Backstory

Backstory: Couple behind My Local CFO take a chance on growing their business

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2014 

Derrick and Charelle Jones standing in front their Raleigh office on May 26, 2014.

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com

  • Advice from Derrick and Cherelle James

    •  Don’t wait until you paint yourself in a corner before reaching out for help.

    • A solid network of professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, is essential for any small business.

— Derrick James picked up the phone and his wife, Cherelle, was on the other end with a heavy question.

“When do we take a chance on us?” she asked him.

For nearly two years, Derrick James had been working full time on the couple’s business, My Local CFO, which provides financial consulting and accounting services to small companies. At the time, Cherelle James had a full-time job that helped pay their bills, but her husband needed help working on the company.

Revenue had been stagnant and Derrick James was giving in to the pull of accounting and tax work instead of the more strategic consulting that he’d envisioned.

“I was even taking a couple of personal taxes,” Derrick James said.

Derrick James first got the idea for starting My Local CFO around 2009 while working on his master’s accounting and financial management at the for-profit college DeVry University.

At school, Derrick met students with accounting and financial management skills. Meanwhile, he knew small-business owners who needed help streamlining their operations so they could spend more time with their families.

“They knew their dream,” he said. “But they spent too much time on the back office … the type of things I could have done in half the time.”

At the time, Derrick James was a research and development controller for UCB Biosciences in Raleigh.

The couple officially launched My Local CFO on Jan. 1, 2012, under a plan in which Cherelle James would work on the business in a home office while Derrick would keep his job and work on the business in his spare time.

Eight days later, Derrick James was laid off; his last day would be March 31, 2012.

That May, Cherelle James started working full-time for N.C. Emergency Management as an assistant and later the human services program manager. For the previous year, she had been working for the agency as a reservist.

“It allowed us to see how the other one was living because now he was home all day and I was at work all day,” Cherelle James said.

By the end of the first year, Derrick had four clients and had established procedures such as working remotely with clients using cloud-based systems.

By September 2013 the company was serving six clients, and Cherelle James said she had been thinking and praying about their business.

That is when she called her husband and proposed leaving her job to help market and grow the company.

“He was like, ‘Show me the plan. Let’s go, ’ ” Cherelle James said.

She left her job in October and at the end of the year won a nine-month business coaching scholarship from a woman’s business organization.

Since then, the couple has revamped their business plan and set goals, such as bringing in two new clients a month. They established target market categories and restructured their pricing from an hourly fee to monthly packages that better explained what customers were getting for their payments.

They are now preparing to roll out a rebranding that will help them better reach those looking for financial management and consulting services, they said.

The pair balance business and marriage by not talking about work after the business day ends, taking Sundays off and treating every Friday as date night. They also work in separate spaces. Derrick works out of the Raleigh office; Cherelle works out of their Durham home.

“That’s the beauty in our relationship and in our partnership,” Cherelle James said. “We very much complement each other on the weaknesses and strengths.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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