xero

Which apps have claimed your £1bn of mobile space?

The space on the homescreen of your mobile phone is some of the most valuable real estate in the world – worth a cool £1bn to app developers!

Here are the select few apps that have currently made it onto the homescreen of my Google Nexus 4 phone – they are, I suppose, my ‘£1bn apps’:

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Capsule CRM – the best CRM solution ever! (also, a client (not biased, honest!))

Google Music – Liked Spotify but liking Google Play too. Helped by the fact its a couple of £’s per month cheaper for what appears to be pretty much the same range of music. Interface not quite as user-friendly as Spotify though and downloads seem to take longer…

Evernote – still hard to beat to capture those lists and thoughts. Google Keep has a long way to go IMHO.

Plume – Twitter interface. Not thrilled with it I must confess but it does the job. Free version (cheap-skate I know!) so I get those annoying adds. Wish there was better search capability.

DoggCatcher – my podcast hub. I listen to tonnes of podcasts so this app gets well used. A good app overall but I still miss Tunecast, an app I used to use on iOS (not available on Android as far as I am aware). Again, search facility is lacking in functionality.

Google+ – increasingly flicking to Google+ in preference to Plume (Twitter). I like the scrolling of the Google+ app and the visual qualities are great. My photos are automatically uploaded from my phone so its becoming an increasingly powerful and appealing hub. Watch this space.

Linkedin – Linkedin is an important source of contacts for my work so I use it a fair amount. The app is okay but is still no competition for the web.

Xero – our accounting package of choice. Loved by our clients. Loved by us.

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Feedly – I mourned the day that Google Reader was disbanded but Feedly has picked up the reins well for my RSS feeds. Don’t dip in as often as I used to (not sure why really?) as the app has got better and better. Slick interface and good visuals.

Audible – I chew through audiobooks when on journeys in the car so this app is an absolute must for me. Fortunately it works well and allows for audiobooks to be purchased and downloaded directly through the app which is perfect (didn’t used to be possible).

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Amazon Kindle – again, like Audible and DoggCatcher this is one well worn app on my homescreen. I’m surprised the glass isn’t wearing away where the app sits as I keep on clicking on it! App works well. Can click into Amazon Kindle store to add new ebooks (this functionality was removed by Apple on my iOS but not sure if this is still the case?). Love the way you can sample books plus the recommendations along the bottom of the screen. All very neat.

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YouTube – enough said

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Google Play Store – from where the fun and functionality is sourced!

Google Chrome – the browser of choice. Surely!

Lost track of what this is called? Google Hangouts / Talk / Chat – I’m lost! Anyhow, it seems to work well for texting and chat.

Gmail – works well. Easy to switch between accounts. Been toying with Boomerang. Any other suggestions?

What apps get onto your £1bn space on your phone? Which apps should I be testing?

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10 benefits of working with a cloud accountant

  1. We  work together on the same figures – working in real-time.
  2. We can step in and advise early if something looks amiss or where there’s a potential planning opportunity.
  3. You know where you are in terms of business performance now. Today. This week. This Month. And so can act upon it.
  4. We can work at your pace and share our work progress in shared secure online drives – transparency reigns!
  5. We can work together anytime, anywhere. Whether you are in London, Cornwall, Bristol, Aberdeen or closer to home in the north west. Location really doesn’t matter to access the best accountancy services today.
  6. We will always be working on the latest versions of our accounting, CRM, etc saas based software as they can be updated by the service providers online. No more waiting for CD ROM patches and updates.
  7. The days of attempting (and often failing!) to email large files plus the potential for confusion over latest versions are long gone. We handle all data securely in the cloud which makes everything much easier.
  8. New tech add-ons are released regularly to further streamline processes and reduce admin.
  9. Year-end accounting work becomes a formality rather than an information sharing event – there should be no ‘news’ at your year end.
  10. We can now truly become an extension of your management team.

So what are you waiting for…..?

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You know your key business performance numbers – right?

Every business has its own particular key numbers. Mine has them. Yours has them. But do you know what they are and, if so, how are you measuring them?

Keys.

