An interview with Annette Sonnenburg, President and Founder of Sonnenburg Consulting
What services do you offer at Sonnenburg Consulting?
“We’re an outsourced accounting and consulting firm. We specialize in bookkeeping, payroll, CFO services, business consulting, and quarterly and annual tax forms and reporting.”
How long have you been in business?
“It seems like forever! I started working in this industry in 1997.”
What is some of your background, and what led to starting Sonnenburg Consulting?
“I started in the securities industry. I was a compliance officer, and a CFO for a broker-dealer. I decided to leave the securities industry to assist some entrepreneurs with their ventures, so I have a lot of experience with start-ups. I was also the CFO for a real estate development company. Through managing a lot of businesses, I found myself very interested in the financial and operational side.”
Why did you choose this as a career?
“I like helping business owners with their businesses! I like helping them understand how their business is doing, whether they’re being compliant with proper licensing, etc. Many business owners don’t know how to manage the financial side of their business. They need assistance, and I like helping with that. My clients have a lot of stress with running their businesses and I like to relieve them of that burden and take it on.”
What sets Sonnenburg Consulting apart from other accounting and consulting firms?
“What really sets us apart is the level of experience we’re coming from. Because I had the opportunity to work in multiple fields of expertise, we are able view a business from a variety of angles. We are in a position to offer more in-depth understanding to take the most intelligent approach. A good bookkeeper must be tax savvy as well as have business management experience.
“When it comes to your average service providers, there are tax people who basically do accrual or cash basis, and that’s about it. They don’t know how to set up the books in a way that help business owners actually track the things they want to track.
“Overall, we don’t work inside a box. There are a lot of different methods of accounting, and we have experience with each of them. We look at each business uniquely and create a system that will track everything with their particular needs.”
How do you like to interact with your clients?
“We really excel at client relations. Some of our clients have become long-time friends. Some it’s just a professional relationship, but I like to create a relationship with them. I take the time to have longer discussions with them, to understand what their goals are. For example, I was talking to a client today and we had a long conversation that led to several other things outside the direct questions that an average accountant would ask. That led to a discovery of certain needs they had, which I wouldn’t have known otherwise. If you don’t take this time, there are things you’re going to miss.”
Running a business can be a complicated matter. How do you handle all the different areas of expertise that a complex business requires?
“One of the things that make our firm so unique is we know when it’s time to call in an advisor. I love the concept of a dream team! In a complex situation, I want to pull in other experts: the CPA, the financial advisor, the growth strategist, or the business attorney. All of us get together so we’re on the same page on what the business goals are. One person can’t know enough about each area. I know enough to not try to be a one-man-band!”
In some accounting firms, it’s easy for the little guy to get plugged into a cookie-cutter model for their business needs. What precautions do you take to guard against that?
“I see this exact issue with many large firms! Some accounting firms are so big, the CPAs just trust their assistants and bookkeepers to handle it all and we inherit some pretty messy files. I have skilled assistant-bookkeepers, but I also take the time to personally review every client file.
“Experience has trained my eyes to be fine-tuned to notice issues in a file quickly. Sometimes after just a few minutes, I can tell if something is off. I can also do forensic accounting, whereas many other accountants cannot or do not have the QuickBooks experience to know the best way to fix problems in their file.“
Are there any specific niches that you love to specialize in?
“I have fun with food bloggers! They have a unique industry because they’re technically competitors, but they’re all friends. They like to collaborate and help each other grow. I love that community feel.
“I also like working with investment advisors. I’m an economy nerd; I minored in economics, so I take a special interest in that industry. I like watching the markets and knowing what’s going on. I enjoyed working in the securities industry, and because of my experience there, I have a lot of perspective to offer. Investments in general are a field that I am drawn to, and helping business owners work with their financial advisors with their goals and big decisions.
“I like to help people that have payroll with retirement plans. They need someone who has a background in securities and an understanding of retirement plans. I’ve had some clients come in with big messes on their hands because their payroll or books weren’t handled properly and have been able to help them in a big way.
“Real estate developers have also been really happy under our wing. We have a lot of perspective to offer in growing their business and making tough decisions. We also help a lot of attorneys to ensure that they are accounting properly for their IOLTA accounts and we done a lot of file cleanup for them.
“However, I don’t limit myself to these specialties. I am privileged to serve a wide variety of clients.”
What are some of your other passions in life, and why?
“I love the outdoors! I like to get out under the sun or play in the snow. I like high energy activities like kayaking, hiking, wave runners, snowmobiling, and four-wheeling.
“Music is a big part of my life! I like to sing karaoke; I used to be in a band. I love musicals, (I think life should be a musical!). I play the piano, and I play the piano and organ for my church.
“Most of all, I love my family. My life revolves around my grandkids!”