Holly hammers away for stronger client relationships
Holly DeVito and her husband started remodeling houses several years ago on a whim as they wanted to update the house they were living in. A few houses later, they are now finishing up a farmhouse project — made even more challenging since they did it while they were also living there. She really enjoys having a vision and seeing it come together. Holly said there are many skills that have translated directly to her work, including patience, project management, budgeting and most importantly, dealing with chaos.
In this episode, we talk about how she first kept her hobbies separate from work early in her career. Now, she has clients talking to her about their farms and other remodeling projects. She didn’t realize how much it actually happened until we talked at the Quickbooks Connect Conference a few months ago. I really like how she approaches clients and coworkers for lifetime relationships, not just transactional ones.
Holly DeVito is the Founder and CEO of Sum of All Numbers, a bookkeeping and payroll services firm. Prior to that, she was the CFO at The American Red Cross.
She studied International Business Management at Brigham Young University – Hawaii and Utah State University.
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John: Happy New Year and welcome to Episode 60 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion. Making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. Really quickly, I’d like to let you know that I’m doing a little research for a book I’m writing about corporate culture. It would be super cool if you could just take sixty seconds to do my anonymous survey by going to greenapplepodcast.com. You click that big green button there. It’s only a few questions because I know you’re really, really busy. The more data points I have, the more legit my research, so I really appreciate it.
Okay. Now it’s time for this week’s guest, Holly DeVito; the founder and CEO of Sum of All Numbers, a bookkeeping and payroll services firm in California and Arizona. I met Holly when she was in the audience for one of my sessions at the QuickBooks Connect conference a few months ago. Then we shared a pedicab on the way to the TSheets party. It got crazy. I’m so excited she’s got time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. Holly, I loved hearing how Sum of All Numbers started, so maybe it would be nice to start with telling everyone just a quick version of how that came about.
Holly: Absolutely. I started Sum of All Numbers in 2006 as an independent bookkeeper working in a spare bedroom of my, he was my boyfriend now he’s my husband, out of his house, just doing books for independent owners and small businesses, very small businesses. Then in 2007 I had my first employee. From there it’s just grown and now we have 18 employees and about 450 clients. We work with businesses all over the world.
John: What? Wow. You have all the clients. You have all of them.
Holly: The entire United States.
John: I know but that’s so great. Look at that in ten years. That’s incredible, that’s very cool. Congratulations. Just going back, way back in the day, what made you want to get into accounting, to begin with?
Holly: I started it– I got my degree in Business and Finance so I have a love for numbers. I’ve been counting since I was three years old. I count everything. I was destined to become a bookkeeper.
Holly: But I started it just as something that I could do from home, on the side, while thinking I could be a mom and raise a family. Do all of those other things, work from home, and not have to be working a 9 to 5 job, really. I didn’t want to work in the corporate world.
John: Right. Then that’s how Sum of All Numbers came about? That’s so great. Before this, when you graduated school, I imagined that you worked corporate for a little bit anyway, and then played the game.
Holly: Yeah. I worked as everything, from an accounting clerk all the way up to as the CFO for a Red Cross chapter in Washington. I did all the jobs in between before I started this company. Accounting was my first job out of high school and then off for college, and then for the few years after college.
John: Right. It was just because you love counting, so it’s in the name ‘counting’ it’s in accounting, “I have to do it.”
Holly: Exactly. Everybody told me I’m a bean counter so that’s what I should do. So it worked out well.
John: Right. “They just keep telling me to do it, so I did it. I didn’t look. Now I have all the clients. All of them.”
Holly: Exactly, “All of them.”
John: Right. That’s so great, though. That’s so cool to hear just how you brought it up from absolutely nothing. It’s something that you intended to do on the side, but you’re just too good at it. That’s awesome. That’s very cool. Clearly, running a business takes up a lot of time. What are some of the things that you enjoy to do, some hobbies or passions that—I imagine raising a family has to be one of them? That’s a full-time.
Holly: The passion or—
John: It’s more of a court-mandated “I have to do it.”
