Ingrid breathes fire into client relationships
Ingrid Edstrom is definitely not your stereotypical bookkeeper. She breathes fire, plays Irish music in a band and makes videos with her sidekick, Penny, who was created as a prop for a Business Networking International (BNI) meeting. When the attendees commented on Penny, she realized that this was something that made her stand out, so Ingrid brings her along on all her business trips as well as appearances on the AskABookkeeper.com online education series.
In this episode, we talk about how if we act like we’re boring then how can we expect our clients not to think of us the same way? And forget about trying to attract and retain top talent if your firm thinks this way. Ingrid refers to it as “finding your inner unicorn”, your own set of passions that makes you unique. Weave these into your work conversations and you’ll soon realize that your relationships with both clients and coworkers will be on a much deeper level.
Ingrid Edstrom is a bookkeeping nerd and CEO of Polymath LLC. Polymath is an award winning Intuit Firm of the Future winner, Hubdoc Top 50 Cloud Accountant, and Corporate LiveWire Small Business Bookkeeping Firm of the Year. In 2016 Polymath was featured in the book “The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants” and was recognized by the Woodard Network with both the Practice Innovation and Rising Star awards.
She has her BA in Biology from Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, MN. She was recently recognized as one of the accounting profession’s Top 40 Under 40 and as one of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting.
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JOHN. Now it’s time for this week’s guest, Ingrid Edstrom, a self described bookkeeping nerd and CEO of the award winning bookkeeping firm, Polymath LLC in Ashland Oregon. Ingrid is the creator of the Ask a Bookkeeper online education series and founder of the Southern Oregon Bookkeepers Association. She was recently recognized as one of the accounting profession’s Top 40 under 40, and is one of the most powerful women in accounting. She’s a true rockstar, and now she’s here with me on the Green Apple Podcast. So Ingrid, I’ll just start off with one of the questions I love to ask everyone, how did you get into bookkeeping to begin with?
INGRID. I learned fairly early on with the Biology degree that it was difficult to save the world in the land of biology in the ways that I wanted to, because I specialized in vertebrate zoology and animal behavior, so focusing on things like herpetology and wildlife rehab, education programs, and pretty much most of the jobs out there in those arenas are non-profit. It’s hard to get paid what you’re worth in a non-profit kind of job unless you’re like the Crocodile Hunter or something like that.
INGRID. So educating and saving wildlife was not the most lucrative way to go and I needed to find other things to fill that gap. I was working for a little local manufacturing company that makes novelties, basically, and it was one of those toxic work situations where I was doing my job and everybody else’s job and not getting the recognition or pay for it. People saw where I had talent and capacity and they were fearing for their job security. They were actively making my life a living hell, it was not a whole lot of fun. There were people who were actually committing fraud in the company and I would bring these things to the attention of the owner and he chose to ignore them.
JOHN. Oh lord!
INGRID. It was so awful. I finally went to the owner and said, “you have a group of people here who are actively drilling holes in the hull of this boat and I am spending more time bailing water than doing my job, and I’m not enjoying it anymore. As much as I enjoy working for you, and I enjoy the products that we are presenting, I can’t handle this work environment anymore. I need you to fix this,” which some of the stuff that was going on was blatantly illegal. “I need you to fix this, or I need to go do something else.” He said, “you know how much I hate confrontation, you’re giving me an easy way out.” I’m like, “OK, see ya.” So I jumped ship to build my own boat.
JOHN. So you created Polymath right out of the gate.
INGRID. Yeah, one of the jobs that I was doing at that job was the bookkeeper’s job. She was getting paid more than twice what I was paid to have no clue to how to do what she was doing. I found that I had one of those brains that just kind of ate debits and credits for breakfast, and I loved it. So just a week or two after I left that position I went online and looked into becoming a certified QuickBooks Pro Adviser. I took the certification exam, just going through the continuing education on the website, after having never used QuickBooks before. Everything just kind of came together. You know when you’re on the right path when the universe is paving it in front of you.
JOHN. I totally hear you. So how did you come up with the name Polymath?
