Perfect Balance, a small business accounting firm in Bexley, grew out of Susan Bloomfield Schnitz's passion for small businesses and her desire to balance her roles as a business professional and mother of three children.
After working for two prominent accounting firms, now known as Deloitte & Touche and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as The Limited Inc., Schnitz opened her own CPA firm in 1992, operating for the first five years out of her home. Three years ago, she moved the company to its present location on East Main Street in Bexley and now has one full-time and two part-time employees.
Schnitz, who doesn't do any tax returns, focuses exclusively on accounting for small businesses.
"It's a niche that most accountants don't want to do, but I have a great passion for," she explains. "I act as the in-house controller for small businesses that don't need or can't afford to have an in-house controller."
Her services involve a lot of financial counseling and hand-holding for her 60 small business clients, which range in size from start-ups to a company generating $3 million in revenue.
Additionally, she provides check-writing services for executives and others who need help organizing the financial side of their personal lives.
"A lot of accountants can't look beyond the numbers, but we look at our clients' lifestyle, where they want to go with the business, what they want to do," she says. "When you're dealing with a small business, you can't just look at the numbers. These people are their small business, and their situations make a difference.
"I call it my holistic approach. It's more than just your numbers. How do you manage your business? Do you have kids at home? Do you want to leave your office at 6 [p.m.] or do you want to work 24 hours a day?"
Schnitz offers the example of two clients who own an art gallery who were told by their tax accountant to close the business because their margins weren't high enough.
"I said, 'Wait a minute. That's not why you're in the business. You love what you're doing, and your business will eventually grow.' Well, this year they tripled their sales," she says.
Schnitz says her revenue should be in the $300,000 range this year -- a 50 percent increase from 1999. Her business growth has come almost exclusively from referrals, she notes.
Because she is a small business owner, Schnitz says she closely identifies with her clients, many of whom are women.
"I tell them, 'I've sat where you're sitting. I'm not only an accountant, but I've also started a business, and I've made mistakes. I've bought software I didn't need. I've taken on clients I knew I shouldn't take on.' You're going to make mistakes when you're in a small business."
She also identifies with the unique aspects of being a woman business owner.
"For a lot of women, I understand that not only are they running a business, but they're also running a household," she says. "They have a family; they have other obligations, and it's not easy to manage all that. You have to have a support system at home."
As an instructor for the Service Corps of Retired Executives, Schnitz also knows the value of business planning and she insists that new clients do their homework before they do anything else.
"I make them do a business plan, and I make sure they have the money before they start and they are educated on what it entails to start a business," she says. "And because I have a great relationship with a lot of the banks, I will introduce my clients to a banker and help them get the money they need.
"I also try to network my clients because we can all do business together, which has been fun."
Schnitz says all of her clients have experienced growth this year and that gives her a great deal of satisfaction.
"I truly have an emotional attachment to all of my clients," she says. "I really love working with them." How to reach: Susan Bloomfield Schnitz, CPA, Perfect Balance, 235-8877, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN magazine; however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.
A strong small business community benefits Central Ohio in many ways, says Steven C. Hines, vice president of National City Bank and the 1999 SBA Financial Services Advocate of the Year.
We can start with growth, with employment opportunities and with maintaining a diverse community, he explains. Small business in many areas has been and will be the employer for the future. Every day of the week, more and more people are employed by small business than by large corporate employers.
Hines knows about small business. He joined National City Bank [then Ohio National Bank] in 1973 after graduating from Bowling Green State University. He has spent most of his professional career in the small business lending area, recently moving into a retail credit position. He got involved in the Columbus Countywide Development Corp. 16 years ago and has served on its Loan Review Committee and all-volunteer board for several years, the last two as president.
The initial thrust of Columbus Countywide was to support one of the lending programs of the Small Business Administration, the SBA 504, which provides excellent financing options for small businesses that are acquiring fixed assets, principally real estate, explains Hines.
He says the organization has grown substantially because of the people involved and the general business community in Central Ohio.
I have had the opportunity over the years to attend sessions throughout the country and talk to other bankers, and I think the business community in Central Ohio is much more attuned to small business than in many other areas of the country, he said. Locally, the SBA finds ways to put deals together and has an excellent working relationship with financial institutions. In many parts of the country, thats not the way it has been.
Hines was instrumental in raising the initial capital to start the Micro Loan Fund and the Columbus Growth Fund two Columbus Countywide projects in which the SBA requires a loan loss reserve fund in the event a business is unable to repay the loan.
