Overcoming scope creep and payment problems

Discover how Candella Accounting & Advisory Services effectively manages scope creep using the Ignition platform for automation and communication.

Candella Accounting & Advisory Services
Carla Caldwell, Founder & CEO

About Carla Caldwell and Candella Accounting & Advisory Services

Carla Caldwell is the pioneering Founder and CEO of Candella Accounting & Advisory Services, a division of Caldwell Consulting & Training. With more than 25 years of experience in the accounting industry, Carla understands the complexities facing today’s accounting and tax firms. Her background in technology education, coupled with her knack and drive for human connection, has propelled her to become a leading consultant and training professional. (In fact, Ignition named her one of the Top 50 Women in Accounting for 2021.) Armed with professional certifications in Xero, Karbon, Gusto, and QuickBooks Online, Carla also brings the keen ability to assess the unique requirements of an accounting and tax firm, adeptly creating solutions that align with the firm's operations, clientele, and workflows.

Candella Accounting & Advisory Services, a division of Caldwell Consulting & Training, is based just north of the bustling city of Atlanta, Georgia. Since its inception in 2015, Candella has grown to a team of nine dedicated professionals, serving more than 115 clients. Driven in part by the mantra, ‘To be clear is to be kind’, Founder and CEO Carla Caldwell’s business has earned the respect – and business – of entrepreneurial business owners. This is the Candella Way: Clarity with team members and clients alike. At Candella, every service, whether bookkeeping and payroll, accounting and reporting, or advisory and strategy, revolves around truly understanding the client's needs. This isn't just an accounting firm; it's a relationship.

The problem

Carla and her team found out-of-scope work was resulting in a lot of awkward conversations between the business and her clients, creating unwanted friction in Candella’s client relationships.

"Everybody has their own definition of what's included in bookkeeping and accounting," says Carla Caldwell. This varying interpretation could sometimes create discrepancies in both team workload and client expectations. What’s more, if all goes well, clients’ businesses grow. This, too, can lead to scope creep, when they find themselves needing more help with their businesses.

Another awkward conversation Carla and her team faced? The dreaded ‘collections conversation’ when they have to chase client payments. This was a problem both internally and externally.

'I would actually delay invoicing a client if I wasn't billing them upfront, because I hated sending it to them,' Carla admits.

Plus, without regular billing, clients might delay – or even forget – payment.

The fix

Fortunately, Carla knew exactly what she wanted to help her tackle these challenges for her business.

'When I started working with Ignition, I was able to get rid of lots of different systems that I put together to get to what Ignition did,' she says.

“I wanted to be clear about what we need to have and state in our terms to cover ourselves, but also spell out the engagement to be clear for the client so they understood. But then I also needed to send [clients] an invoice, and I needed to get paid, and I needed to make it look pretty, and I needed for it to be a seamless experience and integrate with all my systems. Trying to do all of that with all these other programs was just really cumbersome and confusing … Ignition really helped streamline that whole process.”

Since implementing Ignition, Carla and Candella have mastered scope creep. The key, Carla, says, is “spell it out”.

“We spell out very clearly what is included in our engagements in Ignition when we send [an engagement letter] out to clients,” she says. “Then, in our practice management solution, we put a copy of our engagement letter in there. So, it's very clear and very obvious to everybody on our team, so they know what's included. It clears up confusion, misunderstandings … all of that. But it also helps the client understand that this is included, and this is not included … And so it just made a lot of really awkward conversations go away, so that's been really helpful for us.”

Plus, when out-of-scope work does creep in – as was the case when a client decided they wanted help with payroll – Ignition’s Service Edits feature enables Carla and team to go in and add that service in with no muss, no fuss.

As for the payment collection issue, Carla keeps it simple.

'I only work with upfront payments. I am adamant about that,' she says.

“We've had that conversation [with the client], we've been very clear about what this includes and doesn't include, and we've put it at a flat rate. The client knows what to expect. We know what to expect.”

And then, if there is an issue – for example, a client’s business gets more complicated, work takes longer, the company’s grown and they need Candella to do more, Carla and team are in a much better position. “We just simply let them know: ‘Hey, we are so excited your business is growing. This is great news! And because we want you to continue to get the value that you're looking for from our services, we're going to just update our price a little bit here’. And we have that ready to go, and it's super-easy; it just feels less awkward doing it that way.”

What’s more, Ignition has revolutionized Candella’s cash flow. 'I'm now paid upfront at the beginning of the month for the work that we're going to do,' says Carla.

“So I don't have to worry, ‘am I going to make payroll this month?’ I've already been paid for the payroll, so that's all taken care of month after month.”

Ultimately, Ignition ticked all of Candella’s boxes. “The client receives this amazing email that's got a link to a really nicely done video,” Carla says. “It has the proposal on there. It has the letter of engagement on there. Clients can't sign it without putting in their payment information, and it just is all done. I receive an email that says, ‘Congratulations! They’ve accepted your proposal’. And everything else is just happening behind the scenes. So everybody knows what's going on. The team knows. The client knows. The payment’s received. My accounts receivables is updated. Ignition just makes the whole process easier and more efficient.”

Carla’s pro tips

'When trying to manage scope creep, first, if you’re doing the work upfront, think through the services you provide, then talk that through with your client. Then, write down what you talked about in your proposal.'

“It sounds so simple,” says Carla, “but that is far from what [accountants and tax professionals] typically do.”

Also, she says, be proactive at looking at where you tend to see scope creep. For example, if a client comes to you asking you to make their sales tax payment, that’s something you need to consider for other clients. “Think about [it as], ‘that seems like something we need to either include in our services going forward’, or ‘we have to be on the lookout for that and offer it as an add-on’,” Carla says.

'One of the beauties of Ignition is that it has the ability to do different packages to present to the client,' Carla says.

“So instead of just saying, ‘Here you go; this is what you bought’, you can say, ‘Well, if we just do bare-bones accounting, it's this. If you want us to also pay your bills and meet with you monthly – and those are often scope creep items – it’s this’. Now you can actually present that as different packages to them,” she says.

This not only gives the client options, but also subtly reminds them what they’re paying for. And if they want to do these other things – and maybe additional services they want to add later – they’re going to need to pay for those services.

Hear from Carla about why she loves Ignition

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