Erin Pohan of Upkeeping on overcoming fear, and her three best tips for staying productive
Describe your business in a few words?
My goal with UpKeeping is to continually evolve to meet the financial accounting needs of entrepreneurs. We currently offer full-service bookkeeping services, accounting clean-ups and QuickBooks training.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
For most of my life, I sat back and watched others live out their dreams without really knowing how to dream myself. I lived my life rather unintentionally and I have spent my entire career in the shadows. I realized last year that I was rocking my only “hobby” client’s accounting three years into being their accountant. I was also picking up cleanup projects on freelancer websites. I was becoming the leading lady. I was pitching my services in discovery calls, gathering details to perform the work, and following up with my clients. Without being intentional, I had started a business. It was through the coaching from loved ones, mentors, and peers that I realized I can do this. And so I am!
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I shifted gears from a marketing degree to one in accounting when I realized I was one of the very few actually enjoying my accounting homework. With this discovery, I went on to work as a receptionist at a CPA firm while completing my Bachelor’s. After completing my Bachelor’s I transitioned to a staff accountant role where I worked primarily with small business owners. I went on to pursue my Master’s in Accounting and continued my career in various non-profit and public accounting firm roles; all while juggling international moves and starting a family. All of this has amounted to fifteen years of experience in most facets of the accounting industry to also include educational content development.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Ironically – yes. I feel like my life has come full circle from that one time in my high school entrepreneurship 101 class when I developed a product, marketed it (to my class), got obsessively involved in the project, and received critical acclaim from my teachers and peers. I felt a spark inside of me then that I feel again now.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I officially transitioned UpKeeping from a hobby/sole proprietorship to a solid business in March 2021. I decided to invest in an amazing branding coach who helped me realize that I have the potential to change the face of the stuffy accounting world. As I work on building my instagram presence, I plan to include more posts that go past the accounting verbiage and show more of who the woman behind the scenes is. We’ll see if it works as planned, however, I am having a lot of fun creating content to share in my own authentic voice.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
When I was working at a CPA firm very early on, I paid for one client’s payroll taxes through another client’s bank account. Almost immediately, I walked into my boss’ office with my purse on my shoulder, closed his door, and proceeded to tell him my big mistake. I then told him I was going to pack my belongings and I’d be gone. Very dramatic, I know. However, there is a lot of pressure in the accounting industry to be a perfectionist – and I was one, until that moment. It was hard to sit in that big of a mistake if even for the five minutes I debated how to handle it. Luckily, my boss was extremely gracious and gave me these sound words I’ve carried ever since: “There are no emergencies in accounting.” I’ve since learned that the best way to handle mistakes is to own them right away. It’s much better to work with the affected parties than it is to let it sit inside of you.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
My mom just about fan-girled when she realized a client was one of her favorite reality stars. More professionally, it was when I organically landed my first real client. More personally, I ran a half marathon after growing up with severe childhood asthma and not being able to run 1/4 mile at the start of a years-long training. I have since ran 10-milers, Ragnars with 17 miles in a 24-hour period, and am training for a marathon (but don’t tell my husband – I haven’t fully committed to it!)
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I foresee growing my team in about six months. I am considering providing some pre-interview “homework” to future candidates by asking them this question: “What value can you bring to UpKeeping?” By letting them know I plan on asking this ahead of time, I hope it will help them to not be caught off guard and it will help the candidate understand that we place a high emphasis on value and knowing our individual worth. Even if the candidate turns out to not be the right fit, I hope it can ignite some curiosity and searching within themselves.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Honestly – if it were not for the pandemic, I would still be sitting in my fear and limiting beliefs. Fear was such a buzzword during the past 18 months. As a result, I listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of articles on what it meant to overcome fear. And this concept of overcoming fear really applies to so many aspects of life outside of a pandemic – including the idea of creating and starting businesses.
Luckily for the business, cloud-based accounting services have been gaining momentum for years. I was already working from home before the pandemic hit. The pandemic has actually helped to normalize the work-from-home concept and has opened the minds of business owners on the other side of the country who may have been hesitant to engage with me pre-2020.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Can I first say I am SO excited to see where this goes? I have not fully turned on the “Open” sign for Upkeeping and I have already hit my six-month-out goal of active client engagements. My goal is to see this number double within one year.
As I continue to surround myself around various entreprenistas I am learning so much of what their unmet financial and accounting needs are and I am beginning to sense a pivot in the near future. While I am still working out the details in my head, and in the notes on my phone, a quick vision draft includes providing a DIY accounting service where entreprenistas can receive the customized training they need, a cafeteria-style menu of services they can select from for up to a certain amount of hours/quarter, and quarterly check-ins to help them understand what it all means.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Just go for it. Don’t sit back and stall progress by trying to plan out the what-ifs. That can take years if you let it (trust me, I know).
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Rejection in real life does not hurt nearly as bad as I played it out in my head.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I really took all of this downtime to pour into starting my business. I have joined industry-specific communities and found peers going through the exact same struggles. I have also leaned into the luxury of having this extra time to research and build the foundations of UpKeeping to make it really become my own creation.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Do I believe in work/life balance? Yes. Am I good at it? Not yet. I am a workaholic. Luckily for me, I’m also a night-owl. I have found that my power hour tends to start well after the kids go to bed. This will be a continuous work in process for me.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
As an adult, I lived just outside of Tokyo for three years and knew enough Japanese to confuse my native neighbors into thinking I knew more.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1.) Time block
2.) Write out my priorities
3.) Drink coffee
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Entreprenistas are able to look at the world around them and find a way to contribute to it. They don’t let fear stop them. They are capable of assessing risk and taking chances. They are givers and they are leaders in the communities they intentionally seek to better themselves and their businesses.