Embracing challenges to build a successful bookkeeping business

Accountant & Bookkeeper Stories

4 min read

After moving out of home at 15 from a small town to a big city, Joanne struggled to find her way. For a long time, she lost sight of her hopes and dreams – until she made a friend who changed the course of her life.

Joanne Mankelow, director of Mankelow Accounts, holding her son Conor

Joanne Mankelow, director and owner of Mankelow Accounts, with her son Conor

Growing up in Invercargill, New Zealand, Joanne describes herself as “one of the naughty kids who had the brain but decided not to use it.” The drive to work hard wasn’t always there in the early years. And for a few years after moving up to Auckland, New Zealand, Joanne lost sight of her hopes and ambitions.

It wasn’t until she was working at a local doctor’s surgery, that a turning point came. She befriended a nurse called Pat who reached out and offered Joanne a place to stay.

Pat was one of the many people that would change the course of Joanne’s life, because she then met Pat’s son Justyn, and the two of them clicked immediately. They started dating in 2006, Justyn proposed on Christmas day 2010 and they were married in 2013.

“All it takes is one person to change your life,” says Joanne. “I had someone reach out to me and get me out of that situation and because of that my whole life has changed.”

Joanne with her husband Justyn on their wedding day

Joanne and Justyn on their wedding day

Setting out on her own

Eventually, Joanne left her role at the doctor’s surgery and got a full-time role at a house moving company where she met Debbie.

“Debbie was the office manager and hired me to work there,” says Joanne. “She took a chance on me, trained me in accounts and we’ve remained friends ever since.”

Over the course of seven years, Joanne worked hard and was promoted to office manager.

“After a while, I wanted a bit of a change,” says Joanne. “I wanted to start a new career, I wanted to get into something a bit more permanent and start learning.”

So, using the accounting skills she’d learnt, Joanne turned to bookkeeping and took on some side jobs for a few friends.

In 2014, she started a new part time role as an office manager in Penrose, Joanne made the decision to go part-time, allowing her the time to take on the challenge of setting up her own bookkeeping business, .

“I started the business in 2014. In the first year, I picked up work so fast that I was working from 5am to 11pm,” says Joanne. “And it just hasn’t stopped since.”

Joanne and her team at the New Zealand bookkeepers conference

Joanne and her team at the New Zealand bookkeepers conference

Over the course of three years Joanne grew the team from one person to seven. And as a vocal champion for continuous improvement, Joanne works on internal training programmes to keep her staff motivated and engaged.

If quitting her job and setting up her own business wasn’t hard enough, in the same three years Joanne studied for diplomas in accounting and psychology and had a baby.

“Conor was born in January 2016, and he was five weeks early,” says Joanne. “So I didn’t really get any time off before he was born!”

"Bookkeeping isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about the people. You’re not just someone’s bookkeeper, you’re everything. They rely on you and they trust you.”

Her sheer dedication and effort has seen Joanne and her team win a number of awards for their bookkeeping services.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” says Joanne. “The challenges never end and it’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but it’s great seeing things being accomplished.”

Looking after herself and her family

Balancing work, study and her family life has meant Joanne has sometimes struggled to find time to really look after herself.

Entering into a charity boxing event in 2017 was a way for Joanne to spend more time focused on herself. As well as raising money for the rehabilitation of youth prisoners, Joanne also lost 20kg in the process.

“I always put myself last,” says Joanne. “This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. I’ve been trying to put myself outside of my comfort zone, learning to be more exposed and getting my confidence up a bit.”

Joanne and her team at the New Zealand bookkeepers conference

Joanne in the ring for the charity boxing event in 2017

And she’s signed up to box again this year with the IT Heavy Hitters which raises money for The Key to Life charity - a community peer support group tackling preconceptions about mental health and suicide.

The aims of the charity are close to Joanne’s heart. Completing a psychology diploma earlier this year has helped her better understand why people do the things they do and as a certified counsellor, Joanne is hoping she’ll be able to make a difference in the community.

The caring profession of bookkeeping

Looking back on her early experiences now, Joanne is able to see how they have helped shape her life and her career.

“I am who I am because I’ve been at my lowest and I can understand and empathise with other people,” says Joanne. “And bookkeepers are essentially counsellors anyway. You’re not just someone’s bookkeeper, you’re their go-to person. They rely on you and they trust you.”

And, she adds, this feeling of empathy should come naturally to bookkeepers.

“If you’ve got someone who wants to do bookkeeping but doesn’t care about people then they’re in the wrong profession. Bookkeepers are nurturers, that’s why they do the job. They like to help other people.”

Joanne, her husband Justyn and son Connor on the beach

Taking time to focus on family is incredibly important to Joanne

For her own wellbeing, Joanne is focused on her personal training and development. She has been studying for a bachelor’s degree in business with the hopes of one day becoming a chartered accountant.  But this year, Joanne is taking time off to focus on her family.

Bringing a new managing director into the business has allowed Jo the opportunity to take a step back and spend more time with her family, confident the business will be well looked after.

“I love my family,” says Joanne. “They drive me to be better and to not give up when times are tough. It is hard for them sometimes with my trying to take on the world, but they’re always standing right there supporting me through thick and thin.

“I keep moving for them and for our future. There’s a lot of work to do, but it will set my family up for the rest of our lives.”