Automation in small businesses is like the… peanut butter and jelly of.. automation.. applications. This week, special guest Mitchell Baldridge shares how he automates his small businesses.
Now Jake McCringleberry? Being named Mayor of AutomationTown? This isn’t good. In fact it’s very bad. The crew explores what’s next for AutomationTown, and how to unwind this mess.
Now Jake McCringleberry? Being named Mayor of AutomationTown? This isn’t good. In fact it’s very bad. The crew explores what’s next for AutomationTown, and how to unwind this mess.
Olivia Look (Zapier Expert): https://twitter.com/0h_look
Zapier OpenAI: https://zapier.com/apps/openai/integrations
Mitchell Baldridge: https://twitter.com/baldridgecpa
Better Bookkeeping: https://www.betterbookkeeping.com/
Zapier Apps: https://zapier.com/apps
RSS Feed: https://t.jo.my/rss
Paul O'Mara - https://t.jo.my/paulomara
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What is AutomationTown?
Welcome to AutomationTown! A podcast about regular people, building automations for the problems we all share.
First time here? Start with S02E01 "For When You Need A Chatbot"
What are the things you do each day that you'd rather forget?
Chad & Jason explore common pain points for knowledge workers, and track down the people & tools necessary to automate trivial to-do's.
Previously on Automation Town Untitled Podcast. Walk me through the rationale again. Bad guys tried to bury us under the Grimley Center. Got it. We got out. Bad guys are probably mad hiding only. Seems like it'll work for so long. Welcome into automation. Uh, automation pod automation pod automation pod. We have got a bit of a story to tell.
We do, and we wanna explain why we're concerned that the mayor of our town isn't quite what she appears guys. It's the mayor. She's out as mayor. Is that, put that up on the tv. Why is Jake there? Great things are in store for the. Know that I will cherish those relationships. She's out forever. I think she resigned.
Yeah. You'll be in great hands with Mayor MCC Kringle Barry with that, I'll hand it over. Jake Automation town finds itself at an inflection point. Do you continue on the path of change, of pursuing the dangers of the unknown, or do you clinging to the safety of the way it's always been and it's with that eye on the.
And that steady hand that I look forward to serving the people of Automation Town as your new mayor.
Ah. Oh, how can, are you sure? I don't. Okay. Okay. Okay. See in a bit. Oh my goodness.
Chad speaking. Chad, I just talked with my tax accountant. Oh boy. It isn't good. Oh no. Can you gimme a leftover to firm my car? Well, I don't have a car yet right now. Yeah, Paul's here. Hi Jason. Just give us a few and we'll be right over. Okay, next. Okay, Paul, we've gotta wrap this up and go pick up Jason. I just, I feel like I'm so close, but I'm still getting a 400 response.
API calls are hard. You know what? I saw a friend of mine from high school the other day, and she's a certified Zapier expert. Let me give her a call real quick.
Hello, Olivia Paul. I'm trying to make an API call to open AI for this bot We're making Pat? Yeah, pat. But I keep getting a 400 response, like my API call isn't set up correctly or something. Did you try the open AI Zapier connector? Wait, that's a thing. Yeah, there's an official opening Eyes happier connector now, so you don't have to make a custom API call.
Oh my God. This is way better. Thanks, Olivia. You bet. See you Paul. What was I doing?
Hello? Olivia Mitchell. I have a client coming in and our appointments app through an error. I'm on it. I'll follow up. So should we reschedule the meeting then for Jason? Yes, because the automation broke. Mm-hmm. Gloria, he might just be the man for the job. Automation and small business are like, like the peanut butter and jelly of, uh, automation applications.
Delicious. This week's special guest, Mitchell Baldridge shares how he automates a small business and what's next for Automation Town. Now the check Mccr Barry's taking over as mayor. It's not good all this week on Automation Town.
You guys really need to get your own wheels. I told you my car wasn't insured. What I really need is a job. You ought to find us some advertisers for the pod Paul. Really? Automation pod. You don't think advertisers will be spooked by the entire, you know, premise of how the pod started. I don't know, Paul, tell Jason what you told me about the research you did.
So back in the 18 hundreds, automation town and manuals were, were both formed at the same time. So you were looking into the Jake for mayor. Yeah, so Automation Town in Manuel are kind of sister. They were formed at the same time by two groups of people, obviously one more forward thinking than the other.
And in the charter, for each town, it's written in some language about what could happen if something were to happen to one of the mayors, the order of succession, right? So if something happens to either town's mayor or they resign, the other town's mayor comes into power until a special election happens 90 days after the transition.
