When most people think of bookkeeping, the first thing that comes to mind is that bookkeeping is scary stuff. Enter Gentle Frog, the company Rachel Barnett founded in 2018 to help take the stress—that scary stuff—out of the bookkeeping experience.

By empowering its clients to better understand their numbers, Gentle Frog helps its clients feel more confident about their books.

Rachel actually founded Gentle Frog because she needed a job. For 15 years, she worked as a freelance bookkeeper for small companies before eventually starting two small companies of her own, including Primarily Bookkeeping, d/b/a Your Bookkeeping Fairy Godmother, which she sold in 2018. She also teamed up with Kevin Sterling to assist in the growth of Centrosome, a Canadian bookkeeping and tax firm.

Over the years, Rachel’s passion for using QuickBooks has evolved into a passion for providing behind-the-scenes support to bookkeeping freelancers and small business owners. Her accounting path started as a QuickBooks user in 1995 (she has been a QuickBooks ProAdvisor since 2012). In 2019, she attained her Xero Advisor certification and in 2020 she became a FreshBooks Advisor.

Today, Rachel and her team not only offer bookkeeping services, but also one-on-one QuickBooks training and quick virtual problem-solving chats. And what’s the best part of all this? It is that her clients are learning to love bookkeeping as much as they do.

When she’s not helping her clients, Rachel enjoys actively participating in the QuickSource accounting community. She also volunteers regularly to teach Introduction to QuickBooks Online workshops at the Greater Seattle SCORE office.

We sat down with Rachel to get her thoughts on her work, her award and where the Gentle Frog team is heading.

Give us a snapshot of your business, including how long you have been in business, etc.

I like to think of Gentle Frog as a customized ecosystem of support, mentorship, and learning for all our stakeholders.

What I mean by that is we offer bookkeeping services for small business owners and training and mentorship for new bookkeepers finding their footing in the industry. Continuing education for myself and my team is a huge priority. Bringing together the resources to support, train, and continue learning creates some exceptional synergy for my clients.

We have been in business since August 2018. We specialize in Quickbooks but offer training in other platforms as well.

How does the award fit into your overall business mission statement?

Our mission is to serve, teach and empower our clients, so they understand their numbers and feel confident about their books. Gentle Frog is not just about bookkeeping services. It’s about delivering excellent service with empathy and a sense of humor.

Our goal is to help people gain confidence and feel empowered around a stressful subject for most people.

How will you leverage the honor in your continued success?

I am incredibly proud of this award! I use it as a leading credibility marker for social proof in my communications and brand. I include it in my high-impression content, such as my LinkedIn bio profile, email signature and social media posts.

I’m an active speaker and always mention the award in bios for speaking events.

What are some of your strategies/initiatives for 2022? Business? Personal?

To scale my teaching, I am very excited about the mentoring group I launched in August. We use Slack as our comms home base. The group includes new and experienced bookkeepers and business owners doing their own books.

While, of course, the group offers bookkeeping advice and training, the highest value to members is the supportive and fun community we are creating.

The other initiative I’m excited to dive back into is my YouTube channel. I have a good start on YouTube—1,500 subscribers. I’m looking forward to putting out a lot more video content.

A personal initiative that overlaps with business is continuing to level up my business education. I love taking courses and learning new skills that help me with life and business.

It’s important to me that my team is always learning, too. I present them with continuing ed options, and if they come to me with a resource they are interested in, I support them. Investing in my team has been the biggest win-win situation for my business.

What are some of the biggest issues/trends impacting the accounting space today?

Freelancing and free-agency work is amidst a huge transition as part of the post-pandemic labor upheaval. Many people are looking for ways to make a freelance living online. That means a lot of programs have popped up for freelance training.

The bookkeeping space is no exception. I get a little concerned about the messaging of some of these programs. They make it sound like building a bookkeeping practice online is a quick and easy way to make great money.

The truth is “knowing how to do books” is just the start, and there is nothing quick and easy about keeping books for taxes in the US.

Our mission is to serve, teach and empower our clients, so they understand their numbers and feel confident about their books. Gentle Frog is not just about bookkeeping services. It’s about delivering excellent service with empathy and a sense of humor.

