A Restaurant Solutionist Creating Magical Client Experiences | Kristen Nies Ciraldo
A Restaurant Solutionist Creating Magical Client Experiences | Kristen Nies Ciraldo
“There’s something in our social connectivity that is enhanced by the act of sharing food, in my opinion, and it’s why we need independent restaurants particularly.”
– Kristen Nies Ciraldo, The Friday Guide.
Today I’m speaking with Kristen Nies Ciraldo, Cloud Advisor and Restaurant Solutionist of the Friday Guide. In this episode, we talk about . . .
In her own words ‘a strange stew of interests that led Kristen to a passion about translating between ‘sciencey’ or ‘mathy’ and ‘creative’ people.’
Her interest in intersections, and entering the world of numbers thru the lens of a restaurateur
Tech stack for independent businesses in the hospitality industry
Field Guides for Restaurateurs, and the myths people have about restaurant people.
How her niche in the hospitality industry developed
The concept of Working Clean, and decluttering mental real estate.
Kristen, can you share a bit about who you are today and what you do?
Kristen: Sure and thank you so much. That is literally one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me. So, thank you. My name is Kristen Nies Ciraldo. I am a bookkeeper and sort of off-site CFO person and just confidante for independent bar and restaurant owners and I’ve been working with independent bar and restaurant owners longer than I have been working at the bookkeeping bit, but I’ve been in the bookkeeping bit and the advisory bit for about 15 years, something like that.
Heather: And you don’t look like you could’ve been doing that for 15 years either.
Kristen: Thank you, that’s very nice. You’ve never seen me in person. I’ve good lighting.
Heather: Yeah. We have met frequently over the internet and I’m looking through your history and I’m like, “Yeah, she doesn’t look like she could’ve possible don’t all those things.” So, Kristen, you describe yourself as a field guide for my niche, though I say it differently to you, so this is going to be fun. A field guide for my niche. Is that what you say? Niche.
Kristen: I say niche because I like to say… Can we say bad words? Can we say blue words?
Heather: Yes, you can.
Kristen: Okay, I like to say I’m a niche bitch.
Heather: That doesn’t count as a bad word for the rest of the world.
Kristen: I like to bitch my niche, it’s all very rhymey in my head but I can go either way.
What do you mean by having a field guide for my niche and being a math and food solutionist?
Kristen: It’s taken me a really long time to figure out how to describe what I do for my clients. I think that as the accounting and bookkeeping field has progressed, it’s become easier for me to find language to explain it, that other people would understand but what I hit on a few years ago was the idea of being a field guide. In other words, you’re taking a group of people into a land that they kind of don’t understand and tell them like, “Hey, this is the lay of the land. This is how things are.” What my restaurant people don’t know is that I actually do that going the other way as well. So, help accounting people understand restaurant people as much as I help restaurant people understand accounting and that’s what I mean by being a solutionist like, “Hey, let’s put aside however it’s been done before… That’s great; let’s think about the roles. Let’s think about what actually needs to happen and what’s the most elegant or the most effective solution we can find to get things done,” because my niche or niche, they don’t have a lot of time. So, it’s forced me to be more to the point in that area.
Heather: So we’re on a fast field guide trip. I love that language is so important to you.
How does the process of exploring the terminology that you need to explain? Does that work in terms of that one-on-one facing explanation or is that happening in your SEO, your website search engine optimisation world as well?
Kristen: It mostly is a thing that happens organically from client to client. So, some of my clients might speak a completely different language than the other one’s do. Actually, it’s so interesting that you put it that way as sort of that dichotomy because I am constantly dissatisfied with my website and just you putting it that way makes me realise the reason is that part of what I do is explain things to people but how I do that is to know the person I’m explaining it to and so when you’re doing a website you have to imagine who you’re trying to target and then also imagine what they want to know and I find that for me, who I’m targeting is constantly changing because I’m constantly learning new things and realising that every single person that I work with, even though they’re all independent restaurant owners, for the most part, although I’m branching out now a little bit, they all have their own peculiar, particular way of understanding things and so the way I talk to one of my clients might be completely different than the way I talk to another one.
