This article was originally published in the January 2020 issue of Connect Magazine.
Account Sense Founder and CEO, Jennifer Mitchell, is more than a business owner. A runner, leader, and lifetime learner, the walls of her office reveal the many events, professional and personal, that one might expect to see on the resume of a well-rounded CEO. “Can you tell I like Disney?” she asks, gesturing to the landmark castle displayed proudly on her desk. Adorned with lego-sized characters and all, it sits among a mixture of awards, family photos, and souvenirs that, together, paint a picture of an executive whose life’s work consists of much more than the bottom line. As our conversation ebbs and flows from tales of her childhood to her more recent interest in servant leadership, her particular brand of confidence—both subdued and inviting—is palpable in the air around us.
Framed certificates hang neatly along the wall just to her right, leaving little room for visitors to doubt her qualifications; but even more prominently displayed is a photo containing three very small, but very happy faces. Sporting crimson jerseys, the tiny trio represents the youngest members of a family that has served as both her anchor and her engine. Now many inches taller, they continue to keep Jennifer busy and inspired; but in truth, the life of stability and financial freedom she’s built for her three growing boys is something Jennifer had envisioned long before she and her husband, Joel, made their first trip to the delivery room over a decade ago.
Founded in 2006, Account Sense began as a one-person-shop out of Jennifer’s Tri-Cities home, offering bookkeeping and tax services to small local businesses. “We have a gift of understanding numbers and teaching others how to use them to build a successful business. My dad’s small business saved our family and I want to use my skills to have that same impact on others,” says Jennifer.
After years of unexpected layoffs, Stanley Electrical—that small business her father opened—threw her family the line they needed to pull themselves from the trappings of unstable union work. At the time, Jennifer was still several years away from opening the doors of her own local establishment; however, watching her father’s shift from employee to employer was something that, to this day, Jennifer describes as powerful. “I knew I would eventually start my own accounting practice so that I could have control of my family’s financial freedom.”
Over thirteen years later, Jennifer’s days of crunching numbers in her home office are long behind her. Now with ten employees, Account Sense has since moved to a new location on West Deschutes in Kennewick, even acquiring an additional CPA firm along the way. “We now work collaboratively to advise, educate, and inspire families and businesses to reach their vision of success,” she says. As for the future, Jennifer is confident the culture she and her team have spent years cultivating will take the firm even further. “Account Sense is going to do amazing things for our clients and our team. We plan to have a larger presence in our community and grow to become one of the best accounting and advisory firms to work for in the Pacific Northwest.”
As a local to the Tri-Cities, was it always your goal to start a business and grow your family here?
As soon as I graduated high school, I was in a hurry to leave the Tri-Cities. I really didn’t appreciate this community until later. I started my career and married life in Portland, Oregon—it was a bigger city, but close to home too. After living there for about 6 years, we decided to start our family; and as soon as we had our first son, we realized we wanted to raise our kids in the Tri-Cities. We wanted to be closer to family and knew the schools would be great. The weather is warm. Traffic is light. People are friendly. That’s when I decided it was also time to start Account Sense in the community where I grew up.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business?
My husband, Joel, has been a huge influence. He has always believed in me and my ability to learn and push myself to reach my goals. He’s been my rock, especially in the early years when I doubted myself. I also have a couple of great mentors in my life who remind me what I’m capable of and encourage me to find and live my passion. I’ve learned to stop the negative self-talk and really dream and go for what fills me up.
What were your initial goals when starting Account Sense and how have those goals changed over the years?
Small businesses make our economy, they provide jobs and services that are so important to sustaining this great community. So, when I started Account Sense, I really wanted to help small businesses achieve success. We still have the same goal now, but it is so much more rewarding to work toward it as a team. We can make a bigger impact together while changing the lives of families along the way.
How would you describe your company culture and what impact does it have on the way you serve your clients?
Such a great question. This is one of the things I’m most proud of. We have an amazing family-based culture. Our team treats each other with respect, and we all have a genuine desire to help each other learn and grow. We are friends. We work together to best serve our clients. We have fun, we love what we do, and we get the opportunity to suggest improvements to make our firm a better place to work, every day. It’s an extremely positive and encouraging environment.
Since opening Account Sense, what have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship, and mentoring others?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a coach for the last few years and it’s something I highly recommend for all leaders. Having someone who understands what you’re going through and can help guide, encourage, and mentor you has been life changing. I’ve also discovered my passion for teaching and mentoring my team. Helping others succeed makes me feel successful.
What professional advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Read. I wish I would have read more in my younger years. I didn’t really enjoy reading, or appreciate the knowledge I could accumulate from reading, until the last couple of years. I now read at least one book every month—most often via Audible. Every book has a piece of wisdom that sticks with me to make me a better leader for my team and my family.