Software & Tech

Scaling a Service-Based Business Using No-Code Tools and Solutions with Jason Staats

No-code or low-code tools–Jason and I are talking about the tools that have been built specifically to enable YOU, someone with no background or experience in building software, to build your own custom tools.

Susan Boles
October 6, 2020
47
 MIN
Podcast

Software has come a LONG way in the last decade or so.  

When I started my first business as a professional organizer in 2006, it was still pretty manual.  My business systems consisted of a website, Quicken, a label maker, some file folders, and printed out checklists. I needed physical signatures on my contracts and took checks as payments—and I had a fax number.

It might seem like it was a simpler time before—there was less to keep up with—but our systems were also cumbersome, inefficient, expensive and the idea of building a customized software tool was only available to big companies with big budgets.

Fast forward to today and we have apps and tools that can solve just about any problem in your small business with the click of a button pretty inexpensively. We can automate and streamline our workflows and take advantage of technology to operate a very lean, very profitable service business using tools that you don't need a degree in coding to figure out.

I'm talking about no-code or low-code tools, which means that the tools have been built specifically to enable YOU, someone with no background or experience in building software, to build your own custom tools.

And those tools are very, very powerful when it comes to operating a service business. They can be the key to you taking some time off and knowing that your systems are still flowing, clients are still being taken care of, your team knows exactly what to do. When harnessed, no-code tools can be THE thing that lets you scale to $2M+ with 2 team members. I've seen it happen.

And this month, we're talking about the different ways you can harness these no-code tools to increase your operational capacity, attract new clients, add new evergreen revenue streams—and ultimately grow your business.

To kick us off, I’m talking with one of my accounting friends, Jason Staats, who also happens to be a huge fan of no-code tools. Jason is a CPA in Salem, Oregon. He's a principal at Brenner LLP by day and accounting tech enthusiast by night. Jason spent his first 10 years in the tax profession and has now spent the last five years running a remote CAS team, working with staff and clients across the country.

Jason is especially interested in the intersection of the accounting industry and emergent technology—and, specifically, how we can turn the automation doom and gloom narrative on its head and show accountants how to proactively leverage new technology.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How to use no-code tools to scale operations (because the more efficient the workflow, the more clients you can serve with the same staff, and the more profitable you can be)
  • Using no-code tools to automate workflow—both internal AND with clients
  • How to leverage automated technology so client communication feels really personal

Links

Episode Transcript

Jason Staats (00:00):

I think the notion that you eventually get to the right spot and then that's how it's going to be forever, I don't know that that's realistic anymore as the rate at which things are changing accelerates. So it's kind of having a different mindset about change itself. And then definitely trying to find the people that thrive in that sort of environment.

Susan Boles (00:22):

Software has come a long way in the last decade or so. When I started my first business as a professional organizer in 2006, it was pretty manual. Back then my business systems consisted of a website, I think maybe it was Weebly, Quicken, a Label Maker, some file folders and printed out checklists. I needed physical signatures on all of my contracts. I took checks as payment because well, there wasn't an easy way to process credit cards. It was pre-Stripe and pre-Square. I had a fax number, even when I started at ScaleSpark four years ago, the world of apps and software tools was still pretty untapped and unknown. Knowing that Zapier existed and being able to harness its power to connect two apps together, made it seem a little bit to my clients, like I had superpowers. I'm Susan Boles, and you're listening to Break the Ceiling. The show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit and increase your operational capacity.

Susan Boles (01:26):

Now it might seem like it was a simpler time before. We didn't have to know about all the new bells and whistles. There was less to keep up with and our systems were inherently simpler, but they were also cumbersome inefficient, expensive. And the idea of building a software tool around exactly what you needed it to do was only available to big companies with big custom development budgets. Now we have apps and tools that can solve just about any problem in your small business, with a click of a button, pretty inexpensively. We can automate and streamline our workflows and take advantage of technology to operate a very lean, very profitable service business, using tools that you don't need a degree in coding to figure out. I'm talking about no code or low code tools, which means that the tools have been built specifically to enable you, someone with no background or experience in building software to build your own custom tools.

