What do Zen and bookkeeping have in common? For Cristina Garza, Chief Number Cruncher at the Denver-based firm Accountingprose, it all comes back to people.
“A standard accountant is interested in tax returns, and a bookkeeper is interested in data entry,” she says. “But what we’re interested in is increasing joy in the workplace.”
Early in her career, she worked as an accountant at a mortgage finance firm before the subprime boom and bust of 2008. But dismayed with the industry’s ethics, she left. For a few years, she studied at a Buddhist monastery, eventually taking a leadership position managing its finances, and then went on to travel the world, teaching meditation, yoga and business ethics.
As she built up her network, she became increasingly enamored with the idea of starting her own business and, in 2012, decided to dig in her heels with Accountingprose. Now, her company works with more than 100 clients across the country.
I caught up with Garza to hear about her business philosophy, accounting hacks and advice for women entrepreneurs.
How have your beliefs influenced your business perspectives?
For me it’s less about religion and more about philosophy. It all drills down to one golden rule: treat people how you want to be treated. I make sure I treat our clients impeccably.
We’re honest in all our endeavors and are fair in our pricing. You don’t achieve success in taking; it’s only by giving. I also treat our employees like gold, because happy employees do great work. We offer five weeks of paid vacation, unlimited unpaid vacation, and work from home options. Our clients see [how we treat our employees and partners] and most of our business comes from referrals.
You’ve had such an interesting, wide-ranging career. Why did you stay with accounting? Why do you find it so rewarding?
I really enjoy working with small business owners because they’re really excited about what they’re doing and we’re able to affect lots of different people. Because of our work, business owners are able to build strong relationships with employees and they’re able to build strong relationships with vendors. It’s not about the data entry; it’s not about the money; it’s about the people.
We find out what the business’ sore spots are and figure out what they want taken off their plate. We figure out businesses’ pain points by peeling back the layers.
How do you do that?
We take a holistic approach — we’ll help with the data entry and accounting but also higher level things like employee retention by helping them with employee training manuals and new business development. This helps businesses keep people on board, which lowers their costs over time. If we can help create positive cultures, our clients become more successful, so we become more successful. We see this as an upward spiral of success.
What kinds of clients do you work with?
We work with three different types of clients. The first type wants to take care of their financial stuff right away and set up their processes. The next type of person tried to do the work on their own and realized it’s not the best use of their time. The third type of person hasn’t filed a tax return in a few years and isn’t in good shape.
They’re very forward thinking, tech focused, looking for ways to increase efficiency and reduce redundancy. They looking at technology to make those things happen and realize that we don’t have to work in same way as we’ve always worked.
What are some common pitfalls of new business owners?
Business owners realize in very beginning that they want to wear all the hats. They want to do the marketing, the accounting and then they get burnt out and realize, “Okay, this isn’t how I should be spending my time.” So we want to take some of that off their plate. We want our business owners to enjoy life because you only get to do it one time.
Women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the small business economy. Do you notice any differences between the women- and men-owned businesses you work with?
A lot of the women I work with are also moms, and I’ve found that they’re really exceptional at multitasking and time management. They’re always looking at where they can get the most value with the least amount of time and effort. They look more into the future and are always thinking about the potential. I’m not sure if it’s a woman thing or a mom thing, but they can see a roadmap and follow it.
They’re also really adaptable and can recognize pretty quickly when what they’re doing isn’t working and want to fix it. Their egos don’t come into their work – they want to do a great job, help a lot of people and don’t want to waste time in the process. Women are more likely to say, “I don’t know,” which is important, and they aren’t afraid to ask questions. Women seem more eager to embrace change, whereas men are typically more cautious and might say, “let me think about this and get back to you.”
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their business journey?
Always do what makes you happiest! Maybe I’m unique because I’m willing to take less money for more happiness and freedom, but you need to think about what kind of life you want to lead. I hesitated for a while and was conservative when I first started my business, because I wanted to know everything before I made any decision. But you have to comfortable not being an expert in every area. Your customers don’t expect perfection; they want you to try your best and be honest with them.
Also, believe in yourself! If you think you’re going to fail, you will. You need to stay positive.
Do you have any specific advice for women entrepreneurs?
Don’t take anyone’s sh*t. Be clear in what you expect and stand firm. Don’t lower your standards.
Lastly, make time for yourself and take time to recharge. One of the big mistakes I made was thinking that if I work harder, I’m going to be more successful. You’ll make lots of mistakes in the beginning. It’s not easy running a business. It has its challenges, but you should chase after your passions.
Amy Vetter, global vice president of education and head of accounting-USA at Xero