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Fireside Chat: Building a Profitable Accounting Technology Stack [Video]

In the midst of the bustle at QuickBooks Connect San Jose, a group of ProAdvisors gathered to discuss the future of the accounting profession.

The theme of the (admittedly fireless) fireside chat was “The Technology Empowered Accountant: Building a Profitable Technology Stack.” Hosted by Method’s Rodrigo Fernandez, the discussion tackled the question on everyone’s minds: in this age of intelligent accounting software and countless add-on apps, how can accounting professionals leverage this technology to benefit themselves and their clients?

Luckily, Brad CelmainisRobin HallLaura Redmond, and Heather Satterley are all passionate advocates for the use of technology in accounting.

“You can basically focus on other parts of your business that are more profitable, like advising and consulting, rather than actually doing those mundane, repetitive tasks,” said Satterley. And who doesn’t love the sound of that?

To hear what our guests had to say on this topic, check out the video and transcript of the fireside chat below.

Video Transcript

Rodrigo Fernandez: All right, hi everyone! Welcome to today’s fireside chat, coming to you live from QuickBooks Connect San Jose and streaming right on the Method Facebook page.

I’m your host, Rodrigo Fernandez, and I’m the director of marketing at Method Integration, the makers of Method:CRM. We built Method:CRM exclusively for all versions of QuickBooks — that means QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. And you know Method is the highest rated CRM by QuickBooks users and ProAdvisors, which is awesome.

Now beyond the CRM, Method is also a no-code platform. As a matter of fact, we built the CRM on this incredible no-code platform and that has allowed ProAdvisors and small business users to build personalized workflows and personalized apps to meet the unique demands that you know their businesses need. So for a free trial, please visit our website, www.method.me/. We have a special deal for you.

We have a red-hot topic to discuss with some world-class guests — this awesome panel that I have here. But before I introduce them, I want to let you know that during this fireside chat, we will be taking questions. So, as we’re discussing our topic and these wonderful people are sharing insights, type in your questions on the right-hand side where you have the comments section and our wonderful social butterfly Alvina from the Method team will relay it back to my earpiece in this very intricate setup — first of its class, so if we make a mistake, please forgive us

All right, so with great pleasure, let me introduce these wonderful folks in no particular order.

Brad Celmainis — He’s a QuickBooks Online Platinum ProAdvisor, an Intuit certified ProAdvisor and founder of Brad Celmainis Accounting Solutions. Brad manages a Calgary accounting and finance network, the largest Calgary-centric accounting and finance group on LinkedIn. He is co-organizer of the most popular small business meetup group in Calgary, the Calgary Business Professional Group, as well as an active member of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and an avid supporter of Small Business Week. And he also loves to ride in a scooter

Brad Celmainis: That had to come up, yeah.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Next we have Robin Hall. Robin is the driving force of VARC Solutions, an Intuit advisory board member and one of the original Intuit solution providers. She’s a sought-after instructor and speaker for venues such as Scaling New Heights, of course QuickBooks Connect, the Intuit solution provider conference, CNN radio and RadioFreeQuickBooks. In addition to being an award-winning Intuit solution provider, Robin has also been named one of the most powerful women in accounting

Brad Celmainis: Should I be nervous?

Robin Hall: You should.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Next we have Laura Redmond. Laura is the founder of Redmond Accounting Inc, a cloud accounting firm in the Silicon Valley that was awarded Intuit’s top 20 Firm of the Future. She is also a top ten ProAdvisor for leading QuickBooks Online practice and she’s a co-founder of Cloud Consultancy and the co-creator of Aero Workflow app. Now, Aero is an amazing QuickBooks app that gives accounting firms the tools they need to take the firm’s knowledge capital and put it to work by integrating their processes and procedures with tasks, making firms much more efficient, scalable and profitable. So, welcome Laura.

Laura Redmond: And we first built that on the Method platform.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Amazing! Beyond CRM, beautiful.