INGRID. When we first started Polymath I took the shotgun approach to starting a business. I had like eight different things on my business card, I was doing bookkeeping, home and office organization, and insitting. I actually took a class in Colorado on becoming a certified Insitter, who is somebody who can do interim inkeeping and come in and completely run a bed and breakfast when the bed and breakfast owners are out of town. There were tons of things that I was doing, editing, research, event planning, I had all these things on my business card because I wanted to see what was going to get picked in my area, what was there a need for.
Starting a business in 2008 what I very quickly saw was that what people needed was a bookkeeping assistant. And not just bookkeeping assistants, but how can I help their company really make it to the next level and not just survive the economic recession but thrive through it. My favorite testimonial from a client is still the very first testimonial that I ever received, and it was, “it turns out we didn’t hire a bookkeeper we hired a shamanic witch priestess to do an exorcism and resurrection on our dieing company.”
JOHN. Does she charge by the hour, or is that [laughter].
INGRID. At that time I was charging by the hour.
JOHN. Right. So then you just figured out that the bookkeeping is where it’s at, and where you wanted to be?
JOHN. Even further of a niche going forward. So that’s great.
INGRID. It’s been one step at a time, just continuing to refine and specialize, refine and specialize. We feel like we’re getting it figured out. There’s always a next level, there’s always a next step and more to learn.
JOHN. Yeah, but you’re on a rocket ship. It’s so fantastic. So fast. So congrats on all your success, it’s really, really cool.
INGRID. Thank you.
JOHN. I know that obviously takes up a good amount of your time, but what sort of passions do you enjoy when you have a little bit of free time? I think it’s great because you’ve actually kind of woven it into your work, which is amazing.
INGRID. That’s the important thing. Business owners start businesses because they want to do what they love for a living. If you don’t enjoy it what’s the point? If you’re not enjoying being an entrepreneur go get a job.
JOHN. It’s actually a lot easier if you get the job, to be honest.
INGRID. As far as the extracurricular pieces, now that I’ve got fantastic partners in my firm I’m actually spending a lot more of my time, at this point within Polymath, educating business owners and other accounting professionals and weaving my other passions into that. The primary being the puppet show that we have.
JOHN. Yes! Which I think is great. Every time you were walking around QuickBooks Connect you had Poly sticking out of your backpack, I think everybody could see you, I think that’s really cool.
INGRID. That one was actually Penny.
JOHN. Oh that was Penny, I apologize.
INGRID. There’s also a Poly.
JOHN. You showed me the picture of Poly was the original version.
INGRID. Yes, so Penny the Practical Professional is the business owner puppet that we have. She owns Penny’s Pies.
JOHN. Yes, exactly.
INGRID. She was actually the second puppet that came to us. The first was Poly the Paper Monster. Poly the Paper Monster is a dragon made of receipts and tax forms that lives in a shoe box and is supposed to represent, basically, some of the business owners deepest fears when it comes to their financial record keeping.
JOHN. Well she looks like she’s had a rough time of it. How did you come up with the puppet in the first place?
INGRID. I first came up with Poly when I was supposed to bring a prop to BNI meeting. BNI stands for Business Network International, it’s a hard networking group, it’s an international organization that has local chapters. I was in a local chapter at that time and we were supposed to bring a prop for our little 30 second commercial, or manager moment they like to call them, and use a prop to talk about what it is we do. When people introduced a fun zany idea like that I like to kind of take it to the extreme sometimes. The first time I had to bring a prop to BNI, I brought juggling supplies and brought in an analogy of how juggling we can juggle multiple balls in our business and keep more plates in the air, and that sort of things. Balls in the air, plates spinning, and weaving that analogy together. So I had this idea for what it was that people were struggling with, and the main thing that I saw people struggling with at that time were their receipts. They talked about the shoebox, and I wanted to find a way to encompass that shoebox and the fear of the shoebox and what was in there, and I turned it into a character. The best way to really know our enemy is to give our enemy a face.
JOHN. And a name, exactly.
INGRID. So I gave it the face of Poly the Paper Monster. In my little 30 second commercial I showed how QuickBooks could slay the Paper Monster.
JOHN. That’s so great.