Heather: Yeah, no, it is actually really interesting because if we’re talking about the modern practices that are moving forward in the world, they’re doing and offering services that a typical small business owner doesn’t even articulate, doesn’t even talk about, doesn’t even know they actually need and then if you then flip that back into their digital marketing world, do you explain that to them? Do they know that terminology? And frequently I’ve spoken to people who’ve gone in and put all the fancy words in there and then they said their click-through rate dropped significantly and they had to go back to, “We do bookkeeping.” They had to really pull it back but it is interesting and for me personally, a lot of that was about writing case studies. So, it may be that every 10th time you get that person who’s similar to that person who you just had that conversation with and you’re a beautiful writer, so case studies would be wonderful.
Kristen: Oh, thank you.
Heather: You said, “It was a strange stew of interests and experiences that has led me to a passion about translating between sciencey or mathy people and more creative people.”
Can you share with our listeners a bit about your background?
Kristen: As a kid, I was a voracious reader and I thought I wanted to be a journalist. So, I got into journalism school, thought, “Oh, this is great,” and the second I took the first class in journalism… This was back when journalism was still about facts. So, I took the first class and I was like, “Oh no, this is not for me. I do not know how to do this.” And so I changed my major to sociology and English because I thought I have to understand the world before I can write about it and while I was there, the LA uprising happened. It was 1992 and it changed the way I saw things and I’d always been a really insecure person and done a lot of watching for people around me, what is everyone doing? And so got into the habit of taking in and really being able to see how people were feeling, what people were nervous about; what they weren’t… Just a real observer and when I finally stumbled in… I went to graduate school and sociology as well, stumbled into how does art influence social movements.
Kristen: I was living in an artist, non-profit in Los Angeles and I started working in a restaurant and I’d always loved puzzles, always loved math and I thought, “I can do this. I can figure out the puzzle of where all the money went.” And so, I learned how businesses ran before I learned how to actually do the bookkeeping. I had a wonderful mentor. Her name is Michelle Silverstein. She ran a place called Bitchy Books, which is an awesome name, It was literally the incorporation name, which is amazing and she did restaurants all over Los Angeles and taught me everything she knew and I just really liked the people. Restaurants are like a family and when you work inside a restaurant, even the misfits fit and it was a way for me to be near people and meet people without being at that time a fundamentally shy person. It just was a way to be a part of a family.
Kristen: I just loved it.
Heather: Yeah. I think a lot of accountants and bookkeepers are actually shy, introverted people and it’s nice when we get welcomed into an environment where we can actually be useful and support the environment for the piece of the puzzle that they need that support.
Kristen: Yeah. Well, the thing that I think made it a weird kismet thing for me was that because I was doing the math inside a restaurant but I too wasn’t trained in that math, and so I was learning about debits and credits and learning about all of that stuff through the lens of restaurants. So, restaurants are like the first language for me and then the bookkeeping was a second language. So, I got that experience of needing to translate that accounting stuff to restaurants. I had been doing that for myself. That’s how I learned. I never went to school for it. The most math I did in college was statistics. So, it was just sad to me that sometimes restaurateurs would nod their head and then the accountant would leave and they’d be like, “I have no idea what… Are we doing good? Is that good? I know we’re in the black but is that a good amount in the black? I don’t know.”
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I find it really interesting that you’ve mentioned that you did the undertaking in sociology, which really gives you a strong understanding of observing what is happening and appreciation and that sort of living and entrenchment of what you’re doing.
What do you mean when you say “I’m a person that has always been interested in intersections.”?
Kristen: I used to be really regimented and once I started really diving into writing when I was living at the artist commune… Because I gave up doing a sociology paper on them and instead dropped out of grad school and just started living there and I started doing a lot of creative writing and I realised how much of art was about reconciling disparate ideas and that often where things overlapped was where things were interesting and I think I’d always know that. I’d always been a person who loved debating political stuff. It’s such a weird combination. I was really politically aware when I was like in 6th grade. Do you know what I mean? Telling my teachers they shouldn’t vote for Reagan, in 6th grade and that’s just weird but also very, very adverse to conflict and so being able to find where people agreed, even though they seemed to not agree or being able to find how people saw something similarly even if they didn’t think they did.
Kristen: One of my favourite topics in the world, lately, is how creative people don’t think they are organised but they really are and to me, that just stems out of the restaurant thing. They have a stigma that a lot of accountants think that restaurants are a mess and that they are unorganised and they don’t care about numbers and they don’t know how to do things and the truth is if you stop and think about it, they have to be ready to serve any one of 20 things. The moment someone walks in, they don’t know who’s going to walk in. They have to be prepared with enough food. They have to know about who’s coming in. They do math all the time. It’s just different.
