Bailey rocks her way to better client connections
Bailey Smith’s is best summed up by her twitter byline which reads, “Accounting is her trade, music is her passion.” Going to a Vertical Horizon concert in 2011 reignited her passion for live music, causing her to set a goal to attend more live concerts and to learn to play the bass guitar. Years later, she is now friends with the band, regularly attends live concerts (tracked in an Excel spreadsheet) and is taking lessons on her bass guitar. She’s even the Treasurer for Friends of Levitt Pavilion in Denver which is helping build a new music venue downtown.
In this episode, we talk about how she’s a naturally shy person, so it took her some time to open up to coworkers and clients. She soon learned the importance of sharing and, just as importantly, asking others to share as well. While most of us are very busy and just focused on getting the work done so we can go home, it’s important to take a few minutes to develop those connections.
Bailey Smith is the owner of Sopris Accounting Solutions, an accounting/bookkeeping/consulting firm. Prior to this, she worked in public accounting for EKS&H.
She attended the University of Denver where she received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Accounting.
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JOHN. A few weeks ago I was a speaker at the QuickBooks Connect Conference and this weeks guest, Bailey Smith, happened to be in the audience. I’m super excited to talk to her. After graduating from the University of Denver with both a BS and MS in Accounting she worked in public accounting for several years before leaving to start Sopris Accounting Solutions on her own. So Bailey thank you so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
BAILEY. Absolutely, thanks for having me.
JOHN. Of course. So I gave everyone a quick overview of your background, but maybe in your own words a little bit of what you’re up to now and how you got there.
BAILEY. So now I’m my own boss, which is great, something I never really planned, it just fell into my lap and is the best thing that ever happened. I own my own accounting, bookkeeping, consulting firm called Sopris Accounting Solutions.
JOHN. Very cool.
JOHN. So, how did that come about?
BAILEY. So I had worked at EKS&H, which is the largest accounting firm here in Denver. I worked there in the audit department for eight years, and then for personal reasons I had to cut back on work and I went to work with some of my former coworkers who had started their own firm and worked with them for about a year. She, my boss, for personal reasons also, had to cut back and didn’t want to have employees or as many clients. She said, “hey, why don’t you start your own firm and take these clients with you?” I said, “uh, sure!”
JOHN. That’s so perfect, huh?
BAILEY. Yeah, it was great.
JOHN. Very cool, just like a launching pad. So you’re not really starting from scratch. That’s awesome, how did you come up with the name Sopris?
BAILEY. Sopris is after Mount Sopris which is a mountain in Carbondale, which is in the Aspen area where I grew up. It was the backdrop of my childhood, so it was a shoe in.
JOHN. That’s excellent. Now, see, being from Colorado, I was like, “that’s a random Greek God or something,” but no, it’s from my childhood, it’s even better. That’s so perfect and great. One question that I love to ask everybody, is just going back in the day, way back, what made you want to get into accounting in the first place?
BAILEY. I had never really thought about it as a profession, I really wanted to be a teacher when I was growing up. My senior year of high school I took an accounting course as one of my elective classes and I excelled at it, I was really good. It came so naturally to me, and so my guidance counselor said, “you know Bailey, you could really make more money if you went into accounting.” I said, “well, but I’m really passionate about teaching.” He convinced me, he said, “if you really want to teach, you can still teach accounting later in life.” So I decided that was wise advice and I went into accounting.
JOHN. Wow, that’s hilarious. “You see all these people around you, you can make way more than them.” That’s awesome. And then went to college and stayed the course, now look at you, you’re your own boss.
JOHN. When you’re a teacher you’re definitely not your own boss, that’s for sure. You have like 40 bosses and they’re all the students,.
JOHN. So, clearly, running your own business takes up a lot of time, your own firm if you rather. What are some things that occupy your hobbies and passions that you like to do at nights and weekends, and what have you?
BAILEY. My hobby that takes over my life is music, basically. I go to a lot of concerts, I have become involved in a non profit called Friends of Levitt Pavilion in Denver. We are building an amphitheater here in town that’s going to offer 50 free shows to the community every year.
JOHN. Wow, that’s awesome.
BAILEY. Then, I’ve also taken up the bass, so I’m starting to learn how to play myself.
JOHN. That’s great. Because you’re watching the shows and are like, “you know what, I want to be up there having that much fun too,” right?
BAILEY. I just feel in love with the instrument after going to so many shows. I decided to pick it up.
JOHN. That’s very cool. So how long have you been playing the bass then?
