QuickBooks online (QBO.com) is a great way to capture all the transactions associated with my business. But you have to go in to the program and accept each transaction separately. Recently, I realized I was THREE MONTHS behind!

What?! How did that happen? And how do I cope with THAT task on top of client work – and maybe getting a little personal down time for myself instead of filling all my extra time with transaction-accepting mouse clicks?

It’s a common problem with creative professionals. We tend to tune out the business side of things. And that’s one of the reasons a lot of creatives end up having to go look for someone else to work for. Don’t worry. I know how to help you get through this.

Over the years, I’ve figured out how to manage transactions. I won’t claim to be great at it. After all, it’s been almost 15 years since I started my business and I’m STILL having trouble remembering to get accounting into my schedule. However, there are a few things that help. In the end, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping up with it.

Overall, the key is to make sure this important task is top of mind as a critical part of keeping your business afloat and remembering what will happen if you DON’T do it.

If I do forget to do this for three months at a time, as I recently did, it means I will have to sit down and slam through a MOUNTAINOUS MOLEHILL OF TRANSACTIONS to catch up. It can be really tough to remember everything I’ve done and purchased over those months and the nature of some of the transactions.

So, then I’ll have to guess. And that could cause problems if an audit happens. I haven’t been through an audit (yet), but I’ve visualized what it would be like to explain to an auditor that I’m just an idiot – or lazy – or I’ll have to pretend I’m not! The end result probably would be that I’d have to pay through the nose in back taxes. Definite bummer.

Below are my tips for keeping up with business transactions (at least most of the time):

  1. Put it on ALL to-do lists. I have a section in every digital and handwritten list dedicated to the ongoing business tasks. Writing “QBO” on each list is a constant reminder to open the program and get it done. Keep in mind it can become so much of a habit that you write it down without feeling motivation to actually go into the program and get the transactions categorized. Watch for that human failing within you and don’t beat yourself up about it but be ready with some of the other tips below.
  1. Feel the potential consequences. Really ham it up in your mind to make the point and feel the power of pain as a motivation. Visualize what will go wrong if you DON’T go in regularly and do it: the heaviness of facing a backlog, the pain of explaining to an auditor, the sorrow of having to give up your business because you couldn’t get it together, the loss of freedom if you have to go work for someone else. The nagging “I told you so” from your mother and other naysayers. Feel the pain and let it help you remember.
  1. Put transactions in a silo and get used to “flipping the switch in your brain.” As with many of the business tasks that go with running a creative business, I put this in a “silo” for use after I consciously switch my brain from the creative side to the business side. I’ve even been known to put it on my calendar: “Left-brain hour.” I’ve even gotten so Mr. Left-Brain gets some pleasure from seeing all the transactions disappear from the “For Review” column. It can help to schedule this at the same time each day, week or month. It does go against my grain to do that. I like to be spontaneous, but if I can get over myself in that regard on this one thing, the scheduling truly helps me get it done. Sometimes I’ll schedule transaction time when I’m having a particularly difficult time getting to them. Then, when I’m back on track, I go back to doing it when I feel like it. Spontaneity is thus my reward.
  1. Pay your accountant monthly for nudges. I used to only hire an accountant to do my taxes at the end of the year. Then, one year, I realized my accountant knew about more than taxes. He had suggestions for new expense categories. He explained how I can use depreciation to “put one over” on Uncle Sam, so to speak. He schooled me on the “the mailbox rule,” which allows clients to send me a check on December 31st so they can write it off in the current year, but I won’t received it until January, so I don’t have to claim it this year. Now I have an accountant who checks my QBO setup monthly and nudges me if I haven’t done the transactions. Shame works.
  1. Pace Yourself. Don’t try to take on too many transactions at once, but don’t allow yourself to do a few and then forget it either. It’s perfectly okay to get halfway through the current “For Review” entries, then go have a piece of chocolate cake and watch Netflix for an hour. But make a rule that you HAVE to go back. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your iPad or TV screen. Give yourself a token punishment if you don’t do it. Big-picture pacing is important, too. Some months and years, you will do very well. At other times, you will be frustrated, confused and sick-and-tired of doing this business junk. Embrace all your moods and be okay with them. If you don’t like what you are feeling right now, just wait. It will change.
  1. Ask for help. In the end, creative people who have trouble with business tasks will probably always have trouble with business tasks. You will get better. You will learn new skills. You will build positive habits. Then something will come up and you’ll say “Here, kitty!” and you totally forget about transactions for a month or two. When you go back into QBO (or whatever accounting software you use), it may seem foreign. You may feel as though you’re starting over from scratch! My advice about this is to be fearless and shameless. Call your accountant and say, “I’m sorry — my brain took a break from QBO without telling me and I need your help to get back on track.” I prepared my new accountant for this eventuality from the beginning. I told him I would likely be a hard case and he shouldn’t take me on unless he was ready to deal with it.

On the other hand, I also made a commitment to keep after it – to not give up and do my best to build the habits and get used to the foreign, left-brained numbers-things associated with accounting software. I experimented with reminder matrixes of many different kinds until some of them stuck. I take responsibility for reminding myself of this important part of my business and forcing myself to visualize an exaggerated holy hell that could ensue if I don’t do it.

In the end, no one is going to hold my hand through all the steps. It’s up to me to be an annoying question-asking machine and shameless restarter when I screw up. I either want this business to work or I don’t. And I do. So I do the work. I make my right brain take a break and give a little equal time to Mr. Left.