As a business in growth mode, The Influence Agency made the switch to FreshBooks to confidently collect on its accounts receivables.
To look at The Influence Agency now, it’s hard to believe it came from humble beginnings only a short time ago.
Based in Toronto, the full-service marketing and creative agency specializes in influencer and social media marketing. In just five years, its team has grown to 45 (including Chief Happiness Officer Joy, a rescue dog from Costa Rica), and it’s amassed an impressive client list that includes names like Staples, Jamieson Vitamins, the Skill Trades College of Canada, and HelloFresh.
“The big names are feathers in our cap, but we also really care about the SMBs that come to us and entrust us with their entire marketing budgets,” says Michael Landry, Co-Founder and Vice President of Strategy.
This values system is likely the result of The Influence Agency’s own roots as a start-up. Back in 2017, a team of five crammed into a small one-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto to make its first sales. Landry usually rode his bike to work to save money, and meetings sometimes took place inside his car.
“Once, it was so cold, but we didn’t want to turn on the engine because we didn’t want the client to know we were making the call in a car,” recalls Landry. To make it, Landry knew the agency needed to appear as professional as possible. But when The Influence Agency did land its first major sale, a previous accounting software provider refused to release the funds, undermining the team’s hard-won efforts.
Since then, The Influence Agency has made the switch to FreshBooks. We spoke with Landry to learn more about the agency’s early days and how FreshBooks is now helping it support its clients—of all sizes.
How did The Influence Agency get its start?
Michael: As we [the four founders] did research into influencer marketing, we saw that it was an emerging advertising method, and there weren’t a lot of players in it. We felt we could find a way to offer something unique that would appeal to us, the consumers. We also stuck true to the services we knew were in demand, including content writing, search engine optimization, Google ads, Facebook ads, and web development.
Today, we’re a full-service digital marketing agency. With every new person we hire, we’re hiring a unique set of skills and talent, which sometimes creates a runway for new things. It unlocks new possibilities and new things that we can do.
Why did you make the switch to FreshBooks—twice?
Michael: We started on QuickBooks. And with one of our very first big sales that we made, QuickBooks decided that we were too small for them to send us the money. They said, “We’re not sure your business could sustain a chargeback because you’re so new.”
So, we had to send them the contract, along with our financial records, to show them it was valid. We waited three weeks for the statements to come through so that we could start work for one of our first clients ever.
And at the end of the long process, QuickBooks said they couldn’t release the money. So, we had to go to the client and say, “Hey, look, we’re going to have to refund the money. Can you please send us a cheque?” It was really embarrassing. We had hustled to get our business off the ground and make that transaction.
So, we moved on and got FreshBooks. The price point made trying it out very easy. It didn’t seem to have any of these issues. We used it for about a year and a half, then one of our accountants said, “You know, we have got to try QuickBooks again. They won’t give you trouble because you’re a more established business now.”
And again, QuickBooks pulled the same stuff. They questioned a $20 web hosting fee. They held our money hostage, and again, we had to produce contracts. And on top of that, they told us they wouldn’t authorize the $5,000 a month worth of recurring charges and that it could get flagged. So being successful or having a high volume of transactions could cause us more issues.
We had to spend hours upon hours dealing with something that should really be super turnkey when meeting or exceeding our clients’ expectations is what we should be focused on. You don’t need other friction when you’re starting a new business.
How has FreshBooks supported your needs as a scaling business?
Michael: We’re an eight-figure company now. We’ve never had a chargeback. We’ve never had debt as a company.
We’re continuing to grow our team, and now we’re on Stirling Road, where we have a 5,000-square-foot office that we fully renovated. We’re starting to delve into commercial production, print, and out-of-home advertising. As an agency, we’re evolving to meet all the advertising needs of our clients and become a one-stop shop.
With FreshBooks, I was able to operate my business effortlessly from day one. It took that stress off.
For us, visibility into our business and accounts receivable continues to be so important. Making sure that payments are deposited on time for reliable cash flow is really important. With FreshBooks, I was able to operate my business effortlessly from day one. It took that stress off. The support has been awesome, and it’s so fast and easy to use.
We got to the point where we were billing enough that we wanted to get our fees down on credit card transactions. We also needed to add more clients, which is a great problem to have. FreshBooks set us up on a custom Select plan, which includes an unlimited number of clients and helps keep fees down. FreshBooks has always made life easy.
What FreshBooks features do you use most frequently
Michael: FreshBooks has the best user interface, in my opinion. I enjoy the automated report section. It’s one click, and I can get a pretty good understanding of where I’m at.
Every month, we take all of the line items that we sell and categorize each item by department in terms of revenue. And based on that, I can deliver Profit and Loss statements very quickly to our department managers, so they can understand how their individual departments are working. It allows each department to take ownership over its profitability.
Keeping tabs on every department’s individual performance can raise the whole company’s profitability. If you understand how they’re functioning, you can zero in on the ones that need some adjustment, which can really move the needle on the whole organization.
We also built a tool that lets our clients log in and see the results of their marketing efforts. And we included FreshBooks in that tool as an API so that customers can look at their bills anytime. This is just one of the ways we leverage FreshBooks to add value to our customers.
What accounting advice would you give to other start-ups?
Michael: Since starting The Influence Agency, I’ve started another business—a recruiting company—and FreshBooks was the system I decided to use.
My advice is to go with the system that gives you the most visibility as to where you’re at. You want to make sure that when you invoice somebody, they can pay it, and you can receive those funds in a timely manner. When you get your first big deal, you want to be able to grow your business and not be hampered by a long and arduous process to prove that you’re worthy enough.
about the author
Jessica Wynne Lockhart is an award-winning journalist and fact-checker, who splits her time between Canada and Australia. She has bylines in the Toronto Star, Chatelaine, and The New Zealand Herald. She writes about e-commerce, personal finance, health, and travel. Learn more about her work at jesslockhart.com.