Heather: Yeah. No, absolutely. It’s quite an art form to do it because it’s not; even just making sure you got the freshest ingredients there, it’s plating them up.
Heather: Also, portioning and portion control and if they don’t get those portions right, it multiplies very, very quickly.
Kristen: And so, what’s interesting is that accountants clash with restaurateurs and restaurateurs clash with accountants but I have a theory that it’s because they’re too much alike and this side is really steeped in their processes that are really cyclical and so is this side. They just run at different rates and that’s what I mean about intersections. Usually when people have misunderstandings, it’s not because they’re necessarily, fundamentally different but there’s just some little tweak that maybe can happened, where even if they don’t agree, they can see, “Oh, okay. I get it. We’re running on quarters and months and years and they’re running on days and hours and pay cycles,” and that’s why we have different speeds, so now that you know that about each other, maybe you can fix something about the way you communicate and not see them as the red-headed step-child of the accounting world.
You do the bookkeeping work, do you do the accounting work as well?
Kristen: Well, I mean, this is another kind of pet peeve of mine… What do you mean by accounting work?
Heather: Well, I don’t know. You were referencing bookkeeping, so I thought you did the whole thing. Do you do management accounting? Let’s say that.
Heather: Do you talk to your clients about the numbers?
Kristen: Basically, I do everything up to… I do a full write up for someone else to do the taxes.
Kristen: So, typically I don’t do depreciation and amortisation. I probably could but I’m just like, “Go for it.”
Heather: Yeah. Okay. You explain the numbers and what the numbers mean them?
Kristen: Yeah. I end up being their… I don’t know… Financial sherpa. Like a simultaneous interpreter at the UN. Sort of like, “This is what this means”…
Heather: Yep. Excellent. You named your business… I think this is correct. You named your business The Friday Guide. Where did that come from?
Kristen: Well, my business was called before girlFRIDAYs Office and then a couple of years ago, on International Women’s Day, I was like, “I’m forty…” I think at the time I was 46 or something, I’m like, “I’m not a girl anymore. I can’t with this name anymore.” I love the whole idea of girlFRIDAY but some people had pointed out that it was sort of sexist and I was like, “Oh, that’s too bad because I really loved that movie but okay.” So, I thought, well I need to keep Friday in there because that will be like a through-line and I couldn’t get out of my head, the Michelin guides and that whole idea of being able to… Like a boy scout guide or a girl scout guide, like, “Here’s what you do in the wilderness,” and, “Here’s what it’s actually like inside a restaurant,” and, “Ooh, look, they have to deal with tips and let me explain.”
Kristen: So, it was a way to pivot. My name never really had anything to do with restaurants or money. So, I wasn’t really losing anything and it was a way for me to expand out into what I thought I might want to do, which is continue to consult with restaurants but to expand that and start heading in the other direction as well, which is consult with accounting firms and other people that want to work with restaurants and help them understand restaurants better.
Do you work through hospitality associations to help them understand restaurants better?
Kristen: No. That’s a good idea. It’s just something right now that I’m just starting to dip my toe into. I’ve had some conversations with apps about messaging. It started off just frankly being irritated, to be honest. Where someone would reach out to our restaurant and they’d be like, “Come to our webinar on Friday at 3:00.” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? They’re all getting ready for… Why is this the time?” Did someone think about that this is a restaurant? So, it’s still something that’s so new that I don’t even know what it’s going to look like.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. So, let’s talk further about niching. You’ve said, “It’s not so much that I chose a niche. I’ve always been here. It’s like the concept of a niche practice formed underneath where I was standing.”
How have the recent world events impacted your community and your outlook on niching in the hospitality industry?
Kristen: Yeah… I mean, people were scared of it before but now… But I almost feel like, I’m interested to see how people react. On the one hand, I have clients that aren’t doing well, particularly my bars. They can’t open, so there’s no… It’s like, “What are we doing?” But some of my restaurants are doing fantastic. It’s forced them to dial into what’s working and what’s not and to really keep only their best employees and their customers are better, in the sense that the customers are more focused and more grateful and more willing to pay a higher price to just have the experience of being out of the house. So, it’s interesting to see where things have gone.
