Elsey opens bookkeeping business

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wendy Elsey might have called her new business Gumshoebox Bookkeeping because there’s an element of detective work to her specialty, digging through boxes or bags of detritus.

Launched in June, Shoebox Bookkeeping, 209 Bradley St., Dowagiac, does not compete with Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), but frees them to practice their specialties by leaving tedious “housekeeping chores” such as organizing a mess of invoices, receipts and odd scraps of paper for entry into Quickbooks.

Elsey, a former Cass County commissioner for six years, has lived in Dowagiac for four years. She worked in Three Rivers and in Niles.

“When people say, ‘Where did my money go? I can help them figure out where it went. What really got me excited,” she said Tuesday, “was years ago, when I worked for a CPA, somebody came in who hadn’t filed a tax return in seven years. They brought in boxes and boxes of paper. It was my job to sort through them — and I loved it.”

“I’m not afraid of a little dirt after years of being on a farm,” added Elsey, a Chicago native who for three decades owned Badger Hill Farms near Marcellus.

Elsey, who graduated from Indiana University and studied accounting at Ferris State University and Southwestern Michigan College, has four grown children and eight grandchildren. She belongs to the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers and Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.

“The CPA who first trained me 10 years ago, I told her I was finally opening a business, so I could end up working with CPAs,” Elsey said. “It’s not like ‘Hoarders,’ who love holding on to their stuff, these guys have the IRS and the State of Michigan talking to them. The first one who came to me said, ‘We made a million bucks, but we can’t make payroll. Where did it all go?’ To credit card bills, which I wasn’t going to record in Quickbooks as a business expense until I got receipts.” She found $130,000 in embezzlement and helped piece together a case that held up through the insurance company and court.

Business owners are quick to assume embezzlement. While there can be good reason to be aware of criminal activity, sometimes the culprit is honest mistakes, lack of knowledge or incompetence. Whatever the explanation, a second pair of eyes is a good idea.

“You can know how to use a computer without having any idea how to do bookkeeping,” Elsey said. In Michigan, “bookkeeper” and “accountant” are used interchangeably, she said, but many states require CPA status through additional education and an examination to call your self an accountant.

A bookkeeper handles day-to-day reporting and recording of financial information, while an accountant goes beyond to preparing necessary financial statements a business owner and tax preparer need.

Accountants work with a tax professional to assure accurate information is furnished.

Going to a CPA to sort paperwork “is like going to a neurosurgeon to remove a splinter from your finger,” she says. “It will be very expensive and those talents should be put to better use.”

“I call myself a bookkeeper because people expect less,” she laughed. “I do a lot of grunt work. The biggest thing that sticks in my craw is that when Quickbooks came out, anyone who could type could do bookkeeping — and that’s not true. Nobody’s born knowing accounting. If we’re normal, we’re born knowing how to suck. Everything else is learned. Somebody has to teach you how to go to the bathroom. It’s a big problem with small businesses, where a family member might be doing the books.”

Elsey considers one of her strengths her ability to translate accounting into simple English. She is able to communicate in Spanish, has a background in medical terminology, was a certified property tax assessor for two years and brings 10 years in individual tax preparation with the IRS through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).

A vocalist and published writer, Elsey is active with Beckwith Theatre.

“This is my Goldilocks house,” she said. “It’s ‘just right.’ I found just the right tidy neighborhood. Linda Gunther wanted to show me a ‘cute little house.’ I dug up the front yard and have flowers, trees and plants,” including sunflowers and rose bushes. She enjoys “yardening.”

“I spent a lot of time in Dowagiac” when her children attended Calvary Bible Academy. “I was always very fond of Dowagiac. It felt like the right-size town for me.”

Contact Shoebox Bookkeeping, LLC, at (269) 816-2837.

Or, visit her web site at www.shoeboxbookkeeping.us.