Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Catherine Mallers, Owner of Bookkeeping Bistro, located in Chicago, IL, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We are a boutique bookkeeping firm that focuses solely on bookkeeping, meaning we don't file taxes. We get into the detailed work of your finances, assist with processing payroll, are QuickBooks Pro Advisors, and advise where appropriate. Just like our customers, we got into bookkeeping because that's where we excel. Our customers are entrepreneurs and small business owners. The industries we've helped are real estate, chambers of commerce, consultants, Pilates studios, chiropractors, lawyers, acupuncturists, restaurants, retail, stylists, therapists, coaches, and other service providers.

Tell us about yourself

It's a long story. I was working as an office manager for Robert Mondavi when the company was bought by a larger organization. I had been there for almost ten years. I was offered a comparable position with lower pay and a double commute. I had always wanted to start my own business, and this was just the push I needed. When I first started my business, I was a general virtual assistant. After about a year, I was introduced to my first bookkeeping client, which started me down the road to bookkeeping. I actually loved it. I've always had a thing for puzzles and logic.

Surprisingly, I have a BA in English minor in Computer Science. You could say I like telling stories about complex things. Some of my clients know they want to be profitable but don't always understand what the numbers are telling them. I take it as part of my role to help them understand where they are and where they want to go and interpret what I know in a language they can understand. Some of my other clients "just can't" with the numbers. They understand the reports, and they don't want to deal with the details, which is exactly what a bookkeeper does. And finally, some clients are growing and know this is one of the first areas that are easiest to delegate to a professional who knows what they're doing.

As for motivation, I like puzzles. I like talking through the plans. I like when some clients just simply outgrow us and have to hire an employee. I'd say the best part of what I do is I get to see successful people accomplish their goals while being an integral part of that. And I believe that we are partners until we're not, for whatever reason.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

In the early stages of owning my business, I was available at all hours of the day and night. One of my biggest accomplishments was setting those boundaries. I may still work later in the day or on weekends, but now I schedule any communication to go out during business hours, so I set the expectation of my availability. My other biggest accomplishment is that in 2023 I'll be celebrating 18 years in business. YIKES!!

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Focus. Truly, you sleep with your boss. You shower with your boss. It's sometimes hard to turn off that business brain even when you're in a group who are out for dinner. It's also great to be reminded that unless you have a business that literally revolves around life and death, that business is not any more important than the moment you're currently in. And someone else's emergency is not necessarily your emergency.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

I'd like to start with a summed-up quote first. It only took me 10/12/15/20 years to become an overnight success. For anyone in business or starting a business, it takes time. When starting a business, be very clear on your needs and desires. This will help you from spending money on all the new shiny buttons that come across your path. I've bought plenty of shiny buttons, and I have to say I'd probably have saved myself about $35k in the first year if I hadn't.

Start with the end in mind and work back from there. Ultimately, as an owner, you don't want to be the bottleneck that slows your company's progress while also being the captain of your ship. Be clear. Be specific.
For your start-ups out there, there is no business plan that will run exactly as you've written it, and expect to spend 2.5 times more money than you planned. Running a business takes time, a process, a plan, and an end goal.

There are three types of businesses, by my estimation - hobbies, retirement, and legacy.

Hobby businesses are those that are more to make a few extra dollars for a finite period of time. The term "a flash in the pan" resonates with me here. Retirement businesses are ones that are built with blood, sweat, and tears. The retirement business is for the folks who started a business, which is reliant heavily upon the founder and loses its personality once the owner retires. These are solid businesses that ultimately closed because there was no exit strategy. I'm reminded of a realtor who doesn't have a team to pass down their book of business.

The legacy business is also built on blood, sweat, and tears. A legacy business creates a culture. They set up processes, rules, guidelines, community, and even language that's unique to them and even slightly predictable by those who use the company. Think Nike's slogan "Just Do It" or Air Jordans or the Swoosh. All three of those tell you the name of the company without telling you the name of the company.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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