Kristen: That being said, I still think it’s worth it, even for my third rail niche, restaurants and bars. I still think it’s worth it because number one, at this time and past this time, people are so much more cognisant of how important it is to have someone who is a great bookkeeper or just numbers person, even if they’re not on staff or a regular, just someone you can talk to that knows about your business and knows about your numbers and can connect those two things or help you connect those two things because applying for the PPP loans here and all that stuff, it was a nightmare and people who weren’t already connected with someone that understood their business, suffered… And it created a snowball effect. So, although I know the industry will be… It will be precarious going forward, I still think there are opportunities.
Kristen: In fact, I think there are more opportunities than ever. I think if they’re going to pay for something, are going to insist on people that actually know about the industry and maybe that means you have more clients paying less money but to me there’s still a lot of opportunity there because just like the restaurants now that are having to focus on what works, the bookkeepers that were just dabbling in restaurants and kind of like, “Oh, that will be fun.” Whatever. They’ve hightailed it. The people who laughed are the people who have clients they love who want to do right by them and maybe it’s only a few and the people that really love the industry or know something about it, and so, there’s just a chance to make that work, I feel. Maybe I’m too optimistic but…
Heather: No, no. Thank you for that. For those listening in, Kristen mentioned the PPP loans, which was the tax stimulus offered in the USA to small businesses there.
Kristen: Yes, sorry, it was unnecessarily complicated and silly, unlike the things that you guys had going on and so it was a nightmare for all of us.
Heather: It’s been interesting seeing all the different tax stimulus’s across the world and I do think the Australian one, which was tied into the businesses almost being forced to do a cash flow forecast on a regular, monthly basis, was a good thing to… That element of it was a good muscle memory for businesses to get involved with.
Heather: So, Kristen, you’ve written a post on Medium, Why Restaurants Matter?
Why are restaurants important to our town, Hamlet City, or to our neighbourhood?
Kristen: Oh gosh. I wrote that post a couple of years ago and when we were talking about talking, I went back and read it and thought, “Wow, I should’ve written this two months ago,” because I feel like I’ve been proven right about that post. It basically talks about how restaurants are important because literally, they’re what makes one town different from another. If all we have is chain restaurants, how do you know where you are? I mean, I know that sounds silly but think about how many of your memories are tied to food and just celebrations like that.
Heather: I did notice from your Twitter feed, pretty much every problem was solved with food. You were like, someone’s putting up world problem and you were like, “I’m sure a Philly steak sandwich will solve that.”
Kristen: I’m married to a chef too, an ex-chef, so it’s all food all the time here… But yeah… But it’s where we got to grieve. If we’re grieving, maybe we go to drink. We celebrate, we go to drink or to eat. It’s how we come together and particularly in what can be a very disconnected society, there are very few things that actually force us to be physically present and one of them is recreation or working out and stuff and another one is food. Yes, you can order food and have it brought to your house but going out for a meal… I mean, if you poll people on Twitter, what do they miss? Almost all of them will be like, “I can’t wait to go out to a restaurant.” And it’s not just about, “I don’t want to cook for myself,” because they can order, it’s fine. There’s something about being alone together that makes people feel like they’re a part of something and in particular, for people in our society who maybe aren’t as socially connected, a lot of times, being a regular at a diner or a bar or a coffee shop, they may go there every day.
Kristen: I mean, I have clients who have multiple patrons who are there every day or every Tuesday and Wednesday or whatever it is. Often times when these people fall ill, it’s the restaurants who are like, “Where is that person?” There’s something in our social connectivity that is enhanced by the act of sharing food, in my opinion, and it’s why we need independent restaurants particularly.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I know that… I Just recently… a dog has joined our lives, called Chester and one of his first big outings was to take him to the café that we always took our other dog, Charlie to and get to meet all the staff there and they all came out and said hello to him and that was a really important part of our welcoming him to our world. We eat out for breakfast in the morning; we don’t eat out in the evening. That’s my husband and me… I don’t know. We’re just early birds, but you’re an early bird too, so…
Kristen: But I love that. I love that it’s part of the routine. I think if there’s anything that this experience of COVID has taught us, is that our world can become very myopic, very fast… Just very small and just being outside.
Heather: Yep, absolutely.
Kristen: Just being out of the house, looking at different walls is nice.
Heather: I’m delighted to hear your positivity about the hospitality industry and the importance of the bricks-and-mortar of the hospitality industry. So, I’m keen, Kristen…
I’m keen to know what some of your go-to accounting tools for the industry you work in are?