I guess Jake's only mayor for 90 days then, but in the meantime, he has all the powers and responsibilities of the mayor. So what can he get done in 90 days? He's gonna set our town back years. Today he proposed an excise tax on automated employees, excuse me. Yeah. He says that since workers' jobs are being eliminated by automation, the town can't assess as much payroll tax, so they need to do some special assessment to penalize the people who are trying to automate things.
Something like that. How would they even measure that? Anyway, I gotta go. How long do you think you'll be? As long as it takes to not have to pay this ungodly tax bill that I don't have the money for. Is that clear? I don't, I don't know how. Okay, I'll just wait indefinitely.
Baldridge and Associates are very professional.
Jason? Yes, Mitchell will be with you in just a moment, hun. Okay, thanks. Wow, this is kind of cool. Oh, Jason. Ah. Hi Mitchell. Gloria, add this to Jason's billing. Register right this way, Jason. So very professional. Huh? Uh. You should know. I don't like small talk. Okay. Yeah. Why should I be billing you for small talk when I'm enjoying it as much as you are?
Of course. Yes. That makes sense. You are the professional after all, and thankfully the only one who can get my tax bill down. I didn't say that. Don't hold me to that. I won't and I appreciate anything you can do, Chad. You know who would make a great mayor? Well, not Jake, you. Me? Yeah. You're just a straight shooter.
I feel like it takes a lot more to be a good mayor. I haven't slept for three days for starters, and I'm sure mayors get lots of sleep. It would be a great way to learn about the Capitol underground. Ooh. If you were the mayor, you get briefed on all that stuff. You're not wrong, but that sure feels like a roundabout way to get the information.
We're done. You're done. Hey, Mitchell, Baldridge, Balter Joint Associates. Chad Mitchell's automated a bunch of stuff in his accounting firm. Wow, that's awesome. Who says accountants are stuffy again? Mitchell doesn't like small talk, but I got to thinking, what if we have Mitchell on as a guest for the pod to talk small business automation?
I'm required to disclose this meeting would be outside the scope of my engagement with Mr. Stats and require a standalone engagement letter. Yeah, of course, of course. Yeah. We're all set up to record. If you're ready to go here. We've been recording here since the ground lake collapse. Ben, uh, who owns this?
Uh, I do. Do you maintain a mileage log? A what? And is this the primary business location? Your parking lot? Okay. Why? Why don't we just do the recording chat. If you wanna talk with Mitchell afterwards, I can let the two of you work that out. Okay. Take a seat right over here. Okay, Mitchell. No pressure. Just be yourself.
You ready to go? The clock hasn't stopped since we met. Okay. Okay, let's get to it, Paul, in three. Welcome in to Automation Pod. I'm Jason Stats. And I'm Chad Davis. And today we have a very special guest with us, Mitchell Baldridge, who runs a CPA firm in Automation Town. Welcome Mitchell. Thanks guys. It's great to be here today at the new Automation pod world headquarters.
Hmm. Oh, so Mitchell, tell us about yourself. I know you're on several businesses. Yeah, guys. Um, I do. Own a CPA firm, and then I'm a partner and investor and a cost segregation firm, and also have my own kind of standalone product out there. Better bookkeeping. Better bookkeeping. Is that like a service company or a like a software product?
It's a little bit of both. It's uh, definitely a managed service. We took Plat as the front end and have built our own accounting platform with the idea of servicing kind of small business owners and entrepreneurs and providing a bookkeeping experience that's, uh, a little bit better, so to speak, than what's out there.
We work with a lot of people who have S CORs or who have raised funding and are founders and yeah, started our own platform. And that's separate from the accounting firm? Yeah, it's a standalone deal. I have a partner in that, and it's my accounting firm. Like we have probably 150 clients. So we've, we've been a small firm that serves a kind of particular client, which is.
We work with a lot of real estate syndicators and general partners, and then we work with a lot of small business owners. But really, we're very kind of selective about who we take on and, and we just are a small business, so we haven't expanded a big firm. And so my idea with better Bookkeeping is let's like find a niche of people who can use this one product of I need bookkeeping, I need.
Programmatic tax planning and I want to be kind of taken care of throughout the year. And even that is growing, but small at this point. So yeah, they're separate businesses all together. Very cool. So you've got three different businesses. There's all kinds of stuff you're probably spending your time on, probably thinking about how to protect that time.
How'd you get started into the world of automation? You know, uh, it was probably getting into Twitter. And finding people like you and finding these tools out there like Airtable and Zappier and learning how to use 'em. I mean, I had always struggled in my core business, my initial c p A firm. We had tried all of these different CRM systems and document trackers and and tracking systems, and like every year we would wind.