Susan Boles (02:30):

Some of these tools, you might be pretty familiar with. Tools like Airtable , Webflow, Zapier, ClickUp, the list is pretty long now, but what it means for you is the ability to customize the tools you use in your business to exactly your specifications and needs. And those tools are very, very powerful when it comes to operating a service business. They can be the key to you taking some time off and knowing that your systems are still flowing, clients are still being taken care of. Your team knows exactly what to do. When really harnessed no code tools can be the thing that lets you scale to two million plus with two team members. I've seen it happen. And all this month, we're going to be talking about the different ways you can harness these no code tools to increase your operational capacity, attract new clients and add new evergreen revenue streams, and ultimately grow your business.

Susan Boles (03:31):

And to kick us off, I brought one of my accounting friends who also happens to be a huge fan of no code tools. Jason Staats. Jason is a CPA in Salem, Oregon. He's a principal at Brenner, LLP, which is an accounting firm by day. And he's an accounting tech enthusiast by night. Jason spent his first 10 years in the profession in tax and now has spent about the last five years running a remote accounting team, working with staff and clients across the country. He's especially interested in the intersection of the accounting industry and emergent technology. Specifically, how we can turn the automation kind of doom and gloom narrative on its head and show accounts how to proactively leverage new technology. And as you may have heard me talking about here on the show before, accounting is one of those industries that is ripe for automation. There's a lot of work that's pretty much the same and you do it over and over.

Susan Boles (04:26):

So if you think about preparing someone's taxes, it goes a little bit like this. You request the documents from the client, you review them, you load everything into the tax software, you create the return, you get them to sign the return, you process the payment, you e-file the return and then repeat again next year. Now this is a simplified version, of course, but there's a lot of time spent on collecting information and then following the same process over and over. And that's probably not all that different from your business either. You probably spend a lot of time collecting information, putting it into your systems and then using that information to do what you need to do. And that means it's a place where technology can step in. Not to replace the job of the accountant or have an administrative assistant, but to take out the boring administrative stuff that's not actually what that person is there to do, which they're there to provide their expertise.

Susan Boles (05:20):

And one of Jason's focuses at his accounting firm is on figuring out ways to harness no code and low code tools to make that workflow more efficient because the more efficient the workflow, the more clients you can serve with the same amount of staff and the more profitable you can be. Jason's built some really cool tools that apply not just to accounting and bookkeeping, but will also hopefully generate some ideas for you and your business about where there are potential opportunities to improve your internal processes. Hey, Jason, thanks so much for being here today.

Jason Staats (05:54):

You bet. This is going to be fun. I'm looking to this, I'm a big fan of your pod. So this is going to be super fun.

Susan Boles (06:01):

Yeah, I'm excited too. So I know that you have done a ton of work at your accounting firm using no code or low code tools to kind of streamline, automate workflows and that you've been sharing that publicly.

Jason Staats (06:15):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (06:16):

But you're really doing what I like to call productizing delivery. So you're turning the delivery of client services into this product that can be replicated or automated. So tell me some of, either your favorite or the most effective projects that you've implemented in or invested in.

Jason Staats (06:36):

Oh, where to start, in my industry in accounting, there's always a talent shortage. There's a shortage of people with really good technical tax knowledge. And I think... And so how we started out on this path was almost out of necessity. So how do we systematize as much as possible? Because I think if you don't systematize, you rely on expertise to kind of fill in the gaps. So if there's a big difference that it's made for us, it's really in our ability to find the talent that we need to serve client we've got, 3,500 clients across the country. And our technical staff is the one that bears the brunt of what makes us unique and what makes us really good at the technical stuff. And so what it's enabled us to do kind of pivoting towards productization is rely less on that expertise, which is limited and really hard to find and carve out the aspects of what we do that aren't really technical so that we can do a better job for our clients and let our technical staff focus on the stuff they're really good at.

Susan Boles (07:59):

I think you shared it on Twitter, one of the workflows that you kind of posted how you do it is, was automating communication around following up with clients and managing client communication, both requesting documents, but kind of just a, "Hey, we did your taxes last year. What about this year?" And I think in the accounting industry, certainly something I've noticed as an accounting client is that there's a real lack of going out and getting sales or continuing to communicate with clients. And so I love the aspect of how you manage to kind of automate that, to make sure that it is one, both happening. But two that it's happening really effectively. So can you talk a little bit about that one?

