The route from fledgling accounting firm to a tech-enabled practice can be long and arduous. But it’s not impossible.
The Practice Excellence Assessment is designed to reduce the stress of the journey by providing a framework accounting firm leaders can use to guide their way.
Practice Excellence is broken into four categories to better understand a firm’s performance: Strategy, Efficiency, Management, and Growth. After completing the assessment, firms are provided with an overall Practice Excellence Scorecard, highlighting strengths, areas for improvement (including resources to support this improvement), and how they compare against similar firms from across the globe.
An accounting firm with leading Practice Excellence scores is Colorado-based practice, Parable. Founders Jessica Daley and Greg Daley were invited to the inaugural Karbon X customer leaders summit to share their journey to Practice Excellence.
Although the business began as a small operation to keep stay-at-home mom Jessica afloat, it’s since evolved into a 28-person company serving churches across the US.
During Karbon X 2022, Karbon’s Senior VP of Customer, Andi Ancheta, sat down with Jessica and Greg to discuss their journey to Practice Excellence, including starting and growing the business, their challenges in trying to do too much, and putting the right people in the right seats for the future.
In 2011, Jessica and Greg were looking for a way to make $10,000 so that they could adopt a child. As a stay-at-home mom, Jessica wanted to find work that would fit into her lifestyle. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she started three businesses at the same time with the goal of keeping the one that performed best.
One of those businesses was a bookkeeping firm for small businesses and entrepreneurs, Xcelerate Business Solutions. Jessica’s background in accounting and finance shone and the business grew quickly. Maybe a little too quickly—giving the Daleys a set of tough choices.
“The business started growing and then we got three kids overnight,” Jessica recalls. “So we went from one to four children and I had enough clients that meant I was going to have to give up either the business or the children—and I couldn't give up the children.”
The Daleys felt they had a critical choice to make: Was Xcelerate going to be just a ‘business’ or a full-on ‘company’?
Having been a pastor for many years, Greg didn’t have a background in accounting or finance. Leadership was more of his natural strength. But in order to support their family of six, Greg also needed the flexibility that Jessica had with Xcelerate—so Jessica brought him on to support the business’ vision.
Jessica also needed more accounting help. She initially hired two working mothers who needed flexible arrangements, made possible by Xcelerate’s remote work approach. In this way, Xcelerate embraced remote work ahead of the curve.
“We needed to be remote for a couple of reasons: adoption requirements and travel,” Jessica explains.
“We were remote when it wasn't really cool or part of an accounting practice.”
The middle years were rocky, but important stepping stones on the way to Practice Excellence. One particularly notable moment: when Xcelerate started networking with other accountants and figured out what tech systems they used to manage their workflow.
Invigorated by all the ways they could be more efficient as a group, Jessica and Greg chose to implement seven new tech systems at the same time. One of those systems was Karbon.
“Back then, our name was Xcelerate. We really leaned into that name and accelerated things all the time,” Jessica says, describing that period as “chaos.”
Something else Jessica and Greg tried was a long trip to the Dominican Republic with their children, figuring it would expose some of the practice’s weaknesses.
Indeed it did: without their presence, contracts and proposals for new business fell by the wayside. That spurred them to make changes to the company’s structure.
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Faced with a variety of growth challenges, Jessica and Greg engaged a business coach and turned to the book Traction by Gino Wickman to refine their business model.
“Traction allowed us to put people in the right boxes, so that when people have different career paths and want to take different opportunities, they are able to do that within the organization,” Jessica says. “It's a very fluid movement instead of [the mindset that] ‘If I want an opportunity, I just need to leave.’”
In 2021, Xcelerate underwent another transformation—an even bigger one than before.
First, it rebranded from Xcelerate to Parable, focusing solely on churches as its target market.
Then Jessica and Greg made some hard decisions on who belonged in the future of Parable. They ultimately concluded that they could no longer rely on a patchwork of part-time people. Instead, they needed their best employees to become full-time and commit more deeply to the company.
The decision didn’t come easily, especially given their close relationships with each employee. For instance, one employee they let go was Greg’s aunt.
Having hard conversations with long-time employees was a painful but essential part of Parable’s journey towards excellence. But Jessica and Greg knew that the changes had to happen in order to move forward.
“Some people don't want to grow because what they hear is ‘That's more work for me.’ And so you have to frame growth in a way that's aligned with vision and where we're headed,” Greg explains.
Because of these changes, Greg and Jessica were able to take on roles that better fit their current stages of life, putting the best leaders at the top of the organization instead. This allowed them to reach Practice Excellence, where the firm can operate without being dependent on output from the firm owners.
During the seven system integration, the group struggled with Karbon and almost gave up entirely. But thanks to a close relationship with the Karbon customer success team, they were able to get the help they needed (plus provide some valuable feedback to Karbon along the way).
“Seeing the people that you partner with as not just technology vendors, but as partners that are actually real people opens a lot of doors,” Greg shares. “Karbon has always been that for us—a partnership.”
This type of collaboration is at the heart of Practice Excellence: being an advocate to help firms level up and flourish in what they do best.