By Patrick Bonnaure, founder of ProLedge Bookkeeping Services
Our bookkeeping firm opened an office in Houston about a year ago and it’s time to look back and draw lessons from our experience. Our Houston bookkeeping business is growing very nicely, but at the same time, we’ve had to learn how to handle a few unexpected curve balls.
ProLedge has offices in three metropolitan areas in Texas. You would think that offering bookkeeping services would be pretty much the same in Houston as in any other major Texas city: similar economic situation, same regulations, same entrepreneurial spirit. At least, I assumed so. And I was wrong.
The main difference is driving time. Everybody knows that distances and traffic in Houston are awful, but the impact on the bookkeeping business is more profound than for many other professions.
The first obvious implication of traffic is that our Houston bookkeepers spend a lot of time in their cars going from client to client. There are some professions that can make the driving time somewhat productive by being on the cell phone. For bookkeeping, car time is a spectacular waste of time.
The second implication of Houston traffic is that, when going to a client, our bookkeepers have to allow extra time in case of unexpected traffic and often end up arriving much too early at the client’s location. This results in additional wasted time sitting in the car in the parking lot in front of the client’s office. There are some businesses that tell their clients: “I’ll be there between 9am and 11am”. That might work for a plumber or your cable provider. It doesn’t work for bookkeeping. Our Houston bookkeepers have to be at the client at the precise time agreed upon with the client.
The most insidious challenge is that Houston is segmented into very distinct socio-economic areas: these areas are large and very far apart. Reasonably priced residential areas are generally located far from the business areas, which further increases driving time for our Houston bookkeepers.
Is this an insurmountable challenge? Not at all. It’s just a parameter that has to be emphasized in our service model for the Houston market. We had taken it into account initially, but we had underestimated it. Eventually, we will have more field offices and, as our bookkeeping staff further increases, we will have bookkeepers better spread-out across the Houston metro which will make all our clients more easily reachable. Until then, our bookkeepers will listen to a lot of radio.