INGRID. This group of responsible professionals loved it. They ate it up, and they started asking for more.
INGRID. I was like, “oh, OK. I guess I have something here.”
JOHN. That’s exactly it. I’m sure that anyone else professionalism would have crept in and been like, “what am I doing? I’m using a puppet to teach them about bookkeeping or receipts. I shouldn’t be doing that, I should have a bunch of bullet points on a slide and talk them through.” It’s like, no, you did what you want to do, and look at how it just blew up in a great way. That’s what people were talking about.
INGRID. It’s all about the story. It’s about relating to people’s deeper emotions. If all you’re presenting to them is data, data, data, data with no story or something that they can relate to, they’re not going to remember it.
JOHN. That’s very true, absolutely. It’s a lot of not what you told them but how you made them feel. If they don’t let their guard down then nothing you say is going to get inside and stick.
JOHN. So then out of that grew this YouTube channel series, yeah?
INGRID. That came several years later. That actually came after a friend of mine created Penny for me. I had this idea for a puppet and I said, “this is what we need.” He carved her out of foam, and that is the puppet that is currently on our YouTube channel. We’re in the midst right now, since we have the new Penny just a few weeks ago–it’s the same character but turned into a more professional puppet. We actually had a professional puppet maker, Toby Froud up in Portland Oregon, which many of you might remember him from the movie the Labyrinth, he was the kid in the stripy pajamas, he’s now all grown up and is a professional puppeteer and puppet maker.
JOHN. How cool is that?
INGRID. He’s created the new puppet for us. So Penny the Practical Professional, we had the nemesis, the enemy, in Poly the Paper Monster, but we needed a character that would actually relate to and speak with the business owner. The really great thing about Penny is that she’s able to ask any question or be going through anything and speak it transparently. Whereas if we just have a business owner on the show and are asking them about their deepest fears it’s going to be couched in something, they’re going to have trouble expressing that. Yet, when Penny does it, there are no stupid questions and she can be going through it and saying, “oh my gosh, I’m going to be belly up next week.” Whereas typical business owners, even though we’re all there or we’ve all been there, everyone can relate to that, when you’re there you don’t want to talk about it because it can be embarrassing. People feel shame around those things. Even though we’re all there and feel it, it’s really hard for each of us, as a person, to get past that shame. So we wanted to bring in a character that the business owners could relate to and could speak those fears without hesitation.
JOHN. That’s awesome. Everyone’s a millionaire, we got so much business, I don’t even know what to do with myself, and then you see them six months later and they’re working for somebody else. It’s like, “I thought you were killing it.”
INGRID. Everyone is so wrapped up in trying to portray this image of success because they think they need to portray an image of success in order for people to want to purchase their services. I think that if we stopped putting on those masks as often and were able to relate on a more deep, personal, genuine, authentic level that we would actually all be more successful.
JOHN. Absolutely. You don’t want to necessarily tell somebody, “look if you don’t give me this work then I’m really going to have to close down.” Not that true, but yeah, absolutely. Being vulnerable. Your client is probably the same way. Even if you work for a giant firm he person that you’re sitting across also doesn’t totally know 100% of how to do their job either. For you to be like, “hey, why don’t we just work through this together,” then it becomes a team effort opposed to one side versus the other side.
JOHN. We’re pulling together on this, let’s do it together. That’s such a great mentality to have. What would you say might be one of the coolest or most rewarding things you’ve gotten to do with Penny?
INGRID. The most rewarding is when people come up to me and say, “oh my gosh, I watched your video and it really shifted things for me, it really changed everything. You were able to explain it in a way that was clear to me, speaking my language.” The main thing about the accounting profession that I’m noticing is that, a whole lot of our clients, the small business owners, are frankly terrified of what we do and by extension of us. A lot of accountants end up speaking over their heads, a lot of accountants have all of this training and jargon and background, which is important, but they don’t relate to the clients with that. It’s all data, data, data and they got this idea that they need to keep the client somewhat in the dark so that they have this job security, because if the client understood on a deeper level what it was that we’re doing, then the client would do it themselves. Guess what, the client doesn’t want to do this stuff, the client started their business because they wanted to follow their passion, and if accounting was their passion they’d be an accountant.