Kristen: Wow, okay. Well, I’m agnostic between QuickBooks and Xero. So, some work well for one and one works well for others. I feel similarly about xtraCHEF and MarginEdge. I think one works well for one set of clients and one works well for the other. For those that don’t know, it’s kind of an AP processing platform. It uses… I don’t know all the lingo but where you can scan and it reads and enters the data and then you approve it but the cool thing is that everything is then recorded by line item and then those line items are automatically attached like this is food, this is beer, this is wine, whatever. So, they are very helpful because restaurants and bars are extremely invoice-heavy. Extremely invoice heavy, so… I use Hubdoc for people that are too small to really use xtraCHEF or MarginEdge and… I know I’m forgetting something, probably?
Heather: Point of sales solution?
Kristen: Oh gosh. Well, my personal favourite, right now, is Lavu but I have people using Toast, I have people using Clover, I have people using… No one’s Aloha anymore. People are starting to migrate from the dinosaur sort of systems but here’s the other thing you have to remember because I’m working with independents, independent restaurants, usually that POS system is their highest investment item besides the land they’re standing on and the kitchen they’re standing in, so they are often loathed to change it. That’s why some bookkeepers and accountants advice about, “Have good boundaries and insist that people only use this, this or that if they’re going to work with you.” Sometimes, when you have certain niches, that advice can’t extend that far. You can’t ask someone to change out their POS for you.
Heather: And is their point of sales system desktop based? Is that what you’re saying to me?
Kristen: Some of them are. Most of them aren’t. Yeah. I even have one guy who was using a cash register but that place was 75 years old and very small. It was the second oldest Mexican restaurant in Orange County.
Kristen: And they just had to close because of COVID.
Heather: Oh, that’s not good.
Kristen: But yeah, I mean when it comes to technology, I love technology but with my clients, my only question is, will this technology make their life easier? Because what I know is if it makes their life harder, it doesn’t matter how much easier it makes my life, they won’t do it consistently and they just don’t have time. I can’t expect them to sit in front of a computer for X amount of hours. I get probably one hour a week and so I love the technology that allows me to take their chaos and put it through a little machine and then it can come out regimented for me, so I can have a process on my back end.
Kristen: So, I like to run my business like they run their restaurants. There’s the front of the house, which is all like, “Yes, everything’s fine,” and, “Look, we’re so organised, and everything is beautiful and wonderful,” and then the back of the house, the kitchen may be on fire or so and so-called in sick and the health inspectors are right there and everyone’s got to stop what they’re doing… Whatever it is, but they all have processes that take care of that stuff so in the front of the house it’s just smooth sailing and we can accommodate everyone’s peccadilloes because we’ve already decided that we’re an Italian restaurant or a Mexican restaurant or whatever and so, everyone knows the limits when they walk in the door.
Kristen: No one walks in ordering pizza at the Mexican restaurant.
Heather: Any solutions for staff rostering?
Kristen: I’m sorry?
Any solutions that you recommend for staff rostering?
Heather: Allocating staff to shifts.
Kristen: Yeah, usually when I come in, everyone’s already doing that and they have their own system. I tend to not mess with what’s working, even if it’s really arcane. Some people I know are using 7shifts. I have recommended something called Jolt to some of my more complicated clients that several different locations and they were trying to chain up because it allowed them to standardise processes and have a hub of scheduling and people could be assigned to different stores and blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, but that’s kind of their deal.
Heather: No, thank you for sharing that. Look, it’s really interesting, I’m sure, for people listening in to hear what tools your clients are using so they can consider them for their own app stack if they’re talking to or considering niching in the hospitality and it may be that it’s new to them or it may be, it’s like, “Oh, excellent. She’s using it, I’m using it. We can move ahead,” and that’s good reassurance for them.
Heather: So, one of my favourite webinars for 2020 was the one that you co-hosted with Brian Clare, which was “Work it like Walt”. Creating a magical client experience. And I’m disappointed that you’re not dressed up as Snow White for this interview, however drawing on your knowledge from working at Disney and the book Imagineering Process which was written by the Disney’s theme park creation team, you shared how a firm can help create an amazing client experience, just like Disney.
I’d like to know who came up with the awesome webinar title, “Work it like Walt”?
Kristen: I think we had… I don’t know. I think actually Amanda did.
Heather: Oh did she?
Kristen: Because we had another title and then we couldn’t say, Disney.
Kristen: Or we thought, let’s just sidestep that whole question.
Heather: Sidestep Disney’s question, excellent. Oh, so that’s Amanda Aguilera.