And last but not least, we have Heather Satterley. Heather is the founder of Satterly Training and Consulting LLC, a Rhode Island-based consulting firm focused on helping accounting professionals learn and master the QuickBooks ecosystem. And I may say she is also the Zapier queen. She’s an advanced certified ProAdvisor and a member of the exclusive Intuit trainer/writer network. Heather is also a co-host of the “QB ‘Appy Hour with Liz and Heather,” which is an amazing monthly webinar series. If you’re not watching that series, you are missing out

Heather Satterley: And you can register at www.qbappyhour.com.

Rodrigo Fernandez: www.qbappyhour.com — after you watch this webinar! Finally, Heather was also named a top QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor in 2017 and a top 100 ProAdvisor from 2014 to 2018 by Insightful Accountant. So, welcome.

So, welcome everyone. First question: so chief marketing technologist Scott Brinker said that he believes two things are true, referring to the rapid changes in marketing technology. But I think it applies everywhere. The first one is that technology is changing very rapidly and those changes seem to be accelerating, so there’s no slowdown of technology changes.

The second one is that change in an organization, how it thinks and how it behaves according to these changes, is still very hard and slow. Do you think the same idea applies to the accounting industry, and how can accountants and ProAdvisors embrace this reality? Who would like to go first?

Laura Redmond: I’ll start by saying absolutely, it applies to us all of us. We have to stay really up-to-date on the new technology and then we also have to — one of my partners often quotes her Austrian ski instructor who says “keep zee knees bent,” right? So you have to kind of stay ready to change, ready to turn fast, right?

At the same time — as you watch the landscape, it does move fast, but there are many things also where we’re at the forefront. So it’s not that something that you put into play is going to go away two days later. You want to stay up-to-date on the newest things, but a lot of the things you put in play, you can use that for many years to come

Heather Satterley: Absolutely. And I would add to that, that as you implement apps and you start to change your firm, that those apps also evolve. So new features are added all the time and the technology that you’re using today will have more functionality tomorrow. And so also creating a relationship with those app partners and the vendors, and helping them to educate you about those new features is a really great way to stay on top of the changes in the entire industry, really.

Laura Redmond: Yeah, you can just be deliberate about making those choices instead of on the far back end, where your clients keep asking you about it and you’re the person that says “I don’t know, I’ve never seen that.” So get out in front of it.

Brad Celmainis: You brought up a good point, Laura. You mentioned sticking with what you already know — sometimes that could be the best option. I find having loyalty with an app partner is really important. So we see things changing all the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to go running after it.

I think we talked about the “shiny toy syndrome” — there are so many changes. I mean, we see it here at Quickbooks Connect at the App Showdown, all these new tools coming out. So just jumping at everything isn’t necessary. There’s this rapid acceleration of new apps, but it doesn’t mean you have to jump out and be the first one to use it. But some people will.

There’s a balancing act because, you know, we have relationships that go back several years with some of these partners and someone might come out and offer something different. But doesn’t mean you’re just going to go out and leave, because you’re working with something that works really well. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is kind of the way I look at it

Robin Hall: And I agree with that. I think for us, when we add in some apps or we look at different apps, I really try and bring them in and try and use them internally first to make sure that I know all the ins and outs — you know, because every one of these app developers is going to tell us they’re the best thing since sliced bread.

So if I use it, or I know someone else is using it, if I know Laura’s using a tool, I know that’s tried-and-true. I know that she’s gone through and done that vetting. So knowing what other ProAdvisors are using — some of these other apps — is really important to me.

I know I can go to [Laura] and go, “Okay, I see [the app] can do all this, but give me the real lowdown — tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly and what I need to be able to watch out for so I can know where maybe some of the pitfalls are.” Because they’re all going to have a pitfall or another. But if I know where they are, then I can plan and I can train around those. So I think it’s important to really have our network to support those apps, so that we’re we’re leaning on each other to know the good and the bad on them.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Excellent. So in terms of the app ecosystem and your practice: specialist or jack-of-all-trades, right? As an accounting professional and business consultant, what is a better approach when building your technology stack and why?

