Small business owners may sometimes feel like they’re tackling their problems alone—but a chamber of commerce can help. The California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce (CalAsian Chamber) and the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce (SacAsian Chamber) are creating a powerful network to help businesses build, grow, and sustain success.
The two chambers share a common goal: to address the most pressing challenges faced by Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)-owned businesses across Sacramento and California by mobilizing resources to their owners.
But these chambers of commerce faced their own challenges: a hard-to-manage and time-consuming payments process. To help streamline payables, they turned to BILL finance automation.
As the mission for these two chambers describes, “We give diverse small businesses a voice.” With help from their extensive network, the chambers have been able to advocate for equitable opportunities for Asian and Pacific Islander-owned small businesses and connect entrepreneurs with subject matter experts and reliable service providers.
The CalAsian Chamber has a slightly broader, more policy-driven approach to helping small businesses. The Sacramento Chamber has a more one-on-one approach, including providing consulting work and technical assistance workshops. The result is two chambers—two entirely separate legal entities, with separate membership bases—that make a real difference in the lives of their members.
Ryan Fong, Director of Finance for both chambers, is proud of the work the chambers are able to do. “A lot of small businesses don't have a voice necessarily on a large scale,” he describes. “So being able to advocate and provide some level of visibility and voice to them is really a top priority for the organizations. A lot of our Asian communities are in underserved or disadvantaged areas, and so it's really important that we act on their behalf and get input from them.”
Fong didn’t always know he wanted to work in finance—in fact, his first degree was in integrative biology. But his first job out of college was with California & Sacramento Asian Pacific Chambers of Commerce, and he’s been there for over a decade. Now he has earned an MBA and acts as Director of Finance for both chambers, running all accounting, day-to-day bookkeeping, budgets, and financials.
But during the pandemic, he faced a new challenge.
“Before we started using BILL, we just used paper checks in-house,” Fong describes. It was a tedious process. “It would require me to process everything manually within QuickBooks, then go to our present CEO or COO for approval,” Fong says.
“During the pandemic we switched to remote work, so I would have to drive to our CEO's house and leave the checks on her doorstep, because this was during the early pandemic when no one wanted to be face to face. After she signed the checks, I would have to mail them all out.”
The chambers discovered BILL when they were working with a national organization that used the software for accounts payable. “After signing up with BILL to receive payments from the organization, we started using the product for ourselves because it was really convenient,” explains Fong, “Especially because the pandemic had just started, and we were switching to remote work.”
Luckily BILL made a big difference. “BILL really helped us to not only simplify that payment process and saved us those physical check runs, but it also helped with the audit trail and approval process, which has been particularly helpful for our grant programs,” Fong says. “We're not signing forms in-person anymore, and it minimizes the number of emails that have to go back and forth to designate approvals on those programs.”
In the end, BILL was an easy choice. “With BILL, it was suddenly so easy to complete the approvals process,” says Fong.
How much time does BILL save the chambers? “If I were to be doing all of this manually, it would probably add at least three to four hours a week, minimum,” explains Fong. “We would be entering information, getting everything printed, reviewing, getting physical signatures, and then mailing everything out. BILL has just simplified the process a lot.” He doesn’t want to go back to the old ways: “Doing it manually would be a pain.”
BILL has also helped simplify audits. “Before BILL, we had to complete audits to show approvals as part of our accounting process,” Fong shares. “I would have to pull multiple emails, and those might be all spread out. But now with BILL, the approval process is very clean.”
Adds Fong, “The ability to designate approvers and easily view approval dates in BILL has really improved audits for us, as well as invoicing for grant reimbursements.”
In addition to a streamlined approval process, Fong says, “the biggest BILL benefits have been the ability to send ACH and streamlined check processing. And ACH payments with BILL are also a big thing, because we didn’t have access to that before.”
BILL’s two-way sync with QuickBooks is also a great benefit. Says Fong, “BILL’s integration with QuickBooks was super easy, because it just mapped directly to our accounts, and now it syncs the chart of accounts pretty easily in all the classes.”
According to Fong, transparency into payments leads to greater efficiencies and time savings. “We have a lot of payments coming in and out,” explains Fong. “With BILL, we can provide consultants with the access to view their bill approval and review status. And if they see that it was entered three weeks ago but it still isn't approved for some reason, they can follow-up with us and ask, ‘Hey, what's going on? Can I do anything to speed this along?’
“And payment notifications are also a huge help,” continues Fong, “because then consultants can know payments are coming. It's been really helpful because having to communicate about every individual payable would be very time consuming.”
And what does Fong do with all the time he’s saving thanks to BILL? Says Fong, “With BILL, I’ve saved a lot of time, and I can repurpose that time towards other important work that might have required me to work late for an hour or two some days. The ability to do stuff quickly through BILL has been a huge time saver, and having that extra time is always important.”