With over two decades’ experience of the accountancy industry under her belt, Sharon Pocock, founder of Kinder Pocock, knows her technical chops. But it was the discovery of online accounting and its arsenal of cloud-based business apps, that revolutionised her outlook on accountancy and brought about the opportunity to deliver a more personal kind of business support to her firm’s clients.
We sat down with Sharon to find out how the ever-growing marketplace of cloud accounting apps have opened up new ways to help her clients.
Setting up Kinder Pocock in the cloud
Sharon comes from a fairly traditional accounting background and had originally established Kinder Pocock as a practice back in 2005, as a means to balance her professional work life and accountancy clients around family responsibilities and the arrival of her first son.
But it was her discovery of online accounting that really opened up the doors to reinventing the practice and how she worked with clients.
“In about 2012, I’d started seeing cloud accounting systems appear and then two separate clients asked me about cloud – and by then I knew I was already too late. I should be suggesting new tech to them, not them suggesting it to me. So I looked at different cloud solutions and chose Xero.
We didn’t immediately get loads of clients coming to us, it’s been more of a slow burn over the past five years. But one of the key things was moving to Xero and Google Apps etc. – that just opened the whole online world up. Once you’ve see how much better it is to work online, you start looking at more and more solutions.”
Technology with a friendly face
Becoming a 'cloud accountant' in 2012 was a bold move for the firm, but Sharon’s keen to underline that their ability with technology isn’t their only selling point. For her, client relationships, trusted support and a friendly face are all just as vital.
“We say to clients that we’ll automate their businesses and free their time up – and the software’s a big part of that. But we’re also friendly and not stuffy in the way that some traditional accountants can be.
People come to us because they know we’re user-friendly, speak on their terms and are easy to get along with. We become friends, really, and that’s always been the driver, with the online tools helping us with all of that.”
When business clients have instantaneous access to their numbers, they’re more aware of their finances – and that tends to result in more questions and queries. Sharon was keen that clients felt able to pick up the phone, and that’s led to a lot more advisory work, as she explains.
“When we started moving people to Xero and Receipt Bank, we were having conversations about how you did certain things in those systems. That gave us so many touch points with the clients and they were speaking to us a lot more than before we moved online.
You build a much more in-depth relationship where you’re hand-holding and giving tips. And the more clients see their Xero information, the more questions they have and the more control they have over their business numbers. People that would previously bring in all their receipts in a shoe box just before their filing deadline are now really interested and engaged by their numbers and want more help from us.”
The value of forecasting and looking forwards
A key element of Kinder Pocock’s methodology is talking to business owners about both their personal and business goals. With a clear idea of the owner’s individual aspirations for the future, Sharon can bring those dreams one stage closer to being a reality.
“We always start by talking about business owners’ own personal aspirations, asking them where they see themselves in 10 years. And when we’ve got those goals down, we can look at what the business needs to achieve so they can fulfill those aspirations.”
For Sharon, this is where the number-crunching abilities of online accounting really comes into play, giving her the ability to look forwards and forecast the future.
“Although looking at historical numbers is useful, it’s still looking backwards. To help clients really improve their business, looking forwards is much more valuable. Adding value for our clients definitely goes hand in hand with using the apps and add-ons within Xero.
Spotlight Reporting is one app we’ve been using for ages and we use that for tax-planning too. It’s so easy to build forecasts for different scenarios and so easy to update if the client wants something changed. So the more you use something like Spotlight alongside Xero, the more opportunities you see to use the app and bring additional value to clients.”
“We offer a lot of tax planning before the end of the year, so we’ll run a Spotlight forecast with their figures up to date. That can be the starting point for the conversation with the client – It’s about us helping deliver a better business journey over the next 3 months, or 6 months or even over the next three years.”
GoCardless, automation and a more streamlined practice
Sharon’s mantra at Kinder Pocock is ‘If you can automate it, automate it!’ and that’s been a key benefit of having GoCardless’ Direct Debit payment solution in place to automate their collection of fees and reconcile everything directly in their own Xero accounts.
“We first started using GoCardless for Xero in January 2013. Once you have it in place it’s like you’ve always had it – it’s central to our processes and how we collect our own fees now.”
Late payment wasn’t a specific problem for the firm. Fees were usually paid via bank transfer, cheque, or the odd cash payment in the early days, but Sharon could see that the time spent on cash collection, banking admin and chasing the occasional late invoice was holding back the efficiency of the practice – and that desire for automation led her to GoCardless.
“Having GoCardless really streamlines the whole process of collecting cash – it happens in the background automatically and we don’t really notice. I know that on a certain day in the month that the bulk of our monthly billing will be deposited in our bank account. So it’s the reassurance, in terms of cash flow, but also the huge amount of time it saves on chasing processes.”
Translating the benefits of GoCardless to clients
This drive for improvement, better workflows and efficiency has led Sharon to introduce GoCardless and other Xero apps, to her clients – bringing the learnings they’ve made as a practice to business owners and finance teams.
“The apps that we can best recommend are those we use ourselves. GoCardless is an integral part of our processes, and because it’s so good we promote it to our clients as well. It’s definitely in our arsenal of useful solutions that we recommend to clients.”
“When I’m talking to clients about payment and cash flow, I’ll usually talk about using GoCardless and Chaser together, with GoCardless making sure payments come through more predictably and Chaser automatically chasing up any possible debt. Chaser emails the customer with a link to the payment button in Xero, which has all the GoCardless payment information.
It's the benefit of having cash in the bank quicker that’s the real decider. It's also ideal for clients that take deposits and stage payments; e.g. clients of ours that run events, or weddings etc. Previously they’d have waited for the customer to pay and were not in control of payment at all.
This combination of Xero, GoCardless and Chaser is going to get them paid much quicker, they don’t have to chase up late-paying customers and their customers don’t have to worry about it either, as payment will be taken automatically.”
Becoming an advocate for online working
Sharon’s now a fully paid up advocate for working in the cloud. And her enthusiasm and desire to ‘do things better’ certainly transfer across to Kinder Pocock’s clients – something that’s been a key driver behind the ongoing growth of the practice.
“People do sometimes laugh at me because I get so enthusiastic about cloud and Xero etc, but that enthusiasm does translate across to your clients. To be honest, traditional, old-school accountancy can be quite dull, so we make it more interesting by being online and working with more exciting clients who understand the value of cloud. The technology has really changed our business – it’s a joy to be involved in and it does make our work a lot more fun!
Even the visual aspect of how pleasing systems like Xero and GoCardless look is part of the attraction, as well as how helpful the support teams are and how easy it is to get the processes in place. Once everything’s set up, you’re not even aware that some of the processes are happening – it just happens, as if by magic.”
The future for Kinder Pocock
So what does the future hold for Kinder Pocock? How does Sharon see her cloud practice evolving and growing over the next few years?
“The main aim for us in the coming years is to move more into the advisory space. We’ve got all these really good software apps, like Xero, Receipt Bank, GoCardless, Chaser and Spotlight, that help us add more value for clients. And we also have a selection of advisory tools we use with clients to help drive their strategic planning and performance… things like our ‘Strategy & Targets’ chart for pinning down business owner’s personal and professional aspirations, and our one-page business plan, that clients love. As an accountant that’s really the fun bit of being an advisor – seeing that you’re making a difference to businesses.
We’re growing all the time, and I do have plans to get a few more staff on board, but the main thing for us to keep up to date with the technology and apps and to use them to enhance our advisory work – that’s what business owners want, after all: someone with an accounting brain who gives them the advice and personal support they need.”