Based out of sunny San Diego, Optima Office is a 100% woman-owned business founded by Jennifer Barnes in 2018. Prior to founding Optima, Jennifer was the founder and CEO of Pro Back Office from 2011 through 2018. Providing superior accounting, HR, and strategic advisory services to more than 300 clients in the Pacific Southwest. Optima Office attracts extraordinary employees and allows them the flexibility to work the hours they desire so they achieve an ideal work-life balance.
The fast-growing Optima Office team helps businesses of all types and sizes optimize their organization’s profits by utilizing their amazing team of controllers, chief financial officers, and senior finance and operational leaders. In addition, they also provide accounting and bookkeeping services as well as a full team of human resources experts who can help your business with HR strategy, hiring, retention, and risk mitigation.
Getting to Know More About Optima Office with Their Founder, Jennifer Barnes
1/ What inspired you to start your business? What was the Eureka moment that compelled you to take action?
I was thrown into being a business owner in 2012 when the accounting firm I was working as a Controller fired me! To my good fortune a dozen clients, along with several employees, quit the company and began working for me out of my living room. This was all six weeks before my wedding. I decided to do some serious BD in 2013 and brought in so much work that we needed to find an office space and hire more people. By 2016 we were the 5th fastest growing company in San Diego, with revenues of $5 million, starting from nothing in 2012. My Eureka moment was realizing that I could do it better than my competitors and created a company where I would want to work if I was a consultant again. To this day, I have consistently won a best place to work and have high retention with my now 100 employees.
2/ How are you working to differentiate yourself from other existing service providers in the market?
Optima’s vision is to have the highest retention with both clients and staff in the industry. We care deeply about keeping our staff happy and therefore giving our clients a team who loves what they do. Hiring the best and brightest accounting and human resource staff that there is allows us to gain an edge on the competition. We also pride ourselves on being flexible and creating solutions that are incredibly personalized to each and every business. There is no one size fits all at Optima. There never has been, and there never will be.
Also, we bill by the hour and only as needed, both ongoing and project work on an onsite or remote basis. We love to support nonprofits, start-ups and seasoned businesses, both small and large. Our attention to building relationships with kindness and care has helped us to solidify the strong reputation we have today.
3/ What are some of the biggest challenges you faced during the early stages of your business, and how did you overcome them?
I made a terrible decision to give away 10% equity to a partner in 2015. Another male partner already had 50% equity from day one in 2012, so when he and I gave up the 5% each, I had a swing vote issue on my hands. The 50% partner who now owned 45% of the company and had done virtually nothing in the first 3 years of the business, finally got involved and we were terrible partners. The two men would constantly gang up on me. I never needed partners to begin with, so the challenges I had with them were debilitating in many ways. Fortunately, I split off from them in 2018 (another story in itself) and I now own 100% of my company. I will never give away equity again!
4/ Can you share a specific example of a difficult decision you had to make as a leader and how it impacted your business?
I feel like entrepreneurs have to make difficult decisions all the time. For me, it is difficult for me to fire people, and it is also difficult to make a big hiring decision if members of my management team don’t agree. I’ve had to override my team when I feel strongly about something and I don’t like having to do that. I trust my team and respect their input, but ultimately its my company so sometimes I need to make the tough call to override them. One example was hiring a new front desk person to work below our office manager. My team said we didn’t have the funds to afford two positions and all voted to wait. I had met this amazing woman at Orange Theory, so timing was random and we hadn’t planned to hire anyone at her level yet. I knew I wanted this woman to work for us after one conversation and knew that she would be a huge help for everyone. Within 2 months of her starting with us, everyone was so happy that we hired her. She became our front desk/director of Joy and made a positive impact on the organization. She was also skilled at event planning and ended up helping with all of our events, staff meetings, company holiday party, etc. She was an excellent hire and was with us for a couple of years until she decided to retire. We recently replaced her position with someone new because everyone realized we really needed this role!
5/ How do you foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning within your organization, and how has it contributed to your growth and success?
