Ingrid Edstrom’s first question when making a new hire: “Are you offended by F­bombs?”

Not what you normally hear in an interview as a bookkeeper.

But questions like this actually saved Ingrid’s business in 2013 & 2014 once she realized: ­ Exactly how to hire the right partners. ­ Plus, how to work ONLY with her ideal clients (meaning she cut 30% of her clients in the last 6 months).

Her business, Polymath, has doubled. Now, she has a waiting list of 2­-6 months with small businesses knocking at her door wanting to work with Polymath. Also, starting in 2016, her business is all employee­ owned. She’s hired the right team and keeping them!
In this interview with David, Ingrid walks through

  • How she started her company
  • The problems (and lessons) she had with hiring staff to grow
  • How to raise her rates, grow Polymath, live out its mission of redefining accounting plus doubling her business with fewer clients.

If you want to work with Ingrid, you must first watch her on­boarding video.

You won’t want to miss it: It’s full of puppets and fun.­client­process/
Additional Links:

Starting a business in the middle of a recession:

In 2008, Ingrid worked as a bookkeeper in the manufacturing space. She realized quickly the atmosphere she worked in was unhealthy. More work was piled on her plate coupled with no additional pay.

At one point, she even discovered fraud taking place and told her boss. The boss wanted to hear none of it. So Ingrid quit…

Just like that, Ingrid threw herself into entrepreneurship. The year was 2008. Small businesses were closing, not opening.

Still, Polymath took flight. Ingrid set out to “redefine” the bookkeeping and accounting space.

She saw so many small businesses struggling with: ­

  • Cashflow ­
  • Proper and compliant bookkeeping ­
  • Owners working “in” their businesses not “on” their businesses 

She had no clue how to be an entrepreneur, but she wanted to make a difference.

Slow Transformations:

For the first two years of Polymath, Ingrid worked alone, relying on referrals from friends and scraping together savings to keep the business going.

In 2010, she found Business Networking International (BNI). She says joining groups like this transformed her business. Being around these other professionals, all from different backgrounds, gave her insights and motivation to start pushing Polymath to the next level. Her big fear as an early entrepreneur was “being called a fake.” It slowed her down at first. Her new contacts at BNI helped her face her fear.

What did they recommend?

Raise her rates!

Raising her rates would force herself to take herself and Polymath more seriously. Ingrid hesitated, but threw caution to the wind and started charging more for her expertise.

Business started growing… fast! She needed help.

First Hiring Mistakes = Losing Money:

In early 2012, Ingrid hired her first employee, a friend.

[“Don’t ever hire friends” ­ Ingrid Edstrom]

For two years, Ingrid went through the hardships of hiring ALL the wrong people.

“I gave everyone too many chances. There’s a fine line between nurturing someone vs. enabling someone who isn’t ready to learn and grow.”

She was losing money fast. The people she hired simply saw what she loved “as a job.”  She needed people who had the same, burning passion for bookkeeping as she did.

“Someone out there loves to do what you hate doing.”

Hire the people who have the same passion for what you are solving, Ingrid recommends.

How to Hire the Right Talent:

Ingrid found and learned she needed the right culture if she was going to double her business. She threw out the standard “interview” questions and started getting personal:

“How comfortable are you with the f­bomb?” became a common icebreaker question.

She looked for people who would all click with each other, who loved doing what they do, plus had a ton of fun. Culture was the key missing piece.

“They must have a hungry mind and willingness to grow…They must eat double­ entry accounting for breakfast!”

Ingrid found Vanessa, the first piece of her solid team, and her hiring process has worked ever since.

The Mission of Polymath:

When growing a company, Ingrid recommends having a clear-­cut vision and mission. For example, the vision of Polymath is to make the world a better place, built on a foundation of thriving small businesses. They do that in three ways through their mission:

  1. Nurture and educate businesses on the importance of a healthy team.
  2. Show businesses the importance of connections in the space. Plus, provide those connections themselves to increase success and profit.
  3. Redefine the accounting industry. To train other businesses to help other businesses.

Polymath is only so big, but they want the message to grow.

“We want to make the world a better place.”

Ingrid knows clients are nervous to talk to their accountants and she works everyday to bridge the gap between client and accountant.

How to Double Revenues by Cutting 30% of Client Base:

Everything was on track as tax season for 2015 started to approach. But, Ingrid saw an issue. Her time was being taken up by the same clients, many of which she didn’t particularly enjoy working with.

Bad clients can hurt the team you’ve been looking to build. On top of that, many of the clients she enjoyed working with were being left aside.

She noticed another trend: Those who were taking up all her time did not like paying her fees. They asked for discounts or “freebies.” The ones who were not being helped were happy to pay Ingrid’s fees.

Something had to change.

At the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016, Ingrid sent out an email to 30% of her clients. Cordially, she told them how much she appreciated their business, but Polymath is going in a different direction. She referred them all to new bookkeepers and held on to the clients she enjoyed. 30% of her clients were gone overnight.

The results?

Within a few months, business doubled. Along with cutting out clients she didn’t want to work with, she attended conferences, including “Scaling New Heights”, and learned: ­

  • How to find and speak to her ideal clients ­
  • How Value ­Pricing allows you to raise your rates ­
  • How “Discounting” only hurts your business and client’s trust

These lessons helped Polymath continue to grow rapidly. If you want to work with Ingrid today, there is a 2­-6 month waiting list plus, you have to fill out an application. She then decides if you are a good fit to work with Polymath or not.

With a better hiring process and now a better client­ selection process, Ingrid continues to build Polymath and could hire more staff this year due to growth.

Ingrid’s advice to you: Ask yourself “Where do you hold yourself back?” Take responsibility for your current situation and change it. You only become an expert through failure. The old saying still runs through her head “Most experts fail more than novices try…”

Building your practice will have many struggles and failures. Ingrid says: “It’s okay.”

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.