuals.
Paco isn’t your typical bookkeeper. She’s wildly creative and a bit of a rebel in the business world. Her financial consulting practice is called The Hell Yeah Group, which includes a bookkeeping division called Hell Yeah, Bookkeeping. She also hosts a legal and financial consulting workshop called Get Your Sh** Together.
Paco is the lead singer and guitarist in a band, a songwriter, a martial artist, and an enthusiastic cyclist – she once cycled over 260 kilometres in one day. Her style and philosophy appeal to creative individuals because she’s a creative herself. “I’m one of them – I just happen to be a killer at finance,” she laughs.
Balancing careers in finance and music
Paco has been a musician for most of her life, so she knows the challenges of trying to earn a living in a creative industry. She believes if artists learn the basics of finance they can worry less about their accounts and feel empowered to grow their craft.
Paco is lead singer and guitarist for Sweet Bump It, a seven-piece rock and roll, funk and soul band. They formed in 2013 with six of Paco’s close friends. Sweet Bump It has recently toured the west coast in the US and released their debut album. Their music has even been featured on a few popular television shows.
Music is a serious pursuit for Paco. Although it can be a challenge to balance her finance and music careers, she finds it rewarding. Playing in a band has unexpectedly helped her develop skills that translate well to business. She’s learned to manage people with different personalities, goals and communication styles for instance. She’s now just as confident meeting new clients as she is performing on stage.
Breaking the rules in a corporate environment
Paco’s first job was consulting and managing boutique creative firms. From there, she went to a wealth management firm that was managing half a billion dollars during the time she was employed there. But she began to observe she wasn’t a good fit for an office environment.
“I would always question things. My mum tells me I was always like that, always asking ‘why?’ And it got me into trouble a lot," Paco recalls. "I would ask questions about systems and processes that upset the status quo – this type of questioning wasn’t always popular with management. My desire to change things wasn’t always welcome.”
Paco left her corporate job and started working remotely for a consulting start up. After six months, Paco was unexpectedly laid off. “When my boss let me go, he told me he was closing the business. He said ‘promise me you’ll never get another office job,’” she recalls. She realised this was a clear sign she needed to go off on her own. And so she did.
Paco de Leon
Co-founder of Hell Yeah, Bookkeeping
Echo Park, Los Angeles, USA
Creative industries – artists, musicians, actors, photographers
Before Hell Yeah, Bookkeeping
Financial planning and business consulting for small businesses
"What's not my hobby!" Music, martial arts, gardening, cycling
Making financial consulting cool for creative people
Paco mainly does financial consulting and bookkeeping for creatives because she cares about, and identifies with the creative community. She knows creatives have plenty of talent and vision, but are often intimidated by finances.
“I saw an opportunity to change the face of financial consulting – I could make it cool and accessible to the creative class," she says. "These are the people who need help the most, but are overlooked because they don’t have a lot of money to invest. The financial services industry doesn’t understand creative businesses very well.”
One comment that Paco hears often is that clients are often confused by accounting jargon. She aims to simplify finance and make it appeal to the creative community. “A lot of business people are totally out of touch with creators and artists. Creatives don’t want to work with people they can’t relate to,” she says. “I knew I could make finance approachable and less scary."
The struggle of fitting in: sacrificing music for business
The biggest challenge Paco faced during her career was overcoming her own ideas of what a financial consultant should be. “The average financial consultant is a 50-year-old white male – definitely not me!” she says. Paco didn’t fit the mould of a typical finance worker, and she worried her musical life was affecting her business.
“I would sometimes turn up to work exhausted after playing a late night show,” she remembers. After a couple of years as an office-dweller, she decided to sacrifice her music to focus on building her financial career. But this decision ultimately hurt her success.
“When I was pretending to be someone else, I wasn’t successful and I wasn’t happy,” she recalls. “People didn’t want to work with a phoney, watered down version of myself.”
The importance of being yourself
Eventually Paco decided she didn’t have to be what she thought society expected – a financial consultant didn’t have to wear a suit and work in an office. “All this time I thought I needed to act a certain way and be a certain person to be successful. I bought into this idea that I needed to hide my creative side and be a generic robot – which I now know is absolutely bonkers.”
Not happy trying to fit into the box, Paco returned to music. Her business was better for it. “All the things I used to think were holding me back are actually my advantages. They set me apart and make me unique,” she says. “The more I was myself, the more my business started to thrive.”
A solution for people who hate doing the books
Paco used to do bookkeeping for her fiance's interior design company. Paco dreaded the process so much she would put it off for days. She realised if she disliked it so much – despite her experience in finance – people with no experience must dread it even more. She knew this was a problem she could solve for her clients.
“The reason I started Hell Yeah, Bookkeeping is because I hate bookkeeping!” Paco laughs. “It’s a real pain in the butt, a necessary evil of running your own businesses. If you’re successful, you have more transactions, and the more irritating it becomes.”
Combining financial planning and bookkeeping
Paco started doing bookkeeping as an experiment. She saw there was a need in the marketplace for a good bookkeeping service for creatives. At first she didn’t want to advertise the service, afraid it would hurt the image of a cool financial consultant she had worked so hard to cultivate. “I didn’t want people to say “Oh, Paco does bookkeeping. What a nerd!’” she laughs.
One day while she was riding her bike listening to music, she had an epiphany. “I thought ‘Oh man! I’m coming at this all the wrong way!’” she says. “This wasn’t something to hide. It was a great opportunity to brand bookkeeping and finance together in a unique and cool way.”
Convincing clients that bookkeeping is worth it
Paco started offering her bookkeeping services to her financial consulting clients. But it wasn’t always easy. “Trying to explain bookkeeping to someone who has no clue what it is has been so challenging. It’s like trying to tell a young kid that a raw piece of fish is tasty – they look at you like you’re crazy,” she laughs.
“I know it sucks. Bookkeeping sucks, finances suck, filing taxes sucks – all of this is a terrible bureaucracy we have to abide by. But it’s like doing laundry or pumping your gas. You just have to do it,” Paco says. “Get it out of the way so you can focus on what you want to be doing.”
Continuing to help the creative class
Alongside her busy music and finance careers, Paco remains passionate about helping those in creative industries. She's the co-founder of non-profit organisation Allies in Arts, which provides women, minorities and LGBTQ-identified artists access to professional equipment and services.
Allies in Arts’ first project, the Girl Gaze project, offers grants to female photographers and hosts a photo exhibit in New York showcasing the work. The project also publishes a photobook of the collected prints of the female photographers.
“Allies in Arts will allow us to have a wide reach and help artists. And that’s what I’m all about,” Paco says. “Everyone is called to service in one capacity or another – volunteering, doing stuff through church, being a mentor, raising a kid. Helping artists is my service. This is how I get to help my community.”
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