Lee Leonard Podolsky is the Founder and Owner of Breakwater Accounting + Advisory Corp, launched in December 2014. In 3 years she has grown her small initial client base to over 100 clients and her staff to 20+ employees. As many of our clients are aware, with great success come great challenges, and managing them like a champ has become second nature to Lee. Here’s her take on entrepreneurship, starting a company, and why outsourced accounting is such a necessary service for small to medium size companies and non-profits.
Q: How did the decision to go from freelance accountant to owner of a company come about?
A: I left my career of 10 years at DuPont to focus on taking care of my children and family. I had been very driven and had had my sights set on business leadership, but then my priorities changed when I became a mom. That said, I kept learning and evolving through volunteering, then through helping a few small businesses as a freelance accountant and completing more advanced accounting courses at University of Delaware. I did all of this around my children’s schedules, so it worked for me. When my youngest became a teenager and my oldest was driving, I decided I needed a new challenge. I loved working with the small businesses and non-profits and didn’t want to return to the corporate world. I had struggled with thinking through how I could help out more businesses, as I was turning down requests for help. I had been researching and watching the cloud-based technologies evolve over the years. I decided to take the leap in the summer of 2014, reached out to a couple people to help me think through getting this started, and here we are!
Q: When was the first time you felt breakwater was “successful”?
A: Hmmm, I think people have to keep reminding me to stop and think about what we’ve achieved in these few years. I will say it really hit me when I was preparing for our holiday staff meeting/luncheon in December 2017. We put together a slideshow of the years 2015, 2016 and 2017, with all of the stats, and new faces, and our move to our current offices, it was a “Wow” moment for me. There’s still a lot I want to do to keep feeling breakwater is successful though!
Q: What has been the hardest lesson you have had to learn as a business owner?
A: I guess that I now have a lot of people relying on me. Being the leader can be lonely, so it’s important to be able to talk through things with other business owners, so you know you’re not alone.
Q: Why do you think outsourced bookkeeping & accounting is such an important service to offer?
A: The success of a business and non-profit always comes down to the money. The business owner or non-profit Executive Director needs to focus on the core mission but needs timely and accurate reporting on how it is performing to make the best decisions. Bookkeeping and accounting are specialized functions, and the accounting technology landscape is constantly evolving. Outsourcing is a way for the business/non-profit to have access to resources that are experts in this field and that can share best practices and keep the business/non-profit current. Breakwater’s model allows this outsourcing to be affordable for them. Lots of other reasons why but I’ll stop.
Q: Talk around the office is that you were on track to be the next Serena Williams, what pushed you to choose accounting over your promising tennis career, or anything for that matter?
A: Ok that’s funny. Not even close to professional tennis talent but thanks for the thought. Why accounting? I ended up choosing this after a myriad of experiences leading me to it. Bottom line is that accounting comes easy to me and does not to a lot of people, hence all the accountant jokes. Helping simplify accounting for others and helping them navigate their businesses and operations is rewarding for me.
Q: A significant portion of your employees are moms, and stay at home moms returning to the workforce. Is there a method behind that madness?
A: Absolutely. First-hand experience. There are a lot of smart women who need flexibility to juggle all that they want and need to do. It doesn’t hurt that mothers are excellent multi-taskers.
Q: Where was your first breakwater meeting held and who was in attendance?
A: Likely at Cosi in Greenville, which is no longer there, with Katy Bowers and Kim Dolan.
Q: How did you come up with the name Breakwater?
A: Wow is it hard to come up with a name that represents what you do and the feeling you want to portray. It was months of writing down ideas, asking people for ideas, trying out ideas. I wanted the name to mean something to me and portray peaceful/stress-free/calming – something to do with water and Hilton Head, the place I have gone every year of my life and the place where my blood pressure goes down as soon as I arrive. One day Kim sent me a text and said look up the definition of breakwater. I did, and it resonated with me. We kept going back to it, trying the name out with tons of people, and got consistent positive feedback. Finally we decided this was it and have never questioned it since. We are breakwater.
Q: What is your best advice for someone starting their own business?
A: You’ve got to love what you do and be passionate about it. Starting a business is a lot of hard work, thankless hours, and a total rollercoaster ride. So, it’s got to be worth it.