A Conversation with Sandy Tunwell, Founder of Accountrain Inc.
REMINISCING WITH SANDY about her 30 years at the helm of accountrain in providing specialized bookkeeping and accounting expertise to Ottawa businesses was a truly dynamic experience. It’s inevitable when you’re speaking with someone who creates this kind of momentum. Sandy didn’t just choose a path; she paved her own way.
Is this what you envisioned for yourself three decades ago?
I started my career in Toronto and then moved back to Ottawa, working my way up to Controller. On the day I was leaving this position, one of the owners posed a question that changed my life. He said: “Are you sure you want to be stuck behind a desk all day? You’re so good with the clients.” I had the opportunity to teach bookkeeping through Continuing Education at the Ottawa School Board. I kept hearing from my small business-owner students that what they were missing was a bookkeeper who could come in on an as-needed basis. I answered the call. Luckily, I was able to ramp up my bookkeeping business during that period, as my current contract was coming to an end. Before I knew it, I was up and running on my own.
It sounds like at least part of your success comes from your ability to listen and assess the needs of others?
Very much so. A big part of the accountrain story starts with networking functions and the Ottawa Board of Trade (then the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce). I would speak with someone for just a few minutes and they would ask me an accounting question. I would answer willingly because I’m always happy to share my accounting knowledge. What I was doing, without realizing it, was developing relationships. Those same people would contact me months later when they needed more structured help, because I had made an impression.
Now, when I meet a potential client, I get a sense of what they need and work with them to make sure we’re on the same page. Numbers freak people out. I want them to feel heard and that all their questions are being answered. Because talking about money can be overwhelming and is such a sensitive topic, my mission has always been to change the accountant-client relationship. I’m extroverted, so going to my clients’ offices and just keeping my head down in the corner was never going to happen.
How did the Pandemic change that?
Site visiting is a service we’ve offered since day one. Pre-COVID it was more practical having full access to files and all the paperwork. Since then, we’ve pivoted our processes to connect with each other and use Cloud based software to share documents. I miss the faceto- face interactions, but I do my best to maintain those relationships, whether it’s on a Zoom meeting or chit chat via email. We’re still available to work at their offices, but it’s no longer a requirement to get the job done.
Milestones are something you obviously embrace. At what point did you first realize things were changing?
It was around the ten-year mark that I started turning away work. I met bookkeepers who were saying, “I’m not interested in running my own business, I just love doing books.” It was time to start hiring. Now, we’re a team of 13!
We commemorated our 25th Anniversary with a party on a fabulous rooftop patio. Carrying on that tradition, our 30th Anniversary event was a wonderful opportunity to recognize how far we’ve come and revel in all we’ve accomplished. I couldn’t have done it without my dedicated team, clients and colleagues.