Holly: Exactly, “Now that I’ve signed up for it, I can’t get out of it.”
John: Right. I’m sure a lot of listeners are like, “I completely agree. I understand”, especially now that Christmas is coming it’s like “Oh, Lord.”
Holly: Exactly. “What did I get myself into?”
John: Right. That’s great. How many kids do you have?
Holly: I have two kids. I have a 5-year-old and an eight-year-old. The girl is my eight and a five-year-old little boy. They keep us very, very busy. Before I had kids, I had lots of passions but now I can’t—
John: They got sucked out of you, didn’t they? That’s what happens.
Holly: Now my passion is Disney, American Girls, superheroes, and Legos.
John: Right. Those sound like my passions and I don’t even have kids. What is happening right now?
Holly: Just an excuse.
John: Right. Just an excuse; but I do know that you are in the middle of remodeling a house, which is like a huge, huge project.
Holly: Yeah. My husband and I both want to do remodel little projects. This is actually our fifth house we have remodeled in ten years.
John: Wow. Okay. I think we have a passion.
Holly: It’s a passion that we have and we love it.
John: I don’t know if passion or addiction. I’m not sure which one but it’s something that you’re doing a lot of.
Holly: Or masochistic?
John: Masochistic. Have you not seen The Money Pit with Tom Hanks?
Holly: I haven’t. When I bought this house my sister actually said, “I think you should go watch that movie?” Too soon, I can’t do it now.
John: Oh no. It makes you twitch with your—you’re like, “this should be in the horror department this is not a comedy.” What made you want to get in to remodeling, like your very first one?
Holly: My husband is super handy. He’s always wanting to fix and do stuff. We started with the house that he was living in, slowly remodeled it, room by room. Since then, we have flipped a couple, and then we bought one that we thought we never have to remodel, and then did a complete outdoor overhaul on that one. This one we bought, its 5 acres, and I really want a little farm, a little homestead. We bought it as a complete fixer-upper that was termite-infested and hadn’t been remodeled since 1978.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Holly: It was the project we started. Three months later, we have a new kitchen.
John: Yeah. Those are the ones you see on HGTV, where it’s “Nightmare Remodel”
Holly: Yeah. I should have had film crew following us.
John: Except for, “He remodeled it all in like, 45 minutes? What took you so long, Holly? I don’t understand?”
Holly: It’s amazing, right?
John: They’re so fast at it. That’s sounds awesome. On the current one you’ve got the new kitchen in. Is that the last step or is that just Phase One?
Holly: No, it’s just Step 1 of 227, so…
John: Oh, good. That’s a big one. That’s quite the adventure. Would you say that there’s any skill sets that you’ve learned from remodeling houses that you bring to the office?
Holly: Patience, management, budgeting and…
John: All of it, pretty much.
Holly: Let’s see, where do we begin?
John: Right. Hitting things? Oh wait, no, you don’t do that in the office.
Holly: Being able to deal with chaos.
John: Deal with chaos? Absolutely.
Holly. Yeah, exactly, some of the others say, “You don’t even act like the chaos affects you.” I’m like, “Well, I’m a really good act then” That’s a lot. On top doing a remodel, we’re living in the remodel, too. That’s just makes it that much more of an adventure.
John: Oh man. This is a show. This is totally a show.
Holly: Exactly, where is my film crew?
John: You should definitely have a reality show. This is great. I’m going to make some phone calls for you and see what we can do. Can you start over at the beginning? Can you start over?
Holly: Exactly. Let’s start all over. Tear it all out.
John: That’s an unbelievable amount of things that translate directly over to work. Something that probably going into that project maybe you didn’t think about or even realized like, “Hey, this is actually some things that are sharpening my skills for when I get in the office.”
Holly: My coping skills for the rest of life.
John: Right. That’s so amazing. Are there any super cool or really rewarding moments that you’ve had from these projects?
