How to Get, by Giving

Somewhere between a childhood quest to fit in and a John Maxwell quote, a Founder & CEO finds his personal and professional calling. A Founder & CEO realizes that in order to make his personal and professional dreams a reality, he must devote himself and his work to helping others do the same.

Every now and again, things stick with us. I mean, really stick. Like that profound statement of wisdom your grade three school teacher made that helped you chart your course in life. Or that remarkably candid offhand remark from someone you barely knew that forced you to reconsider your entire outlook on the world. For me, the adhesion occurred while I was attending a leadership conference, where I heard a presenter quote a saying from John Maxwell:

“You will get what you want if you help enough people get what they want.”

It stuck. It resonated. It became a life philosophy.

Why? Because it spoke to personal values that I’d never been able to articulate, and it empowered me to craft a personal and professional mission statement that has been the source of not only my own success but the success of many others.

Standing Out

I was born in 1989 and spent my early years in the Czech Republic. When I was 11, my parents packed us up and moved us to Coquitlam, BC. It seemed an odd choice, as there were very few Asian families in Coquitlam at the time. I had little English to help me navigate this new world, and what I did have was made more foreign and non-conforming thanks to my British tutor.

Now, as an adult, you may think British accents are “cute” or “sexy,” but when you’re a child, particularly an immigrant child, the accent just serves as one more marker that you’re different. The other children made fun of my vowels, and soon I began to conform, saying “water” instead of “wa’er” and “can’t” instead of “con’t.”

Still, I stood out, and not in that exceptional “gold star” sort of way. I was chubby, no good at sports, and completely obsessed with Pokemon, Yugioh and Magic Cards. Throughout middle school and high school, I was preoccupied with what others thought of me, constantly looking for ways that I could fit in. Things only got worse after graduation. The halls of UBC’s Sauder School of Business were teeming with impressive people, and I desperately wanted to be one of them.

So I tried. I took on a full course load. I became president of two student clubs and participated in a few others. I strived to emulate the achievements of the people around me, but the more I focused on who I thought I wanted to be, the less I knew who that person was. The truth was I had no direction in life, and by my third year, I was completely burnt out. I’d overcommitted myself and was stretched too thin. I couldn’t keep up. I was failing others, and I was failing myself. I felt this acutely, and it was upsetting. But why?

Existential Crisis

At this point, I did what any sane, reasonable millennial would do. I Googled it. Yep, that’s right. I typed “How to discover my purpose in life” into the search bar and prayed the internet would have some answers. That search led me to a blog with a list of questions, one of which was: What do you feel the most joy doing?

I reflected on this, and eventually came to the realization that while I had joined clubs to be more like the fellow students I admired, there was more to it than that. My failure to meet all of the commitments I’d taken on had pained me. But it wasn’t that my ego was bruised, it was that I’d made promises to others and I’d let them down. That was the key. I felt the most joy when I was serving others.

It wasn’t that I was lost, or that I lacked direction, it was that I needed to shift my perspective. Dwelling on what was best for me and how I could get ahead had only ever made me miserable. But doing what was best for others? Well, that lit me on fire.

I came up with a personal mission statement: To be a man of God, who loves his family and helps others succeed.

Enter, Entrepreneur

When I graduated from Sauder, I went to work at KPMG in order to hone my accounting skills. It fit with the mission; I would be serving others by helping them build their businesses. Then one day, opportunity came knocking.

From my vantage point, performing tax returns and audits for small businesses, I saw that many small businesses struggled with bookkeeping. Their books were poorly kept, and as a result they were paying exorbitant fees to their year-end tax accountants to remedy the errors. It also struck me that the inadequate, and often inaccurate, nature of their bookkeeping meant they were making business decisions blindly, without any financial data to inform their decisions.

Then  —  and here’s where things start to circle back nicely  —  I attended that leadership conference. Remember the one? And I heard that John Maxwell quote, “You will get what you want if you help enough people get what they want.”

Well, call me flypaper. The phrase stuck, and BOOM! Everything clicked. My quest to fit in, a desire to contribute and be part of a community. My desire to serve, a recognition that you must give in order to receive.

Then came a few lightning bolts of inspiration.

If I could remove the financial blindfolds these small business owners were wearing, I could not only help them save money but could help them get a clear picture of their past, understand their present, and plan for their future.

I know, I know, it all sounds very Christmas Carol-y. And in a way, it was. But in this version, I’m a bit more like the Bob Cratchit who leaves Scrooge’s employ to set up his own business. Within two months of leaving KPMG, I established Legacy Advantage, a small business bookkeeping services firm with a culture of putting others first and a goal to help clients and staff build their own legacies.

Giving to Get

My company isn’t traditional, it’s a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) that gives employees the freedom to work when they want, where they want, so long as the work gets done. Now, why, you may ask, have my partners and I set up the company this way? Isn’t it a risk? Doesn’t it compromise the “client-first” motto of service-oriented businesses?

Well, let me counter those questions with a few of my own.

Of course Legacy is client-focused … but who delivers that focus? Who ultimately serves our clients? The answer is pretty simple. OUR STAFF. That makes them our top priority. If we don’t give to them, how can they possibly give to our clients? More personally, if I’m not giving to the people who are enabling me to realize my dream, if I’m not empowering them to realize their own dreams, why on earth should they continue to help me?

Sure, we had to feel our way around a bit as a team, but the work structure and culture we’ve created gives staff the freedom to plan their work around their life rather than their life around their work. This gives them the room to grow, personally and professionally, and to achieve their own goals and set their own priorities.

And it’s not just freedom and flexibility we’re giving our employees. It’s trust. And trust does remarkable things. It gives our staff the confidence to make suggestions, offer input, and take the lead on projects. It even gives them the confidence to discuss their long-term career goals with us, even if those aren’t ultimately with our company, because they know that we want them to succeed and, heck, we’ll even help them do it!

It’s a virtuous circle really. My passion fuels their passion. Their passion fuels my passion. The passions we’re able to pursue outside of work fuel our passion for the work that enables us to do so.

As I’ve become more and more active in the accounting and bookkeeping community, I’m frequently asked to speak about how we made this happen. More often than that, I’m asked why on earth I would ever share that secret!

I think the answer lies in Coquitlam, in the small Asian community I grew up in. In my experience as an Asian-Canadian, trying to carve out a space for myself in Vancouver. In my quest to fit in. A quest that, for many Asian-Canadians, has been about helping each other get through hard times and about proving that our community and our culture can benefit others. We are stronger together, we can achieve more, be more, do more when we help others to succeed.

About Bob:

Bob Wang studied Accounting at UBC’s Sauder Business School before working at KPMG Enterprise, the private client services branch of “Big 4” accounting firm KPMG. Passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to achieve their dreams, he founded Legacy Advantage in 2015, a small business bookkeeping firm dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed. Bob is a regular contributor to the QuickBooks blog and a frequent speaker at bookkeeping industry events in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

About Legacy:

Legacy Advantage was founded to help small businesses and entrepreneurs realize their goals by giving them the quality bookkeeping services and timely business insights they need to grow their business. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we believe that by focusing on what we do best  —  bookkeeping  —  we can help other entrepreneurs focus on what they do best.

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