Robin Hall: I’ll start because I’ve got the mic. So you know, I actually go back and forth on this a lot because, you know, we’re told “find a niche, find a niche, find your niche.” And for a long time I was like, “QuickBooks is my niche.” And so if you’re writing a check or you’re paying bills or doing different things — whether you’re an engineering firm or, you know, just another services firm, they’re doing those core functionalities the same.

I do think apps bring a different light on that — because then they are specializing on that, so it’s taking that niche industry a little bit further, so I’m still kind of teetering back and forth. And so it depends on what day that you’re going to ask me, what answer I’m going to have on that. But for the most part, I’m still kind of a generalist on there. But more and more, as I’m seeing some of these apps, I think that that can be taking a turn.

Brad Celmainis: I tried to be a jack-of-all-trades once and it didn’t work for me. I was just all over the map. I was trying to do too many things at once and I couldn’t be good at anything, not great at anything. I was just average at things. And someone who’s a friend of a dear friend of my network, who’s a marketing specialist, said, “you’ve got to find your niche.”

And when people ask me that now, my niche is really the type of client I take on. I was telling somebody last night that I know when I have a connection with an entrepreneur, that I want to do business with them. And if I don’t have a connection, I don’t take that on.

And the reason I think I feel it as a niche is that there’s a certain type of person I could work with. If I see somebody and right away, you’re talking apps and they get all nervous and weary and they start making excuses, in the back of my mind I’m going, “I don’t think I want to work with this person.” So I like people to be receptive to the change.

But I don’t have this massive app stack. I know what’s out there and I pay attention. If I have a specific need for a specific industry for a specific client, then I investigate it. And what you said, Robin, about having Laura and Heather out there as our proving ground. Because you guys are trying new things, you’ve tried new things, and we have so many people in our communities on social media that you can rely onpeople to sort of fill in the blanks for you, as you said. And they know where the skeletons are.

You don’t necessarily see it out in the open, but you have these candid conversations and you can get the straight dope on what these things do. That’s kind of how I learn. And a big thing, as you mentioned — you want to know how it works. So if you can’t use it with your own business, it’s hard to really know the app. I’m not a manufacturer, so if there’s a big manufacturing app out there, I need a client to try it on.

So I’m definitely more of a specialist and I stick to a little tighter app stack, and then vary it as needed based on the client.

Robin Hall: I love what you said about not necessarily having a niche industry, but a niche client. So that’s actually a different take on that and I love that. With the personality you can work through some of those industry differences, but you always can’t work through the personality differences, so I love that.

Brad Celmainis: Where I was really different than a lot — I am a Canadian CPA, but I don’t do public well. I don’t do anything traditional: no compliance work, no tax work, I barely dabble in bookkeeping. I was in industry, so I learned lots of different businesses when I was in industry and I get to apply that now.

And having these apps makes it so much fun because I can work with businesses in a different way — with 20 years of experience in industry combined with these really cool tools. And I can solve these really cool problems for them and you get this energy from your client when they’re smiling and laughing and saying, “This is great, I finally see my business the way it’s meant to be.”

And those are the clients I look for, and that’s my niche — people that will appreciate it. If you’re making excuses, I know right away that’s a red flag — and why take the client on in the first place?

Laura Redmond: There are hundreds and hundreds of apps in the app store — so www.apps.com is the domain name that’s owned by Intuit, it’ll correct itself to www.apps.intuit.com. But that app store means that it has been vetted by Intuit, it’s a secure app, it’s passed all of their rigorous checklist items they try to hack and break your app. So if you make it onto the app store you can feel good as a business, as a small business or as an accounting firm that is advising your small business, to use this app. It’s a safe place to shop for it.