Kristen: But I ended up liking it better.
Heather: It’s a great title. All of the titles from that day were actually really good and I find that really hard to come up with a catchy phrase. I’m like, “I can write a 100-word article but I can’t come up with a catchy phrase to start with.”
Kristen: Yeah, no I’m better at it the other way. But I am glad that we changed the title because I felt like, as Brian and I talked more and more about what was going on with that topic and that webinar, we sort of came to the conclusion like, “Hey. No one can be Disney. That’s not the goal.” And so many times, both of us, both he and I had seen webinars that addressed how Disney was great about customer experience and everyone left the room thinking, “Well, I’ve got to give my clients special gifts.” It’s like, “No. No, no, no. You don’t do what Disney does. No person coming in for bookkeeping cares if you give them a prize when they leave. They care if they have good numbers and if it’s easy.” And so, Disney’s such a monolith and it’s so ingrained in all of our psyches, that I think sometimes it’s easy to miss, like don’t do what he does, do how he does and those are two different things. So, changing to Walt, like what did Walt do, rather than what does Disney do, helped refocus us a little bit.
Heather: Yeah. No, absolutely.
Do you have any other tips from creating that magical client experience that you could share with our listeners?
Kristen: Sure. I mean, one thing, I don’t think it really made it into the webinar but it’s helped me…
Heather: The secret other side of the webinar, that’s even better.
Kristen: It’s helped me since then is, I remember Brian and I talking about when we were putting up the webinar, I’m like, “If your tyre was flat when you came out of Disneyland, you’d be really, really happy if someone just fixed it for you but if all these Disney employees were… If Snow White and Winnie the Pooh were gathered around your car changing your tyre, you might think, “Oh, that’s great.” But you might be really mad if the whole time in the park when you wanted to take a picture with your daughter, you couldn’t find Snow White or Winnie the Pooh. It’s like be where I expect you… It’s nice to give people extras but you only get to do extras, that only gets to be a winning strategy if you win on what people actually have in their mind when they’re thinking about bookkeeping or thinking about being at Disneyland and I think the reason that came into my mind is actually when I worked at Disney, I had to audition and the scenario they gave me was to pretend to be Snow White changing a tyre.
Kristen: It was just to see if I could emulate something without words and was okay to be in the suits but I sure remember thinking, it’s funny because it’s such a non sequitur and so many times we think about, “Oh, I have to make a good client experience, so I’m going to send them cupcakes on their birthday and I’m going to do all these things,” and sometimes, I think what people want from their bookkeeping and accounting firms is to not think about them.
Kristen: To know that they can let that whole side of their business just go and I think, we as bookkeepers and accountants sometimes get up and get caught up in so much of this sort of work signalling, like, “Oh, look at all this stuff we’re doing and look at these reports. They’re so complicated and look at all the metrics we can tell you,” and all those things and then the person you’re talking to gets to feel, number one, like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this,” and number two… kind of stupid. They might be bad at business because they don’t understand what you’re talking about and then we’re sitting there thinking, “Why I have to make it even more complicated, so they know they’re getting their monies worth?” when really when you flip it on its head and be like, “How they get their monies worth is when I give them a report, they know exactly what I’m talking about and they know exactly what they need to do,” and they don’t have to think about their books again for another two weeks or a month.
Heather: No, I completely agree with that. I used to have a client who would say to me, “When you arrive, do not tell them who you are. Do not speak to anyone in the office. Just say you’re here for me, Bob, and walk straight to my office and come in and I’d walk into Bob’s office, we’d close the door and he’s like, “Explain the numbers to me,” but he didn’t want anyone to know that I was there to explain the numbers to him and I visited him every two weeks for six months.
Kristen: I hate that. That’s the kind of story that just breaks my heart.
Heather: Yeah. Oh absolutely.
Kristen: Not because you shouldn’t be there but because he thinks you shouldn’t be there but in addition to doing this magic of like creating a business that’s actually working, you’re supposed to automatically know all the things that you’ve actually hired someone else to do. That’s why you hired someone else to do it.
Heather: Yep. Yep. Richard Branson probably doesn’t know how to fly a plane.
Kristen: No… Actually, maybe he does.
Heather: He probably does.
Kristen: But yeah.
Heather: Not all of them.
Kristen: Maybe not well.
Heather: Thank you for sharing that with us, our listeners, Kristen.
Heather: So, what’s a book, as an avid… What do you say? You describe yourself as a voracious reader.