We went to the financial institutions and asked for their participation and we were very fortunate, says Hines. The $150,000 in fund-raising from five area banks enabled Columbus Countywide to borrow $1 million from the SBA for the Micro Loan Fund. The other fund involved $3 million, with half of the $500,000 loan loss reserve provided by the City of Columbus and the rest contributed by the five banks.
They stepped up to the plate, and in both of those programs, they did fund those so that we had the loan loss reserve set up, Hines said. Now both of those programs are off the ground and moving.
The loan loss reserve funds enable Columbus Countywide to take greater risks than banks are able to in making loans to small businesses, says Mark Barbash, executive director of Columbus Countywide.
The purpose of these programs is to expand access to capital beyond that which a business can get from conventional lenders, he said. In order to do that, we have to create these financial tools that can be kind of unusual.
Columbus Countywide has worked with the state on financing programs, Hines says, and has put together programs to benefit women in business and entrepreneurs just starting out.
Will Bowdish, a vice president at National City Bank who nominated Hines for the SBA award, says Hines has dedicated many years to making things happen in the small business community.
Steve has gone out of his way, not just to be involved in CCDC, but to take a leadership position, he says. Through participation in new projects or programs that were available, Steve was instrumental in contributing to the growth at CCDC.
Hines says involvement in the community is a two-way street. You cant just take in the business and reap the benefits. Youve got to give back, and I have tried to do that through participation in Columbus Countywide and through participation in educational programs. And I have been very fortunate that National City Bank has given me the opportunity to do so many of these things.
Columbus is fortunate, he adds, to have broad-based support across all business sectors.
Locally, I find that most of the financial institutions and the people who deal with small business look for solutions instead of seeing obstacles. Thats what has made the overall growth in Central Ohio what it is today. Its the environment; its the people here who try to put things together.
Although Jamie Parman may sometimes find it difficult to explain to people exactly what she does for a living, she apparently does it quite well.
Parman, who opened her business -- Parman Associates Inc. -- in 1992 with just eight employees, is now president of an organization with 50-plus employees operating in five offices throughout Ohio.
"I'm very proud of the fact that from 1992 to 1995, at a time when many of my competitors were downsizing, we were doubling in size," says Parman, whose company now generates annual revenue in the $3 million range.
As a Bureau of Workers' Compensation-certified provider, Parman Associates provides case management services to help get injured workers back to work.
"We have nurses and certified, credentialed vocational rehabilitation counselors who go out to injured workers' homes and interview them, identify what the problems are and then create a return-to-work plan to help them recover and get back to work safely and on time," Parman explains. "Our nurses and case managers counsel injured people to help them overcome whatever barriers they are experiencing."
Parman attributes her company's phenomenal 200 percent growth in the past eight years to a lot of hard work by a group of dedicated, capable people committed to the same goals and vision.
"One of our core values is continuous improvement, and we spend a lot of time watching what's going on in rehabilitation," Parman explains. "As changes began to take place in health care and employers began to experience increased health care costs, they began to look for ways to save money. We not only went out to injured workers' homes and helped them get better and back to work but we also identified other problems and developed specific programs."
One such program is JobWORKS, which places injured workers with new employers.
"We follow return-to-work steps, so our first goal is to medically and vocationally manage cases to help people return to work with their original employer, hopefully in the original job. If, physically, that is not going to be possible," Parman explains, "then we try to identify alternative placement with that employer. And if we've exhausted all possibilities, then our vocational experts analyze the workers' skills and capabilities, and we counsel and advise them as to what they can do in this economy. That career counseling is a component of JobWORKS."
Additionally, JobWORKS provides help with job-seeking skills, such as resume preparation, interviewing and training.
"Many employers historically have overlooked this excellent source of skilled workers, but many of these workers with disabilities become excellent employees for new employers," Parman says. "With the right fit at the right time and the right place, we're able to help the old employer recoup some costs, and we're able to help the new employer find an employee in an environment where it's hard to find skilled workers."
A second program developed by Parman Associates is an early intervention program called Manage*ability. Big Kmart is a client that uses this program for its Ohio workers.
"So from the point of injury, we're evaluating and our nurses are helping their claims people figure out how to get people better and back to work with good care," Parman says.
As the company has grown, it has faced some internal operational challenges, Parman acknowledges. To address those, last summer, she and her senior management team participated in a 13-week leadership and management course.
