There was a time when Greg Jones considered creating his own brand of bookkeeping software.
But that idea fell by the wayside once Jones realized most business owners were already comfortable using mainstream accounting software. Adding one more to the mix seemed unnecessary.
So Jones did the next best thing: He created a back-end framework that made it possible for six commonly used programs — such as QuickBooks, Bill.com and Xero — to talk to one another.
“We thought, you might as well go where everybody’s already comfortable,” said Jones, who acquired BookKeeping Express, a network of national franchises, in 2007. “We wanted to make the system as hands-free as possible using new technology.”
BKE Connect, as the Tysons Corner-based company’s software is called, uses a Web-based “cloud” framework to manage balance sheets and payments. It took about four months for a team of three programmers to put together the back end of the system, which was completed in 2008. The software also culls clients’ online bank statements, credit-card accounts and other databases for financial information that can be plugged in to the system.
“The prevalence of online banking has really helped us become more efficient,” Jones said. “We can pull out any of the banking information we need without touching the end client.”
Eventually, the company plans to automate payroll payments and add tax- preparation services.
The model is a new one for BookKeeping Express, which was founded in 1984 and until recently relied heavily on certified public accountants and simple spreadsheets for its calculations. Now, with BKE Connect, much of that work is done automatically, over the Internet.
With 40 franchises throughout the United States, the company has about 1,000 clients. The bulk of BKE Connect users are businesses with less than $6 million in annual revenue.
Jones, the co-owner of the company, said demand for bookkeeping services has increased as more and more small businesses cut staff accountants to save costs.
“The majority of our clients, when they come to us, look at their books maybe two times a year,” Jones said. “But then fourth quarter rolls around and they start getting nervous because tax season is just around the corner.”
Jones would not disclose the company’s revenue figures, but he said that he expects sales to double every year between now and 2017. Monthly fees generally range from $200 to $1,000, although they vary from franchise to franchise and depend on the scope of the work.
Ken Fraine, who uses BookKeeping Express to manage finances at his two Reston-based companies, said the cloud-based system has made it possible for him to keep track of exactly how much money is available at any given time.
“Doing our bookkeeping internally wasn’t good enough,” said Fraine, who owns Drainage & Erosion Solutions and Soil & Structure Consulting. “The books weren’t in any sort of order. Our CPA couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. It was a mess.”
Fraine says he pays about $1,200 a month for BKE Connect to oversee the company’s balance sheets, payrolls and bill payments. His small administrative staff handles simpler duties, such as data entry and order processing.
“It took me a while to figure out what’s the best thing to have BookKeeping Express do, and what can my staff do,” Fraine said. “We’ve found a good balance — we indicate which bills should be paid in which order, but they actually cut the checks, mail the checks and make sure payroll is covered and our vendors [are] always paid.”
BKE Connect has a direct line to Fraine’s checking accounts and American Express statements. The software automatically updates the company’s files when a new transaction takes place.
“I save a lot of money because they don’t have to type all that information in,” Fraine said, adding that he can make adjustments as necessary. “We can log in and see all of our analytics in one place.”
Even so, Jones pointed out the need for personal interactions. He encourages franchise owners to sit down with clients once a month — or at least once a quarter — to discuss financials and point out areas of concern.
“Structurally, we built a company on technology from the get-go,” Jones said. “We have the tools and applications to provide information to the business owner in real time, but the human touch matters, too.”