As a voracious reader, what is a book that has impacted you or crystallised some concepts for you?
Kristen: Oh gosh. I’ve got a few. I think I wrote some down and…
Heather: You did.
Kristen: Now I can’t remember what they are.
Heather: You wrote like a dozen down. Just pick one.
Kristen: So, there’s this one called Work Clean by Dan Charnas. I love this book. He talks about being real about time and the backdrop of this is he studied a lot of, or just sat in with a lot of chefs and chefs have to be realistic about time. There’s no like, “Well, I think this is probably going to take this amount of time.” No. You have to know and you have to allow enough time and if you don’t, then it’s not going to come together. In the words of Joe Pesci and whatever that movie was, the law of physics doesn’t seize to exist in your kitchen when you’re cooking grits. Water does not absorb faster into these… I’m sorry. That’s a really obscure moment. Anyway, the point is that it’s going to take how long it’s going to take and I think sometimes we as accountants and bookkeepers can be extremely optimistic about how long things take and how much time we’re actually putting in and how much mental energy we’re actually putting in and even…
Kristen: I think he talks too about just the time in your head and to me, that’s mental real estate. That’s something you can’t put somewhere else, even if you only talk to them once a month, it doesn’t matter. There’s a certain part of your brain that is dealing with that client all the time. That’s real-time and that’s real energy. So, I love that book for that.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
Kristen: It just really crystallised.
Heather: You actually wrote beside it, it shatters the myth that restaurant people are unorganised. Don’t even get me started on this myth. So, you’re obviously very passionate about that one.
Kristen: Yeah, I’m really passionate about that.
Kristen: I hate it when I hear people say that.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely and the mental real estate analogy, I think it’s really important for people to hear and one of the reasons for implementing processes, for having processes in place, for having technology and for actually making decisions that you stick to such as niching, is to actually relieve all of that mental real estate so you can get on with the next thing because the continued adoption of technology and automation for the accounting and bookkeeping world will mean that we need to spend a lot more time deep thinking about the information that’s being surfaced and we need to have that clear mind space to do that in.
Kristen: It’s true. I was just talking to my sister the other day about what I call decision juice… That’s not the technical term obviously but I have this theory. I heard someone describe it as COVID is this thing where there’s this app on your phone that’s constantly running. It’s not doing anything. It’s just running and using up all the battery and it’s because so much of our lives have gotten out of the space of habit. We’re having to make so many more decisions every day because you can’t take anything for granted. You can’t just run to the store, right? And this was particularly true back in April and May, where no one knew what was going on, no one knew the protocols. You didn’t know anything and everyone’s saying, “I’m so exhausted. Why am I so exhausted? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do anything today.” It’s because you’re having to decide about everything. You have no systems, you have no habits where you can just do the thing automatically, physically and your brain can be somewhere else, thinking about deeper things and so we’re all tired by 2 p.m. and that’s one of the glorious things about niching is that if I learn something; if I put in the deep work for one client, chances are it’s going to apply to most of the rest of them. It’s not single-serving research.
Heather: And if you want to go bespoke and if you want to do the single service type of stuff, make sure you’re charging for it because it takes a lot of time; a lot more time than you anticipate it’s going to take.
Kristen: Well, what’s interesting to me is that you can have the bespoke stuff in the front and someone might think, “Wow, they’re listening to everything I say and they’re going to help me do my stuff on the ground in my thing,” and then back at the house, everything is regimented and you use the technology to make the sausage essentially. Put in all the weird bits and pieces and it comes out the other end like a nice little sausage.
Heather: Everything ends up with food analogies, right?
Kristen: Oh, it does. Yes, you’re right. We actually made sausage a couple of weeks ago, so that’s what I can do, but that person feels like I heard them and I did, but I’m not going to say to them, “Yes, I’m hearing that a lot from every single person I talk to,” because it’s still their experience. Sometimes I will say, “Yes, I’m hearing that a lot from every single person I talk to,” because it makes them feel better, but we can still be bespoke without being all over the place. We can stay in the same aisle in the store… Again, food.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, absolutely and you can niche generally, you can niche location, you could niche… Because like you deal with a lot of things but you could’ve niched harder and just gone into bars which would’ve actually been really challenging if it had just been simply into bars.