Second, if people have never worked for themselves before, they soon learn that a huge part of running a freelance bookkeeping business has nothing to do with bookkeeping know-how. Freelancers need to consider mindset, marketing and networking—how will they stand out in the marketplace of hundreds of thousands of other people?

In fact, the need for “off the books” (haha) advice, meaning topics not related to bookkeeping know-how, was one reason I started the mentoring group. Some new bookkeepers said I was really good at helping them, and I knew I didn’t have enough hours in the day to support people one on one. The group is a great answer to that. Plus, they all benefit from each other’s perspectives as well.

The second trend I see impacting the accounting space is also a symptom of the online world. Social media tends to magnify negativity, and issues can get over-hyped.

I’m seeing a lot of small business owners overreacting to a perceived threat of audits from the IRS. Now, of course, I’m not saying there is no audit risk.

I am saying we can educate our clients to bracket the generalized brouhaha with some specific strategies for their business so they feel empowered by managing their audit risk.

What is the biggest item on your to-do list right now?

I actually have two biggest items. The first is to sit down with my team and get very clear on what stuff they want to work on in 2023. I want to support my team with their professional development. I want them to really enjoy their jobs because when they do that, resistance disappears. We are all rowing in the same direction and attracting the kinds of clients we all want to serve.

Related to that is the second. I signed up for a few courses that I haven’t finished yet. Taking courses can be like eating potato chips—you munch away because it feels good, but potato chips do nothing to build muscle. I want to be sure I’m getting some real outcomes from the time I spend on the courses.

I am creating a framework for this coursework learning to help me capture the top lessons learned and implement the takeaways.

What are your expectations for 2022 and beyond?

As you know, the bookkeeping world revolves around tax deadlines, so like everyone else, we will be super busy from now on until April 15, with plans for some downtime on a porch somewhere in the woods with a Kindle and a bowl of popcorn.

I’m excited about the sturdy organizational framework we are creating that will support the busy season spikes so that my team and clients feel grounded no matter what.

What is the best piece of advice you can offer your clients today?

Do a gut check and be sure that the business you are building is what you want, not a vision someone slipped under the door when you weren’t looking.

For example, not all bookkeepers need to offer business advisory services. If you are a beginning or freelance bookkeeper and don’t want to scale your business, that is A-OK. There is a ton of work out there just fixing people’s books.

At Gentle Frog, our job is to, yes, keep excellent books, but in our mentoring services, our job is also to hold a bookkeeper’s hand and let them know it’s going to be OK. That is part of our secret sauce.

Figure out what your secret sauce is and do more of that.

And how do you do that? A place to start is focusing on your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses. This has been the number one key to me growing my business faster.

Don’t overthink this. If you cannot afford a Virtual Assistant full-time, it doesn’t mean you cannot afford a VA. I started out with two hours a week with a VA. I have 30-minute calls with a marketing writer where we speed-date my messaging questions. It saves me hours stuck in writer’s block looking at the screen.

What was the best advice you ever received?

I was lucky that one of my favorite bosses was a fantastic mentor. He hired good people, empowered them to do their jobs well, and gave them a lot of freedom over their schedules.

He used to say, “Life is short; you are in charge of your own day. Go splash in the mud puddles if you need to for a bit.”

Is there a story/anecdote you can share that really sums up the work you do for your clients?

I would say I’m successful with my clients because I understand that bookkeeping is scary. It’s scary because it’s about money, and money is emotional.

The purpose of bookkeeping is to provide insight into the numbers, right? Sometimes that transparency is hard. It is hard to keep up with and hard to accept if things aren’t going well. Objective numbers can start to feel very personal.

Most small businesses’ growth isn’t truly linear. They tend to bump along for a bit, have revenue spikes, or make large investments to get to a point where hopefully, things smooth out a bit.

We are here for clients as they go from DIY to hiring us and even back again to DIY. We flex.

I had a client who at first was DIY, then asked us to step in as she scaled up, then she went back to DIY with her books. We flexed with her.

One day, she showed up on a call and started crying. It was 100% understandable. My client had 20 things on her plate that day, had just put out three fires, and knew two more issues were simmering on the perimeter, and it was only 9 a.m.

At that point, she didn’t need bookkeeping advice. She needed a zoom tea and a chat. I helped her step back and relax. My job was to virtually hold her hand and listen.

I didn’t charge her for that call, either. That is how you create clients for life.

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Insightful Accountant