"We were able to create some paradigms on how to problem solve, how to make decisions and how to convey that to the people we manage so that we can communicate more effectively, more quickly and more clearly, so that, in the end, we can deliver a quality service to our clients," she says.
As a result, the company is now more goal-focused and more outcome-oriented, she says.
"We can communicate more clearly with our staff, and we understand better what motivates them."
When issues become really challenging, Parman says she draws upon a couple familiar sayings: "Failure is the line of least persistence" and "Success is in attention to detail."
"Those two sayings really keep me going," she says, "and my staff hears them over and over again."
How to reach: Parman Associates Inc., 575-9400 or www.parman.com
@bios:Jo Ann Judy (JJudy@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.
Network for success
There are numerous networking opportunities in Central Ohio for women interested in starting or growing a business.
The Women's Business Resource Program, part of the Ohio Small Business Development Center, serves as an information clearinghouse for women in business. It supplies business resource kits, provides referrals to the Ohio Small Business Development Center statewide network, maintains a calendar of workshops and events of interest to women in business and provides a list of organizations for women business owners.
To contact the Women's Business Resource Program, call 466-4945 or visit the Ohio Small Business Development Center's Web site at www.ohiosbdc.org.
Other organizations in Central Ohio for women business owners include:
Women's Business Board
For women business owners owning or operating a business for three or more years.
Contact: Bea Wolper, 221-4000
Women's Presidents Organization
For female entrepreneurs who have generated at least $2 million in annual sales, $1 million if the company is service-driven.
Contact: Melody Borchers, (740) 569-3200
Women's Business Council
For women business owners and professionals.
Contact: Sarah Thompson, 224-9121
Ohio Women's Business Development Council Inc.
For women business enterprises.
Contact: Linda Stewart, 621-0881
Ohio Women's Business Resource Network
For women business owners.
Contact: Mary Ann McClure, 466-2682
National Association for Women Business Owners, Columbus Chapter
Contact: Kelly Borth, 885-7921
Women in New Growth Stages
For women from entry level to business owner.
Contact: Karen McVey, 888-4674
Source: Linda Saikas, Economic Development Specialist, Women's Business Resource Program
After more than 25 years in the staffing industry, Bobbie Ruch, president of Acloché Staffing, observes, "There is almost an attitude of reinvention that takes place in business, particularly in a service business where needs constantly change."
That attitude of reinvention recently led Ruch to discontinue her company's 32-year franchise arrangement with Olsten Corp. to begin operating as an independent business.
"Like anything else, times change, and we saw an opportunity to articulate a new perspective and a fresh point of view," she says.
The transformation process, as Ruch describes it, resulted not only in a new perspective but also in a new name -- Acloché -- designed to reflect the accolades the company has consistently received from the Columbus business community over the past 32 years.
As part of the transformation, Ruch says the company is working with some very simple, yet powerful themes, such as the idea that less is more.
"We are trying to be very user-friendly," she says. "In our line of work, when someone wants a job, he wants a job. People don't want to have things made too complicated."
To illustrate the drive toward simplicity and redesign, Ruch notes that in the change from Olsten to Acloché, the company tossed out 3,300 pounds of paper.
"In addition to redoing our paperwork, we've also done a lot of streamlining and simplification of internal processes with the idea that when you call us, whether you're a customer or someone looking for work, we can move really quickly to make a match," she says.
Ruch acknowledges there are certain requirements -- screening, testing, and background and reference checking -- that still must be done to make good placements. But she says, "In 32 years, we've developed a fair amount of expertise in working with people, and we can translate that into our daily actions to get an optimum result for everyone."
Ruch says Acloché is a human resources business, offering not only permanent job placements and staffing services, but also training.
"We work with people just getting started in their careers, right up into the six figures. We also place a lot of IT people and a fair number of accounting people, as well," she says. "And, of course, our bread-and-butter business is regular office support and distribution and manufacturing support."
The company also offers soft skills and computer training classes. The Microsoft-certified training center is at its Easton location, and Ruch says a second computer training center is planned for Marysville.
The company was started in 1968 by Ruch's parents, George and Betty Lou Ruch. When Bobbie Ruch took over leadership in 1985, its three locations were producing about $3 million in revenue. Today, with 13 locations in and around the Greater Columbus area, revenue exceeds $40 million.
"We've been blessed," says Ruch. "Columbus is a great market, and we are so fortunate to have so many great companies here."
