Welcome to another in a series of profiles spotlighting the 2017 Firms of the Future. Our latest edition features Business Cents, the U.S. winner of our Firm of the Future contest unveiled at QuickBooks® Connect 2017.
Danielle Ernst: Congratulations on being a Global Firm of the Future finalist! Tell us about yourself and your business.
Steffanie Anderson: I started Business Cents in 2009 with the mission to help small businesses reach their hopes and dreams. I also have a long history of hiring and working with ProAdvisors® for my husband’s businesses over the years and started working with QuickBooks Desktop in the 1990s. Back then, things such as running payroll were expensive to outsource, so I also worked hard to learn and ended up with a good understanding of the importance of speaking small business language and helping them understand their financials.
When my children went off to college, I decided to work for one of the ProAdvisors I hired before. She didn’t compensate me, but referred to me all the clients she wasn’t able to work with or didn’t have time for. Eventually, with the support of my husband, I decided to start my own bookkeeping firm, with the goal to bring in $1,000/month. Back then, clients used to come to my house for meetings and I learned how to interpret data. It wasn’t easy, but I took tests, studied hard and attended conferences to become a QuickBooks expert. Within one year, I hired my first employee and my husband also joined the firm.
DE: What makes your business a Firm of the Future?
SA: We are a Firm of the Future because we understand and can speak the same language small businesses do. Small businesses want to know what the end result will be. They expect to be able to sleep at night and have a better understanding of their finances. The fact that we’re in the cloud also helps us reach clients beyond local companies, in addition to making us much more efficient.
DE: In your Firm of the Future submission, you mentioned Business Cents has helped a significant portion of clients overcome their fear of cloud-based offerings. What steps did you take to educate them on the cloud benefits?
SA: We had three clients that lost all of their desktop-based data within the same year. They had a false sense of security and were afraid of the cloud. When we showed them QuickBooks Online (QBO) and how they, their employees and tax professionals could access their data on their phone or tablet from anywhere so they can be more efficient, we saw the light bulb go off. It also helps to educate them that Intuit® uses the same kind of security used by banks.
DE: What’s the most unexpected place you have ever worked?
SA: Recently, during a trip to Italy, I needed to get my firm’s payroll processed. It was the middle of the night in the U.S. and I was having trouble getting the file, but because I can access it online, I processed it from there without a hitch. I’ve had another instance where I needed to access one of my client’s files while in a car, and because they’re in the cloud, I quickly pulled them up on my phone.
DE: What is your favorite QBO app and why?
SA: Hubdoc. It keeps all financial documents in one place and converts various types of documents into usable data.
DE: About how much time would you say apps and cloud-based technologies save you/your business?
SA: At Business Cents, we’re constantly looking at ways to increase efficiencies, and part of that is learning new technologies really well. HubDoc, for example, reduced the time we spend fetching documents by 25 percent.
DE: How does your firm use social media to its advantage?
SA: It starts with reaching out to a community of like-minded people, such as self-employed workers. Then, they can communicate with each other and with us through Facebook. We end up reaching connections that aren’t even clients or locally-based. The key is to become an expert in something, write about it, be a guest speaker and this will help connect you to like-minded people.
DE: In your Firm of the Future submission, you mentioned Business Cents networks with, and partners, to cross-promote through email lists and by guests starring on podcasts. Do you have any best practices to share?
SA: Being an expert in a subject matter is helpful and figuring out where the market is to approach. If you’re trying to become an expert in the self-employed industry, seek opportunities to be a guest speaker about this topic. We teamed up with a local real estate firm and brought a tax accountant to speak about self-employed taxes, which successfully helped us reach many self-employed workers.
DE: What’s your advice for getting online and adopting cloud technologies?
SA: Jumping on and jumping off. I try things for my own firm first. My husband and I own five companies, and we give new tools a try to learn and to use them to our advantage.
DE: How would you encourage firms to implement a value-based billing model?
SA: We used to bill by the hour and it was a struggle to sit down and prepare so many different invoices. Plus, clients often wanted us to clean up their books and were shocked to see how much it was going to cost them. When we moved to value-based billing, we understood that clients want to have the comfort to know exactly how much they’ll pay every month. This also means no one at Business Cents ever works late nights or weekends. This is a big delighter to all staff members, particularly new hires coming from traditional firms.
DE: If you could invent any gadget or service to impact your clients, what would you create?
SA: I’d create a way to connect things together without Bluetooth or other syncing tools. Trying to make different devices work together can be frustrating at times.
DE: What’s the biggest impact you have had on a client’s small business? Any favorite client stories worth sharing?
SA: We recently converted a roofing company to QuickBooks Enterprise. We saved them two days per week by teaching them to run payroll on QuickBooks. The business owner’s wife, who used to run payroll before the switch to 60 employees, was in shock to find out how much time it saved her.
Another client, a construction company in North Dakota, came to us and shared their suspicion that some of the employees might have been committing time theft. We implemented QuickBooks Time and QBO. They were able to track employees’ hours accurately. This same business has already spent $80,000 on consulting services to set up QuickBooks and tax planning. They were about to have the consultant fly out to get him setup on a desktop-based solution. They did an Internet search, found us and decided to come in for a second opinion. We told them about the benefits, efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of using QuickBooks in the cloud and they decided to become clients. And, while the business owner – an older gentleman – still likes to come in for in-person meetings, he loves his QBO app.
DE: If you weren’t an accountant, what would you be and why?
SA: I specialize in taking really complicated ideas and making them simple, so maybe something in the education field or another field in which you’re required to translate something complicated into simple concepts.
DE: What advice would you give to a firm trying to transition from their old ways to become a Firm of the Future?
SA: Hire someone to help you, such as an expert or mentor, or join a group whose end goal is to get you there. This world is changing – artificial intelligence and cloud technologies are becoming a big part of our industry, and you either become part of the shift or hire younger staff to get you through it.
When you look at what companies like Intuit have done for small businesses, it’s impressive. Scott Cook had a simple idea and we need to be grateful to innovators like him who create things to make the world a better place. We need to thank companies like Intuit for being courageous and allowing bookkeepers and accountants to make data entry a thing of the past. We can now spend our time interpreting the data for our clients, not entering it!
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