BAILEY. My husband got me the bass two years ago for Christmas, but I didn’t really, I was just fiddling with it. I started taking lessons in late August this year, so it’s been about a half a year of actually playing.
JOHN. That’s great. I imagine that the lessons keep you a little more focused and actually learning the nuances than just goofing around and whatever. When I was in the marching band I played the trombone, so I got a soft place for the bass, because it doesn’t get as much love as it deserves, that’s for sure.
BAILEY. It does not.
JOHN. It’s always the lead guitar out there, and the singer. It’s like, “you’d be nowhere without this foundation, get out of here.”
BAILEY. Right, got to have the rhythm and soul of the music.
JOHN. That’s really, really cool. So what are some of the most fun concerts you’ve been to?
BAILEY. There’s so many. Let me back up a bit. Back in the year 2011 I heard on the radio that one of my favorite bands in high school, called Vertical Horizon, was coming to Denver to play at Hudson Gardens, which is where I got married. So I called up my mom and said, “hey, we got to go to this show.” We went. The night before the show my husband said, “do you know anything about this band?” I was like, “well I know this album inside and out, but that’s about it.”
JOHN. I remember Vertical Horizon, absolutely.
BAILEY. Right, Everything You Want.
JOHN. Yeah, yeah! That was a huge hit.
BAILEY. Huge hits. There were like five hits from that album. Started looking them up, there were all these YouTube videos and Matt Scannell, who is the lead singer, was really interactive with the fans. I was like, “this is going to be a lot of fun.” So we went to the show, had a great time, the did a meet and greet after the show, so we got to meet everybody. There was a female bassist, which is where I was like, “hey, I could do that.”
BAILEY. Kind of fell in love with those guys, and it reignited my passion for music. I’d gone to a lot of shows with my mom, as a kid. So I decided in 2012 my New Year’s resolution was to go to 12 concerts in 2012. One a month. I thought, “I can do that.” It became this big thing and everybody was like, “you should go to this show and go to this show.” I ended up going to 21 concerts in 2012. Of course, I have a spreadsheet that I track my shows that I go to.
JOHN. That’s so awesome.
BAILEY. I can’t get away from being an accountant.
JOHN. Right, right. That’s so good.
BAILEY. That just kind of inspired everything. Vertical Horizon, every show that I go to of theirs is great, I’ve become friends with the band over the years. Those are always my favorite shows. Some of my other favorites, I just went to see Cold Play at the Pepsi Center. They do a big arena show, which I’m not a big arena kind of girl. I like smaller venues where you can actually interact and see the band. Cold Play puts on a huge show, it’s amazing.
JOHN. It’s more of an experience I’d imagine.
BAILEY. So even if you don’t like their music, just go.
JOHN. Right. It’s like being in a movie I’d imagine. Just crazy like that. So what was the first concert you ever went to?
JOHN. Yeah, that you recall. Well, besides Disney on Ice or something like that.
BAILEY. I went to a lot of shows. Growing up in the mountains here in Colorado we have a lot of live music, but they’re not really big names that you would know. The first band that I went to was as a church group we came to Denver and saw DC Talk.
JOHN. Oh wow.
BAILEY. That was my first show, a Christian rock band.
JOHN. That’s so great. I imagine, what are some of the favorite places that you’ve seen concerts. I imagine with Red Rocks being out there, that’s a pretty cool venue.
BAILEY. Red Rocks, yeah, hands down that’s the best venue there is. Red Rocks is great, it’s an outdoor amphitheater, it’s natural, you can’t beat it. There’s a lot of smaller venues here in town called like the Blue Bird, the Odd Bin, the Gothic Theater which is close to me here, and then any outdoor venue really are my favorites. That’s why I got so excited about Levitt Pavilion, because it’s going to be an outdoor amphitheater in a park. It’s lawn seating. It’s going to be huge and amazing, and I can not wait. It’s being built as we speak, and it’s going to open in July of next year (2017).
JOHN. That’s so great. So that will be downtown Denver then?
BAILEY. It’s not downtown, it’s downtown adjacent. It’s still in the city of Denver, but Ruby Hills Park, which is the third largest park in Denver.
JOHN. Then I imagine that the Friends of Levitt Pavilion will be in charge of bringing in the bands to play?
JOHN. That’s very cool.
BAILEY. It’s a city building, so we’ve worked with the city to get the city building built. Then, Friends of Levitt Pavilion will be the ones who operate it.
JOHN. Let me guess, are you the treasurer?
BAILEY. I am.
JOHN. There you go. I was just guessing.
BAILEY. You know it.
JOHN. I was like, “please say no.” We’re always the treasurer.