JOHN. Right. That’s exactly it.
INGRID. We learned this stuff so that they don’t have to.
JOHN. That’s exactly right. We think we’re so awesome that everybody wants to do what we do, and if we let them know how easy it is. It’s like, it’s not that easy. They’re doing their job, you do yours.
INGRID. Or it might be that it’s easy for us, but it’s not necessarily easy for them, and that’s OK. I don’t want to be a massage therapist, I don’t want to fix cars. Could I? Potentially with the schooling and those sorts of things, but you know what? I’m not interested. In the same that our clients aren’t interested in being accountants, but they are interested in having their businesses to be successful. In order for their business to be successful they need to understand the finances of their business. The finances are the lifeblood of the business. Our business problems are our personal problems in disguise. Those numbers tie directly into the deeper lessons that each of us are learning along these paths. It’s really important for our accounting professionals to be able to relate to the clients and their journey on a deeper level and support them through that, and not just be the number crunchers.
JOHN. There’s a million of those and like you said, if you’re just coming at them with data then no one is really going to listen. But you can diffuse all that with Penny, then people are engaged, it takes them back to their childhood, and there’s an energy there. I think that’s so fantastic, and that’s so rewarding for you to hear from so many different people over and over, just how much of an impact you make in their lives just by introducing Penny to the equation.
INGRID. What’s really fun, to me, is that I didn’t expect that it was going to be such a hit with other accounting professionals. Having accounting professionals coming up to me at conferences like QuickBooks Connect and say similar things is huge. Which is one of the reasons why we’re now starting to, with the new podcast, open up the show and have more guest hosts and be able to have other accounting professionals and app partners on the show talking about their niche and educating their specific audience with them as the expert and Penny as the catalyst. It opens up so many opportunities for more accounting professionals to also step out there in the fun and exciting way so that we can reach and help more small business owners and let them thrive.
JOHN. That’s so amazing, just how much of an impact it’s had on your business and on your career. Not only with client relationships but also “coworker” relationships if you will, and peers in the industry. On all fronts, just by stepping out a little bit and introducing Penny with your puppet passion if you will. The alliteration is so much right there, just through the roof, with the Ps all over the place. Just by introducing that, everybody gravitates toward you. You’re rocketing. 2015 Firm of the Future contest that QuickBooks had and you were a finalist in. You were in the top 3?
INGRID. Yeah, I was third place.
JOHN. That’s awesome, that’s crazy how good that is. This podcast is in the bottom 3. No, I’m just kidding. That is so fantastic, and I’m sure that having Penny involved and your puppet passion makes you stand out even more. It’s proof that it works, that’s what’s so great. You didn’t just introduce Penny and have to close the doors two weeks later, it was quite the opposite.
INGRID. She’s definitely been helping us out, she’s awesome.
JOHN. That’s really cool. So, before the puppets, what sort of hobbies or passions did you share when you worked at that other job, or what have you? Or was Poly first the one that kind of broke it open? You had other things going as well, I know you did.
INGRID. Other jobs, previous lives, other passions.
JOHN. Other hobbies and passions that you would share before that.
INGRID. Hobbies, passions, well I mentioned juggling. So, I worked at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival for ten years doing education programs with the Minnesota Herpetological Society, which is reptiles and amphibians.
JOHN. There you go, I was going to say, I don’t even know what that word is. Hopefully it’s not in the spelling bee.
INGRID. Herpetological, the study of creepy things is basically what that means. Yeah, so doing education programs, but while I was there I was also doing a little bit of street performance, primarily juggling and fire dancing—so fire eating and breathing.
INGRID. Those are a couple of interesting, strange hobbies that not many people have.
JOHN. I was going to say, you can’t just drop that out of no where. Like, “oh yeah, I also breathe fire.” It’s like, “wait what?”
INGRID. Yeah, I like to stick fire in my face every once in a while, it’s a little crazy, I’m a crazy girl who eats fire.
JOHN. How do you do that? On a dare at a campfire one day and then you’re like, “oh, I guess I can do this.” How do you get into something like that?