Just getting a big whiteboard, pulling it out on the wall and writing everybody's name and where the project was. And so about two years ago, we got into hair table and built a custom kind of CRM that really changed the way. The firm works and got all the way into building a client portal and we were just kind of hooked from there.
So I have Jason Stats to think . Can I ask more about the portal? So you started with the CRM and air table. Is that a portal that you built over the top of Airtable or something new that you built, or what's that look like? We use this product called No Loco. Yeah. Yeah. We use No Loco and Dara over. They had been in Y Combinator and they had raised funding and they were kind of an infant product.
When we got connected with them through somebody on Twitter and he was developing the product and I just had my own idea. I was trying to use stacker and softer, but the one thing I couldn't crack was like having a table that would feed the client data and then accept data on the other side.
Specifically, I wanted to feed clients. All the items we needed from them and then allow them to drop the items. On the table and write comments next to it. And so no Loco kind of built that feature and then they've been building and building faster than we are frankly at this point. But we've built our entire kind of internal client portal outta no Loco and been using that.
For a while now, and it's been a great experience. And then we now have kind of internal charts or sections where we track all of our projects and we end up dropping all of our time into there and doing all of our kind of like realization work out of that as well. That's cool. In your firm, like who wears the hat of, who does most of that stuff?
Do you have like an advisor, like a contract person you pull in? Do you do that all yourself? You know, it was me and my wife. My wife left her job after our second kid was born. I kind of just was launching this project and dropped it into her lap and. We built it and then like when we started the cost firm, we literally took the whole client portal and just cloned it and took the whole air table and just cloned it and like rebuilt the entire internal C R m.
Off of air table and off of the same structure. So it was pretty cool to be able to just like pick up and almost clone a lot of the aspects of the business, which are very similar, and ship them into a new line of business. It saved us a ton of time. When you start projects like this, sometimes there's a selfish motive, right?
You want to be organized. You want people to like what you've built and you want it to. Sometimes those three things don't actually turn into fruition. So I'm kind of curious. You're probably a year or more into this build. What's the reception been like from your clients and your staff? Yeah, I mean, everything's done from the selfish standpoint probably, but you know, it's been the only project where we got to the end of the tax year and didn't decide to just scrap the whole thing and go back to the Google sheet that we had always wound up at.
So that was a really exciting thing for me. It was kind of like, okay, we're at the end of the year. Let's archive the air table and then provision it for 2023. We had never wound up. Point after migrating to a system and we've used a couple of the systems that are out there that other people use that obviously are great systems.
A lot of people use 'em, they just would never kind of stick for us. And we had, you know, internal accountants who don't always like change and internal clients who don't always like change that all. come along and there are people out there today who have pronounced, they will never join another portal in their lives.
So like most people, you know, you don't have to log in to be my client per se, but you, you know, some people who aren't ready to jump in and just click around and walk through it. We just take care of them. I mean, we just put the documents in ourself. But again, like the internal team all use it. Everyone who is creating their.
like side spreadsheets of how much work do we have left to finish the tax season or who's still outstanding. We were able to bring a lot of that work into a unified system, which was the biggest win for me out of the whole thing is that like we actually have up-to-date data that people use, that people want to keep up to date.
Like that's exciting. That's a big achievement. I, it's interesting, I think automation and no code for some people is, , like integrations, getting your apps to talk to each other, but for other people it's like product building, like building an entire new thing from scratch. And you kind of started like by jumping in the deep end and doing the ladder, like kind of building your own software from scratch to run your business on.
And so like I think an interesting conversation is, is the future of software more bespoke? Like what's the place for off the shelf stuff versus. Quickly and easily building your own thing that's, you know, custom to your business. What do you think about that and kind of the future of software? So more and more accountants are building custom products to serve their clients.
Kind of unique. needs. Mm-hmm. . So I have a client who is a real estate syndicator who needs to deliver K one s to his clients, and I created a portal for my firm. Once I knew how to do that, I understood then how I could create a similar platform for one of my clients on stacker. That basically allows them to create Google Single sign on unique user accounts where he can connect to Google Drive and give all of his investors and stakeholders a portal interface to deliver K one s and ask for information and ask for updates.
Mm-hmm. , and it worked for me and it worked for, . And so like you're gonna see more and more of that. And then, I don't mean the idea that I could build an accounting system from nothing in, I didn't build it a, you know, my partner, C T o, Connor Allen built it, but that, that could be built in the better part of.
Eight months and, and be a functioning product and have real world application and be the start of a real business is pretty wild. Yeah. So I think the idea that you can go out and build custom products that have somewhat of a niche use case but are are easy enough to build that it's valuable to those people is only gonna get more and more prevalent.
