A master of many trades who loves to invest time in her clients. Jennifer Brenner understands what it takes to help small businesses succeed through FINSYNC’s Services Network. By FINSYNC  Jennifer Brenner’s path to bookkeeping genius wasn’t necessarily a straightforward one. A former social worker looking for a way to be independent yet still help “save the world” in some regard, she was taken under the wing of a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) friend to learn the ins and outs of bookkeeping, and the rest is history.  The Portland, OR native (who runs a non-profit in her spare time) named her company after her love for tattoos as well as the fact that black ink in a ledger historically meant that your money was in good standing. We had a chance to chat with Jennifer to learn more about her journey and get her advice for small businesses. Spotlight on FINSYNC Specialist: Jennifer Brenner, Bookkeeper

How did you become an independent bookkeeper? 

I used to be a social worker, and I was looking for a way out of that industry into a different one. My friend, who was a CPA, offered to teach me bookkeeping. I started doing that with her part-time, then went to a bookkeeping school, and then I went to accounting school and got an accounting degree.  I was looking for a way to be independent but also still help people because as a social worker we’re always out to save the world. This was a way for me to still be helpful, but also be the master of my own time and earn a living wage. Once I started fully focusing on bookkeeping, by word of mouth my clients would tell other people. Other people would begin to contact me and before long you’re running a business!

What are some of the biggest rewards and challenges of being an independent contractor?

The biggest reward is being the master of my own time. I put in what I get out. It’s very much my energy. I know where it’s going and what I’m supporting, and it’s very fulfilling running my own business.  The challenges are always the variation in cash flow and managing that. It’s not like a wage job where you are certain you're getting a specific number of hours. It's variable. Also, with the nature of what I do, I'm by myself a lot and that's always a little difficult. You have to be very disciplined with your time and also managing your money. 

What has it been like to partner with FINSYNC through the Services Network? 

I really enjoy the people at FINSYNC that I’ve spoken with. The team is very supportive, very responsive. They have all the tools in place to help facilitate an easy relationship. They are there throughout my engagements to make sure everything's going well.

What advice do you have for small business owners out there?  

Create your own business accounts that are just for the business, and don’t use them for personal use. Generally, every business either survives or fails within the first three years. Budgets for your business are key: your projected cash flows, your projected expenses.  And don’t give up. It’s going to be hard running a business, but it’s also very rewarding. If it’s something you really want to do and it’s what you want for your career, make sure you really want to do it because you’ll be doing a lot of it. 

How do you help small business owners who are just getting started?  

By spending time educating new business about which business structure they have, whether they’re single-member LLC or S corporation or C corporation. I cover what the tax ramifications are and how they affect personal tax returns. It's important for me to look at things from the umbrella of taxes because I came from preparing taxes and that’s usually a big concern for people.  I also spend time educating them on estimated taxes for the business including S corporations, and their personal returns, and then running payroll for themselves. What it is to have a salary, depending on what kind of corporation they are, what kind of salary they can pay themselves but maintain the greatest tax benefit.  I do a lot of educating on what it means to have a set of books, such as help them interpret a profit or loss, balance sheet, or a statement of cash flows. 

What’s the biggest accounting mistake you've seen a small business make? 

The biggest mistake that I’ve seen is business owners trying to do their own books. Doing your own books is the quickest way to create a mess. Especially if you don’t have a background or aren’t well taught. My advice is: The skill that you start your business with is the thing that makes you money. Your best use of time is to use those skills to make your money versus trying to learn the whole accounting theory of debits and credits and trying to do your own books. It’s worth the money to pay someone well to do your books.  If you don't value your bookkeeper, your business is going to suffer. I have clients who every year insist on doing their own books. Every year I end up having to charge them a lot to clean up their books.  

What should small business owners know about working with their bookkeepers? 

I would encourage people to communicate with their accountant or bookkeeper. When they ask you for something, like documentation, or say “Hey, we have to get this in by this deadline,” respond appropriately.  Many people tend to stick their head in the sand when it comes to the financial part of things. Responding to requests from your bookkeeper or accountant is very helpful for the relationship.  When somebody has a bunch of clients and they have to ask you 20 times for something, they're going to stop asking after a while and then your accounting will suffer. Do it as soon as possible.

What bookkeeping tasks should small business owners tackle now so they aren’t scrambling later in the year?