Now having said that, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds—  I can’t possibly know them all. There are a few that we use because they work for us providing accounting services firms. So I run an accounting service; I also have, you know, Aero app and Method consulting separately — but speaking as the owner of an accounting firm, we use a bill pay app, we use a credit card expense management app, we use Method:CRM. Method has been central to us as a firm since the beginning. And so we have a few that we work on now.

When I teach QuickBooks around the country and talk to other business owners and accountants, they want other things — I may not know it well, but I can safely tell them to go to the app store and do a search there in the directory. And then you can read reviews, you can try a free trial of it. So the app store has got a lot of options for a lot of people — but you don’t have to know every one of them. Don’t be scared of the app store!

And let me also say that you can do all that, but it’s an amazing opportunity for people. I mean, if you’re looking for new business and you’re, you know, running a service business and accounting service business especially, you can narrow in if you want to become an inventory expert or something — because the rest of us don’t want to touch inventory. So we’ll send you our business!

But also let me say this: I hear a lot of people say “Oh, you have to get an extra app for that? I have to hook it up?” Well, that’s not hard, first of all — they’ve made that very easy. And “I have to pay extra for that?” Let me just encourage you to look for the savings you’re going to find, usually in reduced labor by automating things with an app. So jump into it, hook it up!

Heather Satterley: Absolutely. And as we were talking about niche — you see that in lots of different areas, especially as our industry is changing. So sure, you can niche by industry for your clients, or type of client, or even tech stack, right? So we see a lot of firms that, as Laura said, are finding the right tools for them and then they’re able to scale that across, you know, all of their clients. So that’s one way to go.

Another way to go is what Laura and I have done, where we niche in a particular process or a particular technology that we’ve just learned really well. And we’re able to use our expertise to help others to leverage the same technology. So you see all different models of niching in our industry and all different ways that you can, you know, build tech stacks.

Rodrigo Fernandez: So in building a profitable accounting firm, a profitable consulting firm, a profitable customer — because the end goal of what you do as consultants is to ensure that your customers build wealth — what are some of those key apps that you’ve found that that have helped you build or have allowed you to become profitable internally and for your customers?

Heather Satterley: Well, for me it won’t be any surprise that one of my main technologies is Zapier, which is an automation technology that allows me to create custom automations both for myself and for my clients.

And what I really like about that technology is that there’s over 1,200 apps that are on the Zapier platform. I’ve done a poll of the students that are in my Zapier workshop session, and about 60% of the apps that they use overall, of all the students that I’ve had, are on that Zapier platform.

So it’s really nice because you can spend a little bit of time setting up an automation that’s going to give back to you for months and years to come. Really, so you can basically focus on other parts of your business that are more profitable, like advising and consulting, rather than actually doing those mundane, repetitive tasks.

Laura Redmond: Yeah, and just another plug for Zapier — and she really is the queen of it, I’m in her course right now. And I knew how to use Zapier, but it was like a blank sheet of paper, you know. I was like, “I just need some ideas of what to zap around the universe.”

So it is a really great tool — because for example, Method has the tightest two-way sync to QuickBooks, awesome, that’s there — but what if you wanted to zap things between other apps that don’t have the integration built yet? So that’s a really cool one.

I’ll call out QuickBooks Online, of course — awesome, awesome, best tool for measuring profitability, recording money in and money out and then looking at whether you’re making money or not. And then I’ll call out Bill.com and Expensify. I want to call those out as just major game-changers for us on automating that accounting workflow.

And then just again, Method has been central to us since the beginning. We use it for the CRM and our firm. I use it just as much, maybe more, on my own firm to build out custom unique sales onboarding processes. You know, not just a process on a flowchart, but I mean like interactive — so that your client can do something and you’re recording it because it’s back into your sales system.

And then we’ll use it on clients — like, you know, when you go to create invoices for a customer, for a business — there’s no approval on the invoice, right, you just create an invoice. What if your customer, the business, wants to approve invoices? So you can easily build that in Method, because all of the invoices are sitting there in Method. You just build a little approval screen there — oh, it’s easy, just build a little screen there! But I mean, honestly, I love to build and I can’t code, so I need Method. I’m born for Method.

