Finding the balance between creativity and commerce is one of Galen Dalrymple’s biggest jobs at Polymath, a creative agency with a focus on nonprofits where he works with his son.
From decades working in business management at big tech companies to a stint as a pastor leading a church in Northern California, Galen Dalrymple’s path to Polymath has been a long and winding road. As a full-service creative agency, Polymath provides digital marketing, video, content and branding services to amplify the story and strategy of nonprofits and other businesses.
Galen is the COO at Polymath, where he’s in the unique position of working with his son, founder Tim Dalrymple. The yin to his son’s yang, the left brain to his son’s right, Galen talked to us about the importance of balancing art and commerce when running a small business anchored in creativity — and how FINSYNC has helped Polymath master project cost accounting.
What makes Polymath different than other creative agencies out there?
We work with a lot of nonprofits, which is also one of our challenges. We love to work with organizations that are doing morally significant work in the world. They have a cause and it’s a good cause and they believe in it. They need to tell their stories, and we think of ourselves as their storytellers.
We work hard to give them a really great product on margins that can get pretty thin at times just because we believe in what they’re doing. It’s fulfilling work, and you feel like you’re making a difference and helping them make a difference, but it creates some unique challenges for us. We have to watch our nickels and dimes.
What do you like best about working for a small business?
Getting to know the people so well, not just the employees and the contractors but the clients. The depth of the interpersonal relationship in a small business is just really fulfilling. It’s knowing the clients, knowing the people that I work with really well, and we have a great time together.
I’ve worked in companies of several thousand people and managed budgets for a 55 million dollar department. Sometimes big businesses can seem to be nameless and faceless places. We’re more like a family, really, and not a corporation or a business.
What’s the biggest challenge of running a creative agency?
Creatives generally don’t think in terms of dollars and cents. They think in terms of beauty and aesthetics and enhanced functionality. And they want to design and deliver the most elegant thing that they can think of in their creative brains. Getting them to think about profits isn’t easy.
It’s the nature of creatives to take whatever time it requires to produce an exquisite product, and I appreciate that about them — wanting to give clients the very best thing we can, and we try to do that.
But when you can show them in terms of hours and dollars how it affects the project and company overall, and by extension their own wallet, it helps them to see that there’s a happy middle ground somewhere that you have to hit.
As a small business, has Polymath faced any other challenges?
We’re small in terms of personnel and revenue, but small businesses face the same kind of financial decision-making challenges as the big companies do. We’ve got a smaller margin for error. A really bad decision can sink a small company faster than a bad decision can sink a big one.
We were using various tools and none of them talked to each other. We were using QuickBooks Online for our receivables. Later, we added the payables part to it, but it wasn’t connected to payroll, nor was it connected to time tracking, nor to our project management data in Excel for project cost accounting.
Our time tracking vendor didn’t connect to QuickBooks. We couldn’t really have a project cost accounting solution other than Excel spreadsheets, so I was spending a lot of time trying to get the data we needed from one tool and then patch summary information to other tools and make sense out of it all. It was very costly and very burdensome.
What made Polymath start using FINSYNC?
I knew we had to have a better sense of where we stood as a company. FINSYNC pulls all the data together so I can make sense out of things. It was the only platform we found that did everything we wanted.
QuickBooks can do payables, payroll, receivables, and general ledger kind of stuff. However, the project cost accounting was virtually non-existent. Time tracking didn’t exist at that point either. Our accountant was a certified QuickBooks professional, but he couldn’t figure out how to use QuickBooks to get what we wanted.
The only platform that really seemed like it did project cost accounting well in a way that made sense to me was FINSYNC.
How has FINSYNC helped Polymath with project cost accounting?
Everything we do is pretty much on a project basis. By having the time tracking built into FINSYNC that automatically updates costs and projects, and being able to track expenses, I can go in at a moment’s notice on any project and see what our budget for the project was. I can see how much we spent in labor and how much we’ve spent in expenses and what it looks like our projection is going to be.
And we use that historical data on future projects. Having all that information in FINSYNC, it’s just a matter of running a report and you’ve got that information. We use that to price out future projects so that future projects are more profitable than past ones. Having the information in FINSYNC that we can pull out to make better decisions has the biggest impact on us in terms of cash flow.
Any advice for small businesses out there?
In small business, you still need to sweat the details. It might seem like a dollar or two here and there, and that might not seem like much, but it all adds up and small businesses don’t have the capital reserves as a general rule to be frivolous.
Getting the tools that will give you the instantaneous information that you need in a way that’s easy to consume and understand is really important. I don’t know how a small business can operate without actionable intelligence anymore. I don’t know how any business can.
Many times, it can be a tool that you don’t have that can submarine your ship. Many small businesses don’t have project cost accounting, and I don’t know how they make decisions without it. At best, you’re guessing.