If they’re a new business, getting their books and bank accounts set up. If they’re an existing business, in terms of bookkeeping, it’s important to create their budget for the year.  For me, January is the ending of the year before, but it’s also the beginning of the new year. If you're a single-member LLC or you're a partnership and you’re wanting to move to S corporation or you’re wanting to create a corporation, January is the time to do that. It's good practice to get going at the beginning of the year.
Independent accountant Mark Wright found a remote position that fits his schedule and lifestyle through FINSYNC’s virtual assistance network. By FINSYNC Spotlight on FINSYNC Specialists: Mark Wright, Accountant 8 For small businesses looking for help with their accounting, bookkeeping, human capital management, financial analysis or corporate strategy, independent contractors can be a fantastic choice for a cost-effective and experienced expert. The FINSYNC virtual assistance network has a carefully vetted selection of professionals looking to help businesses. 

One such independent skilled professional is Mark Wright, an accountant who was paired with a FINSYNC client to serve as their cloud controller. Finding an accountant like Mark can be difficult, especially when he spends time traveling across the country in an RV with his wife. Luckily, every campground they stop at has Wi-Fi, so he’s always available remotely. 

How did you decide to become an independent professional?

I've been doing this for 34 years now and probably about a third of the time I've been working as an independent professional. Right out of college, I got a job as a controller for a government contracting company. It's very extensive when you deal with the government as far as what they're looking for, and we had to do a very in depth audit every year.  The CPA that did the audit loved the information I gave him because it was clean, and he didn’t really have to do anything with it. He was a CPA that had hundreds of clients all over the world and he told me, “if you ever want to go out on your own, there's a lot of incompetence in the accounting field, and I can give you a lot of work.”

What are the benefits of being an independent contractor? 

Obviously, flexibility is the biggest thing. You can move things around if you need to. If you need to go away on vacation, you can basically do it from everywhere. Now there's Wi-Fi everywhere, so there's a lot of flexibility. You’re working on your own, and so you know … you take care of your own stuff, and I like that. 

What's the most challenging part about being an independent contractor?

I'm a people person so sometimes it's hard to not get out. You're not in an office every day, you're not around a lot of people. I think anybody working from home, no matter what field they work in, has to find a way to be active in the community and to get outside. Do things like exercise to balance it out, because otherwise you would never leave your house.

How did you learn about FINSYNC's virtual assistance network?

Searching on Indeed, looking to pick up some more remote hours, and I saw an ad of theirs. I responded and had to go through the process of interviewing, getting certified with their proprietary software and getting familiar with it.  I went through that and they had a client in Dallas, Texas that they thought would be a good match. Finally, I interviewed with them, and I've been working for them ever since.

What do you do for Peisner Johnson?

Pretty much everything — accounts payable, accounts receivable, handling all the general ledger, payroll — I'm really their one-person accounting team, soup to nuts. One issue I deal with is billings. They have a lot of monthly billings they do based on tax returns, and a lot of subscription billings. I’m not going to say it's complicated, but there are a lot of intricacies.

What's your working relationship like with the company?

I think it's been good. They would have to testify on that, but I think it’s good that the former controller, Mike, did stuff online with me to make a smooth transition. There have been a few little things that came up that I wouldn’t know about, and the people there have been great and very helpful. It’s been a great experience so far.

Would you recommend FINSYNC's virtual assistance network to other independent skilled professionals? 

I definitely would, especially if they’re looking to do something where it’s totally remote. The whole platform allows you to do everything on a remote basis. I've been doing this for 34 years and there are some clients I’ve worked for directly as an employee where there was just no way you could do the job remotely from a logistical standpoint.  If you’re a client that has the ability to work with professionals remotely, the FINSYNC platform provides cost savings and efficiencies. Everything is cloud-based and backed up. All documents are saved online — invoicing, bills, anything — so it’s all paperless and saved.  The support from FINSYNC has also been tremendous. They really stand behind you and make sure that there's no issue with a client or with anything you're doing. If you do need help, they’re available to talk to and their response is excellent.

Any advice for other independent professionals out there?

Keep looking. It's hard to find the perfect match, but FINSYNC can help. Remote work for accountants is definitely becoming more acceptable, and I think over the next five to ten years it's really going to blow up. A company can save a lot of money using a remote employee, and if they’re open minded, it can really work well. Anyone that wants to get into this and go remote needs to just keep plugging away.