Running a business in today’s era of cutthroat competition is indeed a mammoth task. Many business leaders, especially those just starting, face several difficulties in their journey. One such difficulty is managing crucial tasks like accounting, operations, and human resource services. While ensuring you have these areas dialled in increases your chances of success, they can also be time-consuming and deviate entrepreneurs from the actual task of business generation. It is called working on your business instead of in your business. Set on a mission to help entrepreneurs with these critical tasks is Jennifer Barnes, Founder, and CEO of Optima Office, Inc. She was recently awarded the Business Journal’s Top Corporate Citizen award, made it on the esteemed list of the SD500, recently won the medium category of Women of the Year from the SDBJ and her company Optima was named a top place to work 3 years in a row by multiple publications.
In an interview with Aspioneer, Jennifer Barnes sheds light on the company’s journey, its unique solutions, and the importance of its services. She also talks about how they are attempting to turn The Great Resignation into The Great Hire. Jennifer loves to hire people and give opportunities to as many deserving people as she can. Optima typically hires 2-3 people per month.
Jennifer Barnes: “Founded in 2018 Optima is headquartered in San Diego, CA. We provide accounting, operations, and human resource services on a part-time, hourly basis. We are on-site for many of our clients or we can work remotely for any client in any location. Half of our team are Controllers or CFOs, but we also have an amazing team of Human resource experts, bookkeepers, accountants and COO’s. We pride ourselves on our higher-level services that increase profitability and provide strategic direction for our clients. Also, we are not a one size fits all company. We customize every single client with the right staff at the right level.What we do is all about relationships and providing value to our clients by giving them a team that truly cares about their success. We have employees in five states, with 75 (90 percent) of them based in Southern California.”
Happy Staff = Happy Clients is a motto I have had for years. My mission is to have the highest retention in the industry, both with clients and staff.
Overcoming obstacles with grit
Jennifer Barnes: “I’m a natural entrepreneur and love building. In 2012 I started my first company but with the wrong partners. I was 50/50 with someone who was a horrible partner. When we gave 10% equity away to a 3rd partner, I lost all control. From 2012-2015 I ran the company by myself and although it was challenging, I didn’t have anyone telling me no. When the two guys joined me in 2016 and we ran the firm together, we realized how misaligned we were. I’m more of a people over-profits person and like to take care of others, and let’s just say that is not their motivation. In late 2018 they took the company from me and walked me out with security. They then sued me so that I would not be able to compete with them. Three weeks later, I had won in court on the non-compete, 27 employees came with me and I moved across the street from them. Within 3 years, I was able to build a larger company.
I am extremely confident in myself and my abilities. I believe that every success story is a bit of talent, opportunity, and luck. I do believe that the things that have happened to me in life were meant to be. I believe in serendipity and have faith that I will always land on my feet, regardless of what challenges come my way. I’m a glass-half-full, optimistic person. Being resilient is something that has kept me strong. I think getting kicked out of my own company was the epitome of telling me that I can’t do something. I sure proved that wrong!”
Taking care of people
Jennifer Barnes: “I believe I was born a bit bossy and in charge. But being a leader took some time and training. I never try to lead with fear and I always try to inspire and help people. I have an innate ability and intuition to connect with people. I care about relationships and making sure that people are taken care of. I’ve changed the status quo and employ a different type of workforce that has so much kindness and flexibility. I show in my actions that I put my team first and always have their back. It’s not always easy to recognize your team and promote them, but you have to go the extra mile and focus on it. Rather than chastise people for mistakes, I think it’s important to help them learn and grow. Happy Staff = Happy Clients is a motto I have had for years. My mission is to have the highest retention in the industry, both with clients and staff.”
Communication is the key
Jennifer Barnes: “We need our team to have certain technical expertise but we also need them to be emotionally intelligent. I have hired emotional intelligence coaches for myself and my management team so that they can think deeper and more critically. It has definitely helped. On a day-to-day basis, I think it’s important to ask questions and not let people come to you with a problem without a couple of solutions they have come up with. If I had to pick one thing that is the most critical factor of our team is communication. You need to be able to communicate to all kinds of people, from your co-workers to the team above and below you, to clients and outside service providers.”
Managing the Great Resignation
Jennifer Barnes: “I’ve never had a problem hiring the right people. But in this latest environment, it has become challenging. People are dropping out during the interview process, not showing up for their assessment or worse yet failing their accounting assessment, not accepting a good offer because of things like the client needs you to be vaccinated, or taking the job and then only staying two months. It costs at least 1k to onboard someone so if they don’t stay at least 90 days it’s a loss for us. We just hired two in-house recruiters and are upping our game on GlassDoor. I am putting hiring and retention as our #1 priority for 2022.”
A legacy that outlives success
Jennifer Barnes: “I want to start a foundation eventually. Helping others and building up our next generation is incredibly important to me. I sit on several boards and am a speaker and mentor for several college programs, including SDSU and the REC at Miramar college. I love what Junior Achievement is doing, and I love what the Lavin program does for entrepreneurs. It would be something like that, but one that focuses on underprivileged youth. I have always enjoyed helping the underdog. I put myself through school and am 100% self-funded and self-made. Yes, I had great parents, but we never had a lot of money.
On the business front, we want to bring in more non-profit clients and get more team members with government experience. Now that we are officially a certified women-owned business there is a lot of potentials there. Quality control and templated processes are also a huge priority for 2022. I also want to continue the EQ and leadership training that I’ve been doing with my management team. It helped them and I think I learn a bit during every session. Focusing on getting the best out of my team is critical. I want to join YPO so I need to get to 13 million before I am 45. I think I will get there. Then the next goal is $20 million in revenue before I am 50.”