Brad Celmainis: That’s awesome. I’ll plug Zapier a bit too. I’m a total newb — I get one thing to zap and I get all excited. And I hear Heather talk about, was it a 45 or something step process?

Heather Satterley: I had a 48-step zap.

Brad Celmainis: I think I have a really cool 3-step zap and I keep it turned off just so it doesn’t zap by accident on me. I’m still testing, so it’s really cool. The upside is amazing and I love the potential of it.

With me, I’m a solopreneur in Calgary. I’m like any other business owner; my first couple of years were pretty grim as a small business owner. I felt a lot of pain on the cash management front because there wasn’t a lot of cash coming in. It wasn’t hard to manage when you don’t have much! But I hit kind of a state where I was trying to grow my business and I was a typical entrepreneur. Everyone says, “Oh, you’re a CPA, you must know how to do bookkeeping and accounting.” Well, of course I do, but doesn’t mean I want to.

And I was in a paper-based system, I was printing out, you know, making binders for myself, going, “what am I even doing?” It was like this old school way doing things, so I just stopped altogether. And papers started piling up and I was starting to get a little nervous because I’m really good at cash management, but it was all in my head all of a sudden — I didn’t really know where I was. So Receipt Bank changed the way that I do my business. It got me together, got me organized, got me paperless. It saves all my stuff — I literally don’t have to store anything anywhere. I ripped my paper up. I’m not one of these people that says, “I’m gonna take a picture of it and then I’m gonna keep it” — I just get rid of it.

So the passion that I put into learning it and my own business is now a business opportunity. And I’m a Receipt Bank partner and I have a lot of clients on it. And I just sell them on the love of the tool. It’s a very simple tool, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. And we talked about cost earlier — the cost is not what you’ve got to focus on; it’s the return on that cost. What’s the result worth, the value, that return on investment? And I’ve really been able to demonstrate because Receipt Bank and the other tools like HubDoc and Auto Entry, there’s a really big ROI there.

But people get hung up on that $20 a month and it’s like, “Really, $20 a month? That is really a problem?” So it’s easy for me to sell the value of it. People are jumping at it. So that’s one tool that I use extensively for my own business and it’s a revenue stream. And Receipt Bank is a great partner.

Obviously I’ve dealt with Method as well and you guys do have the best QuickBooks compatible, optimized CRM out there. And a CRM really helped me personally — I was getting out of control. You know, you become a victim of your own success, and I literally lost a client once because I literally lost them. I didn’t know where their phone number was. I knew they had called and I was like, “how did they reach me again?” I couldn’t remember. And I found it a while later. Fortunately for me, I apologized like two weeks later and she was okay with it. She said, “Well, thank you for the honest answer, I get it.” I did say “I’m gonna use my CRM from now on.”

Robin Hall: So one of the ones that we use is Bill & Pay. I’m not gonna mention that I use the ones that you guys use as well — no sense to rehash that as the fourth one down here. Bill & Pay, we use.

One of the ones that changed my business was using TSheets. So I used to only track my billable time. I’m like, “I get paid the same regardless of whether it’s billable time or not.” And so just tracking my time, all of my time, really kind of changed my focus and made me look at really what I’m looking at and doing. How much admin time am I doing? How much time am I spending on my business? Because sometimes we forget that we’re too much in the trenches and we lose sight of that. We need to work on our business, so as accounting professionals we need to make sure that we’re staying relevant in doing that. So TSheets is one.

It also helps me with knowing, while I’m here at the conference, what my employees are doing, what they’re working on. And then when I’m in the office, if they’re working on a client and I have a question with them with that, then while they’re clocked in I can go and talk to them on that client — they’re not having to switch gears.

