A&E Custom Metal improves books with help of Open Book Consulting

Working with QuickBooks Online helps business owners streamline their business To Do lists, while remaining efficient in their bookkeeping and business financials.

By Shelley Widhalm

As a business owner, Elizabeth Shipler of Loveland knew she needed to organize her books but didn’t know where to begin.

“I definitely needed organization and a better understanding of how to organize my books and put them together,” said Shipler, co-owner and chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of A&E Custom Metal Fabrication and Welding LLC in Loveland.

Shipler met with three accountants but didn’t get the right kind of assistance until through a business referral, she learned about Debbi Allison, owner of Open Book Consulting in Loveland.

QuickBooks’ Many Applications

Allison consults and advises small business owners as a ProAdvisor for QuickBooks Online, an accounting software package offered by Intuit. She explains how to use the software to set up a bookkeeping system and offers interpretative analysis of a business’s financial data.

“I knew I needed people on my team that were educated in things I am not as educated in,” Shipler said, adding that when she talked with Allison, she felt reassured that with a few changes, she could be more efficient and streamlined with her books.

Shipler began meeting with Allison in February 2016. Allison helped her understand how to use QuickBooks to run the financial side of her business, prepare and file her payroll taxes, and apply the numbers to improve business operations. Allison also explained the financial terms involved in accounting and bookkeeping.

“Nobody used terms that were human,” said Allison, a bookkeeper with 20 years experience who has been operating her business since 2011. “A lot of these accountants used accounting terms when it’s not necessary. My job wasn’t to impress (Elizabeth). My job was to help her.”

Custom Metal’s Many Offerings

Shipler co-founded A&E Custom Metal in March 2015 as a home-based business with her partner, Adam Sisneros, lead fabricator and shop foreman, after they worked in the business as independent subcontractors for two years. Sisneros, a metal fabricator and welder with 16 years of experience, taught Shipler how to do fabrication and custom metal work. They work in the commercial and residential markets, making things like spiral staircases, railings, gates, outdoor furniture, awnings, shelves and fireplace surrounds in different metals and finishes.

“I love the creativity. I love the hard work,” said Shipler, who worked as a dental assistant for 12 years before partnering with Sisneros. “I enjoy watching my designs come to life.”

Shipler is a female business owner working in the primarily male-dominated construction industry, Allison said, adding that she admires her for that.

“As a business owner, Elizabeth has incredible customer service skills and coordinates her team well,” Allison said. “Building any business is hard, and as a woman in a traditionally male industry, you have to have more grit to succeed.”

Allison helps Shipler with the other financial aspects of her business, such as budgeting, forecasting, pricing and expenditures, and she helps her evaluate if any large expenses are necessary for operations or can be considered an investment. They discuss other things, too, such as whether to add staff—there are now five—and how to handle things like employee insurance.

“I ask her professional opinions on things all the time,” Shipler said. “It’s important to have somebody to talk to who has an eye on your finances when questions come up.”

Saving Time and Money

Shipler knows she can contact Allison with those questions and get a response right away or at the most, by the next business day. They meet twice a month at Shipler’s office or through a Zoom session.

“She saved me time by teaching me to do it myself,” Shipler said, adding that she hired Allison when her company underwent extensive growth. “Here it was expanding around me and I couldn’t keep up. She saved me a ton of time by coming in and streamlining everything for me.”

Now that Shipler knows how to use QuickBooks to do her bookkeeping and to handle the financial aspects of her business, she outsources most of the work to Allison, not having the time to do it herself, she said.

“I spent all the years doing it myself, and now she does it for me,” Shipler said. “It worked out really well. We developed a partnership.”

Shipler, though, continues to do payroll using QuickBooks and files her payroll taxes and business forms, activities she enjoys, she said

“I try to give my clients as much independence as they want,” said Allison, adding that she also asks her clients to be involved in some way in their day-to-day finances. “Why would you allow that much control out of your hands? You’re the one that’s supposed to make the decisions.”

‘A Mini Seminar’

Shipler calls working with Allison a “mini-seminar,” and Allison said Shipler has picked up the equivalent of a bookkeeping certificate.

“Elizabeth is real, and she cares about her business. It’s very unusual to see women take the lead in the construction trade,” Allison said, adding that she likes how Shipler takes pride in her work and wants to understand every level of her business in order to improve it. “It makes it easier because she is somebody with motivation.”

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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