Holly: Yeah. It’s exciting. I’m not a visionary. I couldn’t see the end from where we are now. I can see where we’re going from here. It’s been really cool to be able to see my vision and what I have in my head come in together in real life where a lot of people just see them out. Even my husband, bless his heart, he cannot see the vision and so he gets really overwhelmed by it. I’m able to look at it and say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. This is how it’s going to look. We’re going to tear down this wall. We’re going to take this out. We’re going to add this wall here.” It’s so exciting to see everything that I’ve dreamed, planned, and Pinterest-ed.
John: Pinterest, right.
Holly: That’s my husband’s least favorite word, “Honey I saw this really cool thing on Pinterest…”
John: Oh no, stop. It’s a website created by Satan himself, I’m convinced of that. My wife actually, she found a recipe for brownies that had kale, kale brownies or something. I was like, “that sounds disgusting” and then she’s “no, this lady says their good”, and then she made them and of course they were completely disgusting. I was like, “well, whatever gets kale out of my fridge and into the trash, let’s make another batch. Let’s do it again. Let’s just get it out.”
Holly: But then you saw it on Pinterest so it has it be good.
John: No. That is a cool thing, though, where you see something that’s not very pretty, or needs a lot of work, but you’re able to see what the potential that’s there. Then when it actually happens, all the hard work is worth it.
John: That’s such a cool thing.
Holly: It relates directly to my business, too. I feel the same way. Ten years ago, when I started this, when I virtually started out, I was like, “I’m just an independent bookkeeper. I’m just going to do books for 10 or 15 clients.” As it grew, I could see that it could be bigger than that, translate into a lot more. Now, it’s fun to sit back and say, “I was able to see it and create it.”
John: Right. It wasn’t even on Pinterest. That’s how good you are.
Holly: It wasn’t on Pinterest, surprisingly.
John: You made it happen. That’s amazing. That’s so great. When it comes to these remodeling projects, is this something that you talk about in the office? Is it something that you talk about with clients?
Holly: Absolutely. My clients that I deal with almost all know that I’m dealing with it. My employees, I drag them to see the house, “Come see our new fireplace.”
John: Right. That’s so funny.
Holly: That’s been the beauty of having a business to where I am now is that as an independent bookkeeper, you don’t ever get to take time off and you’re always working. One time I was having a conversation with another bookkeeper and she said “I love that I can work from everywhere. I can work from the beach in Mexico, if I want to.” I was talking to her I thought, “I don’t want to work from the beach in Mexico. I want to go to Mexico and not have to work.”
Holly: It’s been nice that I’ve been able to take the time to do a huge project like this because it’s basically a full-time job in itself. My business is in a place that it can run, basically, on its own. I have great employees and a great team that keep the wheels spinning here so I don’t have to be here every minute of every day.
John: Yeah. That’s so great. Are there any clients or co-workers that are also remodeling or know some tips or things like that? Or is it more of just, “here’s what’s happening”?
Holly: Of course, we bond over it. We have one client that just bought 20-somewhat acres up in Canada and started a blueberry farm. We talk about that a lot, their remodels, their house, the farm. Ours is only 5 acres but I just bought goats, I’ve bought 18 goats to the farm and so we talk over—to start a farm and to start different things that you need.
John: Yeah. I would have to imagine that the relationships with those clients are maybe just a little bit stronger than with clients that you didn’t share as much, or it was more of a transactional basis type of thing? Where, “I’m a bookkeeper and I do your numbers and here you go.” This person, you’re talking farm stuff. That’s so cool. I imagine that you’re both super excited to talk about that more so than maybe the business side of it, even though they go hand in hand.
Holly: Yeah. When I first started my business, I was super careful about what I share with people. They hired me to be their bookkeeper, not to be personally involved in my life. I kept everything very separate. I had to do two separate Facebook accounts, so that one could be totally professional and one could be personal. As the business has grown, I no longer really have a personal relationship with a lot of my clients, because they’re working with my employees. I want them to know who we are, so I’ve really changed what I share with people. I’m pretty open and most of my clients are friends with me on Facebook. My Facebook is pretty personal, as far as it’s got my kids, it’s got my farm animals, and it’s got my remodels. Everything about me is on there, but I felt like it strengthened my relationships with my clients and with my employees.
