Carla Caldwell on Supporting Clients Through A Crisis

“I began working in accounting right out of high school. Grandma said, ‘Get a job that you can always rely on.’”

Carla Caldwell did just that. In 2015, she founded Caldwell Consulting & Training to help accountants improve their processes and implement cloud technology. Fast forward to 2020, many more business-owners are relying on her and her team for real-time accurate information and conversations on cash-flow that matter.  

We talked to Carla to find out how she is helping her team and clients navigate the next few months.

Supporting clients through a crisis

“Between Covid-19 and going into lockdown, there was no transition for us really. The only change is that now our families are with us in the home. We continue to serve clients because they don’t feel disconnected.”

As the world navigates a generation-defining global crisis, Carla Caldwell is prioritising her small business clients with real-time data and a closer understanding of their cash-flow, plus ways they can run their business more effectively.

“We want to continue to grow and serve our small business clients as we emerge from this Covid-19 downturn,” says Carla. “We’re not afraid of technology and we’re not afraid of helping people through their processes. It’s going to be even more important that accounting professionals can assist businesses, wherever they are.

Carla does not stop there. For accountants and bookkeepers, she is on hand to help firms of all sizes learn how to improve their processes with technology.

“Right now, people that have not already embraced technology are now scrambling to make sure their team can work from home, interact with clients online and keep up with receipts. I’ve been in firms that feel like they’re stuck in the old ways and want to do things how they’ve always done them.

“I like that we can show them another way: a way in which they can really present their value. It’s about being willing to learn differently and to be ok with the apps and technology that make our firms better. Ultimately, technology is all about making our industry more valuable, not less.”

Real-time information meets empathy

We’ve never faced such massive disruption as we do now. Now, more than ever, I think we need to spend more time in our clients’ shoes. Many of us do but we also often forget.

“We recently onboarded a property management company and asked them, ‘What does this tell you? How do you normally read this?’ from a line on the P&L. Our client answered, ‘I don’t. It doesn’t mean anything.’ If I’m preoccupied with data entry, I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation that helps my client make sense of their report. I’m now able to sit down with them and show them what it all means, without making them feel ignorant or bad at numbers.

“Our value is not in the data entry. Our value is in explaining it to our clients and providing an outside perspective to help guide their businesses. Help them be a partner to their business rather than a vendor. Compliance is never going to go away – we still have to do those things and people will still need people to guide them through it. Yet, we must position ourselves beyond tax returns. Beyond data entry. We are helping people run their businesses better.

“Just compliance is a commodity. We’re all better than that – we have to get ourselves out of the hole we’ve got into.”

Here’s just one of those ways she’s helping those businesses run better: giving more control and ownership over expenses.

“Dinky receipts flying about the desk”

Remember George Costanza’s infamous wallet scene? 

“Our clients would often pull out these huge wallets of receipts, knowing that they can’t prove them to anybody or account for them. Accountants would sometimes ask them to tape them to sheets of paper or keep them in a drawer even though they fade. It’s a huge problem. Every time I heard someone mention Receipt Bank, I thought, ‘This is what needs to change in small businesses’.

“As accountants and bookkeepers, we tell business-owners to keep up with receipts because we instinctively know how. Telling them to keep up with it sounds so simple but for a business-owner juggling all the balls in the air, that can be super overwhelming. 

“Now, I can give them a solution. Receipt Bank is a conversation-starter that changes their understanding of what an accountant can do for them.

“Now, Receipt Bank is one of the first things we talk about with our clients. They see it as the tool that finally clears their wallet of receipts and makes their life so much easier. It’s changed the way they keep up with things and feels like a way to handle a part of their business that’s just annoying. It’s a relief to them.

“Sometimes, the business-owner can feel like they’re now doing more work. Yet, now they’re keeping track of their expenses, they’ll have much more accurate information. It puts a little more onus on them as I believe it should. This is their business and it means they’ll be ready for all future audits.”

What was life like before Receipt Bank?

“Before I had Receipt Bank, clients would need to declare each transaction as a business or personal expense. It was a risk on them, plus painful on our end. We knew that it was probably inaccurate. And we wanted to make sure we were advising the best we could.

“One client in particular asked us to come into their office to log into QuickBooks Online. They said, ‘How else can we tell you about these bills, or send you expenses to reconcile the credit card, or tell you about these deposits?’ Receipt Bank gave them a digital ethos. It meant they could upload photos of their deposits, bank statements and receipts. Even if it didn’t go into QuickBooks, they at least had photos and knew that their paperwork was backed up to save them having to keep a copy.

“Before Receipt Bank, we literally had to get information onsite. Several clients also had international teams so expense reporting used to be very manual, requiring them to look up the exchange rate, put that on the receipt, convert into US dollars then submit. Receipt Bank does that for us automatically. It’s made it possible for us to work with various types of clients without massive amounts of overhead.

“As simple as it is, the fact that Receipt Bank knows which credit card has been used is a really important piece. Many business-owners will have several different credit cards, and to say to them, ‘All I need you to do is just take the photo’, gives them one less thing to worry about. It makes us more efficient and effective in what we do.

“Also, having an email address specific to a user that we can forward paperwork to means that receipts and invoices are automatically sent to Receipt Bank. It makes the whole process smoother and means we don’t have to hunt those things down.”

Why do you think some businesses are reluctant to use technology?

“A lot of small businesses were actively being discouraged to embrace technology by their accountants. When I asked them to use automation and integrate their technology, it was a very different message to what they’d heard before. When you talk about the benefits of technology with your clients, it’s a great conversation to have.

“I think that many accounting and bookkeeping professionals are reluctant to change because of the amount of change already going on inside the industry, such as new tax laws and legislative changes. As a profession, we’ve been burnt in the past by some changes. There is now a weariness in trying to embrace everything that’s shiny and new.

“While yes, Receipt Bank sorts out the date, expense amount and – to a certain extent – what that expense is for – it does not negate the analysis and work we need to do. We would never say that a parent is bored at home because they can’t make clothes for their children. There’s so much more for them to do. It’s just the same for us. We are elevating our services and providing more value-add with the tools available.”

Looking forward

Carla’s story shows how accounting and bookkeeping is perhaps far more than just a reliable job; it’s a profession that thousands of business-owners rely on for continuity in these changing times. Carla describes the benefits of the profession as three-fold.

“When I started out in business, my goal was to surround myself with amazing people. During a meeting last week, my screen filled up with all of these awesome women. And I thought, ‘They are amazing. They really care about our clients and they want them to succeed’. That’s what I’m proudest of. With Receipt Bank, we get to take on more clients and more team members. I want to help people achieve their dreams, to help stay at home parents work remotely without sacrificing family time. That’s so important.

“For small business-owners, I love that we’re able to help them run their businesses better and feel like they have someone that has their back. And I love that I can work from home, take kids to school and pick them up off the bus in the evening while running a very successful business. It’s the best of both worlds.”

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