Keys. (Photo credit: Bohman)

If you are seeking to build a sustainable business you must hunker down and look at the numbers. Many business owners despise the thought and try to limit any sort of financial review to the year end but in today’s economic climate this is simply too risky – if you are fortunate enough to make it to your year end, the damage to the financial health of your business by that point may be too severe. You may already be in intensive care (and not even know it)!

I was sitting down with a client of mine last week who has a handle on his numbers. He has the benefit of using an online cloud based accounting solution (Xero) that allows him to drill down into his sales and costs in realtime. This allows us to have a richer conversation about exactly where his business is now and plans for the future.

He has an online business so his key costs are marketing and the salaries of the development team. We talked about his key numbers that are:

  • Cash in the bank
  • Number of new registrations / expressions of interest / leads
  • Cost per new customer acquisition i.e. conversions
  • Organic v purchased registrations (purchased mainly comprising Google Pay Per Click)
  • Profit margins per service offered

The business is still at a relatively early stage and therefore most of the focus is on customer acquisition and developing the service and therefore this business owner’s key numbers are primarily around lead generation, conversion and then up-selling additional higher margin services.

He has been tinkering with marketing costs (the beauty of Google Pay Per Click is that you can quickly and easily turn the tap on and off) and he knows that his development team is down to its bare bones and that he needs to keep investing in his IT platform to stay ahead of the competition. By his own admission, this business has yet to get fully to grips with relative margins between service lines although we discussed an exercise to get to grips with this sooner rather than later – as he doesn’t want to find 6-12 months down the line that he’s been leaving much needed cash on the table by up-selling the ‘wrong’ services.

We discussed condensing the key business information (beyond what’s available on the Xero dashboard) onto a single page that could be reviewed at least monthly – preferably weekly.

There’s no need to be put off by fancy acronyms like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and financial jargon, this is your business (your future) so you need to get a handle on the performance measures that matter so that you can take quick and decisive action if and when the need arises.

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How to get to grips with your business finances

It is easy to get caught up in ‘doing’ rather than ‘running’ your business.

So many business owners find themselves running simply to stand still – finding new customers, taking and fulfilling orders and addressing (hopefully not too many) customer complaints.

Sometimes its difficult to see the wood for the trees:

I’m really busy so I must be making money – right…?

Not necessarily.

Understanding your business finances

It is understandable that, at the end of a busy day working in your business, you would prefer not to review your business finances. But if you don’t understand the numbers that your business is producing then how will you know which bits are working (and profitable) and which bits of your daily work are simply a waste of time and effort?

I frequently recommend that owners of new businesses sit down (at least weekly) with a pencil and journal (yes, that technical!) and write out the week’s sales figures and costs by hand. I find that there is something more insightful about using a pencil and paper compared to an excel or similar spreadsheet – perhaps its the exercise of writing by hand that makes you think more deeply about the figures and how they connect (or not…).

At its most basic, to write out your sales income (ideally split across services or products) and associated costs, will give you a much clearer view of what is profitable work and what is unprofitable – the figures rarely lie. You would be astounded how few entrepreneurs do this simple exercise – and by the number of business owners whose jaws hit the desk when they realise why (or even that!) they are losing money you can tell they wish they’d done this far earlier!

Moving on from pencil and paper to the day-t0-day, I’m a big fan of online cloud accounting packages like Xero as they provide a live dashboard view of the health and performance of your business. Now with live feeds across the majority of UK banks, entrepreneurs can get a realtime view of the health (or otherwise!) of their business. The bank balance is clearly there to see plus debts receivable as are costs payable. Cashflow is absolutely king for all businesses so the ability to see how much cash is in the bank, how much is due in and how much is due out at any one time is crucially important if you are to be in the driving seat in running your business.

Don’t get put off by accountancy mumbo-jumbo, simply by taking the steps set out above on a daily or at least weekly basis, you will be streets ahead of many of your competitors who are ‘busy being busy’ with no clear focus or direction on what works for the future of their business. Try it. Let me know how you get on.

If you are a digital, tech or creative business and you would like some assistance in getting a better grip on your business finances then please drop me a line.

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Hate Accounting! Or Love Accounting?

The accountancy industry, like every other, is going through a rapid period of change. When I read posts like this, I feel a little despondent.