So, Mitchell, after hearing that what you're saying is, automation isn't going to replace accountants then, is it? Um, no, not yet. Automation is going to replace some of the more tedious parts of accounting. I mean, look where accounting has gone in the last 40 years from before computers to. after computers to the internet, to, you know, these structured databases that now we as normal accountants can just go set up and start to use.
I think the tools are gonna get better and better. I think information is going to. Move a lot faster and people are going to be able to take tedious time consuming parts of accounting and have systems take care of them. But I mean, until they simplify the complex rules of accounting, which I, I don't think they ever will, accountants are going to be necessary, I'm afraid.
So you're saying if I email them, they're gonna respond back now because they have way more time. Fixed all the admin stuff in the world. Probably not. No . Okay, Mitchell. So we used to have Colin show, but now we've got listeners that email in questions. We handpicked a few that we thought you could speak into.
Let's hop into our first one here. Uh, this listener sent us an audio file. Chad, you'll recognize this one. Boys. Oh boy. Me again. Where's that music coming from? That machine learning idea you shared the other day? Brilliant. I'm already up for a promotion. Wow. I do think live flow is the only way to really leverage machine learning on a QuickBooks file right now.
But I ran into another snag with a client that I suspect live flow could help me with. We are picking up a ton of new clients right now, and a lot of them have their own spreadsheets they use for tracking various things. I've told them how live flow is the best way to sync data out of their accounting system into Google Sheets, but these are all custom built from scratch reports that take a lot of time to put together.
I love live flow's templates, and I have customized them a bit. But is there a way to use live flow to help with these totally custom reports? That's it. Thank you Boys Automation Pod. Woo. Thanks for the question, Gil. So this is something that really impressed me when I got started with live flow. When you sync a report from live flow, an income statement for example, you can move any of the cells around After it's set up, it'll continue to sync data to that specific cell.
So to gill's question, if there is virtually any report in the accounting system that will get the data points you need out of the file on Google Sheets, you can pull those data points into the customer port. And even though you've moved everything around and could be pulling from a bunch of different reports, the cells will still auto update according to your live flow settings.
That was a great question. Thanks Gil. Uh, I'm not sure what just happened. Let's do the next listener question, pat. Hi guys. Where would you recommend I get started with automation in my small business? I'm feeling overwhelmed. Well, glad we have a guest today, Jason, who got started with automation in his small business.
What a timely question. Mitchell, where do you recommend we get started? I mean, like Jason mentioned, I may have jumped into the deep end and the example I told you about. I think the best place to get started are things that has to happen at certain times on a recurring basis. So like one automation that I set up in my business a long time ago is I literally went into QuickBooks online and had it send me the AR aging report and the General Journal for sales every week, Sunday night at 5:00 AM so that I could review my accounts receivable aging, and I could.
What invoices were issued last week. That doesn't sound like automation, but it sort of is. Cuz now I wake up every Monday morning and I have valuable data that I can go look at and dig through and analyze. So there are places to start other than like rebuild a file portal from zero because you're crazy and you can't take 50 off the shelf products that already exist, you know?
So I would say, Yeah, start by finding things that you have to do repetitively that require somebody to operate them and start to figure out how they can be done automatically. That makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, where I got started, Zapier was kind of the, the gateway drug for me, and I just started dropping into Zapier, the apps that I use and it shares, here's how users are integrating these apps, and that gave me a bunch of great ideas for like, oh yeah, it would be handy if this thing went over there.
So yeah, to Mitchell's point, don't start by building a app from scratch. Just start with taking data from A to B or or emailing yourself something that may be a pain to get. Yeah. And if we're all starting at the same place around using Zapier, just learning the difference between what a trigger and an action was, was groundbreaking.
Right? What do you start with and what can you do with it? And I find the more that. , understand the differences, but also then research and play around with all the different actions. Your brain just starts going into, oh, maybe I could do this. Maybe I could do that. Yeah, so you can take a lot of inspiration just from those lists.
Yeah. Zapier has that amazing like product demo on the front of their page too, where you just say QuickBooks online and. Gmail and put those two things in in either order and figure out if this happens, then this can happen and you can start to get a million ideas of things to automate. Pat, you got another question for us.
Quick question. Should I be looking to build a business around things that can be automated or should I be looking to automate the things I can build a business around? It feels a little chicken and egg, so I'm not sure the right way to think about it. You follow that one, Mitchell? I, I think so. . So do you look for a business that can be automated or do you start a business and then figure out how to automate?
I think you start by solving somebody's problem. You know, Paul Graham famously said, uh, do things that don't scale. And, you know, that I don't think applies in, in service businesses, but it can, I, in the sense that start solving people's problems in the most kind of linear way you can and in the most.
