Money Matters

Sage Circle of Excellence Winner Q&A: Debrah Burleigh

Tell us about your career up until now, starting with why you chose this profession.

When I was a child, my dream was to be a veterinarian. I got a job doing bookkeeping to pay for college to be a vet. Sometimes you must forget what you’re supposed to be to uncover what you were meant to be. I learned that I had a strong talent and interest in numbers. Number are calm, simple and helping people reach their dreams through sharing this talent is where I found my true calling. For years I honed my talent into practical skills providing services for several companies while raising my children.

Eventually I had gained enough practical knowledge and education to start my own company. In addition to having gained the expertise, my children’s schedules challenged me to create a flexible working schedule.  In 2004 I took the leap to start my own company. I immediately had customers and quickly gained more as the word went out. I didn’t really expand my business until about 2011 after attending a Simply Accounting conference before it became Sage.  This was the software I had used for many years and loved it; when I found out I could certify in the program to teach and offer consulting services, I recognized an opportunity to expand. Within 6 months I had achieved Platinum certification and became a certified trainer in Sage.  That same year I had the opportunity to be part of a program called Black Swan. Black Swan was designed with IPBC and Ron Baker to implement a more intuitive and streamlined way to bill our customers.  Black Swan essentially transitioned hourly billing to value pricing.  Through achieving my Sage certification coupled with changing to a value-priced billing system from Ron Baker, my business flourished with a revenue increases year over year. I am passionate about helping my customers and their businesses grow and love my job.

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

When I am not working I enjoy horse riding, dirt bike riding, boating, fishing, hiking and working out but most of all family time with my children and grand children.

Tell us about the clients that you serve, which industries they operate in and explain your approach to working with them and helping them achieve their desired results.

My main niche is construction businesses but I also have restaurant and film clients for the bookkeeping side of my business. My process is to learn what their pain points are and design-think with them to simplify their processes be successful. This can be as simple as doing basic bookkeeping and financials to a taking on contract CFO positions where I handle invoicing and payables, receivables, budgets, cashflows and custom designing financial reports for their unique needs. On the consulting side of my business, I am the CFO for Four our Future Indigenous Economics. We work with a lot of existing and new Indigenous owned businesses.  My role is helping them customize their financial accounting systems and procedures.  Then provide training to the business and oversee the implantation of the new system until they are ready to take it over. I also provide Sage training and consulting to many other businesses using Sage that want to expand their knowledge or want to utilize more of the features Sage has to offer.

What amount of your client base would you say have embraced the cloud or would consider tech-savvy?

I have 100% of my clients are in the cloud now in some way.  Depending on their business they have they maybe using Sage business cloud solution as well as auto entry or another receipt capture program.  I work 100% remotely so everyone had to be trained on the new technology systems including my team. I would say 50% were excited and the other 50% were reluctant but made the change with a lot of support.

Which trends do you think have the potential to disrupt the future of bookkeeping or accounting?

Yes, with things like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain Accounting systems that capture banking information and when you can set it up to auto allocate things it takes away from the work we preformed. So, with the ever-growing technology bookkeepers have had to really switch gears from bookkeeping to more of an advisory role.  With a lot of the automations making it easier for owners to do their own bookkeeping if they are inclined. I did not have an issue here as I already did so much more for my customers but for some you would have to come up with other services to help them with. I found most of my businesses still prefer me managing everything for them so they can concentrate on what they do best and grow their business.

What impact did COVID 19 have on your business? What guidance did your clients need during this time? Did you need to pivot or adapt your own business during this time?

COVID 19 had a huge impact on so many businesses. I had to finish transitioning the last customers to cloud as I was not able to meet with customers in person and I needed to set my team up to work completely remotely. I then helped my clients by getting all the subsidies I could to help them manage during the difficult time like wage, and rental subsidy.  I also helped them get the business loans that were available by the government. I volunteered my time assisting several other bookkeepers who reached out to me on how to complete the subsidies to assist their customers.  I listed COVID 19 links and other resources on my website explaining what they were for and the links to apply making it easier to find and navigate.  I registered with Small Business BC and was listed as an expert helping so many businesses get funding from the govt to make the necessary changes to their business to continue to operate with all the restrictions that were imposed.  I helped them get creative with how they could stay open and continue to operate and we had remote brain storming sessions on ways they could offer their services if possible online or sell their product online. We then assisted them in writing business plans to qualify for the funding.

How does it feel to be recognized as an award winner in your industry?

I am so incredibly honored to be recognized and selected as this year’s Bookkeeper of Year.  There are so many amazing bookkeepers out there and we all have worked extra hard over the last year and a half trying to keep our customers businesses going and feel we are all deserving of this award and recognition.

What advice would you give to the next generation of students considering a career in bookkeeping or accountants?

It is an amazing field that you can make such a difference in someone’s life.  So many people have a dream of opening their own business and may have the skills in their trade but not necessarily have an understanding for business or the ability to record or understand the finances.  I always took the time to help them in this area and tried to make them feel comfortable and explain to them in ways they could comprehend the information.  So many customers are afraid of being judged by bookkeepers and accountants for their lack of knowledge so be careful of that. Educate yourself in bookkeeping software, accounting knowledge and advisory services to better assist your customers.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or mention that have supported you in your career or on the path to receiving this award?

Alan Salmon, and Jennifer Warawa were amazing mentors and advisors to me for many years.  As well as Ron Baker helped me think outside the box when it came to value pricing.  So many colleagues shared their knowledge and experience which I am grateful for and try to make sure a pay it forward to new bookkeepers.  There were also so many people at Sage that have been an amazing support in helping me over the years sorry there are too many to mention but I am sure they all know who they are.