Another one that I’ve really started working with lately is Avalara. And so there’s so many changes in the sales tax laws right now and a lot of new laws went into effect in June. So if you thought you knew your stuff in May, you don’t know anything now. So, you know, that’s another one that’s gonna change the landscape for accountants with all the new indexes or e-commerce rules. So if you have clients in other states, then it’s something that we’re all gonna have to relearn. And so we have something at our fingertips right now that will help us with that. So I think we need to look at the changing laws around and make sure that the software isn’t just popping up today, but that they have been around and are tracking those things and are helping us as well.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Excellent, excellent. Now, it’s established — a ton of apps out there in the QuickBooks ecosystem, which is amazing. When you’re shopping around for an app, what do you look for from app developers as you’re putting together your technology stack? You know, what are those things that give you confidence from an app developer that this app is worth bringing in? Because as you know, your technology stack could be fragile too. I mean, an app could make or break your complete system. So what do you look for in app developers?

Robin Hall: So as new apps are popping up every day, I want to make sure that they’re gonna be here tomorrow. So you know, that’s why talking to other people that have used it, talking to my friends in this community — I trust their judgment if they’ve used it, they’ve done a little bit.

And have [the app developers] been around? Do they know what the word SDK is or what that means? Are they out there on that app store? And really just talking to them and seeing where their idea came from and what they’re trying to solve, so that I know what path that they’re going down.

So I am cautious with some of the new ones that are popping up because I want to make sure that the ones that are here today are here tomorrow. And, you know, because they’re all looking for funding as well, to make sure — because they’re in development mode and until they sell enough, they’ve gotta cross over that line. So I don’t want to put a bunch of clients on something that’s then gonna be gone soon.

Brad Celmainis: You bring up a great point about the app partners in general. They’re on the app store, but it’s really hard for us as a ProAdvisor to gauge really how large that company is, how well capitalized, how much staff, what’s their service like. There’s so many variables.

I’ve found apps that seem to be bigger than they really are. You find out it’s like two or three people and they’re still working out of their garage or their basement and they just kick ass. Can I say that? Sorry, back up a bit!

But it’s true — like, some of them really seem bigger than they are. Then you find out; it’s like,
“wow, that’s awesome.” And then others, like TSheets, have, you know, a campus and they’re amazing. They have so much staff. And you’ve got to sort of evaluate just a bit.

But to me what’s really important is when I reach out to an app partner, they get back to me quickly in a reasonable amount of time. You know, I say, “I’m a ProAdvisor, I’m interested in your app, I might have a client that could use this app.” And then I see how they deal with it from that point on. I like having a good relationship with my app partners. I like to find out, you know, who I need to deal with.

And I gauge the quality of an app just on how I’m treated. And to that, app developers need to understand that. I was once accused of being greedy by an app partner because I wanted to know what their ProAdvisor discount was. They said, “Well, you can pay the same as everyone else; what’s the problem with that?” And I said, “No, but you don’t understand — it’s not like I’m trying to make money out of this.”

I don’t necessarily want to pay for something just to experiment with it. So having, you know, a low or no-cost app is a really great way for us to stress-test it, throw some real-world data at it, maybe try it out on one of our clients on a trial basis. That’s what we’re looking for. And if for some reason it doesn’t work for us, why carry a subscription? So that’s the sort of thing that’s important to me.

Then obviously if there is a program with a discount involved, it gives us the opportunity to maybe build some margin into our services and it’s a win-win, because the app partner gets a new client as well through the process. But also, you know, the ProAdvisors — we’re hard-working people, we have so many choices out there, we spend a lot of our day in non-billable environments. It’s nice to know that maybe all that hard work, there’s some return in that.

So app partners that are receptive to us as private businesses, those are the ones I latch onto. And I’ve mentioned relationships earlier. Relationships are everything to me and I’ll continue using an app partner because they’ve shown faith in me. So when the shiny new toy comes along, I won’t run for the “I need that one” sort of thing.

Laura Redmond: I’ll just add to all of that. When I’m looking for an app, I’m usually looking for some movement of data. It’s going to serve a purpose somewhere in the workflow. And I don’t want to necessarily have a huge and efficient workflow.

