My Professional Profile

Giving the necessary attention to telecom and credit card processing expenses is almost impossible for business owners today. The technology associated with these services is always changing and growing in complexity. Having run two successful anesthesiology corporations over the course of 24 years, Schooley Mitchell Business Optimization Specialist Lee Balaklaw knows first-hand how difficult it can be to manage all aspect of a business.

Lee is a retired anesthesiologist who was fellowship trained in cardiac and advanced clinical anesthesiology, with a sub speciality certificate in pain management. While running his own professional corporations in this field, Lee became fascinated with the different aspects involved in running a business. He decided to go back to school and obtained a Masters of Business Administration Degree. After that, Lee was eager to start his own independent business.

Along with his wife Marla, Lee Balaklaw now owns and operates Schooley Mitchell of Louisa, an independent consulting business delivering expertise and cost-saving solutions in the fields of telecommunications and merchant services to companies of all sizes. Marla, a formally trained retail buyer, has gained experience in a wide variety of roles related to customer service, sales support and project management. Together, Lee and Marla have focused their expertise towards helping local businesses save money on their telephones, wireless devices, Internet service and debit or credit card processing.

Lee and Marla emphasize integrity, reliability and service in the work they do and their dealings with clients. They both love working with local business people and showing them ways to save money. Their solid detective work and cross checking has resulted in refunds or credits of varying sizes for over 80 percent of their clients. Businesses who believe they are already getting the best deals possible are regularly pleasantly surprised to find new ways to save on their telecom and merchant services expenses.

One client that stands out in Lee’s mind is a CPA who runs a healthcare business. “During our initial interview he said it was a bit embarrassing he needed to hire a telecommunications consultant to explain his phone bill to him,” recalls Lee fondly. Lee and Marla found errors in his bills, managed his cell phone data costs to save on overage charges, and negotiated a lower priced VoIP and Internet contract. But their work didn’t stop there. The vendor failed to implement the contract as signed, but after months of escalations with the vendor they finally got the contracted pricing implemented and obtained a substantial refund for the client as well.

“We took the client and his accounting staff to lunch and presented the final results for the 10 months of work,” says Lee. “They were astonished to learn we obtained $4,000 in refunds and saved them $11,000 overall.”

One trend Lee and Marla have observed as consultants is that technology, as well as their work with vendors, is becoming more and more complex. The overwhelming number of choices can be difficult to navigate, and businesses often suffer paralysis by analysis as a result. They delay decisions which in turn cost them money.

Lee and Marla’s in-depth analysis also recently helped a client who had signed a contract that provided free long distance service. “Due to a lack of resources to monitor their bills, the client continued to be billed for long distance for five and a half years until we conducted our audit and review,” explains Lee. “We were able to obtain a refund for the full amount owed to the client.”

The pair also foresees their work evolving to deal with increasingly complex issues as fiber optic cable rolls out and gains popularity. Even more choices will become available, and Schooley Mitchell will be there to help businesses make sense of it all.

People might be surprised to learn that Lee collects fountain pens. While running a business that keeps up with the fast paced evolution of technology, his collection connects him to the past. “A fountain pen harkens back to a more elegant time and a more deliberate way of writing,” says Lee.

Marla enjoys dedicating her spare time to help local animals. Despite not owning any pets, Marla is a regular volunteer at Lawrence County Humane Society. She has participated in several fundraising events over the years, including the Walk for Animals fundraiser.

If Lee could give one tip to business owners, it would be to stay focused on their core business. “Businesses do not have expertise in all areas they have to deal with, nor should they,” says Lee. “Any service that can be outsourced to a consultant with greater knowledge and expertise than the client should be outsourced. I have presented cost-saving solutions to many well managed organizations that had no idea how much money they were leaving on the table.”

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