Meet the other finalists:
- Cloud Bookkeeping Services (CANADA)
- Reconciled (USA)
- Wealth Cafe (INDIA)
- Regional Business Services (AUS)
Peter Jarman saw how much publicity the UK finalist gained in the Firm of the Future competition and decided that his own firm would one day take the stage. Two years later his dream is fulfilled. Jarman is travelling to QuickBooks Connect, San Jose to find out if PJCO has won the whole competition.
Jarman sat down and thought about how he could differentiate his firm to stand out from the pack. The short answer – invest in education. He hired two graduates from university to identify the curated stack of apps they would sell to clients, and to answer one burning question – could they get away with selling just one accounting app?
|Name of Company||PJCO Chartered Certified|
|Location of Company||Shoreham-by sea, UK|
|How long have you been in business?||29|
|Number of staff?||17|
|Number of clients?||400|
|Staff to client ratio||24|
|Do you outsource bookkeeping or accounting work?||Yes|
|What % of your clients are on value pricing/fixed fee?||95|
|What % of your clients are on cloud accounting software?||60|
|What % of your clients are on QBO?||59|
Digital First: Why do you think you are a finalist?
Jarman: Firstly because we entered the competition. We probably spent a couple of years preparing our entry, so we’re not doing it out of short-termism. When we saw the UK Firm of the Future a couple of years ago we decided that was what we ought to try to do.
Digital First: Why did it take you several years to enter?
Jarman: We had to decide how we would differentiate ourselves from other firms. Part of that was thinking about ways we could operate in the cloud in a slightly different way. Early on we decided to make quite a heavy investment in new staff and R&D.
What we actually did was find some graduates just starting their accountancy career and get them to research how cloud accounting business apps worked. We spent probably a year allowing them to go off and research things. Not asking for any return in that, just getting them to understand how the environment works.
In the first year we were doing R&D on how we could be different and the second was implementing some of those changes.
|What apps do you use for productivity?||Office 365, Karbon, IRIS Practice Management, QBOA, Slack|
|What apps do you use for workflow?||QBOA, Karbon, IRIS Practice Management|
|Tax and Statuory accounts?||IRIS|
|Electronic signatures?||IRIS OpenSpace|
|Document storage?||Hosted Environment|
|CRM?||IRIS Practice Management, Karbon, QBO, MailChimp|
|Expense management?||Receipt Bank, AutoEntry, Expensify|
|Credit Control?||Satago, Chaser|
Digital First: There are several hundred apps in the combined cloud accounting ecosystems to research. Did you give them a more specific brief?
Jarman: First we had to decide whether we had to be specialists in all cloud accounting software or just one package. Was there a big enough market for one app or did we have to offer all of them? We decided early on that there was a big enough market to offer just one accounting package. That meant we probably only had to concentrate on eight or 10 cloud apps around the sorts of businesses we were looking for. There are only 17 of us, we couldn’t possibly research properly 200 different business applications and eight accounting applications.
Digital First: What are the sorts of businesses that you look for?
Jarman: If you said we had just one niche, we look for SMEs that want to base their accounting on QuickBooks Online. Within that there’s probably three or four sorts of businesses that we deal with. We concentrate on contracting or gig economy businesses. It is pretty simple to implement digital apps to record all their transactions. They are the closest we have got to full automation. Our aim in a year’s time is to have some of our clients completely automated with all of their records happening with no human input.
We have lots of clients involved in construction and property, and we have found apps to help them work better. We are quite keen on hospitality, restaurants and cafes. We have a nice suite of apps that can mean if a new business owner opened a cafe tomorrow they can come to us and we have the whole app suite to open their cafe, take orders on iPads, send the order to the kitchen to produce food, payment solutions. The whole business in a box, for all intents and purposes.
Digital First: When you say gig economy do you mean Uber drivers and the like? Aren’t they quite low-value clients?
Jarman: In the UK there are lot of banking and IT contractors working for IT departments of larger concerns or banks. All of these people operate as one-man limited companies. They all have to comply with company law and tax. We are trying to automate the whole process of filing receipts and raising invoices so they can concentrate on doing their jobs. It means that they don’t have to spend half a day a week collating their receipts and recording them and not working. They can do it as they go along using their phones.
Digital First: Are they using QuickBooks Self-Employed, then?
