Couple puts money where their mouse is

ELK RAPIDS – Ten Keys, a new business service firm based in Elk Rapids, bucks all of the pencil-pushing, number-crunching stereotypes associated with accounting services. Office visitors are greeted by Zeke and Buffy, the resident terriers, and a framed picture of John Lennon. In the conference room, yoga manuals and vegetarian cookbooks are nestled between boxes of accounting software and notebooks of tax codes.

But in this office, unconventional does not mean unprofessional or inexperienced.

Company President Zach Matheson, worked in sales for national payroll providers ADP and Paychex for seven years and his wife Amie, vice president of sales, sold pharmaceuticals.

The couple was living in Dearborn, putting up with the daily grind, they said. But Zach became disenchanted with what he calls the "hit and run" sales approach of his employer, and felt there was a better way to run a business.

"I might've spent a year cultivating a relationship with a prospective customer, but once I made the sale, I had to be done with that relationship so I could go make other sales. Once they were passed off, what I had told them and what was delivered might be two radically different things. I knew I had to either leave the industry completely or start my own firm," he said.

He decided on the latter. Amie had such faith in Zach's ambition she quit her job and they set their sights on northern Michigan, finally settling on Elk Rapids.

The company is grounded in technology, offering payroll administration, applicant screening and time and attendance tracking entirely online. Customers submit all their information to Ten Keys via the Internet.

"We're one hundred percent online in as many aspects as we can be," said Amie. "Technology-wise, we could live and work anywhere. If you can live anywhere, why not be where you want to be?"

The couple planned their venture for about a year before finally opening their downtown Elk Rapids office. They worked with a software developer to create and brand their web-based program, which can be accessed from anywhere, is compatible with all accounting software, and doesn't require their clients to purchase any software or pay for updates.

"(Our competitors) make you buy software-sometimes you even need to invest in extra hardware to store it, you have to pay a tech guy to install it, when new tax codes or updates come out, you have to purchase them, then pay the tech guy again to come and install them," said Amie.

With the Ten Keys program, customers don't have to pay for the "extras."

"We give unlimited reports, we don't have a cap on the number of deductions allowed, or the number of direct deposits. We have the base fee, and that's it," said Amie.

This can result in significant savings, especially for companies with 30 or more employees, she added. They are currently working with a prospective client with 300 employees who will save $45,000 a year in payroll administration by switching to Ten Keys.

"This is our home. We want to help employers and help the economy. We can offer better rates, better functionality and better customer service. It makes a huge difference," said Amie. "It's definitely not a glamorous job, but when you have something you believe in, it's worth it."

The company has sales reps in the Detroit and Lansing areas and has purchased Google AdWords to reach clients everywhere. In fact, they were recently contacted by a Tucson, Ariz. company.

"We hope to be the largest payroll provider in the Midwest in five years," said Amie. BN