Well, we have a mentor program as well as a formal training program, which helps our team to continuously learn and grow. We also have something called “the optimal path to success” which is for career development and gets people at all levels trained for the next position. So far, this program has been very helpful to develop our team and makes them feel like they have room for advancement every step of the way. For the management team, we do quite a bit of EQ training and team building so we are as connected as possible. We do fun outings together and meet weekly as a team. We also ensure the culture is consistently maintained when we make hiring decisions. Investing in my team is something I think is mission critical. It has helped our success because it helps keep our retention higher than other companies in our space.
6/ How do you stay ahead of the competition and adapt to changing market conditions? Can you share any strategies or initiatives that have helped your business stay agile and resilient?
We hire quite a few part time working parents and give them flexible schedules so they can have the best of both worlds. Many of our competitors only hire full time salaried individuals, which I believe limits their flexibility and makes it harder to have a personalized service. When a new client comes to Optima, we don’t have just one option at each level; we have numerous options at each level and are able to select the individual who has the right personality and culture fit for each client which really helps our client retention.
7/ Tell us about a specific challenge or obstacle you faced while building your business and how you overcame it. What valuable lesson(s) did you learn from that experience?
I will go back to the partner situation where I found myself owning only 45% of the company I built out of my living room. In 2018 the two guys did a hostile takeover and walked me out with security, deleting all my access and changing the locks when I left. They used anything they could against me, including emails I had written in years past. I learned to be very careful what you put in writing and to always have a solid buy/sell agreement in place.
I’m sure you want to know how it ended. Well, I ended up starting a new company in three days, but spent a year and a half fighting them in court, spending every penny I had. It ended up being the biggest blessing however, because I won the court battle and they had to purchase my 45% interest in the company. The end result was that I was able to build another company that was twice the size in half the time and am successfully running it without partners! I am still very careful what I put in writing!
8/ What unique strategies or approaches have you implemented to differentiate your business and stand out from the crowd?
I’ve touched on this before but we spend a lot of time and energy to personalize the solution for every single company that comes to us. We have options at every level and don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution. We are also one of the only female ran organizations in our industry and our team is 70% women. We have over 100 employees currently and have made quite the name for ourselves.
9/ Can you share an instance where you had to pivot your business model or change your strategy significantly? What were the reasons behind the decision, and how did it impact your overall growth?
Not really. My business model has been pretty straightforward for the last decade. We provide fractional CFO’s and Controllers, outsourced accounting and human resource services. We have always billed on an hourly basis and don’t take clients that are too small for us. We aim for a $1,000 monthly minimum. In years prior we took on clients that were uber small, and only paying a few hundred a month, but that posed to be problematic because it was taking too much effort for very little return. We have slowly increased our minimum and have had to raise rates to keep our teams compensation competitive. This allows our team to focus their efforts and keep all of their clients happy.
10/ What are some KPIs you mainly focus on to measure the success and progress of your business? How do you ensure you stay on track towards achieving your goals?
Ours are pretty simple! We focus on daily billable revenue which is currently just under $48k a day. We also focus on staff utilization, which I aim to keep at 20% capacity at every level all the time. This means we are constantly hiring because we bring in at least 8 clients every single month, and some months we bring on 14+ clients. Another metric we focus on is DSO, days sales outstanding on invoices. We keep ours below 20 days which helps with cash flow, especially during high growth periods. We recommend most companies keep their DSO to under 30 days. Lastly, I like to focus on our current ratio (current assets/current liabilities) and always recommend a company stay above 1.25. Having more assets than liabilities is critical to running a successful organization.
11/ How do you prioritize and manage the various challenges and demands of running your business while maintaining a healthy work-life balance? What strategies or practices do you follow to prevent burnout?
For starters, I don’t work on the weekends. I also work out every morning and don’t get to the office before 11 most days. I don’t get into the weeds and I focus only on the tasks at my level. I delegate everything else! Each day I make sure that I know exactly what I need to accomplish and don’t let distractions get in my way. I consider myself incredibly organized and always aim to be as efficient as possible! I also cut myself some slack and don’t stress myself out worrying about things that will eventually work out.
12/ What question is no one asking you that they should be asking?
What is the favorite part of my job? I love hiring people. I love giving people an opportunity and then continually being named the best workplace. Running a fast paced company that continues to grow successfully makes me feel truly accomplished.
Optima believes that behind every successful business is an “optimal” accounting, HR, and operations team. If your business requires tier-1 accounting and HR help, you should consider speaking with their team today…