So if I’m going to put it into the process, I want it to do something that I’m not solving, to replace some manual work or something like that. So I’m really looking at the feature, what it’s bringing to the table, and how efficiently it’s going to be integrated into the rest of the apps or to a particular app there. So I’m really looking for the functionality on it above all.

Heather Satterley: Absolutely. And to kind of expand on what you said — you know, when I work with a client I do a lot of consulting to help clients find the right app. And it’s really important to look at all the technology that they’re using. And so, you know, some apps I’ll look at their other integrations — so what other applications do they integrate with as well?

And I think that’s really important when you’re thinking about adopting new technology, to do that evaluation for your firm or for your client — what are they doing now? What do their processes look like and how can you enhance it, right? You don’t want to create more work and so that’s super duper important.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Excellent. So I think we’re going to open the session for a couple of questions. Alvina, any questions on your end?

Okay, so one question that we have out there is, “How important is the trial period for you and what’s your ideal time of a trial?

Heather Satterley: So it really depends — for me, anyway — it depends on the technology. So if it’s a, as I call it, “a plug-and-play” app that’s really extracting data out of QuickBooks to, you know, create a dashboard or do reports, it might be okay for [the trial period] to be a little bit shorter.

If it’s an app that’s really a fundamental part of my client’s business or my process, I definitely need a longer trial period — so at least 30 days, sometimes 60 or 90 days. Because if you are adopting a new technology in a very integral part of your business, you need to make absolutely sure that it’s got staying power, right? So it depends. That’s my answer.

Laura Redmond: Yeah, I’ll say that for me, the trial period — it’s really like, “how much can I put other work aside and really focus on it?” I definitely need the trial period because I go to conferences and I talk to a lot of people at the booth. And you can ask them “What kind of data do you push back and forth?” You can ask in detail, “Do you push the custom fields? Do you, do you…”, you know, all sorts of questions. And you still have to go home and try it. So definitely a trial.

I would say though, within the first 24 hours I probably can get a really good grasp on entering some data and pushing it and seeing. But if you want to pull it into your workflow, I’d say 30 days is good. And most of the apps on the app store are gonna do the free trial.

So when I haven’t finished trying it out and 30 days is over, that’s because I got too busy and was working on other stuff. But definitely trying it out is the best way to find out if this is going to solve the pain point you’re looking for.

Brad Celmainis: Couldn’t agree more. 30 days, it’s kind of that minimum. I think 15 days isn’t always enough to really get your head around a specific situation. But I love it when an app partner will say “Okay, your 30 days is up” and you’re like, “I’m not done yet, can I still play around?” And they say “no problem, take it for another 30.” And that’s important sometimes.

I have one client that is just so hard to get locked down to get trained and everything. And I’ve had to extend so many times and it’s over several months now. In fact, we haven’t even started going live yet. So I need another trial before I can almost get it going, but they’re ok with it. You just explain the situation and they work with you. So I need somebody who’s flexible. If it’s just, the day ends and they’re like “Too bad, pull out your credit card,” well…

Laura Redmond: Let me just throw in here. There’s that concept of “trying it out, trial.” Absolutely you need to do that to know how the integration works and the feature set works. And then there’s “free trial.” If it’s 30 days up, I will lay down the money and pay if I didn’t get around to using it during the 30 days. I mean, already at that point I have a pretty good idea that it’s potentially going to solve some problems. I don’t have any problem with paying for the value these apps are offering.

Brad Celmainis: Yeah, I agree.

Robin Hall: So I’m going to add one more thing to that. Not only is it essential to have a trial so our customers can try it. But I think if it’s a product that we’re going to use ongoing and it’s good — that we have a demo account. Not for resale, not necessarily for our use, because I don’t want to demo out our information. But if we have a demo account on there that we can show them and not have to download it, put it on their information and then let them play with it. Sometimes just a demo account is a little bit better so that we can play with the ins and outs of it and then the customer can see that.