INGRID. I started with juggling things that weren’t on fire, then I started juggling things that were on fire, and then I met some friends at the renaissance festival that were doing fire eating and breathing and they taught me how. I said, “that’s really cool, that’s the next level of hey let’s do something,” adrenaline junky, or something, I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun, I loved it.
JOHN. That’s so cool. You have so many different facets to you that just makes you interesting, it makes you alive. When we were talking at QuickBooks Connect your eyes just light up when you’re talking about that stuff. That’s so cool.
INGRID. Aw, you’re so sweet.
JOHN. You can just tell. It helps that you run your own business, so you are certainly passionate about that, but the fact that you’ve also woven in the puppets makes it very easy to be passionate about that. But even when you talk about the other things, and anybody that’s out there listening, just go ask your coworker what they do for a job and look at their eyes and watch them glaze over. Then, ask them what they love to do on the weekends and man, it’s a whole different energy and conversation. So I think that’s so neat.
INGRID. That’s the kind of thing that we try to bring to our clients, finding the places where their eyes light up and saying, “that, how can we weave that passion into your day to day?”
JOHN. That’s awesome, very cool. So if there are people out there that are maybe on the fence, like maybe they’re fire breathers but they’re like, “hey I don’t think my accounting people are going to like knowing that I breathe fire” or, “I’m really into puppets or make my puppets breathe fire.” This is all meta right now, I don’t even know what’s happening. Basically, do you have any words of encouragement to people to, “yes, share, and yes it matters. It will impact you for the good.”
INGRID. Absolutely. Find your inner unicorn, whatever that might be, the thing that differentiates you and makes you truly unique and special, and we all have something. There are thousands of puppeteers and fire eaters, fire breathers, those sorts of things in the world, I’m not the only one. Nonetheless, each of us is unique. Each of us is truly unique in the combination of passions that we have. So whether your passion is bowling, quilting, I’m actually rattling off examples right now from the class that you taught at QuickBooks Connect on the things people were saying.
JOHN. Collect geckos.
INGRID. Bowling, quilting, yes, collecting geckos! There’s somebody who could join their local herpetological society. Those are all great examples. Finding how you can use those deeper passions and weave them into your work and use them to connect on a deeper level with your clients. In the end we talk about our clients when we’re marketing we call it a target market. Marketing in the deepest level, marketing is enchantment. Enchantment means to fill with song. If you think about a jingle or something like that, that is what marketing is. We are enchanting the world around us to want to come and join us on something we are passionate about. The best way to do that is to bring our passion to the table. If we’re bored by what we’re doing, how on Earth do we think our clients are going to be entertained by it?
INGRID. So weaving that passion in and finding your echo chamber, that group of people to whom your message naturally resonates on a deeper level because then they will sing it back to you, and then they’ll sing it to the universe on social media.
JOHN. That was awesome, that was it. You’re in charge now. This was great. That’s such a great example of just, if we’re bored or we act bored, or we’re boring, then who’s going to want to come along for the ride, whether it’s a client or a coworker? It’s like, “yeah I want to get in that car, they’re listening to NPR and driving 10mph.” It’s like, no, no. You’ve got to be you and let it out. that’s so awesome.
INGRID. Though NPR is pretty frickin cool.
JOHN. I know, that was a bad example. This car doesn’t even have a radio.
INGRID. OK, if it doesn’t have a radio, start singing.
JOHN. I’m a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible singer.
INGRID. That’s another of my hobbies, I’m in an Irish band.
JOHN. Oh, so you’re also in an Irish band. What’s the name of your band?
INGRID. Our band is the Feckin’ Tinkers. We were actually dubbed that by a little old Irish man in the Dublin train station. Round about 16 years ago my husband Jeff and I were on our way back to Limerick where I was going to school from Belfast, we had visited, and we were waiting in the Dublin train station for our train. We each had our backpacks sitting in front of us, he was wearing his brown duster and black broad brimmed traveling cap, and I was wearing my woolly sweater and my Apache Irish cap, and we were sitting there waiting for our train. This little old Irish man walked into the train station, he had the kind of crutches that wrap around your arms, he was all hunched over, he had sprigs of hair sticking up out of his head and one snaggly tooth sticking up out of his gum and he was looking around glaring at everybody like he hates the world. He walks in right about six feet in front of us and looks right at us and said, “Feckin’ Tinkers.”
