Advising beyond QuickBooks to help businesses grow

Courtney Cluett-Suarez, owner of Property Concierge, LLC, left, asks Debbi Allison, owner of Open Book Consulting, advice about her QuickBooks Online program during a consulting session Jan. 4 at a Fort Collins Starbucks.

By Shelley Widhalm

When Courtney Cluett-Suarez of Ault opened Property Concierge, LLC, four years ago, the cleaning service grew so quickly, she knew she needed advice.

Cluett-Suarez sought out the Larimer Small Business Development Center in Fort Collins and began meeting twice a month with a consultant there, plus met other SBDC-connected professionals like Debbi Allison, owner of Open Book Consulting in Loveland, to get even more business advice.

“I started my business and then I got to a point where I didn’t know how to do things right,” Cluett-Suarez said. “I didn’t know how to do payroll. I was paying cash and didn’t know how to do the documentation. I wanted to build a strong, sustainable business.”

Consulting Small Businesses

Allison consults small business owners as a ProAdvisor for QuickBooks Online, an accounting software package offered by Intuit, but goes beyond that with coaching, consulting and advising. She doesn’t simply explain how to use the software and set up a business’s books. She wants to help her clients better understand their numbers and apply them to improve their operations and profit margins, while also keying in on their visions and passions.

“I started doing business coaching from an accounting perspective, looking at the behaviors behind the numbers,” Allison said. “I help clients adjust their perspectives and behaviors in order to drive toward their goals more efficiently.”

Allison, who started her career as a bookkeeper in 1999, launched Allison Bookkeeping, LLC, in 2011, changing the business name to Open Book Consulting in 2016 when she became advanced certified in QuickBooks Online and started doing more consulting.

Allison’s first piece of advice for Cluett-Suarez regarded sustainable pricing. Cluett-Suarez, who contacted Allison in the summer of 2015, wasn’t charging enough and should have seen a 50 percent acceptance rate for her services, but her acceptance rate was much higher, plus she had a large staff turnover.

Cluett-Suarez, who started her business in December 2014, responded by raising her rates to align with her services, upgrading her services and marketing to a different customer. She now serves vacation rentals in the Fort Collins area, plus continues her interior residential services for one-time and routine cleanings.

Property Concierge’s Story

Initially, Cluett-Suarez focused on the real estate market while in the middle of working as a receptionist for a Fort Collins real estate company for more than five years. She noticed how agents had a difficult time coordinating quality subcontractors, especially with cleaning services for home showings, and decided she could serve as a point of contact for multiple cleaners from the interior to the yard.

“As I brought our pricing into alignment with our quality, I discovered there was a wider market beyond Realtors which needed the detailed level of services that I could serve,” Cluett-Suarez said.

Incidentally, one of Cluett-Suarez’s clients owned three vacation rentals in Fort Collins and asked her to do the cleaning. Vacation rentals require a different level of service, because cleanings cannot be missed and the satisfaction of the guest is of the utmost priority.

“I’m really good at details and at executing them beautifully. In the vacation rental world, people are willing to pay for that,” Cluett-Suarez said. “The happier the guest is, the better reviews they get and the more reservations they have.”

Cluett-Suarez developed and added a linen rental program, instead of managing her clients’ linens and potentially running into onsite issues. She delivers professionally laundered, high-quality linens and also offers a stocking program of consumable bathroom and kitchen products, gift baskets and other items property owners want to present to their clients.

“I wanted to be one point of contact for multiple services,” Cluett-Suarez said about the “concierge” part of her business.

Cluett-Suarez, who works with a staff of six, eventually wants to grow her business and standardize her processes for potential franchising opportunities.

“She’s very discerning about how she provides her service, and she holds a very high standard,” Allison said.

Proactive Bookkeeping

When Cluett-Suarez called Allison to get help with her proactive bookkeeping, she got much more than advice about QuickBooks Online, including help with payroll, pricing and the rule of three (balancing overhead and cost of goods sold with revenue).

“She asked me questions about me and my passion about my business,” Cluett-Suarez said. “She’s teaching me to know my numbers and how they work, and as I keep growing to make smart choices and good decisions. … If it weren’t for Debbi teaching me about the rule of three, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have my pricing right.”

With more accurate pricing, Cluett-Suarez is able to engage in her concept of 360 Prosper, where she puts her employees first, resulting in happier customers and prosperity for them and the company, she said.

“If we’re all prospering, then we all do well,” Cluett-Suarez said, adding that she finds the same to be true with Allison and her clients. “Debbi is passionate about the success of small business owners. She’s committed to my business as much as I am.”

Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell’s Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland, Colo. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master of arts degree in English from Colorado State University. She can be reached at shellsinkservices.com or swidhalm@shellsinkservices.com.

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