It gives me that awkward feeling that I get when people ask me what I do at dinner parties or networking events? I stumble between:

  • “I’m an accountant”
  • “I’m a tax advisor”
  • “I work in finance”
  • “I’m a tax partner”
  • “I’m a creative accountant”….mmmh , perhaps not!

It all feels a little apologetic and understates the value we can provide. I think that as an industry we’re a misunderstood bunch, yet we’ve only really got ourselves to blame.

I believe that there is a common misconception amongst business owners between accounting or bookkeeping on the one hand and business advice on the other. The former relates to data capture and entry (which is important yet mundane) and the latter is what can make entrepreneurs healthier and wealthier.

John O’Nolan makes some great suggestions on how we can embrace the ‘uninterestingness’of many aspects of accounting work and turn it to our advantage – some ideas which are already being embraced by new firms in similar ways – but I believe he misses the mark in relation to business advisory services. Dealing with the bookkeeping aspect first, I believe that we are getting closer to creating a solution with the emergence of cloud based accounting software e.g. Xero and Freeagent, which is intuitive and provides realtime data access.

Yet business advisory services covers the whole gambit of a business lifecycle from initial advice on structuring the business on startup, to raising finance, growing the business and making acquisitions and disposals. It involves treating the business and business owner(s) as one, providing all-round tax and strategic advice. Sometimes its just a shoulder to lean or being a sounding board when an entrepreneur has some tricky seas to navigate and is perhaps feeling a little isolated at the helm of the ship.

But there’s far more as an industry that we can do.

For me the real killer move for accountancy professional service firms will be the shift from a position of information or intellectual property protection to information flow management. We’ve spent decades building huge barricades around our knowledge in professional firms to ensure that we get maximum value on consultancy services yet the waste and cost to our economies of this information not getting into the right hands (in time) must be astronomical. Let’s turn it on its head and set the information free to get to the right people as and when they need it.

Tomorrow’s accountancy firm winners will be those that can get relevant information in the hands of business owners first – business advisory information that gives entrepreneurs that “Aha” moment right when they need it – perhaps John O’Nolan and those of a similar ilk would then change their perception from HA! to LA! (Love Accounting!)?

Moving from a mindset of information or idea protection to idea release will be difficult (perhaps more difficult than identifying the tools available to achieve it) but it is the critical next step in my mind if business advisors are to be able to demonstrate their expertise and relevance in an increasingly noisy market.

Back to my dinner party “what do you do?” question: how about this response?

“I help entrepreneurs turn great ideas into great businesses”

Any takers?

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Xero cloud accounting offers Virtual FDs for clients

Image representing Xero as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

As a partner accountancy firm with Xero, it was good to welcome Hamish Edwards (co-founder of Xero) to our offices today to talk about this online cloud based accounting solution and how it can further benefit our fast growth SME clients in Manchester and across the North West.

Having enjoyed talks with Rod Drury (Xero co-founder and CEO) and Gary Turner (UK MD) it was interesting to hear Hamish’s perspective on the vision for Xero given that he is a Chartered Accountant with his own successful accountancy practice (Openside) in New Zealand.

Hamish focused on the increased value role of accountants as “Virtual FDs” via Xero with the ability to access clients’ accounting records in realtime in order to provide timely, proactive accounting, financial and tax advice rather than just dealing with the traditional year end reporting compliance work – this is a crucial practical and mindset change for accountants that is long overdue.

Hamish also talked about “collaboration” as a cornerstone of Xero and the key benefits such as the clear and easy to follow dashboard, live (and growing range of) bank feeds and fantastically intuitive bank reconciliation process.

I am both optimistic and excited about what the likes of saas based Xero technology might mean in terms of accelerating the flow of knowledge and information between accounting firms and clients (versus the curse of traditional knowledge silos). Put another way, there is a whole raft of valuable knowledge available in accountancy firms that is often never fully leveraged because it is perceived to be either “too early” or “too late” or “not quite right now” to discuss with a client. This timing issue can hurt both clients and accountancy firms and results from a widespread and enduring tendency to build the relationship around year end reporting – due in no small part to the lack of ongoing visibility of the accounting records.

