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Five things my Appalachian Trail hike reminded me about my accounting firm

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Lauren Kido

Aug 14, 2020

This post is written by Amanda Aguillard, Principal at Aguillard Accounting and National Xero Ambassador.

Last month, I tackled one of my bucket list items – hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. While I consider myself fairly outdoorsy, I’m still the stereotypical mom-slash-CPA. Going into the woods with everything I needed to survive on my back for four days was intimidating. I ended up covering more than 33 miles and along the way did a lot of thinking about my practice. Here are a few things that the trail reminded me.

Ignore irrational fears

Before the trip, every time I mentioned it to someone, they would respond with “but aren’t you afraid of bears?” And honestly, yeah, maybe I was a little. As I covered the first few miles, I would catch myself startled by a dead, black tree stump around the corner or hearing any kind of noise. After a few hours, though, other more important thoughts took over, like how far the next water source was or being careful on uneven downhill stretches. Focusing on legitimate threats to my hike completely took my mind off thinking about the irrational fears.

In my practice, I have caught myself worrying about things that are highly unlikely to happen. What if we lose all of our clients? What if we make a big mistake on a report? Of course, it’s possible. But it’s about as likely as getting mauled by a bear on the Appalachian Trail.

You can’t control the weather

On the second morning, there was a storm. I threw on my rain gear and realized I could either sit in the rain and go nowhere, or hike slowly and at least cover some ground. Both ways, I would end up wet but only the second option would add to my day’s mileage and get me closer to the end. There was nothing I could do about the rain, so I controlled what I could and made the best of it.

The current ‘unpleasantness’ with the pandemic and economy is not unlike rain on the trail. There’s nothing we can do about it and we don’t know how long it will last. We can sit tight and watch it happen, or we can take careful steps in the right direction. At our firm, we have done our best to keep moving forward. 

Consider the carrying cost

When you carry everything you need to survive for four days on your back, the weight quickly adds up. The night before my trip, I relentlessly stripped my pack down to the minimum requirements. I tossed the cover to my travel toothbrush, emptied half of my two ounce Dr. Bronner’s soap and dried out wet wipes to make them lighter. I traded my waterproof boots for lightweight trail runners and I ditched the extra fuel. Running lean made the whole trip much easier. Sure, I would have liked to sit in a real chair at the end of the day, but I wasn’t about to carry one.

At a gap road on day two, a fellow was set up on the trail passing out ‘trail magic’ of hot dogs and beer. I had a beer while chatting with him and when I was leaving, he offered me a second for the road. As delicious as it was on a hot day, I declined because I didn’t want to carry any extra weight.

Keeping my practice lean has always been a priority. I don’t hire more staff until we actually need them and I’m ruthless about cancelling software subscriptions when they are no longer of use. When I purchased a home with a carriage house, I moved the office there and eliminated the rent. By reducing overhead, I’m able to turn away clients who aren’t a great fit, or step away from the practice for a bit to do other things, such as write books and hike long-distance trails.

Hike your own hike

There’s a saying in long-distance hiking to “hike your own hike”. This means to hike the way that makes sense for you, without regard to the way anyone else does it. Some folks like to hurry through the day’s miles and make it to camp early, while others like to take in the views and get there when they get there. Some hikers prefer to sleep in shelters, while others insist on their own tent. The important thing is to figure out what works for you and do that.

In the accounting world, it is easy to get caught up in the way others run their practices. There’s pressure to have a niche, launch advisory services and scale, scale, scale. But what if that doesn’t work for you? In my firm, we have several verticals that we accept, not just one. We focus on monthly management accounting, and we have intentionally kept the practice small, because that aligns with our lifestyle. We practice our own practice.

Eliminate distractions and focus

There were thousands of bugs in the woods of North Carolina. Tiny, annoying, buzzing bugs that swarmed around my head, but didn’t bite. I started the hike swiping at them and cursing, but when I realized that I couldn’t do that for thirty miles, I stopped to reevaluate. They weren’t a real problem – they were just a distraction. I popped my earphones in, turned on some music and got back to the task in front of me. As long as I couldn’t hear them, I could focus on getting up the next mountain.

In practice, it is easy to get distracted by the constant noise instead of focusing on big gains. I often have to remind myself to set aside the small, unimportant tasks and use my best effort towards long-term goals and big projects. I am currently writing a book, so I force myself to write first thing in the morning, otherwise, I would spend my best intellectual power on meaningless emails and internet wandering.

And it never hurts to crank up your best playlist.

About Amanda

Amanda decided to become a CPA when she was 16 and never looked back. She started her firm in 2012 and is committed to running a cloud-based practice from anywhere in the world. Amanda has been recognized as a Top 50 Women in Accounting and a Hubdoc Top 50 Cloud Accountant. She was the Xero Evangelist of the Year in 2016 and used her experience as an instructor of the Xero Certification course to co-found Elefant, a continuing education company for accountants and bookkeepers.

She is also the founder of Accounting Salon, a think tank of cloud accounting experts, and its virtual offshoot, SALONv. While she holds a Masters Degree in Taxation from the University of Denver, her passion is to help advisors leverage technology to build their dream practices. 

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