Jason Staats (08:50):

Yeah. Email marketing tools have come such a long ways and you can do really cool kind of journeys that are contextual based on, did somebody open the email? Did somebody click on a link in the email? And it's something that's leveraged right now by advertisers, but has so many applications beyond generating sales. Specifically in an accounting firm there's a few times a year where we send out a blanket email to several thousand clients, the normal kind of annual stuff like here's kind of the to do list, here's where you sign your engagement letter, that sort of thing. And across really any size client base, the amount of work that just goes into following up with those people and making sure they did this to do that they forgot is crazy if you think about it. And it turns out this is actually a great application for these kinds of automated journeys, is we can kind of set up this branching logic based on what they've done and what they haven't done.

Jason Staats (09:59):

If they haven't even opened the email after a couple of weeks, we can resend that email automatically. And then if they haven't opened that in a week, we can ping an admin person to give them a call and say, "Hey, what's the best email to reach at." So it's a really interesting technology, but it's not really being leveraged by anybody outside that marketing bubble right now. And so for me here in just the next couple of weeks, we're really looking at tax planning, making sure everybody's tax is paid in before the end of the year. And that's a similar process where we kind of put that email out there, because we've got to gather some information from our clients, but how can we do that to a decent number of people without having technical accountants or me spending time figuring out, "Okay, who's gotten us this? Who hasn't gotten us anything? Who do I need to send a followup email to?"

Jason Staats (10:51):

That's not adding value to anybody if I'm spending my time on that. So it's a great example of a way you can use tech that isn't dehumanizing because that's really not a valuable part of the process.

Susan Boles (11:05):

Yeah. And I love the idea of using the software that most of the time we think about email marketing software as marketing software, specifically to write to our lists or keep folks nurtured. And I love the idea of using it to really help streamline the transactional part of client services, where a lot of the times we're all working with clients and we have to get this piece of information or what do you think about this? And being able to leverage technology like convert kit or active campaign marketing software that really lets you build those workflows and communicate in a really, like you mentioned, a really human way. It doesn't have to be impersonal and transactional. It can be personal and high touch. But that doesn't have to happen on an individual basis. It can be high touch, it can feel high touch without personally sending that email to everybody.

Jason Staats (12:10):

Yeah. And I mean, it's virtually any service business experiences this. And when you really dig into the types of communications you have on an ongoing basis, there's so many recurring requests and just tracking down information. It's helpful for me if I kind of Value Map that whole process and say, "Okay, of all of the things that myself or my accountants are doing or asking for, how much of that is just administrative." I need this thing from you. I need that thing from you. We built another framework in an Airtable basically that tracks recurring and one off client requests for these things that maybe we don't have a way to get them automatically every month or every quarter. So we just need them to provide that to us. And so we basically got a database set up and then based on the date we want those requests to go out, we dynamically generate type forms for those clients that ask all those requests in a single form.

Jason Staats (13:17):

And then kind of in a similar way, it'll follow up with them if they haven't gotten that stuff to us. Because a mass very many clients and you're in an industry like ours, where you can't automate all that data collection automatically before you know it, you've got people whose full time job is just pestering their clients for information. And nobody enjoys that soul sucking for my team and for the client. Nobody likes that.

Susan Boles (13:46):

Well, and you're, you're wasting your team's expertise on something that really a human does not need to be doing.

Jason Staats (13:52):

Right.

Susan Boles (13:53):

So one of the other things that I think is really interesting that you've been doing is automating reporting, a little bit automating some dashboards, some clients snapshots. Can you talk a little bit about that process and kind of what drove you to do that and how you actually executed it?