My employees can share with their clients. They have some clients that they work with—I have one employee, she makes handmade baby gifts for her clients when their babies are born and that’s beautiful. She’s really good at establishing those relationships with clients, and I think that’s key especially in our industry where the old school version of it is so buttoned-up, straight-laced, no personality, CPAs and accountants are scary. Just to have the personality in there makes a huge difference that sets us apart from a lot of firms out there.
John: Yeah. That’s fantastic. It’s such a great example of you setting the tone at the top, and giving people permission, if not encouragement, to do the same; and that they’re willing to run with that, which is great. I think a lot of people go through that where early on in their career, in their business, they’re more buttoned-up and “I have two separate Facebook pages”, and more separated and partitioned, and what have you. What made wanted to just break through that? Was there a tipping point where you just started and then it was no going back?
Holly: I wouldn’t say that it’s a tipping point, but I’m a super open person. The other day at church, in fact, somebody came up to me and said, “I think that if more people are like you, they wouldn’t have to use antidepressants and—because you’re just so open and so real, you don’t put on a front as far as who you are, what you think…” For me it just comes naturally, which maybe that’s my detriment, that I don’t filter much. I just like to live my life open and not have to be like I’m keeping anything from anyone, protecting people or—
John: Right. Having hung out with you, I prefer the open Holly a lot more. I don’t know what the closed-off Holly was like but the current version is super fun.
Holly: Yes, I’m so fun.
John: That’s for sure, especially when we were on the pedibike or pedicab, if you will, and almost died.
Holly: Doesn’t get more fun than that.
John: Right. It did, totally. Yeah, nothing at all. I think sometimes, for people, it starts small where you just start with a coworker or a client, and then you see, “Oh there’s actually some attraction here.” Then you just get a little more confident, plus I’m sure that as you got confident in your skills it’s like, “Well I don’t even care if you don’t like me because I’m good. This is what I do.” Once you started opening up, it sounds like you realize, “Oh wow. This is actually a really cool thing”, like you said. I love that quote. It’s personality sets you apart. That’s exactly what it is. You realize that it’s a huge asset. What are some things that you do in your office to encourage that? Or is it just by leading by example?
Holly: My way is obviously leading by example. First and foremost, it always starts at the top. I encourage my employees to—a big thing here is to establish lifetime relationships; that’s one of our company values. It’s not just with each other but it’s also with our clients. We want to have—we live by that. We go to lunch together. We go to different personal events together. We celebrate everything going on in each other’s lives. My employees are very open with each other, as far as what is going on. We are with clients as well. People will be like, “I don’t want to tell a client that I’m out sick.” One of my employee said she’s in a concert band, she plays the flute in a concert band and she’s like “I got to leave early for the band practice; I don’t want to tell the clients I’m leaving early for that.” I’m like “Why not? Tell them. Most of the time they’re super impressed that you do that, they don’t care.”
John: Yeah. If anything, they’ll like it more, “You’re in a band and you can do this great work.” It’s not where work is the only thing that you do, I’m even more impressed.
John: That’s so great. One of the company values, establish lifetime relationships, that’s so fantastic. That’s so cool. I wish that everybody listening would do that. That’s really what it’s all about. It’s not about the dollar today; it’s about the hundreds of dollars you’ll get later on from that lifetime relationship. It just makes smart business sense, not only just being a good person, but just from a business perspective. It just makes complete sense, definitely. I guess since you run your business and what have you there, sometimes in my survey that I do for my research that I’m doing for the book, I ask people “what are some reasons why people don’t share?” Some of the answers I get are, “There isn’t a charge code for socializing” or “We don’t get paid to learn about each other” or things like that. Which, based on your laughter, you understand that that’s really not good. How do you look at that, from your perspective of not needing to crack a whip where everyone’s chargeable eight hours a day everyday sort of a thing? Sometimes there’re other parts that do matter.