Acloché works with 16 of the 20 largest companies in Central Ohio, with clients such as Bank One, The Limited and Honda. Last year, it sent out more than 15,000 W-2s to employees.
Ruch acknowledges there have been challenges along the way.
"I think we had some years where we grew too fast, and that put a lot of stress on the business," she says.
Because of her staff's commitment to filling customers' needs, Ruch says it can be very frustrating for them to have open orders they are unable to fill.
"Particularly in Columbus, where unemployment is so low, it becomes very difficult for our service staff, and we try to stay sensitive to that," she says. "There have been years when we have stopped selling altogether because we've had so much internal growth."
That dedication to customers, as well as a focus on common courtesy, ranks high on Ruch's list of simple, back-to-basics themes for Acloché.
"We want to be the best; to exhibit excellence in everything we do," says Ruch. "We think that customer intimacy in the age of technology is very important. And we believe in doing what you say you're going to do, following through, and keeping commitments and promises. We go in every day with the idea that we're all going to do our best, and generally, I think that human nature is such that everyone wants to do a good job.
"We use that kind of logic in working with people." How to reach: Bobbie Ruch, Acloché Staffing, 416-JOBS or www.acloche.com
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however, all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.
Tricia Smith knows her way around the courthouse.
That's where she spends most of her time, checking out prospective employees for a growing list of local clients, including ODW Logistics, Environment Control, Spherion and A-Plus Personnel.
In 1996, after brief stints in security positions for Lazarus and The Limited Inc., Smith launched Secure Check, a full-service, pre-employment screening firm.
"I knew there was a gap in the market, and I knew I could provide a different type of service than was generally available," she says.
While many companies subscribe to online database services that provide background information, such as arrest records, Smith says her company does hands-on research for every applicant.
"We go to the courts and do a thorough background check, going back about 10 years," she says. "A lot of the online database services don't provide the depth of information employers need to make a decision based on whether or not a person has been convicted."
In fact, educating companies as to what they're actually getting when they do a background check has been one of Smith's biggest challenges.
"If a company is using an online service, it needs to know the difference between an arrest record and a conviction record," she explains. "Just because a person has been arrested, it doesn't mean he has been convicted. You should never use an arrest record in a hiring decision. That's a federal law."
Smith also points out other important differences between her company and online services.
"I've tried to stay fairly small in order to give my clients really good personalized service," she says. "My clients can call me at any time to ask questions or ask for my help or opinion, and I can get all the information they need to make their hiring decisions."
Another feature that Smith says sets Secure Check apart from some of its larger competitors is pricing. Because a number of her clients are temporary staffing agencies or distribution centers -- businesses that interview and hire a large number of applicants on a regular basis -- she offers a volume discount on background investigations for those types of clients.
"It has created a niche. Because they have a lot of turnover, perhaps they couldn't have afforded to do background checks before. But they can justify the volume price I give them, and I can afford to do that because they're sending me hundreds of names each month," she notes.
In addition to checking criminal records, Smith says her company also looks at employment and credit history on some applicants.
"Especially if someone will be in a position of trust or will have access to assets, we will check credit history," she explains. "I have worked with several small businesses that have had incidents with trusted employees, and I feel strongly that some of those things can be prevented by doing a very thorough background check."
Smith says small businesses usually are more vulnerable in those types of situations.
"The small business owner tends to treat employees more like a family," she points out. "If you have an office with only 10 or 12 employees, they're usually given a lot of trust and a lot of access to assets -- company secrets and the company checkbook."
An emerging division of the company provides background information on individuals who will be providing child care or elder care in private homes. For those applicants, Smith checks not only criminal records and employment and credit history but also the person's driving record.
"You want to make sure they have a valid driver's license and a good driving history," she says. "And you want to make sure that everything is consistent in the person's background -- just paint an overall picture and look for red flags when things don't match up."
Smith says Secure Check has experienced 100 percent growth in each of the last five years. She has two local employees and works with 10 researchers in Ohio as well as a national network of background providers. At the beginning of this year, she opened a second office in Akron to service clients in the Akron/Cleveland market.
In her "spare time," Smith is establishing herself as an expert witness. In the last year, she has testified at two major trials on behalf of crime victims. In each case, the employer had failed to do a thorough background check before hiring an employee.
If they had, Smith says, they would have found a record of criminal convictions. Because they didn't, they found themselves in court. How to reach: Tricia Smith, president, Secure Check Inc., 444-7455 or www.securecheckinc.com
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.