As the accounting needs for his partnership became more complex, Graham Pugh found a simple solution in FreshBooks and Bench bookkeeping.
Company: Propel Clean Energy Partners
Location: Portland, OR, USA
Difficulty tracking grant income for accounting purposes
FreshBooks coupled with Bench Bookkeeping
Saves 44 hours/year on admin and tax prep
After 10 years in Washington with the Department of Energy and the Department of State on the climate negotiating team, Graham Pugh decided to pursue entrepreneurship within the innovative Cleantech space. He teamed up with Matt Jordan, who also spent years in Washington working on domestic and international energy policy. In 2018, they started their own clean energy consultancy, Propel Clean Energy Partners.
Leveraging connections built with NGOs and aid organizations that solve clean energy challenges around the world, Propel Clean Energy Partners develops clean energy policies and programs. Today, their virtual team of two also employs three international contractors.
We video chatted with Graham about a unique grant tracking issue, why he loves doing his taxes so much, and a very important team member: Abby.
When did FreshBooks first get on your radar?
Graham: I first started using FreshBooks for my separate sole proprietorship, which I started in 2017. At the time, I needed time tracking software but was happy to learn that some of them did accounting too.
I tried QuickBooks initially and found it to be overkill for my needs. It was just too complicated. I’m not an accountant but I felt like I needed to know debits and credits just to use it. I tried out FreshBooks next and I found it to be so intuitive. I was easily able to do time tracking, expense tracking, and invoice customers. And for my sole proprietorship, that’s all I needed.
When I started the partnership, I knew FreshBooks would be our tool of choice. We also use it for time tracking, invoicing, and expenses, specifically when we want to pass those expenses through to clients. But as our needs got a little more complex with the partnership, I needed more dedicated bookkeeping support.
Why did the accounting for your partnership become so complex?
Graham: Currently, we’re working on a big philanthropic contract based in London, England called the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). We’re setting up a clean power hub for them, which is an online offering on how to implement clean power in different countries around the world. It’s a two-year grant that runs out in September 2021.
This was a unique situation for us since we’ve never managed a grant before. We have a big pot of money that we pull chunks of overtime to pay ourselves and our contractors, but it’s not realized revenue. From a tax standpoint, it’s not a realized gain until we actually invoice for it. It got to the point where this grant was causing our accounting to get a little more complicated. I decided to look into bookkeeping services because of how we have to report our financials to the granting agency.
I looked at what integrated with FreshBooks because it’s so much easier when things work together. That’s when I found out about Bench bookkeeping. In terms of capturing income and expenses for the purpose of accounting, we now rely on Bench for that. We’ve used them since the summer of 2019 and managing that grant has been high on our priority list.
So the grant made your books more complex. What did Bench do that you couldn’t or didn’t have time for?
Graham: For the purposes of reporting to our granting agency, they want to see things in certain categories. When we started with Bench, we spent some time upfront to get all these categories customized. Plus, we needed to get our Bench bookkeeper up to speed on why these categories exist and how to split the grant revenue between Matt and me.
The ability to do customization around income and expenses has been the real advantage of using Bench. There’s also a tagging feature in Bench that’s really helpful because I can tag whether specific income and expenses are for me, Matt, or shared between the two of us.
Now that you’ve been with Bench for 2 years (and counting), how confident are you in your numbers for tax season?
Graham: In 2019, we had to figure out how to do things with the grant income and deferred revenues. It was more complicated doing the catch-up bookkeeping last year, to make sure it was right in time for the 2020 tax reason.
Even though I’d describe myself as a tax nerd (I really enjoy all things tax!), it was my first time doing taxes under this more complicated arrangement.
This year, I’m happy to say that we’ve established a great routine with the bookkeeper. Right now I’m spending about 2 hours a month total on all my invoicing and accounting. Without FreshBooks and Bench, I would easily double those hours each month, costing me an extra 24 hours a year.
I think the real savings came in this tax season. Each year, Bench sends a year-end financial package, which includes the balance sheet, income statement, trial balance, and general ledger. At the end of 2020, when I got my financial package from Bench, it matched exactly what I expected. And with expenses being automatically imported, and categorized correctly in Bench, I saved at least another 20 hours of manual labor. Being able to see those reports, really gives me a sense of confidence that everything’s taken care of.
Are you still planning to do your taxes yourself next year?
Graham: I like doing my taxes myself. My business partner is completely the opposite and keeps asking me when I am going to have somebody else do it! There’s definitely an upfront investment you make when preparing your taxes for a more complex structure, but I’ve already done that legwork with Bench. At this point, I think I have my arms around it pretty well right now.
The value I get out of doing my own taxes is that I understand the business better, which helps me be a better business owner. It’s kind of an intangible benefit.
I hear ‘Abby’ is a very important part of the team. Can you introduce us?
Graham: We’ve always been a remote company but working from home definitely has its challenges, especially during COVID-19. Luckily, I have a particularly snuggly and clingy cat named Abby by my side day in and day out. As the official company cat/support animal/office admin, you’ll often find her on all my video calls (like this one)!