Holly: That’s important, yeah. We’re a virtual company and we’ve never had an actual office space until—when I moved into our new home, I had to get an office because we don’t have high-speed internet despite living in California, two hours from the Bay Area. We don’t have high-speed internet where we live. We finally got an office and we joked that we had to get a watercooler so that we can stand around it and talk around it because that’s what people do.
John: Right. I’ve seen this sitcom, I know what happens.
Holly: That’s what you do, right? We always have, like I said, lifetime relationships are important to us, so we have monthly get-togethers with our team, we do events, we do parties, we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together. We make a big effort into building the team, so that we do feel like a team, so then we don’t have individuals—as we are doing reviews and hiring people, and deciding to fire people, a lot of it will come down to how much of a relationship do we have with them. Do we feel like we know them personally? Because if not, they’re probably not a good fit here.
Holly: That’s important to us even through our whole hiring process.
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic. It’s taking time to realize that, yeah, it’s not billable time, but it’s building that team so that then when the billable time does happen, it’s at a much greater level and much more efficient, and much more high-producing. It doesn’t have to be the pedal to the metal.
Holly: I think it was Richard Branson who said, “take care of your employees and they’ll take care of you.” It’s true. I feel like, because I give to my employees that I don’t have them watch the clock and I don’t—of course, they all have KPIs that they’re responsible for and have to meet as well.
Holly: But because I feel like I give to them, they’re willing to give back to me and nobody really has to watch a clock.
John: Right. Whenever it’s busy time and its go time, then they get it and its go time. But when it’s not, then it’s time to recoup and rebuild those relationships and make them stronger. That’s fantastic. That’s so cool. Just before I bring it in for a landing here, is there anything to—maybe some barriers that you may have felt, or you’ve seen with some of your employees to why they don’t open up and share, and some words of wisdom to get over that, for people that are listening?
Holly: We have had a problem with some employees that don’t open up and share. We just don’t know anything about them, personally. Like I said, for us, it’s a cultural fit. For us, it comes down to “are you willing to be part of the team?” Some people just aren’t. As horrible as it sounds, I let them go to find somewhere else where they’re happy because that’s part of the culture that we want here. We want our employees, our team members, and our clients to feel like we are a family. It’s such a cliché, but that’s still important to us. That’s what we’re building here. It’s not just a job where you work your 8 to 5, and punch your clock and go home.
John: Right. If people feel vulnerable or something like that, it’s something that that little vulnerability, pays off dividends huge on the other side—I imagine your coworkers are helping each other out all the time because they’re actually kind of friends.
Holly: Exactly. They’re willing to cover for each other when needed.
John: Yeah. When that one’s always skipping out early, “She’s not even in the band, she’s just leaving. That’s what’s going…” No, I’m just kidding. “Oh, you really play the flute? Why don’t you”—
Holly: We have one whose cat died last week. Her cat really did die and we were all very sad for her.
John: I’m sure. That’s the worst. See this is why I couldn’t be part of your team. This is why. I would’ve been voted off the island within an hour.
Holly: Somebody has to make us laugh, right?
John: No. This has been really, really great and really, really powerful. Congrats again on all your success and to all your team, as well, for really buying into your crazy. Before you come out there and hang out, and play with the goats, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions, to get to know Holly. You know what? The next time you’re hiring just do this. It takes three minutes and you’ll know pretty much right away whether or not you can hang out. Let me fire this thing up and here we go, 17 rapid fire questions. The first one, this is an easy one, what is your favorite color?
John: Pink, alright. Do you have a least favorite color?
John: Orange? Yeah, that’s a good answer. Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Holly: Tinker Bell.
John: Tinker Bell, oh that’s good one. I haven’t got that one, that’s a good answer.
Holly: She’s a little cute and a little sassy
John: Yeah, a little cute and a little sassy. I see where that’s coming from. Do you prefer Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Sudoku, sure. When it comes to computers, do you prefer a PC or a Mac?
Holly: PC, I can’t use a Mac.
John: Absolutely. No, I’m not even cool enough to go on the store to be honest with you.
Holly: Exactly, I’m way too old for that.