Jason Staats (14:13):

Yeah. So this is probably, I was working on this just this morning with my team. I'm probably most excited about this right now. So if you think about the normal cycle of advising your clients or the people in your community, whoever it is, there's normally kind of that cyclical feedback loop where you're meeting with them every month, every quarter. And there's usually some sort of set of KPIs. The goals that you keep coming back to, to see are you hitting your targets, what's happening that is keeping you from doing that. And usually that's looking back on previous period of results to see if you hit those targets. And that's good. And I think honestly, 90% of businesses still aren't doing that. But when you get there, the business owner that you're usually talking with, they're not the sole owner of that KPI.

Jason Staats (15:09):

Usually there's other people, other influences that are impacting that result. And so in some ways, a lot of times it can actually put undue pressure on the business owner to assume ownership of all of these responsibilities simply because the reporting comes back on them. So something that we're doing we're calling scorecarding is we're generating very small, very simple scorecards on oftentimes a daily basis for all of the stakeholders that are involved in those KPIs. So if you have 10 KPIs, upstream of each of those KPIs, there's probably five or 10 stakeholders that are doing things that impact that KPI result. Well, it's a lot better to distribute ownership of that result across all of those people. But normally it would be a tremendous amount of work to do, any sort of reporting on a shorter turnaround so what we're actually doing is we're leveraging an Image Generation APIs. And so we've got these kind of scorecards that go out to everybody and then an admin person at the business either upload the CSV of the results every day, or fills out an Airtable form.

Jason Staats (16:31):

That data comes into the system. And then Integromat automatically sends out all of those scorecards to everybody involved, via SMS or a Slack channel or email or whatever makes the most sense. And that's totally automated. So the only input there is the person providing that data, and then that scorecarding goes out. And it's a way of kind of distributing ownership of those KPIs. And if you think about what that advisory relationship looks like, I mean, it's tremendously valuable to our clients because it's actually happening every day. People are taking ownership, it's an opportunity for the business owner to be explicit about here's exactly what I need from you every day. And we're able to do it in an automated way, whereas before it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to do that.

Susan Boles (17:29):

Yeah, absolutely. So what tools are you actually using to do that? You're doing Integromat, Airtable.

Jason Staats (17:38):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (17:39):

You mentioned the Image Generation APIs, is that [inaudible 00:17:42]?

Jason Staats (17:42):

Bannerbear, yes.

Susan Boles (17:44):

Bannerbear.

Jason Staats (17:44):

So the data comes in via Airtable and that's client facing. So the completes the Airtable form, and then it basically pings Integromat when that form has been completed, when there's a new record there. And then Integromat hands that data off to Bannerbear, which is the Image Generation APIs. So basically Bannerbear is just a way to design a visual template with variables and those variables can be numbers, those variables can be images. So for example, if we're comparing this week's result to the previous result, I can have an image in there that's like a green up arrow versus a down red arrow. So it's like the whole scorecard you can kind of design in a dynamic way. And then Bannerbear hands that image back to Integromat. And then depending on the recipient, which I've got stored in another Airtable base, it goes out tO, via SMS through Twilio or to a Slack channel, email or something like that. That's the really nerdy, nuts and bolts. The exciting thing to me is it's quick to set up for clients. We can actually set up the scorecards in a bespoke way pretty quickly.

Jason Staats (19:07):

And the cost to generate an image is a quarter of 1 cent. So the arbitrage on that, if you think about the value of the reporting to your clients is pretty wild, but it's becoming kind of almost an essential part of our advising kind of feedback loop.

Susan Boles (19:30):

Yeah, absolutely. So I think the other project that I've seen you share that I think is really interesting because we are all completely exhausted by the multitude of Zoom calls. We're all having to be on now, is that you have been using Miro, which is kind of a collaboration software. Originally it started as like a flow charting software, I think is how most people kind of think about it. But you have been using this for interactive meetings. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Jason Staats (20:01):

Yeah. Miro is really interesting. So I was talking with their community manager the other day and she was telling me they actually started out as a tool for role playing games.

Susan Boles (20:11):

Okay.

Jason Staats (20:11):

So it started out with a very, very specific type of user base. And then they kind of pivoted to flow charting. And now I don't know what you call them, because it's basically-

Susan Boles (20:24):

[inaudible 00:20:24].

