How Miss Efficiency found freedom through flexibility (despite scary challenges)
Building a business should be centered around living a fulfilling life—not the other way around.
When Sarah Stein started Miss Efficiency over 20 years ago, it wasn’t a choice: it was a necessity. She wanted to be there for her family, and it had to be on her terms.
Fast forward to the present day, and Sarah has a team of seven working across four Australian states. But most importantly, she’s been able to be there for her kids the whole time.
A bookkeeping firm based in Queensland, Australia, Miss Efficiency’s focus is on handling the numbers, so their clients have the peace-of-mind to focus on other things.
“We consider ourselves to be our clients’ outsourced accounts department, or their virtual CFO,” says Sarah. “We take that burden away so they can concentrate on their business.”
Now, Miss Efficiency has about 90 clients across a variety of industries, although with a particularly high concentration in the professional services, construction, and health and fitness sectors.
More about Miss Efficiency: Prioritizing family, health, values and finding the right clients
In 2002, Sarah approached her then employer and asked for the option to work from home when she had children. She valued spending time with them above everything else, and knew she could make it work.
But her employer said no. So the following day, Sarah resigned.
A few months later, Miss Efficiency was operating. And by the time she welcomed her first child, Sarah had built a business with good clients, fantastic staff, and strong systems.
“That initial vision of being at home and working around my family has always been there, no matter how my business has changed. That’s always been the one goal and we’ve done it really well.”
The health scare that challenged the status-quo
Miss Efficiency has gone through many phases since 2002, but none were quite as transformative as what happened in 2021. And no, it wasn’t a pandemic.
Sarah suffered a heart attack that forced her to stop working for six weeks.
Thanks to her focus on building a great team with solid processes, the firm continued to operate and her clients remained happy.
“I’ve always been very systems-focused but this completely brought to the forefront how super important it is,” she says.
Sarah Stein, owner of Miss Efficiency, and her family.
This was a period that afforded Sarah the chance to reassess priorities, and specifically, the amount of time she was spending at work. So she cut her hours from what were sometimes 12-hour days to 6 or 7 and is moving away from the day-to-day functions of her firm—knowing her team has it covered.
The values that the team work (and live) by
Miss Efficiency operates under five clear values that her team embodies. They inform the way they communicate with clients and each other.
Generosity is nurturing relationships through kindness
Trust means consistently following through with care and integrity
Empathy shows a commitment to listen and understand
Respect is genuinely acknowledging the views of others
Resilience is to overcome challenges with courage and determination
“We use our values as an anchor,” Sarah says. “They’re where all our decisions and thought processes come from. When we’re having conversations with a potential client, if they don’t resonate with them, then maybe they're not going to be a good fit.”
Finding the right clients, wherever they are
Sarah focuses on clients she knows will work well with Miss Efficiency’s values and priorities.
“We don’t really focus on an industry as a niche. We prefer to work with a particular type of client, regardless of the industry that they’re in. They’re the ones who share our values, are passionate, and are happy to take recommendations and have conversations.”
Sarah wants to be able to talk with her clients about potential opportunities, and knows that sometimes being a bookkeeper is more than just the figures, it's about being someone that business owners can trust and talk to.
How Miss Efficiency use technology to gain flexibility and visibility
Sarah is under no illusions about the role of technology in the future of accounting.
“Technology is pivotal to our firm,” she acknowledges. “People say that your team is your number one asset—which I do believe. But I think the technology you have is just like another team member. It’s integral to the way we run our business.”
How Sarah built her own tech unicorn
Sarah has a pragmatic and well-informed view of tech in the industry. She knows there isn’t a one size fits all solution.
“People are looking for something that will do everything. And that’s like looking for a unicorn,” she says. “There is no tool that is going to do everything.”
Her solution is simple, and with Karbon’s integrations, it’s an easy one to implement.
“We patch things together. You’ve got a product like Ignition, that does what they do super well, and then Karbon who does their thing really well. Getting all these really great products working together will give you that unicorn.”
Unlocking the visibility to make informed decisions
Pre-Karbon, Sarah yearned for an overview of each client’s status. Now, with Karbon’s Kanban dashboard, she’s gone from 0 to 100% visibility.
“The Kanban board in Karbon has been a game changer for our business in terms of seeing what the team needs to do, including their visibility over their tasks and my visibility in knowing where things are at.”
Automation equals peace of mind
Having the right systems in place is a non-negotiable for Sarah, especially as she looked to transition away from everyday operations at Miss Efficiency.
Using Karbon’s workflow automation, Sarah’s built out work templates that outline a clear chain of tasks and responsibilities for when a piece of work kicks off.
“I love that we can have one team member start the work, then the automations will kick in and the work will flick over to somebody else who will do the next part.”
She uses Karbon in harmony with SweetProcess where she keeps detailed explanations of all the tasks, including Loom recordings and screenshots of what needs to be done.
“The SweetProcess files are linked into our Karbon work templates. The Karbon tasks have basic outlines of what needs to be done, including a link to very detailed explanations in Sweet Process.”
Never losing track and never losing touch with Triage
If there is one feature that endears Karbon the most to Sarah, it’s Triage.
“We’ve got a client who our team member Lauren works with on Thursdays and Fridays, but the client sends emails all the time that clog up her inbox. She doesn't want to leave them there because then things get missed,” Sarah says.
“With Karbon’s Triage, she can attach those emails to the relevant work item and she no longer needs to worry. She knows that when she jumps into that work on Thursday, all those emails will be attached to the timeline.”
“Triage is perfect for when you’re not ready to deal with an email now, but you need to know it’s not going to be left behind. With Triage, things don’t get lost in your inbox.”
Efficiency in business leaves more time for living
When Sarah started Miss Efficiency, she wanted to be able to spend time with her family. So, she got to work to make that a reality.
Now, she has a wonderful team at work and a wonderful family at home, the latter of which she is able to take on extended camping weekends each month (thanks to the former).
Her success has been partly due to effective tech and great clients, but mostly it’s down to her hard work, strong sense of personal belief, and the great team at Miss Efficiency.
In its 20th year of business, Miss Efficiency is the benchmark for doing the best at work to make the most out of life; they deliver great results for clients and lead fulfilling lives while they do it.
A self-sustaining firm that enables the owner to step away from everyday operations without sacrificing quality of service
Took visibility of client work progress from 0 to 100%
Standardized and documented critical workflows
About Miss Efficiency
Services: Data Entry & Bank Reconciliations, Payroll, Accounts Payable & Receivable, Reporting, Business Activity Statements
Location: Shailer Park, Queensland, Australia
Firm Size: 4-10 Employees
Years of Operation: 21 Years
Karbon User For: 2 Years, 11 Months
- A self-sustaining firm that enables the owner to step away from everyday operations without sacrificing quality of service
- Took visibility of client work progress from 0 to 100%
- Standardized and documented critical workflows