BAILEY. We’re always the treasurer, yup.
JOHN. “She knows how to add, you be the treasurer.” That’s so awesome. One thing, all these hobbies and passions that you do outside of work, has any of this helped you develop a unique skill set, maybe, that you bring to the table when you get to the office?
BAILEY. I think once I started talking about my passion and hobbies at work it made me realize that I was building stronger connections with people. So, it really has helped me with my listening skills, because now I want to ask my clients and coworkers, “hey what do you do outside of work? What are your passions?” It really just helps to build such a stronger bond with the people that you’re with most of the time.
JOHN. Right. We spend a lot of hours with these people, even clients talking with them and what have you. Do you find that there’s a difference between when you kept it to yourself versus now when you’re more open about it and even asking others?
BAILEY. Yeah, absolutely. Before I would share it with just, especially when I was an auditor. Who wants an auditor to be there? It’s like, “OK, let’s get this work done and get you out of here.” Once I started opening up and asking them about their passions it became more of a friendship and it developed this relationship where it wasn’t just, “oh the annoying auditor is here asking me questions.” It was like, “how can I help you? Let’s go to lunch and talk.” It was more collaborative.
JOHN. That’s an excellent word for it, more collaborative. That’s really great, and it’s cool that you noticed it. When I was doing this it was on accident and I was like, well I was just trying to be me and not make it so boring. I had so many times when I was doing internal audit and stuff and people would be like, “man you’re the best auditor we’ve ever had.” I was like, “well, don’t tell too many people because I’m probably not that good at it.” If you’re telling people that I’m the best, it’s probably not the person that should be. Now that I look back on it it’s just because I cared about them and I made it fun and engaging, just not boring only work talk.
BAILEY. Right. Accounting doesn’t have to be boring.
JOHN. Right. That’s such a great quote. Accounting doesn’t have to be boring. Why do you think that it is, or that we all fall into that track? I did early on, I assume you did early on as well when you got out of school. Why do you think we fall into that track?
BAILEY. I think a lot of it is, especially during busy season, we are so busy that we just want to get the work done, ask our questions, document the response, and get out of there. Yes, we’re busy and maybe taking ten minutes to talk to your client about non work things takes ten minutes away from the work that you have at hand, but I think that’s the stereotype, accountants are all work and no play. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If you know any accountants, they work hard but they play hard too.
JOHN. Right, they play, sometimes insane. It’s like, “whoa.”
BAILEY. Right. A little too much sometimes. It’s just about finding that balance, like you can have fun while you’re working.
JOHN. Absolutely. I think, too, it’s that stereotype exists because I think a lot of us don’t talk about those hobbies and passions, because we’re so busy just trying to get the work done. So if you don’t talk about it, if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around, does it make a noise? If an accountant has a hobby or passion and doesn’t tell anyone about it, well then yeah, you’re also just the stereotype. You’re actually perpetuating it, so you’re making it worse for all of us. Cut it out!
BAILEY. Cut it out.
JOHN. That’s such a great point. It’s cool how once you did start to open up you saw how things were different, and it was more collaborative. I’d imagine that it was more fun for you to even go to work, let alone your coworkers and clients.
BAILEY. Absolutely, yeah.
JOHN. So was music the thing that you started to share at work, or was there something else before that that you tested the waters with, if you will?
BAILEY. Music was really the one that I was kind of over sharing about, especially at first with all my concerts. I think back to a time before then, growing up in the mountains I had horses and one of my clients I had a really hard time connecting with her. She was a staff level accountant, but older than me, so I felt that it was awkward that I was asking her questions. I noticed in her office that she had a picture of her and her horse. I was like, “oh, what’s your horses name? I had horses and grew up with them.” That opened her up so much, and it was night and day from before horses and after horses. She was like, “how can I help? Let’s get this done. Let’s go to lunch.” It doesn’t matter what it is, just finding something to connect with everybody that you come in contact with, it doesn’t have to be your coworker, your client, your boss, whoever, just everybody. We all have connections somewhere, so it’s just about finding that connection.
JOHN. That connection is never work.
JOHN. That’s the thing. We all try to find that connection of something work related, and it’s not that. Such a little thing like that that just turns someone from almost fighting you to now just freely giving you things that you haven’t even asked for, probably. Going to lunch. Plus, it’s more enjoyable, not only for her, but for you as well. You’ll talk horses all day long I’m sure.
JOHN. One thing that I think about sometimes is just, on this spectrum of whose responsibility, if you will, is it to create this sharing culture. Is it more on the firm or the organization, or more on the individual to just speak up in a small circle, if you will, or when appropriate?