Jason Staats (20:24):

-Just an infinite canvas where you can do all the normal flow chart type things, but you can also embed things into it. So you can embed an Airtable base or something like that into it. So it's really interesting. I got turned on to by their, they have a user group playlist on their YouTube where people do some really, really interesting things. You can kind of design these whole sort of experiences that you go through with your team. That is just so much better than a boring Zoom meeting. So for example, if you're going to have a meeting on a certain topic with your team and work together to try to kind of figure out a problem, you can either sit around and talk about it on Zoom and everybody else has probably been on Zoom all day and they're kind of fried. Or you can visually figure out what's the best way and kind of in a tactile way to work through the problem in Miro together. And we're all still on Zoom talking to each other, but you can see everybody's cursors working in Miro.

Jason Staats (21:34):

You can see everybody throwing, post its up different places and jotting down notes and everything's happening simultaneously. So it's actually massively more efficient too than kind of throwing the ball around and talking through that stuff. But it's fascinating, you can get entire templates that people have spent tons of time on, and you can play monopoly, you can do Kanban. It's like everything you can imagine. My use case is we virtually never do just Zoom meetings anymore. We almost always do Miro as well, so that everybody's engaged and involved in the process. It's actually got some really fascinating client facing applications as well. And so we're doing some kind of some process discovery because we've learned that something that we're pretty good at is helping people with their processes and automate that stuff.

Susan Boles (22:34):

Cool. Yeah. I think the applications that you can apply to these no code tools within a business are really unlimited and super interesting.

Jason Staats (22:47):

Yeah.

Susan Boles (22:50):

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Susan Boles (23:59):

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Susan Boles (24:59):

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Susan Boles (25:16):

Talk to me a little bit about kind of the overall impact of having invested in this kind of technology for your firm. What impacts have you seen financially, operationally, scaling ability? What does that look like for you?

Jason Staats (25:31):

It's admittedly a tough thing to approach in a way that's going to work for everybody. So we have something like 35 people in our firm now. And it's definitely a process to get people thinking in terms of what's possible. Because it can't... I think if there's one big change no code is going to force it's that, in the past you had your CTO, there was the tech person, and then there was everybody else. And Airtables funding round us last week, they said, "We're pushing forward with the vision that we're all developers." And so that's the big change I think, is that everybody needs to kind of be on that journey. Not that they're going to be exceptional with every single tool, but they at least need to have enough of an understanding to identify the opportunities.

Susan Boles (26:30):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jason Staats (26:31):

And that's probably the most profound impact you can have. We're kind of headed into this, the sort of personal productivity age, where people are in Zapier for this and that, and starting to do these things that make themselves significantly more efficient. And so if I can make myself twice as efficient in 18 months, man, I can't be the CTO on the sideline that's reserving that for myself. That's something that everybody needs to learn how to do. So that's the mindset I have. And so it's a long journey because you've got people on different ends of the spectrum in terms of their comfort level with this sort of thing. But I think if you're really leveraging it it's something that becomes kind of a culture of your business is people having an understanding of this stuff, which takes time. Otherwise you've got this little team of geeks like myself in the corner, kind of doing things that nobody else understands.

Jason Staats (27:37):

And if that's the case, I don't think you're really leveraging it to the potential that it can be leveraged. So it's interesting. I mean, there's so much changing so fast. We're still learning how... We know how profoundly this is impacting us and that can extend to our clients. And I think it's probably just a matter of time. So we kind of have the privilege right now of being the one to introduce our clients to that. And so you kind of got to rack your brain to figure out what's the best way to start your clients that you work with on this journey. Because the type of games we can see in our business would be massively beneficial to our clients. So it's kind of a paradigm shifting concept, I think. And so it's not as simple as flipping a switch and saying, "Okay, you're going to be the no code person." I think it's more than that. And everybody has to kind of play a part in it.

Susan Boles (28:42):

Yeah. And I think when you expose kind of the organization as a whole, to the potential of these kinds of tools, you get some really creative and interesting ways that you can think about using them that maybe, you wouldn't have thought of because it doesn't necessarily apply to your part of the workflow or your job. I think when everybody kind of understands how much potential you can get from using no code tools, it's just mind blowing what people can come up with.