Kristen: Well, I technically niche personalities. They just all happen to be independent owners but one of my owners, he had a bar, a restaurant but he also bought this funky lodge. He’s like a collector of funky spaces but his personality type is very much like an independent owner where they’re just the Jack-of-all-trades, doing all the things and they just need someone to keep them in check. That’s…
Kristen, what do you see as being next for you in the next five years or so?
Kristen: This is going to sound so silly. I felt like I’ve spent so long in the industry absorbing all this stuff, this time that I’ve been really insulated and in my house… Because I have asthma, so I’ve really had to stay sheltered in place. I just feel like now, I just want to churn content. That’s why I was trying to pick your brain, how do you do that? Because what I’ve realised is that anything I do, if I tell someone else what I do, I only work with two handfuls of clients at a time. I’m not losing anything. They’re not going to steal my clients. I’m not interested in the proprietary anymore. I don’t know if that makes sense? I’m just interested in releasing all this stuff into the world and whatever that means, that means and so I’ve really loved doing webinars and things like this. I want to talk to people more about how we can all serve our clients better and also talk to restaurants about how they can know their businesses better because I think that ultimately all that stuff comes back somehow?
Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
Heather: I will tell you…
Kristen: Thought Snow White wasn’t going to show up but here she is in all her Pollyanna glory.
Heather: But the question that I did actually have for you, which I didn’t read out fully was what is next for Kristen and I hope it involves writing? So, I didn’t want to put the pressure on you. I was like, “Oh no, I’ll leave that off,” but it does involve writing which would be fantastic for the community and the interesting thing is, if people are listening to this episode, the one previous is with Meryl Johnston, who talks very about public-facing accountability and she publishes a lot as well and I do find that you put it out there and it will come back to you in spades and I know that I’m actually content exhausted because I’ve just put out 20 content pieces in a row on LinkedIn. It was from a conversation which, Trends in the accounting industry. The impact of me pushing that out every day has been… I’ve been asked to do a webinar for 30,000 people, a global webinar. I’ve been asked to speak at a local university, I’ve been asked to be a columnist for a UK accounting magazine. So, the impact of putting it out there is good and you just have to work out how you’re going to monetise that and what that means for you and is it attracting extra clients or is that attracting people that you’re going to coach in what you’re doing et cetera.
Kristen: Well, I am working on… It’s been on my thing and so my thing for the new year and I’m hoping it will be out by… I’m going to say it here, it’ll be out in May.
Heather: Accountability. Public accountability.
Kristen: Public accountability. I’m going to make The Friday Guide a literal thing and create a accountants and bookkeepers guide to restaurant and bars. That is tongue in cheek, like a field guide, like you would have for wildlife and plant life but still actually give accountants and bookkeepers a way to understand the workings of restaurants and bars so that they can better understand what their clients need from them. Sometimes, I think we have answers. We don’t even realise that we’re superheroes and we have all these answers. We assume everyone knows and they’re struggling with something on Excel in the back of the kitchen, on a greasy keyboard and we’re just like, “There’s an app for that.” But they never ask us because we’re scary.
Heather: But then they don’t know to ask. They don’t know to ask.
Heather: And it’s about finding out where they’re listening. So, if that’s on TikTok if that’s on Instagram if that’s on Pinterest because it’s possibly… It’s never going to be LinkedIn for the hospitality industry.
Heather: Never going to be. It’s going to be those-
Kristen: The chefs are on Instagram.
Heather: Yeah, that’s where it’s going to be but it’s working out how to get their attention and as you said the webinar at 3 p.m. on a Friday is not the place for it to be.
Kristen: That’s right.
Heather: So, thank you so much, Kristen, for joining me here today on Cloud Stories.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners and how can they get in touch with you?
Kristen: I know that you said I should think of the last thing I want to say… Oh, I know what it is; and I’ve said this on Twitter too. I’d just like to put out there, right now your dollars that you spend on food, particularly food that isn’t from the grocery store, food that is prepared for you by other people, is actually, literally votes for who will survive and who will fail. So, if you value independent food choices in your community, please support them, even though they might not be on Grubhub and all of that stuff because that takes a lot of personal and gym money, go the extra mile for your favourite restaurant and try and support them during this time. You will be happy that they’re still there when all of this is behind us and I can be reached on Twitter @heyfridayguide and my website is thefridayguide.com and I’m sure it will be in a state of flux even if you listen to this five years from now. So, always new things happening there.
Heather: Thank you so much, Kristen. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you.
Kristen: It’s been great talking to you too, Heather. Thanks for having me.
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About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.