BAILEY. It’s on every individual, I think, but I think it would happen more naturally if it was part of the culture of the firm.
BAILEY. At EKS&H they have a great culture, and that’s why I went there in the beginning. It’s a lot about the people. They encourage you to connect with your coworkers, connect with your clients and everything. I think that every firm out there could do a better job saying, “hey, find this connection with everybody you touch.” Have a touch point every day of “what did you connect on today?”
JOHN. Absolutely. Or even a charge code for that, or something like that.
BAILEY. Right, connecting.
JOHN. In my research survey on the why aren’t people sharing question that I ask, so many people say, “there isn’t a charge code for socializing,” or, “we don’t get paid to learn about each other.” It’s like, oh my gosh! You’re so wrong! I can’t even tell you how wrong you are.
BAILEY. At EKS&H there was a charge code called connecting, you could put time to that.
JOHN. That’s so good!
BAILEY. Don’t abuse it, but…
JOHN. Oh no, absolutely, you don’t abuse it, but that’s such an excellent example of what should be done. Why not just a little bit of time to do that? So what were some specific things that they would do to help create this culture and foster that engagement?
BAILEY. At the beginning when we were smaller they had these small groups, so you would meet once a month or once a quarter with this small group. But it was people from every service area. At the time we had four service areas, audit, tax, consulting, and small business or accounting. Your small group was a mix of those different areas, as well as a mix from staff up to partner, so that you could get to know everybody at the firm and it wasn’t just, “oh, I’m an audit staff so I’m just going to hang out with audit staff.”
BAILEY. So they would encourage you to get to know everybody and take the time to get to know people. They also had a coaching program where you were assigned a coach that would be more of your day to day “what jobs are you on,” things like that. Then they also had a mentor program where you would choose a manager or partner to be your mentor and you could talk more about outside stuff, your hobbies, your passions, your life goals, family, things like that. So they did a lot to create a culture of connecting and sharing, and being unique. It was a great firm for me to be starting out in my accounting career.
JOHN. That’s really cool. That’s excellent. So these small groups, would they meet in the office or sometimes outside, or a little bit of both?
BAILEY. We were encouraged to go outside of the office. Again, when you’re in the office you tend to talk more about work and less about yourself and your hobbies. You got to get out of the office, especially the tax people who don’t tend to get out of the office.
JOHN. Oh my goodness, I don’t even know what they do. Do they live in the office? I’m not really sure. I don’t know.
BAILEY. I’m pretty sure there are some cots in the back. Yeah.
JOHN. It’s like a submarine, they’re just hot bunking it where you’re either sleeping or you’re working.
JOHN. That’s so funny. So have you carried some of this over into Sopris, some of this mentality and culture, if you will?
BAILEY. Yeah, well, it’s just me. So, yes.
JOHN. Then of course you have.
BAILEY. I encourage myself to get out of the office and talk about myself.
JOHN. Right, but I imagine when it comes to talking with clients, especially. That’s hilarious. That’s so funny. “I’m taking some time out to have a meeting with my team.” It’s just you, just you Bailey, what’s going on? “I’ve got a lot of voices going on.”
BAILEY. We’re going to do some team building. It’s kinda hard to do trust falls with just one person, so none of those.
JOHN. I was going to say, those trust falls are going to be brutal. That’s hilarious. So I guess, going early on in your career, maybe, what is it that kept you from wanting to open up and share with people at work? Maybe early on. It sounds like EKS&H was really great at kinda making you feel comfortable, but I’m sure early on you were a little bit apprehensive, I know I was. What might have been some barriers, or maybe some others that you’ve talked to or heard about.
BAILEY. I’m a naturally shy person, which you probably wouldn’t guess now. I’ve opened up a lot, and I think a lot of that has come from these experiences. I never really thought that my story is important, I’d rather listen to the partners stories, what have they been through, what have they done in their lives. As a staff or even an intern coming in I was very shy and quiet, and didn’t talk as much. I would listen a lot and thought it was interesting and great that they were encouraging this, but even so I had a hard time talking about myself. I think that everybody has that a little bit, “why should I tell my story? My story isn’t that great or that important.” But it is. Everybody’s story is important and you just never know what you’re going to connect with, with every individual that you meet. It’s important to share as much about yourself, and ask the questions, the leading questions, to get other people to open up about themself so that you can find that connection.