Jason Staats (29:11):

Yeah. I think the flip side of that, so RPA, Robotic Process Automation, I think that's what it is. It's been around for five or so years. And it's a really, really cool technology that lets you build kind of bots to manage things on your desktop. But the adoption has been really, really slow and the approach in the RPA industry has been, you got to designate a couple implementation champions and then they kind of sit and watch over everybody else's shoulder to see what they do. And it hasn't caught on because I don't feel like that's a way that you're really going to initiate change. I think it's something that needs to be to democratize more than that. Rather than, somebody recording everything they do all day long and then somebody trying to come along after the fact and capture the nuance of that. I don't think that's realistic. So it's a whole kind of journey that we're all on and on different places on that journey. But as a service business that advises other clients, what an awesome opportunity to be the one to introduce them to that concept.

Susan Boles (30:24):

Yeah. I mean, that's absolutely my favorite part of my job. So how do you kind of approach new projects, new ideas when it comes to implementing them and how do you kind of manage the change? How do you manage that push pole of always trying to be more efficient and get more efficient with processes constantly changing and people being uncomfortable with things changing.

Jason Staats (30:52):

Yeah. The people is a big part of it. I've learned you have to try to identify the people that thrive in kind of a culture of change for sure. And so having made the mistake of hiring people that are not that way, it's something that's become very important when we're adding anybody to the team. But I think the rate at which things are changing right now is the problem or the opportunity depending on how you look at it. So the old model of top-down organizational tech is kind of out the window. The notion that we're going to get to the right solution and then that's going to be it, we're going to stop there. I think the rate at which things are changing that's no longer realistic. The other thing that you have, is you have almost a bottom-up tech adoption opportunity. So you've got these kind of unicorns that can leverage tools and be exponentially more productive on a bottom-up basis. But then how do you manage that organizationally from security standpoint, stuff like that.

Jason Staats (32:11):

It's a why in my mind, it's a great rationale for why smaller kind of more agile groups are always going to be more capable than the big kind of enterprise groups. But it's rather than you kind of have to come out of the model of, okay, we're going through a period of change, changing this thing. And three to six months we'll be done. I think you have to come out of that model and accept that change is just part of your business. And there's people that own change, there's people that are looking at identifying the most high value change. Because you can only do so much at a time, but that's kind of just another vertical of your business now.

Susan Boles (32:54):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jason Staats (32:54):

I think the notion that you eventually get to the right spot and then that's how it's going to be forever. I don't know whether that's realistic anymore as the rate at which things are changing accelerates. So it's kind of having a different mindset about change itself. And then definitely trying to find the people that thrive in that sort of environment.

Susan Boles (33:19):

So as you have kind of automated things and pulled things out for administrative tasks for computers to help you kind of implement.

Jason Staats (33:32):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (33:32):

Have you encountered a lot of resistance from folks where you're taking away part of their job? This is our fear that they keep telling us that we're all going to lose our jobs to automation. And while I don't actually believe that's true, I think we'll lose the boring parts of all of our jobs.

Jason Staats (33:48):

Yeah.

Susan Boles (33:50):

Have you encountered a lot of resistance when you're like, "Hey, we're going to automate this process so you don't have to do it anymore." To people feel like you're taking part of their jobs or how have you managed that kind of communication transition piece.

Jason Staats (34:04):

Yeah. If you look at it two different ways with kind of that RPA example I gave, if you look at it as here's this wizard that's going to sit over your shoulder and figure out how to automate what you're doing versus here's this really compelling new technology that I want to come alongside you and help you learn, I think it kind of takes care of that problem because it's not a... We've got a few wizards in the corner that are going to do all of this and we'll see who we need. We'll see who we need after we've got it all rolled out. It's not like that. The way I talk with my team is... Unfortunately in our profession and accounting kind of from the day you entered the profession, you're measured just based on your output. And that's not something that's just unique to accounting, but anything that's going to just increase your output in general, whether you're a solo, small business owner, whether you're working for the man, that's what gives you that space and freedom to have time to do other challenges and that sort of thing.

