woman wearing face mask

Our Pandemic Story

This morning, I went to my first local Chamber of Commerce breakfast in over 18 months. The general attitude was as though we’d all just woken up from a collective coma: we were thrilled to see each other, but in a blur as to whatever had just passed over the last year. It was agreed that 2020 felt like a fever dream; it was interminable while we were going through it but now, is almost hard to remember.

I’m a big believer in studying the past to learn from it, and, though 2020 was hard, I don’t want to forget how it felt, nor the lessons from it. As we move through the summer of 2021, I feel like it’s time to share The Bookkeeper’s pandemic story.

Act I: Winter 2019 to Spring 2020

From the onset, we were blessed by a bit of prescience from Craig, our founder and my co-owner. We both knew that the economic bubble the country had been experiencing was due to burst and had taken precautions accordingly. However, as early as December of 2019, he was nervously following news about what was then termed the coronavirus. Not only was he convinced that it would prove to have more devastating effects than were being predicted at that time, but he called, accurately, that it had already spread from the Wuhan region prior to the instituted lockdowns. Many, myself included, thought he was probably overreacting or being a little paranoid, but he was proven right when it was identified in Europe and then later confirmed to have spread to the United States. Once we received confirmation in February of 2020 that it had spread to North Carolina, we made the decision to move all of our staff to full-time work-from-home in the beginning of March.

Though we were sure that remote work was the right decision, as everyone’s safety trumped any benefits to working in the office, it was a move that came with anxiety. We weren’t certain how people would do working from home, whether efficiency would be lost, or whether we’d lose the connection we enjoy with our staff. To our pleasant surprise, efficiency improved, and our people proved themselves as dedicated as we’d always hoped and liked to believe they were. It was an odd position to be in, to continue to thrive when we saw so many friends and clients struggling. Then, the CARES Act was passed, and things really blew open.

Act II: Summer 2020 to Spring 2021

gavelI am the sort of person who addresses anxiety through research. I’ve had my share of health struggles, and am probably a nightmare patient for my tendency to do things like watch video of surgeries I’m scheduled for. However, this proved useful when the CARES Act was passed. It was rushed through (understandably so), and I knew that it would be chaos to maneuver. I decided that the only way to make sense of the thing was to read every line of it, and I did. I quickly realized that disseminating information to clients on a case-by-case basis wouldn’t be the most efficient use of my time (particularly while I was slammed), so I started a Facebook group where I would put out videos summarizing portions of the act as I read them, helpful links for grant programs, or anything else people might find useful. This grew quickly, as business owners really seemed to be craving guidance and information during this time.

At the same time, there was endless work to be done in helping clients with all of these new programs. I filled out EIDL applications for months, going from the initial form, which was a technological nightmare and took about 13 hours, to the newest and most-streamlined version (with a PDF drag-and-drop version that lasted roughly 2 days in-between). I lost count of how many PPP applications I assisted clients with, and every bank had a different format. (I did over a dozen with BB&T alone.) Then there were other local programs, the short-lived Main Street Lending Program through the US Treasury and, later, PPP forgiveness and Employee Retention Credits.

video meetingAll the while, we turned away new business clients who were calling only for help with the various CARES Act programs, as I was working 70+ hours per week and barely had enough time to help established clients. I hated to say no to people, but we had to prioritize those who were already with us, as there just wasn’t enough time to help everyone. Eventually, we got through the worst of the rush, but had to hire additional staff, which added a level of complication as we attempted to train new bookkeepers partly remote and partly in-person. In order to avoid working in a cramped office environment, we worked from Craig’s house, where we could spread out but still be physically present in one space. We all became very adept with Zoom and Google Hangouts and, to help our new folks integrate with our veterans, did many virtual teambuilding events, like screenshared party games and a virtual Christmas party, where we sent the staff GrubHub gift cards and worked through a murder mystery dinner over Zoom. It didn’t replace the real thing, but it kept us sane and cohesive.

Though this time was chaotic and stressful, it was also an inspiring time to be in small business. There was a true feeling of us all being in this together, and connections felt more genuine (even if they couldn’t be face-to-face). When someone asked how you were doing they really meant it. And if you asked someone how they were doing, you got an honest answer. That’s something I hope we don’t lose.

Act III: Summer 2021

group putting hands in togetherAs I mentioned in the beginning, we’re now adjusting to coming out of the COVID-dominated era and embracing the “new normal." We grew all throughout 2020 and continue to grow. (2020 was our highest revenue year, and 2021 is somehow up 20% over that.) In addition to the bookkeeping staff who came on, we’ve added a practice manager.

More than that, we’re meeting people in-person again. We’re doing live networking and catching up with friends for long overdue lunch dates. Though our staff is welcome to continue working from home, our office is reopened for when anyone needs to meet with clients or just get away for a bit to focus.

There is a bit of survivor’s guilt that comes with being a business that thrived during the pandemic. So many people were so negatively affected that it’s hard to celebrate personal success. But, when people have come through something like this together, celebration is necessary.

This Friday, we’re having our first in-person team event in over 18 months. We’re having a pool party, and many of our staff will be meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. COVID still exists, and the world may never be exactly the same, but we’re looking forward to the steps we’re taking to leave this era behind us.

riding bikes together

Getting Creative at Getting Out of the Office

Having a comfortable office for business meetings is a great resource. It's very convenient to have a consistently available place to meet with potential clients, employees, or referral partners. However, it's also great to get away from the workplace at times.