JOHN. I suffer from that all the time. what’s my story? I didn’t land on the moon or cure a disease, or win a Superbowl. I’m just me. Then when I started to share my story of how I had a partner who remembered me 12 years later for nothing work related, I just saw how many people were gravitating towards that. Thanks to people like you. Seeing me speak and being like, “yeah it does matter, and here’s my story, and here’s why this matters.” Yeah, it is cool how just a little bit of you, and it’s not drama, it’s not things like that, it’s things that you love to do. There are so many other people that also probably love the same thing, or are interested in hearing about it at least. I remember in the session that you were at, because I always ask, “what’s the most boring hobby here?” One lady said, “I do genealogy.” Half the room is like, “that’s awesome! What are you talking about boring?” it’s just like we think that we’re boring ourselves, but it’s not the case. So that’s so encouraging for you to share. When it comes to talking with your clients, how do you bring this up, or does it just come up organically? Your music passion and things like that? Or does it almost attract clients to you knowing that’s what you’re all about?
BAILEY. I think sometimes it will come up naturally if you’re asking, “oh what are you doing this weekend?” Most of the time I say I’m going to a show or I’m going to a Levitt meeting or whatever it is. A lot of times you have to just take a chance and put yourself out there. I listen to music all day long, even when I’m at my client’s offices. If they’re on a phone call obviously I’ll turn it off. Sometimes you just have to get out there and tell them. Two weeks ago, I think, I went to lunch with one of my clients and they’re in the oil and gas industry. I don’t really connect on that level with them, not really into that industry.
JOHN. Other than you drove to the office.
BAILEY. Other than I need gas to drive to the office, yeah. So at first I was really nervous about how, “how am I going to connect with these guys?” But they’re such a great, fun group of guys that when we went to lunch for one of their birthdays and I mentioned that I was going to do this podcast. So I asked them, “what do you find comes out of talking to your coworkers about your passions? Has it impacted you at all?” We actually went around the table and talked about our hobbies and what impact it’s had on our work lives. It was such a great icebreaker to get to know everybody. Sometimes it can be natural, sometimes it has to be forced, but once you kind of get it out there it just multiplies and it’s so easy to talk about.
JOHN. Now, whenever you look at them or talk to them that’s all you think about. “Wow, that guy likes to do this, or that lady loves to do this.” “Bailey likes to play the bass, what?” “She’s friends with Vertical Horizon, get out of here!” “What’s her job?” “I don’t know, but she plays the bass!” That’s so great, and plus I imagine that now those bonds are even stronger with you and that client.
JOHN. That’s very cool, such a great story. I’d love to come out there to Denver and play with you sometime, on my trombone. It’s no bass guitar, but I can break it out.
BAILEY. We’ll jam.
JOHN. Or go to a concert at the very least. I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run everybody through, just to make sure if we can hang out.
JOHN. Least favorite color?
JOHN. Are you more of a Star Wars or Star Trek?
BAILEY. That’s tough, I love both.
JOHN. I’ll let you go on both.
BAILEY. Nerd on both ends.
JOHN. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?
JOHN. More of a PC or a Mac?
BAILEY. PC for work, Mac for fun.
JOHN. When it comes to a mouse, right click or left click?
BAILEY. Bo… left click.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite food?
JOHN. You can’t go wrong there. It’s hard to mess that up.
JOHN. What do you have for a typical breakfast?
BAILEY. I’m boring, I have oatmeal. But I love breakfast, I’ll eat anything for breakfast.
JOHN. Do you doctor it up?
BAILEY. Lots of fruit, some yogurt sometimes if you do a dry one.
JOHN. Do you prefer Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
JOHN. Favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
BAILEY. Tough call between Ireland and Australia.
JOHN. Very different parts of the world.
BAILEY. Very different.
JOHN. Both solid answers. I’ve been to both, and tough to choose.
A movie that makes you cry?
BAILEY. Meet Joe Black. Always cry for that one.
JOHN. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
BAILEY. Income statement.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?
JOHN. Why’s that.
BAILEY. My birthday, and also my anniversary.
JOHN. Well there you go, that’s as good as it gets right there.
Do you have a favorite Disney character?
BAILEY. Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
BAILEY. That’s a tough one. Right now it’s Charlie Hunnam from Son’s of Anarchy.
JOHN. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
BAILEY. Night owl.
JOHN. Favorite thing you own or favorite thing you have.
BAILEY. My bass.
JOHN. Your bass, saw that one coming from a mile away. What kind of bass is it?
BAILEY. It’s a Fender Squier, which is a jazz bass.
JOHN. Fender, right, very cool. We have pictures of it on GreenApplePodcast.com, so people can check that out. Thank you so much Bailey, this was so awesome.
BAILEY. Thanks for having me.