Glasgow native David Grace had been in the electronics business for 18 years when he decided to move to the United States in 1997. Uprooting oneself and starting fresh in another country is a massive decision, but David has a quick answer ready when I ask why.
“I really wanted to live somewhere warm,” he tells me with a hearty laugh.
David recalls that moving to an entirely different continent was a challenge at first. Thankfully, his wife, Fern, who is from just outside Baltimore, made the transition a lot easier.
A friend from across the pond also helped him set up his first business: a tea company. Unfortunately, his first foray into becoming a small business owner didn’t last long.
“It wasn’t commercially successful for us, which is just a nice way of saying we didn’t make any money out of it,” he explains.
There was a silver lining, however, because in the course of selling tea, David found a new passion: designing websites. He made the website for his tea company himself, and that first website sparked the birth of Abacus Web Services in 1999.
“There weren’t many people offering website services locally back then, so it was a great time to be a website developer,” David recalls. “Things were simpler back then. I could go to a meeting and pitch to a potential client, and they’d write a check for the initial deposit on the spot.
“Nowadays it’s way more competitive. It’s a much bigger market, but there’s also more competition.”
Streamlining the operation
With the website design industry becoming more and more crowded, Abacus’ development prices have always been under pressure. David found that he couldn’t charge as much as he used to, so his cost savings in the business had to come from somewhere else. Abacus had to become more efficient and more effective—and that’s where WORKetc comes in.
“In my business, I track time down to five or ten minutes,” David explains. “A client might come to me with different things five or six times in a month and I might only bill them for $90 for that month.
“Something like WORKetc makes it very easy for me to track and bill my time. I really needed something to do that, and I needed the interface to be quick. If the interface is too slow and I’m tracking eight minutes of time—which is under $10—I don’t want to spend two minutes entering that time.”
WORKetc also helped David optimize Abacus’ workflow. Part of that process involved finding and accessing important information quickly.
“For some of my projects, I charge clients on the clock,” he continues. “I don’t want to spend ten minutes looking for a piece of information or waiting for a page to load. It has to be quick, and WORKetc absolutely does that.”
David also highly appreciated the accessibility that a cloud-based app afforded him.
“I had been using CRM software for a while, so I’ve always had a way to collate information,” he tells me. “The big jump for me has really been the accessibility. It just freed me up from having to work all the time on a desktop computer.
“If I go for a meeting with a client, I can call up their information on my laptop. Even though I have a home office, some days I just like to go out and sit in a Starbucks somewhere and work. Because WORKetc is an online product, it’s given me a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility.”
Extra work pays off
David and Fern, who currently handles the sales and networking for Abacus, use almost all of WORKetc’s core modules on a daily basis. One particular feature that David has found very useful is recurring billing.
“I had always wanted WORKetc to, over the long term, be able to create recurring invoices for my monthly and annual services,” he explains. “I didn’t implement that on day one, but I actually have now. I’ve gone through a full-year cycle so they’re all in there now; all of my regular recurring items are actually in WORKetc.
“It took a while, but the extra work that I put in over the last year or so to get all that information in there is now paying dividends. It’s saving me time, and it’s making me more efficient.”
“For example, I used to do all the recurring stuff at the end of the month, but now I’ve set all the annual recurring items for the fifteenth of the month. I can now go into WORKetc on the fifteenth of any month, and all the recurring hosting and email items are already sitting in that unbilled area, so I can very quickly click through them and send them out.”
David adds that using the system as an invoice software has also helped speed up the entire Abacus billing process. He calculates that WORKetc has halved or even quartered the time he used to spend on sending out invoices.
“It used to take me so long to send out invoices,” he said. “I would procrastinate on doing them so they might go out on the seventh or the fifteenth of the month! Now that I have everything really well organized, I usually get the invoices out on the first or the second of the following month.
“Getting the invoices out faster means we’re also getting that cash in quicker. Also, since we bill a month early on recurring stuff, the quicker invoices give our clients time if they want to cancel or make changes to a service. They can tell me quicker if there’s a problem.
“WORKetc has taken our business process not just to the next level but a few more levels above it.”
Connect and communicate
Considering his background and his current business, it’s clear that David has an affinity for the more technical side of things. He concedes, however, that most of the time, the new toys or technologies he uses for Abacus are largely irrelevant in the eyes of his clients.
“Honestly, most of my clients couldn’t care less about the technology I use,” he states. “I deal with a lot of smaller businesses so they’re not always very technical. They’re only really interested in whether or not it works as a solution, so I always make it a point to make things very simple for them and help them through the process.”
Straightforward and simple communication—whether face to face, by phone, through email, or via texts—is a big part of David’s process. As he explains it, whenever a client comes to him and says “I want to do X,” his very first question is always “Why?”
“Empathy is a very important commodity in my business—as it should be in any business, really,” says David.
“I have to understand what they’re trying to achieve,” he continues. “I have to be able to tune in to their business pretty quickly. If I don’t do that, I won’t be able to help them well.
“I think that as a small company, if we couldn’t offer friendly, efficient service, we wouldn’t have been able to stick around for seventeen years. That’s what I want to always offer to my clients, and it’s actually one of the best things I like about WORKetc as well.
“The support team is always on point. They might not always be able to make everything the way I want it to be, but they’ve always been there for me. I can email them today, and they’ll respond quickly. If I need to schedule some time to get some help with something, they’ll absolutely do that with me.
“Not only is that the support that I want to give my clients, it’s also the type of support that makes me feel good about working with and recommending a company like WORKetc. Again, with a CRM, you don’t want to put all your information in it and start using it and then find out that the company behind it is just horrible to deal with. I’d just have to move on and take my business elsewhere.”
“Don’t be scared, the water is safe”
While preparing for this interview, I came across a recent study by research firm Clutch that found that nearly half of all small businesses in the United States still don’t have a website. Even more surprising, around 12% of the small business owners surveyed for the study didn’t plan on setting up a website in the near future.
“I’m still surprised by that statistic,” says David, who also posted about the study on the Abacus blog when I mentioned it to him. “Where I am, it feels like everybody has a website.”
“I think the number-one thing that’s keeping these small business from having their own websites is that they think it’s scary or expensive or whatever. It’s not. It really isn’t.
“This goes back to what I was saying about the web design industry becoming more and more competitive in recent years. There are now so many solutions that make it easier and quicker than ever for a web developer to build a site at a price that people can afford. There are even solutions out there that let them go and build their own websites if they have the time and ability to do so.
“So if you still don’t have a website, I think the best advice I can come up with is ‘Don’t be scared, the water is safe.’ Also, it’s 2016. There has to be a good reason why you don’t have a website or some sort of web presence because your competition does. You’re just missing out if you don’t.”