Firm of the Future Profile: All That Counts
Welcome to another in a series of profiles spotlighting the 2017 Firms of the Future. Our latest edition features Lielette Calleja of All That Counts, Australia’s winner of last year’s Firm of the Future contest. Stay tuned in 2018 for details on how to enter our next Firm of the Future contest and continue visiting our blog often.
Danielle Ernst: Congratulations on being a Global Firm of the Future finalist! Tell us about yourself and your business.
Lielette Calleja: All That Counts is based in Norwest Business Park, Baulkham Hills, Sydney, Australia. When I first started the business in 2004, I was what you would call a “business of one.” Three years later, I became a first-time mum in 2007 and hired my first two casual bookkeepers, who managed my client base whilst I focused on being a mum.
My corporate background as a financial controller and business analyst for multinationals served me well when I launched my business. I worked in industries that involved warehousing, distribution and entertainment. All were heavily regulated and audited. I was truly blessed to have such an amazing foundation in my accounting career. I had the clarity and the confidence to position All That Counts as a leader in the bookkeeping industry. I knew all too well what it was like for small business owners to put everything on the line. I wanted them to reap the benefits of having a corporate bookkeeper on their team that wasn’t just a number cruncher, but someone who wanted to understand their whole business for the numbers to make sense.
Throughout our growth and success, we have maintained that customer service is always a priority. Businesses want to know that we genuinely care about them and their business – that is one thing we will never compromise on.
We love making a difference in the lives of small business. Implementing QuickBooks® Online and showing our clients how it works with the power of bank feeds and bank rules is a sight I never get sick of seeing. Add a few add-ons to the mix and you have yourself a business owner who no longer suffers anxiety at the thought of doing their own books.
DE: What makes your business a Firm of the Future?
LC: I have never been one to sit on the fence. Being one of the early adopters of cloud technology back in 2009, I learned fast that as technology evolves, so do clients. To build a Firm of the Future, one must draw from the past. The core values that made us a success to begin with must never be forgotten. Having a very good understanding of business puts us ahead of the game. Our accounting and bookkeeping skills are only part of our service offering. Technology still needs a guiding hand and someone who can identify gaps in a business’s workflow and processes. This is where I love leveraging technology and showcasing QuickBooks Online to the Australian small business market. I consider the accounting software (QBO) to be the heart of the business. It pumps out information that enables business owners to manage their business more effectively. The add-ons are like arteries that ensure the data flows back to the heart (QBO).
DE: What’s on the horizon for your firm in 2018?
LC: Plenty of learning. Our industry continues to challenge us, which means we cannot afford to stop learning. Building strategic partnerships is a priority for us, and being selective with our client base is a big agenda item. We will continue to provide training and coaching on QBO to small businesses, as we believe our world is becoming more do it yourself, which we cannot ignore.
DE: What’s the most unexpected place you have ever worked?
LC: My whole life is working in unexpected places. That’s the beauty about having your life online. I’ve worked in theme parks, beaches, sporting fields and my proudest moment was travelling through the desert on my way to Las Vegas hot spotting on my phone.
DE: What apps do you typically use? Any you recommend as a must have?
LC: We decided that if a tool isn’t cloud-based and accessible via our mobile, then we wouldn’t use it. It also must be an improvement to the status quo and allow us to continue scaling. The standard applications we use in our firm are Practice Ignition, Quotient, Receipt Bank, TSheets, Hubdoc, Active Campaign, Slack and Karbon. Most of these connect to our QuickBooks Online file and some interconnect with each other.
We apply the same set of rules with our clients. Many of them use industry specific apps, such as simPRO, TradiePad, MINDBODY, Kounta, Square and BigCommerce, that we research and implement on their behalf.
DE: About how much time would you say apps and cloud-based technologies save you/your business?
LC: I would go further and suggest that it in fact saves us headcount, which is equivalent to 38 hours per week. In the last couple of years, my business has managed to increase turnover by 25 percent with a reduction in two staff. Tools alone don’t give back time – you need to back it up by improving your workflow, which is something we are constantly working on.
DE: How does your firm use social media to its advantage?
LC: Social media allows us to build deeper relationships with our followers. Writing blogs and articles, and sharing them on social, is a wonderful way for us to gain creditability. Our content is a mix of inspirational business quotes, business tips latest tax updates and product information. We try not to sell our services on social, but rather share content that creates interest to our followers.
DE: For accounting firms not yet using social media, what would your advice be for them to take the first step?
LC: Don’t be in a hurry to outsource your social media to professionals. Do it yourself first. If you have given a presentation, turn that into a blog post. It’s a terrific way to generate content. You can build a strong trusted brand via social media if you are authentic and real. Social media is about engagement, so don’t be afraid to share an opinion and converse with others.
DE: How do you balance between marketing your firm and run-the-business type work?