We work hard to meet up with our clients at regular intervals for planning meetings and trading updates but I can see technology like Xero being a great enabler for us to work much more closely in the future. Better for us, better for our clients.

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11 essential action points after starting your company

Better to be a disciplined entrepreneur from day one. Here is a checklist of 11 tips how:

  1. Get your company incorporation certificate, Memorandum & Articles of Association downloaded and on file. Plus a shareholders agreement if you have one. This will form the basis of your statutory books which you must maintain for any changes in shareholders, directors etc going forward.
  2. Complete and file Form CT41G with HM Revenue & Customs to register your company for corporation tax purposes and to get your employer payroll package ordered and registered with HMRC (or refer to point 11).
  3. Get the relevant documents (in point 1) plus your passport and a recent utility bill together ready to set up a business bank account (get used to pulling together these personal docs for routine money laundering checks for pretty much all financial services).
  4. Set up an A4 lever-arched file ready to collate all of your paper invoices received for amounts payable. Put a divider in the file to separate paid invoices (behind the divider) from the unpaid invoices (in front of the divider). Start numbering the invoices received sequentially to (ideally) match your online accounting software (see point 6).
  5. Decide whether it is right for your company to register for VAT (or refer to point 11).
  6. Choose a decent accounting package so that you can get all of your financial affairs including invoicing etc set up ready. I like Xero.
  7. Check your founder(s) shareholding allocation now e.g. if there are any shares to be allocated to key (present or known future) management / employees do it now or asap before the value in the business (and therefore shares) increases. If you delay you could store up some nasty capital gains tax, income tax and national insurance liabilities for the future…
  8. Get all your ducks in a row with regard to all industry certification and insurance requirements for your particular sector. Would be embarrassing and unprofessional to get this wrong.
  9. Think now about protecting your crown jewels. Is there any intellectual property, trademarks or patents that need filing, protecting or transferring before you launch your BIG idea or go head-to-head with the competition?
  10. Go get yourself a natty logo, stationery and website. Remember to include your company name, address, registered company number and VAT (if applicable) on your documentation. Get business cards too. Register your Twitter account. Start a blog. Tell the world.
  11. Get yourself a supportive accountant and tax adviser who understands your niche :)

Photo credit

Professionals serving clients via The Cloud

As a practising chartered accountant and tax advisor, I am finding that the ability to reach out and service clients via The Cloud is getting easier (and even more fun). 

Two recent examples from the past week:

  1. Sat at my Mac when I was pinged via Skype by one of my contacts “Steve, do you have a moment to help?”.  Within seconds he had sent me a link via Yuuguu for me to view his screen.  He was busy trying to file his company CT600 tax return online but was encountering some problems.  There is a further option on the screen that allowed me to take control of his screen so that I could quickly rifle through the online pages to determine if anything was wrong.  Meanwhile we could discuss via online chat.  A v slick experience and a glimpse into the way we will work in the future (now)!
  2. Leaving the gym, a client wanted me to check some recent accounting entries to his online business books.  With no time to get back to the office, I stopped by a local Pret-A-Manger and sat down with my laptop to hook up to the free wifi.  I tried to connect to Skype via my ipod Touch (as Skype is not installed on my work laptop) but unfortunately the connection was patchy.  A quick log-in to Twitter to apologise for the delay and my client sent an access link to his online accounting package, Xero, via a direct message in Twitter.  Within seconds I was logged into his Xero account reviewing the accounting entries.  The review was limited as I wanted to discuss some points with him (and a public place like Pret is not ideal), however, to get a heads up on the fly, this was great. 

Who would have thought this way of working would be possible only a couple of years ago? 

Example 1 could not have happened as I was not in the office at the time.  Example 2 would have meant a significant delay and frustration for my client awaiting my return to the office etc.   In both cases, these tools enabled me to be more responsive and allowed me to work without being chained to my desk. 

Professionals need to be out of the office supporting the business community and these tech tools are allowing this to become a reality. 

On a personal note, many of my clients are technology companies and they (quite rightly) expect their advisers to operate and work utilising similar tools – great news for me!

What might this mean for the way professionals work in the (near) future?