Meeting someone away from the office can offer the benefit of a neutral territory, where people can lower their defenses and engage in more genuine conversation. Where you choose to meet can also give others a better understanding of yourself and your company culture.

When scheduling your next business meeting, consider some variants on these classic choices.

ice cream meetingEating Establishments

Everyone knows the standbys of a coffee or lunch meeting. (If you're particularly adventurous, you might go for an after hours cocktail.) But meeting over meals doesn't have to be limited to a cafe or sit-down restaurant. If you want to make a meeting memorable, start at a food truck, or grab an ice cream cone. Weather permitting, you can walk and talk as you enjoy your snack. Many people feel awkward holding face-to-face conversations with people they don't know well, particularly if they are eating in front of them.

Walking side-by-side helps avoid nerves over eye contact, and can put shier people at ease.

library as meeting placeQuiet Spots

Most big cities have plenty of co-working spaces available. (We have a plethora of great ones in Raleigh.) And they are fun places to hang out, even if you don't have someone to meet. Many extroverts (myself included) like to be out around people while we work, even if we're working independently.

If you don't have official co-working spaces in your geographic area, there are likely still plenty of quiet places to meet. Many libraries have meeting rooms and tables which can be either reserved or used on a first-come/first-serve basis, as do some bookstores. If you don't need somewhere with table space, consider a walk around a museum, or other cultural center. (In Raleigh, the JC Raulston Arboretum and Botanical Gardens comes to mind.) Anywhere peaceful and open to the public can be a good meeting location.

business meeting on golf courseActive Meetings

For decades, business deals have gone down on golf courses and racquetball courts. But if you're looking for an activity to get your heart rate up, you're not limited to those two options.

Assuming you're of similar cardiovascular health, going for a run is a great meeting option. Running is always more fun with a matched partner. Other sports which work well for 1-on-1 are tennis and basketball (so long as you don't get too over-competitive).

If those are too strenuous, a brisk walk through the park (maybe hunting some Pokémon?) is a suitable choice, as well.

If you keep an open mind, you can find meeting locations off the beaten path, which will leave an impression. As long as both parties are comfortable, you're able to converse, and it's a hospitable environment, anywhere can be a good place for a meeting.

Bald for a Cause

Many of you have met Craig. If you had to point him out across a crowded room, he might be "the guy in the suit with the shaved head". And if you know Courtney, she might be "the tall girl with glasses". Depending on the month of the year, it might be "the short-haired girl with glasses" because, as you may know, Courtney regularly grows out her hair to donate to children with hair loss.


(The car was parked and turned off in this picture.)
(The car was parked and turned off in this picture.)


It's about to get a lot easier to recognize Courtney. Soon she'll be "the bald girl". On April 9th, Courtney is getting her head shaved as a St. Baldrick's participant. She is doing this to raise money for childhood cancer research. You can learn more about the specific needs in treating childhood cancer here, and about the work St. Baldrick's does here.


The event is April 9th at Raleigh Beer Garden, and we would love to see many of you there! If you're local, please consider turning out for the event, or even registering to have your head shaved, as well! If you aren't ready to go bald, please consider donating to St. Baldrick's to help fund research. (There is no set minimum. All donations are welcome.) And now, if you run into Courtney in mid-April, you'll know why she looks so different. (Hint: she got a haircut.)

How to watch the NCAA tournament when you're supposed to be working.

The NCAA tournament starts this week and, with it, millions of workers desiring a way to watch the daytime games.  Since most businesses frown on calling out sick with March Madness, many employees have gotten creative in devising schemes for watching the first few rounds of the tournament.

Today we're going to examine some of the best and worst ways to watch the games when you're supposed to be working.

Call out sick.  Your boss knows you're not sick.  This almost never works.  The only way to have a shot at this one is to start planning in advance.  A few coughs and sneezes at work the Friday before, come in Monday looking tired and haggard, sucking on cough drops and clutching tissues and, by Tuesday, be acting so miserable that everyone starts suggesting you just go home.  "Tough it out" on Tuesday, come in like a zombie Wednesday morning, and beg off sick to go home at lunch.  Since everyone will have seen that you're "sick" over the course of nearly a week, it will be far more believable when you need to take Thursday and Friday off.

The major downside here is that you are relegated to watching the games at home, lest anyone sees you watching the games with buddies at a sports bar while you're supposed to be recuperating.  (Though should you see your co-workers skipping work to watch basketball, mutual blackmail might be a possibility.)


"Team-building" event.  I actually pulled this off once at an old job.  My co-workers and I were all big ACC fans, and we really didn't want to miss any of the games.  The boss was new and not much of a basketball fan.

I convinced the new boss that a tournament viewing party would be a great way to bring everyone together and help hi
m get to know the employees.  The way I convinced him was by getting him to think it was his idea.  Again, this is an option that requires a great deal of prior planning.  However, an office party has the benefit of great food (everyone brings potluck), comfortable accomodations (the nice conference room chairs) and superior viewing (the game streamed to the big projector).

Also, if you pull this off, you will be a hero to your co-workers.

Be the boss.  Yet another one that can't be arranged on short notice (unless you feel like dramatically quitting your job).  However, if you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, congratulations!  You don't need to ask anyone's permission to watch basketball.  Give yourself the afternoon off, and go catch Xavier vs. Ole Miss.  You've earned it.

Write a blog article loosely relating the NCAA tournament to business.  You're not slacking off and watching basketball.  You are doing serious research to help your company socially connect to customers in a real and relevant way through targeted marketing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go "research" whether Notre Dame is still leading Northeastern.