Firm of the Future Profile: Xcelerate Business Solutions, LLC
Welcome to another in a series of profiles spotlighting the 2016 Firm of the Future finalists. Our latest edition features Jessica Daley of Xcelerate Business Solutions, LLC. Stay tuned in 2017 for details on how to enter our next Firm of the Future contest and continue visiting our blog often.
Danielle Ernst: Thanks for joining us, Jessica! Tell us, what’s the scoop on Xcelerate?
Jessica Daley: We’re based in Fort Collins, Colo., and we serve clients spanning coast to coast across the U.S. Half of our clients are churches, while the other half are for-profit small businesses. I started Xcelerate in 2011, as a stay-at-home mom who was trying to make $10,000 for an adoption. Three years later, business doubled, our family had doubled and my time was cut in half due to family demands. I made an intentional business decision to completely embrace the cloud and add a team. My husband also joined the team at the end of 2015, as we knew we wanted to grow a company together. Since then, we’ve grown into a team of ten automation-driven, data entry eliminators, and we pride ourselves on being go-getters who serve as strategic advisors, rather than historians.
DE: What do you think makes Xcelerate a Firm of the Future?
JD: We are a Firm of the Future because we are focused on being relational and have succeeded in creating a company that works for us, instead of owning us. We love our clients and wanted to keep the personal touch, but we didn’t want to have an office just to serve as another receipt deposit box. So, we’ve developed a hybrid system that balances the use of virtual systems to increase our efficiencies, while also remaining as relational as possible through Zoom calls and client dinners. Because we have created a company that works for us, I can work with a client during carved out time, while also valuing the responsibilities that a busy mom holds.
DE: What are some of these virtual systems you use? How do you choose software and app partners before recommending to your clients?
JD: In just one year, we transitioned all of our 30 clients from QuickBooks® Desktop to QuickBooks Online, and added several apps to our arsenal. We choose software app partners that trusted firms also use. LastPass is one of our favorites because security is a huge issue these days, and it allows us to share login information with our team, but they don’t actually know what the passwords are. Bill.com is another favorite, as it syncs with QuickBooks Online and completely transformed the accounts payable for our church clients who frequently had to work with volunteers. It used to take weeks to sort checks and bills, and now that process is down to days and, sometimes, minutes. We also like systems with audit trails so that we can clearly see who did what.
Last but not least, Karbon also tops the list as our recommended workflow management system because it lets our team see everyone’s tasks and assign new projects. It helps us to map all of our processes into “freedom maps,” so that I can easily see if a system is broken. Plus, it gives me peace of mind knowing that the firm can run smoothly when I’m away.
DE: What advice would you offer to other firms seeking to utilize more online systems and apps?
JD: Start with a client you have a great relationship with. We wanted to be really confident in our choices before transitioning all of our clients, so we tested new systems and apps with a longtime client that happened to be our home church. As we phased these systems onto new clients, we were able to choose the right apps straight from the beginning, generating a virtuous cycle of trust. Now, if we want to try something new, we know our clients would be on board because we have a track record of selecting the best options. Keep in mind, however, not to add too many apps at once. Change is usually better when rolled out slowly.
DE: How did you introduce value pricing to your clients? Any words of wisdom to other firms looking to make the switch?
JD: We actually added value billing within the last year, and it came out of a personal pain. When Xcelerate was still new, I had to physically go to my clients’ offices and work on premise, until it was time to pick up my son. I soon realized that the more efficient I became, the less money I made, and that simply was not fair. Value billing emerged from the pain of losing money for doing the same work at a faster pace. We introduced the concept to our clients, using the analogy of hiring a salaried employee versus an hourly contractor. This was a comparison they could easily understand, and was one of our most effective techniques in migrating to fixed fees. My biggest advice here is to be willing to walk away from a client. If they’re not on board, it means they do not value your services – and those are not the type of clients you want.
DE: How has using online technology and real-time data changed the way you work with your clients?
JD: We love QuickBooks Online because it’s constantly updating, creating add-ons and developing more ingenious tools that give us the freedom to work from anywhere. So, instead of entering data and running reports, online technology allows us to operate without sacrificing our dedication as working professionals, or as parents. For example, when we adopted three children in June 2015 and took an eight-week road trip from Colorado to Niagara Falls, I set my phone as a hot spot and was able to work on the road, during the trek, spanning 19 states, 3,000 miles and over 60 hours of drive time.
DE: How do you find new clients, or how do they find your firm?
JD: We get a lot of our clients through the ProAdvisor® Program website, and by attending tradeshows relevant to our industry. We also offer a generous commission for our current account specialists, who find us clients and have earned $30,000 in revenue from this alone. We tend to stay away from big marketing specialists to avoid attracting clients who aren’t ideal for us because we want to remain as relational as possible in all we do.
DE: Do you use social media channels to connect with prospects and current clients? Is there one that has been particularly more successful than others?
JD: We like to use Facebook, primarily because our clients like to see what’s happening in our personal lives. Instead of using a social platform dominated by quick pics, we try to portray stories that are happening. All of our clients know that we have four kids and that we’ve adopted three of them. That is actually one of the reasons why our clients chose us – they want to give back, or they are part of the foster and adoptive world themselves. We found our best channel because we knew where our clients were, and I recommend all firms seeking to establish a social presence to go where their clients are.
DE: What advice would you give to a firm trying to transition from their old ways and become a Firm of the Future?
JD: One of our best moves was to build relationships with the firms we wanted to emulate. Don’t feel threatened, and focus on being collaborative instead. Look to the thought leaders within your niche and see how they are running their firms and what systems they are using.
I also recommend to be aware that everyone is replaceable, including yourself. You have to be willing to hire employees better than yourself, if you want your firm to grow. Allowing everyone to shine where their strengths are will ultimately build confidence with your clients and benefit your practice in the long run.
DE: Now that 2017 is in full swing, what are a few of your firm’s resolutions?
JD: We are growing fast, and we are resolving to not lose the culture we have developed. We seek to be part of the participation age. Mainly, that we trust in adult behavior, have a clairvoyance of mission and vision, operate with self-managed workgroups and teams, and maintain complete transparency with our team. This culture has gotten us this far, and we hope to continue this as we grow. We were able to give back to our community this year through a grant we called, “Helping Families Thrive.” Our team has all decided that rather than taking more profit share each year, we would match all profit sharing with this grant. We hope this becomes a significant amount of money as our revenue increases.
Looking even further down the road, we’re planning to buy an RV and go road schooling with our kids for nine months. We’re aiming to perfect our process maps so that we can focus on business development while on the road. Our ideal markets are churches and small businesses, so we want to make sure our business can run day-to-day as a Firm of the Future, even when we’re physically away.