Laura Redmond: Only a few apps offer those free trials and they are awesome. Because by the time you try to set up your own private environment to give a demonstration, you’ve done so much work already. And then they might just say no.

Robin Hall: But if it’s one that we’re going to be intricate with and we’re going to put it into our practice — and it sounds like we all kind of work the same, that we find those core ones that work for us — having those demo accounts is key to that so that you’re not reinventing the wheel over and over.

Rodrigo Fernandez: So the trial is important. How important to you are partner programs and what is your ideal partner program for an app?

Robin Hall: So that’s something that I’m exploring right now, being a reseller. I have ProAdvisors underneath me and we have a partner program where we’re helping them find those things. And moving from being just a ProAdvisor to a consultant, and doing consulting of sales with software and with apps and stuff — so having a partner program and investing that time, and setting up the demo, and setting the accounts, and learning the ins and outs, and then saying I’m an extension of your sales force — it should be a compensated portion on there, so having either a discount or a commission back on that.

One of the things I’ve learned early on is as consultants, we sell our time. I haven’t found anywhere that I can buy more hours in the day, so we have to, you know — if we want to raise our income level up, we can either raise our fees up or we can, with the things that we’re already doing, selling the products, earn some money back on that.

So we’re not selling them products or technology just for the sake of selling it. We’re selling them what they need to put into their company. And so getting compensated for that and having a partner program is, I think, very key to that. So that they’re showing a commitment to us just like we’re showing a commitment to them.

Brad Celmainis: I don’t even know how to add to that, because that’s exactly what a partner program should be. We’re partners, we’re strategic partners, we’re business partners. And, you know, I like to think when I’m talking with an app partner — they’re important to my client, they’re important to my business. And I like to know that it’s a reciprocal arrangement, that both sides feel it’s important, so that app partners really show that faith in you as a business owner and there is an incentive to resell or build it in somehow.

That’s important because our time is valuable. So if there’s a very thin partner program with an app, all things equal, I’m gonna go with the app that has the better program and better support. Even if maybe the tool’s not as good, I still feel I’m going to be better supported, hence my clients will be better supported. So it makes you feel good that you’re dealing with a credible company because they’re taking that time to show the value that you bring to the equation and they quantify it in their program.

Laura Redmond: Yeah, I’ll just shout out some of the best features that are just coming to mind off the cuff for partner programs I’ve been involved in. A lot of them will have their own training on the app. How awesome. You can roll out an app and everyone can get trained by that app. And those are usually cloud-based, do-it-yourself, do it on your own time — not so much a live training. But when you bring on new staff, you can have them take that app’s training.

So when we hire new staff, they go through QuickBooks Online certification training, then they hop onto Bill.com and take Bill.com’s training. Then they can get Method certified, you can get Expensify certified. So then I start to know that my staff are experts at this. And they get a badge and it’s a bright and shiny logo you can put on your card, and then you can use that for marketing, right? Your website can show that you’re experts at this.

And the partner programs also will sometimes offer a place on their website where other people go and then they find you from that, right? Referral programs — some of them have wholesale billing opportunities. So partner programs have a lot of options for sharing with us. Because, you know, as the app user, especially supporting multiple clients, we’re going to be the influencers for that app through social media and through our client base.

Heather Satterley: And really it all comes down to the availability of resources, right? So, you know, support resources, resources for training, resources for our clients. And I feel like that’s what really makes a great partner program. Absolutely.

Rodrigo Fernandez: Well, I really want to thank you guys for coming. Love this kind of conversation.

So you guys out there: continue to stay tuned. We have minute-to-minute coverage of this conference, of QuickBooks Connect, so you can visit our blog. And if you have any more questions, you know our guests are on social media — I am sure you know where they are already. So please reach out to them and reach out to us if you have any other questions.

Thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you on our blog. Take care!

Want more #QBConnect content? Check out our full coverage of QuickBooks Connect San Jose 2018!

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