Meet the other finalists:
- All That Counts (AU)
- Business Cents (USA)
- AIS Solutions (CAN)
- Finalists compared: app stacks + business models
Don’t expect a packet of Mentos in the bowl on the boardroom table when you visit Business Works in Garforth, West Yorkshire. Chances are you will be toasting sweet success with a collection of chocolate oranges on display.
Joanne Tomlinson, a commercial accountant who launched her advisory practice in 2008, is proud of her time working in food manufacturing, particularly chocolates. Business Works’ brand colour is bright orange; that sweets bowl represents a melding of past and future.
Business Works’ nine staff service 150 clients, 60 percent of which are on QuickBooks Online.
Given that the UK is the homeland of accounting software giant Sage, this is quite a remarkable feat.
Joanne spoke to Digital First about what makes her firm the finalist for Firm of the Year in the UK.
D1: Why were you selected as a finalist?
Tomlinson: Last year’s UK finalist was talking (at a recent event) about being a Firm of the Future, becoming a trusted advisor, moving away from traditional data entry and embracing of the cloud. And I looked at my colleague and said, ‘We are already doing this!’
I set up the business like that, we haven’t had to make a transition. I came out of industry helping managers in much bigger businesses make informed decisions to improve profitability and understand where profitability is coming from. And helping sales and marketing teams market products in a cost effective and commercially viable way.
This was my background. Why wouldn’t small businesses need that just because they’re smaller?
D1: What commercial roles have you held?
Tomlinson: I was mainly working in food manufacturing. I developed quite a niche in chocolate manufacturing. I was a commercial accountant partly working with the sales and marketing team and the finance team.
There is a crossover in those two areas. We have to stop the marketeers doing non-commercial activities, and understanding which markets we should be going into. I did a lot of work on value engineering and profitability to get the margin back up when the price had been set too low.
D1: Why did you decide to start your own business?
Tomlinson: I had been doing that for 20 years and was made redundant for the third time. I decided to start my own business and take charge of my own destiny. I’ve never been in an accounting practice, and I didn’t have the legacy of a traditional way of doing things.
I was speaking to another business owner and her issue was scalability because she was the accountant doing the accounts. I have always looked after the strategy of the business and have a team of people who do the accounts, that’s never been me.
It was always the intention to do the legal and compliance. But, (if you had a) blank sheet of paper, what does a small business owner need from an accounting professional?
D1: Do accountants need to have commercial experience to help clients with strategy? Or can any accountant do what you do?
Tomlinson: Oh yeah, definitely (any accountant can do it). There’s no reason why not. They just need to retrain their mindset. For some it’s easier than others.
For the younger ones it may be easier. I may not be young but my business is! We don’t get hung up on the fact things are changing.
I spoke at an event recently about a business that asked me if I did bookkeeping. And I said, why would you ask me about that? You could use an app, scan documents in and then use someone like us to advise and support you. They had started the call asking about a bookkeeper and ended the journey with a trusted adviser. I go along now to their board meetings and make sure that everyone is getting the information they need.
Unfortunately I really upset a bookkeeper (at the event). We all need to accept that it is changing and look at our proposition in the marketplace. We will still flourish regardless of whether we’re accountants or bookkeepers.
D1: But isn’t bookkeeping important?
Tomlinson: Yes it is. If you have someone who isn’t trained as an accounting professional in that role then they can be a data enterer and think they are a bookkeeper.
If you don’t understand the system you’re putting the data into then you can put it into the wrong place. And then the accounting professional has to put it in the right place.
Bookkeeping is still a skill. Even though QuickBooks Online is the best accounting software in mind it will not make you into a bookkeeper.
D1: Why have you decided to go with QuickBooks Online? Why not Sage One?
With Sage One we loved the idea of the cloud and we loved that the data could be shared. And all the backup stuff was taken out of the equation. Unfortunately Sage One was a hurriedly put together piece of software. I don’t think Sage had appreciated there would be such a groundswell into the cloud that they hadn’t put the development into it that was required.
Unfortunately it had a lot of issues. Lots of downtime, technical issues, screen freezes, the help desk wasn’t very helpful. The help desk told one client who wasn’t particularly big that perhaps have too many transactions. I thought if that is true then we can’t put any more clients onto it. We have some really transactionally heavy clients and there’s no way they can go onto Sage One.
D1: How did you choose QuickBooks Online?
Tomlinson: I sent two of our accountants down to a cloud software conference. They spent the day down there with one edict from me – who were we going to recommend to our clients.
They said it had been really close but QuickBooks Online had nudged Xero.
Tomlinson: Well it’s a funny thing, but it was Rich Preece. I don’t want to say it was him because I don’t want to make his head swell. I haven’t actually met Rich Preece yet. I asked one accountant and she said that there was something about Rich Preece that they just really trusted. And the two platforms looked like they were doing mostly the same thing at the time. If Xero had had a really charismatic person speaking they may have decided to go with Xero.
D1: Was Rich Preece the only reason?
Tomlinson: There was another thing. Most of the (cloud accounting softwares) are declared at pretty much the same price. When QuickBooks says it’s $25 that’s what you pay. Whereas with Xero I found that that didn’t include bank feeds! The next most wonderful thing about cloud accounting is the bank feeds (after sharing the data). It’s not the amount because it’s definitely worth it. But it’s not what they say on the front page.
I’m a very transparent person and we will charge you what we said we will in fixed fee quotes.
We have a sign on our wall that says you will never receive an invoice that you weren’t expecting. It’s all about honesty.
I’m glad that we went with QuickBooks Online. It is transparent on price and I like that.