John: I walk in and I’m like “Umm, I’m just going to go.” When it comes to a mouse, are you more right click or left click?
Holly: I am a right-click vertical mouse user.
John: Wow. Look at you. Yeah, that’s where the options are. It gets crazy.
Holly: Very specific, right?
John: That’s very specific. Your favorite toppings on a pizza?
Holly: I like Chicken Alfredo pizza.
John: Oh, okay. Look at you being all weird. No one likes ordering pizza with you? They’re all like “Oh, man, Holly’s here, great.”
Holly: My husband is from New York. He thinks my pizza is a disgrace.
John: Right, it’s not even a pizza. It’s just bread with stuff on it. That’s hilarious. That’s so funny. How about, do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Holly: No. I don’t cry very well.
John: None of them?
Holly: First of all, I don’t watch a lot of movies. Second of all, I can’t think of one that would make me cry.
John: Okay. Let’s do a new question. Do you have a favorite TV show of all time?
Holly: Right now, I’m watching Gilmore Girls, because I didn’t watch it when it was on 15 years ago and I really like it.
John: The Netflix reboot or the old, old, old ones?
Holly: I’m starting from 2000 and going—
John: Wow. Okay, you’re really into this.
Holly: I am.
John: Alright. When it comes to financials, do you prefer balance sheet or income statement?
Holly: Balance sheet.
John: Balance sheet, alright. How about cats or dogs?
Holly: Dogs but I like all animals.
John: Dogs? Right, good save.
Holly: I have both but I have more dogs than I have cats, so I guess that makes sense.
John: That works. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Seven. Why is that?
Holly: Seven’s always the whole lucky number thing, but my husband and I were married on 7/7/7, our daughter is the granddaughter, on both sides, the 7th grandchild. She was born in hospital room 7, there’re 7 hospital rooms.
John: Oh, my goodness. She’s the chosen one. This is amazing.
Holly: Crazy, right? She is the chosen one
John: Just don’t let it go to her head. Just don’t tell her too soon. When it comes to shoes, do you prefer heels or flats?
Holly: High heels.
John: High heels, fancy. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Holly: I’m not a fan of either, but will say Star Wars.
John: Will you stay Star Wars, probably Hunger Games, maybe?
Holly: I do like Hunger Games, the book, not the movie. I hated the movies but the books were great.
John: I don’t know how to read, so I just saw the first one and I was like, “Oh.” Three more, do you have a favorite animal, any animal?
Holly: Right now, my goats. I have fainting goats and they pass out when they get excited. It’s hilarious.
John: They what? They pass out when they get excited? That’s so great.
Holly: Yes. It’s very funny.
John: What excites the goats, like a tin can?
Holly: Fruits or vegetables, or my dogs barking at the. They get very excited and fall over, seriously, it’s hilarious.
John: That’s so funny. What kind of goats were them?
Holly: Fainting goats.
John: Fainting goats. I’ve never even heard of that. I’m going to make sure that I find all of them.
Holly: You could watch them on YouTube for hours.
John: That’s so great. We’re going to put a link on greenapplepodcast.com to a YouTube video of fainting goats. Two more, early bird or night owl?
Holly: Early bird.
John: Early bird? The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Holly: My Tesla.
John: Your Tesla? Wow, alright. When did you get that?
Holly: I’ve had it for two years now.
John: Okay, sweet.
Holly: It’s the first car I’ve ever had and I never want to drive another car.
John: Wow that’s impressive. Cool, Holly.
Holly: I like cars a lot; I’m a big car fan.
John: Right. Wow, yeah. That’s really cool. Well, thanks, Holly. I appreciate you being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This is really awesome.
Holly: Thanks for having me.
John: That was so great. I loved how Holly says that personality is what sets us apart. The way that she leads by example, sharing her passions with her coworkers and her clients, helping to create lifetime relationships. That’s what helps Sum of All Numbers grow exponentially. If you’d like to see some pictures of Holly and some of her home remodeling projects, go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re there, please click the big green button and do my research survey. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.