Jason Staats (35:15):

So the way I talk with my team is we always have to be investing in ourselves. It's easy to get sucked into. And a lot of times easier to get sucked into the hustle and bustle of doing whatever our clients ask us to do. But every week you need to be carving out time to kind of invest in yourself and work on the aspects of what you do that are painful, that you can kind of iterate on and improve a little bit with each iteration.

Susan Boles (35:51):

Yeah. And I always love pitching it as the, "Hey, this is going to make your job easier and it's going to make you have to do the part that you hate less frequently."

Jason Staats (36:00):

Yeah, totally. Yeah. And the scorecarding example is totally an example of something that's new, that was never done before that's making people better at their jobs. So there's also tech that is simply going to be adding things, not necessarily eliminating a function. But the scorecarding is a great example of this is information we just never had before. And it's not only going to make the business owner more successful. It's going to enable all of the stakeholders to be in better alignment so that in theory everybody is producing and in better alignment about what the expectations are for them. And that's a win for everybody.

Susan Boles (36:44):

Yeah, I totally agree. So if you had to pick a favorite no code tool or a few favorites, if you can't pick just one, what would your favorite tool be?

Jason Staats (36:54):

Oh man.

Susan Boles (36:56):

I know it's a super hard question.

Jason Staats (36:57):

It is. So I think Zapier is the best place to start when you're learning about API integration. But my favorite is Integromat because it is like Zapier and that it's doing the same things, but it's a more visual workflow. So building more complex, kind of branching logic is a lot easier in Integromat. It's also a lot cheaper, like any sort of production or a scale that you're using it for, Integromat is just ridiculously inexpensive, given the value that it can give you. So that's kind of the backbone of what we do. And then we also do a lot of stuff in Airtable. So Airtable, we find ends up being kind of the glue for a lot of things because the world we live in runs on databases. Virtually all of the systems we use are backed up by a flat database.

Jason Staats (37:55):

And so as we're kind of stitching things together that are bespoke applications, you almost always need some sort of database to track who are all the people this is supposed to be sent out to. And what's the Slack channel ID that it needs to go to, or the SMS number you need to send it to, that's all stuff that you need some sort of database to back. And so we almost always find ourselves pulling in Airtable for that sort of thing.

Susan Boles (38:23):

Yeah. I have a similar, there are some, where I keep going, "Oh, maybe I can move this off of Airtable into its own platform, like ClickUp." There's some stuff where like I absolutely adore ClickUp. It's probably my favorite. But there are some things where you still... Like Custom fields. You still can't stick it in there with the API. And I fall back to Airtable as the default on just about anything that I'm trying to get to keep data on. So I completely agree with you there.

Jason Staats (38:57):

Yeah, and this is [inaudible 00:38:57].

Susan Boles (38:59):

And I think the announcements are so exciting. Yes, I was.

Jason Staats (39:02):

Geeking out on ClickUp, how weird is that?

Susan Boles (39:05):

Yeah, I'm really excited to check out the new Airtable automations and see kind of what that capability really is.

Jason Staats (39:15):

Yup. Yup.

Susan Boles (39:17):

So what's a technology trend that you're really excited about or kind of most interested to see what happens with?

Jason Staats (39:23):

Oh probably just kind of the democratization of Bespoke software development. The kind of... Notion in the past was that building products was reserved for big companies. Because you had to have a big development budget. You had to have a team to manage it and all of that. But when you break that down and anybody can build Bespoke applications, what does that kind of universe look like? For me, the age old hustle of the accounting firm has always historically been trading time for money. And I'm a big advocate of getting away from that with value billing and stuff like that. But the other dimension to look at there is for any service business, you've got kind of a spectrum of what you're selling. It can be on the service end of the spectrum or the product end of the spectrum.

Jason Staats (40:23):

And so over time, I think of that as kind of two different lines for your business, how do you over time build the product aspect of your business without undermining the human element that comes with the service business. But historically, there's been a notion that building products is for the big players and we're here to be the human beings. But I think now that's open to anybody. So I'm really interested in the idea of a building products, the scorecarding is a great example. It's something we don't have to spend any time managing that provides a tremendous amount of value. So I'm interested in service businesses to a degree kind of getting into the product game because they see the really niche issues that their clients have. They understand the nuance that some other big company will not understand because it's going to be different person to person, industry to industry. So tech enabling productization is something that I'm excited about.