Process driven way. You can just figure out what it takes to do what you're trying to do and then do something that somebody will pay you money for. And then once that starts working, try to cut out steps in the middle. So start by making money. Figure out what it takes to do to make money. So start with making money.
Don't look for that. Uh, ooh, there's this new thing. So now this thing that wasn't possible before, we can now do. That doesn't mean that there's a business case there necessarily, so just start with building a business and then wrap the automation around it. You see this all the time where there's new technology come out and some people gravitate towards the technology and then they build businesses around it.
And I don't know if they typically last because there's that general knowledge, not a specific. Very deep knowledge that can last and can actually provide value over the long term. So if I was a betting person, I would say that while it's hot right now to get into automation and throw your, you know, hat around multiple different types of industries, if you think about that thing that you're really good at and you have deep knowledge about, that's the thing that you might be able to harness.
This power of AI and start thinking about things differently and people will gravitate towards that. Who knows? You might even become a popular AI artist outta nowhere. Yeah. And that deep knowledge is the moat. Like, you know, something new comes out and enables you to do something in a new way. Well, everybody else can do that too.
So unless you have that deep knowledge and a compelling problem we're solving, then it's just a matter of time for everybody else is doing the same thing. Where do you stand on building custom software with that builder? Versus using off the shelf software. My business has relatively simple needs, but nothing off the shelf quite does the trick.
Is it worth building something from scratch? So this is kinda what we talked about before, Mitchell. Do you go out and build something from scratch? Do you do something off the shelf and try to modify it? Like if you were starting a new business tomorrow, I suspect you would. Do something from scratch.
Yeah, I mean, it just depends. If I hadn't tried four softwares and tried to boot up the five different systems and jump falling back to just the Google sheets or the whiteboard with the matrix on it, I wouldn't have known what I needed to build. That might've worked, and frankly, what I spent all that time building could have just not worked, but it seemed to work so far.
Steve Jobs said, focus on what makes your beer taste better. Meaning it was this large parable of what he was talking about at Y Combinator where he was given the speech about how this brewery was focusing on producing power to make their brewery run. And then when power came through the grid, they got to just focus on brewing beer and not generating power.
And, and it was kind of connected to like what AWS offers as a set of tools that now. We don't have to set up servers, we don't have to set up our own databases, like this is all taken care of. And so to the extent that there's a tool out there available for us to go use, we should just use that tool, I think.
But then again, I don't follow my own advice. Well, yeah, but you ended up on that path because you use the off-the-shelf stuff first and didn't like it. Honestly, this is what Chad and I come back to so many times when we're answering questions. Anything from taking money as a nonprofit or or scheduling for your pet grooming business.
Like let's start by exploring what's out there and like you gotta become an expert in what's available, cuz if something off the shelf will do it. Great. But in many cases, you've got something that's, you know, a different spin on that type of business where there may not be something suited for you, and that's probably still more accessible than those people realize.
And coming back to this whole building of business around deep knowledge, it's not a heavy lift. to find an expert in these off the shelf app builders and pay them for a session. Have a consult, but just don't do it with one person. They might be biased, they might have opinions that might not, you know, work with your specific situation.
So do it with a couple people, a couple consultants, a couple experts. You could probably unlist more to figure out what solution might work better for you in two or three session. With professionals then spending 15 or 20 hours on your own, fumbling around in the dark. Can I agree more? That's a fantastic point.
I've used, I'm counting in my head, probably five or six professionals along the way through Upwork or through. They're at No Loco or people I found on YouTube where I just paid for an hour. You know, I didn't know how to use Airtable and I still kind of don't . So, you know. Well this has been a blast. Uh, thanks for joining in The Fun Mitchell.
Yeah. Bet you for having me. Thanks for listening to Automation Pun. Have a question you'd like answered by Automation Pod. Look for my RV around. And use the mail slot on the door. Automation Pod is hosted by Jason Stats, Chad Davis and Pat, and edited by Paul O’Mara. That's a wrap. Nice work guys. Mitchell, that was great.
You're natural. The individual who asked the caller questions earlier, uh, pat. Yeah, that's the AI we created. Interesting. Would you say you pay for half of Pat's support? Uh, Pay the zip your bill, and for the open API stuff, here's my card. Call me if you'd like to discuss your tax situation.
Interesting guy. He's very good. Oh wow. What? It's a request for e-signature. Did he just bill you for all that? He is very professional.
Automation Town is written and produced by Chad Davis and Jason Stats edited by Paula O’Mara. Keep up with the characters of Automation Town on Twitter @AutomationTown.