So for those of you who don’t know, Tinker is what they Irish call their gypsies. So apparently not only did Jeff and I pass for Irish native, we passed for Irish gypsies. We took it as a compliment and decided to keep it. He wasn’t cussing at us in an Irish accent, the root of the word Feckin’ is the same as the root of the word Feckless or effective, he was saying we were very effective Irish gypsies.
JOHN. That’s so funny. Then you just took it and ran with it. That’s awesome. So do you have a website for the band?
INGRID. We have a Facebook page, we’ve had people asking us to produce a CD for several years, we haven’t done it. We have one music video that a friend of ours recorded us performing once and made a music video, because that’s what he does. So we do have the music video that you can track down someplace on Facebook if you really want to see us play.
JOHN. That’s awesome, so cool. You’re more than one episode worth, this is wild. This is so wild. I feel like we’ve definitely gotten to know you Ingrid, but before I come hang out and try to breathe some fire and talk with Penny a little more, I have my 17 rapid fire questions that I run everybody through. So I hope you have a seat belt ready.
INGRID. I’m good to go.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite color?
JOHN. Least favorite color?
INGRID. Rusty puke yellow.
JOHN. You prefer Kindles or real books?
INGRID. Real books. The older the better, they smell wonderful.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite band?
INGRID. Tricky Pixie.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?
JOHN. Why is that?
INGRID. It’s always been my favorite number, though it’s funny that I’ve noticed on the podcast of yours that I was listening to yesterday that it also happens to be Seth David’s favorite number.
JOHN. Yes, it’s also mine. It’s quiet ea few people. I just love asking why.
INGRID. It’s a good number.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite animal?
INGRID. Oh gosh, I have so many. We have snakes, goats, rabbits, chickens, cats. Favorite animal, probably a dragon.
JOHN. Dragon, solid answer. It’s hard to compete with that. You meet them at the fire breathing meeting I assume.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
INGRID. Oh. Um. Starscape.
JOHN. OK, alright. You wove in star, I like it, that’s good.
When it comes to computers, PC or Mac?
INGRID. Both actually. Mostly PC, but I do both.
JOHN. At the same time, ambidextrous? That’s pretty impressive.
On a mouse, are you a right click or left click?
INGRID. Right click.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite TV Show of all time?
INGRID. It changes frequently, but right now I would have to say, probably, Supernatural.
JOHN. How about a movie that makes you cry?
INGRID. All of them. My Girl.
JOHN. How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?
INGRID. Gypsy Girl, which most people haven’t heard of. It’s what happens when you warm up Irish Cream and add a little bit of butter schnapps and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur.
JOHN. Holy smokes, that sounds delicious.
Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
JOHN. Financials, balance sheet or income statement?
INGRID. Balance sheet.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
INGRID. Once again, so many. Right now, off the top of my head my brain is going Cumberbatch.
JOHN. Oh yeah!
INGRID. I’m so excited to see Strange.
JOHN. Yeah, he’s really good, and he just blew onto the scene a couple years ago. Just amazing.
Early Bird or Night Owl?
INGRID. Night owl.
JOHN. The favorite thing you own, or the favorite thing you have?
INGRID. That would be Bridgette, our gypsy wagon. My husband builds custom gypsy wagons for a living, he’s a woodworker.
JOHN. Wow. So like a big wagon? Like you go inside giant wagon?
INGRID. It’s an ornate gypsy caravan, yup. So we travel around the country in our gypsy wagon.
JOHN. That’s so amazing, very cool. How long have you had it?
INGRID. We started building her probably about six or seven years ago, and she’s still in progress. She’ll probably always be in progress, similar to our house. But yeah, he actually builds people custom gypsy wagons for a living, that’s what he does.
JOHN. Thank you so much Ingrid for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast, this was fantastic.
INGRID. My pleasure, this was such a blast.