Susan Boles (41:30):

Cool. Yes. So is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on yet?

Jason Staats (41:35):

Yeah. I think we touched on everything, no code is something that I am really into. I think it has applications to just about anybody. That's kind of front of mind for me, even though I wear the CPA hat all day long. I think it's something that's hugely relevant and what I do, but to all my clients too. So that's the big thing for me right now.

Susan Boles (41:58):

Awesome. So where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?

Jason Staats (42:04):

So I spend most of my time in three places. First is on Twitter, JStaatsCPA, S-T-A-A-T-S. Second, I've got a... It's an accounting tech discovery newsletter launchfa.com And then lastly, I'm building a community for accounts and advisors to do just kind of the stuff that we're talking about, like work together to learn no code, to build stuff like that, scorecarding framework together. I think left our own devices, we do a lot of the same things in parallel, whereas we could be building really robust versions of these things working together and that kind of helps everybody. So anyway, so I'm building a community kind of around that concept called Realize, and that's at rlz.io.

Susan Boles (42:55):

Awesome. Thanks so much for being here.

Jason Staats (42:58):

You bet this was fun.

Susan Boles (43:01):

As you can tell from our discussion, the potential to use these kinds of tools to manage both internal and external workflows is kind of unlimited. But if you're just thinking about getting started, don't try and do everything all at once because you'll just get super overwhelmed. Just look at one piece of your process and see if there's a way to deliver that more efficiently. Like Jason and I talked about, could you start automating some communication? You probably don't need a new software for that. Most of us already use an email marketing platform or at a minimum we have an email provider. So I'll use an example from ScaleSpark. So when you buy an action plan, you book through Calendly that allows you to both pay for the service and to schedule the interview call. Then I use Zapier to send an email with instructions about how the process work.

Susan Boles (43:49):

It requests key pieces of information like access to the accounting and the project management tools. And it includes a link to the onboarding questionnaire. That's hosted on paper form, which is a Form software. So within just a few minutes of purchasing, my client gets all the information they need to get started on collecting and sending me everything I need to get to work. And I haven't lifted a finger to make it happen. I could have been on client calls all day or out of the office, sitting on a beach and the process still happens. Every client gets the same information. So I never forget to mention anything or forget to ask for a piece of information that I need from them. And they don't have to wait for me to have time to send them that email, but can just jump right in when they are most excited about getting to work.

Susan Boles (44:35):

And every time I run through the process, I can improve that email slightly. Maybe there's an opportunity to clarify something or answer a question that came up so that I can proactively answer the next client's questions before they even have them. And my process improves iteratively over time. Now that's just one piece of that process, that communication piece, but there's also a bunch of internal stuff that happens. My client and the project templates get created inside of ClickUp. My client folders and templates get created inside of Google Drive. But all that evolved, it started as just a Calendly link that made it easier for clients to pay and pick a time to do our interview. And over four years of offering the service, the process has improved. I've automated more of it. And now a lot of it is pretty hands off except for the actual work that I need to be involved in, that customized stuff.

Susan Boles (45:27):

The interview, the strategy, the stuff that only I can do. And between this and some of Jason's examples, these are really just scratching the surface of what you can do to automate your workflow and make it more efficient. The possibilities are only limited by what you can dream up here. But the real takeaway is that no code apps can really be an amazing tool that you can use to help raise that capacity ceiling in a pretty low cost, low effort kind of way. There's no need to hire and train someone or to create a new position. And once you've invested the effort one time to define the process and set it up, It runs whether you're in the office or out of it. It means your clients get a consistent level of service, great communication, and a quick response time. And your business becomes more resilient because these processes happen even if you have to take a sick day.

Susan Boles (46:19):

Next week, I'm talking to Brittany Berger all about how she uses no code software to build additional revenue streams for her business, add value to her community and make her own life easier. So hit subscribe on your favorite podcast player. So you don't miss it. Break the Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin. Production coordinator is Lou Blazer. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt, with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.


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