Jarman: QuickBooks Self-Employed isn’t used that much for clients that use us. QuickBooks Online Plus is the standard application for us.
Digital First: What have you done to automate the process?
Jarman: For every client it is a combination of QuickBooks Online and Receipt Bank as a starting point. We use Receipt Bank as the filing system to make sure none of the receipts get lost. There’s no box of receipts that the tax authorities ask for in a couple of years, these are recorded as expenses are incurred. Our clients use the receipts to have them fully filed in an additional format. That’s a starting point for every point for every business.
Digital First: What percentage of automation does that care for?
Jarman: Certainly for those contractors in that gig economy we want to have 100% of their businesses automated. They raise one sales invoice to the company they are working for. It can be a repeat sales invoice, so they just have to enter the number of days. In terms of receipts, they generally have the same sort of receipts. Hotels and assistance costs going to their customer. In Receipt Bank we set up rules so that as soon as they take a photo of the receipt it goes to the right sort of expense category. But it’s only four or five expense categories and four or five suppliers. If we have enough rules in QuickBooks Online or Receipt Bank we don’t have to do any bookkeeping, it’s pure interpretation.
Digital First: Is that enough to differentiate yourself?
Jarman: It’s enough of a differentiator among all the firms in the UK. It’s not enough of a differentiator among the top 10% that are adopting cloud solutions. For that 10%, can you come up with business applications that are really going to help? There is a smaller percentage that are finding business apps that will make your business run better. I suspect that if a new cafe owner went to 95% or 98% of accountants in the UK they wouldn’t be in a position to offer them a solution that runs their business efficiently.
Digital First: Why is that?
Jarman: The majority of accountants would leave that to someone else. We’re quite interested in providing those sorts of solutions. And we generally find that most business owners are quite keen to take those solutions from accountants who know what they are talking about.
We build those sorts of business apps to link to QuickBooks Online. We use some soft skills such as marketing to talk to them about how they can improve profits by pricing their menus properly using techniques from people like Mark Wickersham. For cafes we will often talk to new business owners about anchoring. I can safely say that 99% of accountants in the UK won’t talk to cafe owners about anchoring, and how they can increase the price of fish and chips by increasing the price of lobster on the menu.
Digital First: Is accounting and software implementation is going to become standard for accountants?
Jarman: I think we’re ideally suited to do it. Generally business owners trust their accountants to do these things. Accountants need a sea change to understand what skills they need. But a lot of those skills are already ingrained in young uni graduates. They are trained already to operate in this way.
I don’t think it’s easy for older accountants like me to learn new things. But if you start your career in cloud based apps that’s the norm. We are encouraging our grads that that is the new norm so they learn it from day 1.
Digital First: Are you looking to expand into any other niches?
Jarman: We have to look at what’s available around us. There’s a lot of digital agencies in the nearby city to us, Brighton.
We decided we can provide quickBooks Online and the apps to the best possible std that we can do. So if the business wants that as the backbone for their business then we’re the right fit for them.
Digital First: You are doing all the implementation work yourself?
Jarman: In virtually all cases we are setting them all up. We do go off and spend a lot of time researching and training our cloud team into doing this. For example one of the apps we use is the Good Till company. It’s an automated tool for cafes, restaurants and retailers. We had to spend a couple of weeks really learning how to use that app and experiment with it before we could dare to go to a client and tell them we could put this app in for them.
In our video for Firm of the Future we were looking at an ice cream shop and their business is based on the Good Till app. In the past the owner couldn’t tell for days or weeks what ice creams were selling at what times of day so he couldn’t go off and get his staff to produce more ice cream. With GoodTill. I was able to look at the sales in real time and see how many strawberry flavoured ice creams were sold between 12pm and 2pm each day rather than chocolate and go back to the ice-cream making team to make fresh tubs of strawberry.
There was so much more information available to him to allow him to run his business better. If you’re offering that sort of service and you’re an accountant they trust you in the first place. Then it’s better for the accountant to do the install than a third party app provider coming in and doing it.
Digital First: Do you split the roles between accounting and software setup?
Jarman: We have a cloud accounting department and traditional accounting tax department. We allowed staff to go and experiment with apps. Every single member of our team had to take their QuickBooks Online advanced certification. So every member of the team, from payroll to administrator to client portfolio manager, had to become proficient in QuickBooks Online. The cloud based team are responsible for bringing other apps to that base knowledge.