LC: I admit at times I can be under the pump and marketing must take a back seat, but I just make time for it. It’s something I enjoy doing in the late evenings – I jokingly say that’s when my creative juices are flowing and by day I’m a numbers nerd.
We are fortunate in today’s time that social media allows us to be marketable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m starting to pick up on trends when it’s best to post things on the different platforms, therefore maximizing my exposure and engagement.
DE: What’s your advice for getting online and adopting cloud technologies?
LC: Stop thinking about it! A couple of years ago, my advice would have been to go slow and start dabbling in it. Fast track to now and you can’t afford to go slow, as you are already behind the pack.
Remove any negative thoughts you have that automation makes you redundant. Automation still needs an experienced person to drive it and that is you! Once you learn to understand the real benefits of cloud technology for your firm and your clients, the decision to adopt is a no brainer.
Cloud technology gives us real-time information, makes for a cost effective mobile solution, heightens our competitive edge, and provides better elasticity for decision making and online integration that allows us to connect systems and tap into a world of apps.
DE: What’s the biggest impact you have had on a client’s small business? Any favorite client stories worth sharing?
LC: We affect the lives of small business every day in separate ways. We often find that small business owners have no idea what tools are available to them outside of their accounting system. Many clients we meet with are drowning in paperwork, behind on their bookkeeping and have no idea where they stand financially.
One business that comes to mind is a not-for-profit that was using traditional desktop for its accounting. The whole business was on the old bookkeeper’s laptop – scary thought!
We wasted no time and put them on QBO + Receipt Bank. This involved bank feeds setup for all bank and credit card accounts, budgets entered by class, online payments setup to improve cashflow, and access given to all key staff members with appropriate training to handle some of the daily tasks.
Bookkeeping hours were almost halved in time and the directors had better financial visibility. I’d like to say we were responsible for the increase in profits – maybe indirectly as the management team had a better focus on their numbers in real time.
DE: How would you encourage firms to employ a value-based billing model?
LC: Prior to ditching the hourly rate, be very clear on your current business model and your margins. To measure the effectiveness of value-based billing, one must have a benchmark and usually that is your current model.
The key to a successful value-based billing model is in your capacity planning and spread of workflow.
It’s worth noting that every firm is different. Bookkeeping firms traditionally engaged part-timers and casuals on a need only basis. But, with the introduction of value-based billing, we decided our model was suited to full-timers, as it allowed us to capacity plan much better.
Don’t do it alone. Many of us have tried and tested the best methods. I spoke with many accountants who had been operating under a business model like this.
The one piece of advice I can give, which no one else tells you, is be prepared for your clients’ expectations to change. That was the biggest shock we found. When you charge a fixed fee, clients have an expectation that you are always available and their file is always up to date. It’s a critical part in your engagement letter (Practice Ignition) to outline your service level agreement, as you could find you start losing clients very quickly if your delivery doesn’t match their expectations.
Go easy on yourself. No one gets this right the first time. Learn from what worked and what didn’t, and just keep modifying. We still modify our approach consistently.
One last thing: we still use timesheets (TSheets), not to bill against, but rather, when it comes to doing an annual review on our clients, I have information at hand that allows me to gage resources that were used, plus it aids in our capacity planning, which you now know is a critical aspect of creating a viable firm.
DE: What future invention are you most looking forward to?
LC: The day when I can do everything from QBO. No disrespect to the wonderful apps we use, but to have things like bank statements attach themselves to a folder inside your banking menu without using an app would be AMAZING! I wouldn’t say no to an inbuilt OCR expense management tool. I’m also looking forward to the day when we don’t have to exit QBO to pay bills. This feature isn’t available in the AU version. We spend too much time logging into systems. I just wish we could have it all under one login.
DE: If you weren’t an accountant, what would you be and why?
LC: A professional traveller critiquing food and wine around the world. I’d be all set to go with my QuickBooks Self-Employed app, but because we live in a cloud enabled world, I would still be doing what I do: ‘making a difference in a small business owner’s life’ – gives me a buzz to see the change.
DE: What advice would you give to a firm trying to transition from their old ways to become a Firm of the Future?
LC: Every step you take towards adapting and embracing all things cloud will bring you closer to being a Firm of the Future and having that competitive advantage.
The industry is always evolving, so it’s just as important we, too, evolve with it. Never stop learning and feed your hunger with knowledge. Listen to podcasts, and attend webinars and conferences. Keep your ears and eyes out for who is doing what best. My philosophy is take what you know will work for you and leave the rest behind. Test and measure, and keep doing that until it works.
This is where remarkable things are achieved – by a series of small things coming together.
My 5 C’s are what brought me here today as the Australian Firm of the Future:
- Without clarity, I had no clear roadmap to where I wanted to go.
- Without confidence, my clients and team would have lost faith in me. It was important that I always backed myself.
- Without commitment, I may have lost sight on the big stuff.
- Without consistency, my efforts would be wasted.
- Without courage, I may not haven taken that next step.