Highlights of my conversation with Lisa Martin

  • Working with a mentor to develop leadership skills
  • Quality Management in a bookkeeping business
  • Social media, referral and paid advertising
  • Building brand equity in a bookkeeping business
  • New Zealand Bookkeepers Association and its role in New Zealand

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Heather:        Hello, it’s Heather Smith here. Welcome to Cloud Stories. Thank you so much for downloading and subscribing to this podcast. Here in Australia, it’s 1st July, so start of a new financial year. It’s actually a little bit cold … it’s actually really cold for us here, so chilly morning for the 1st July, 15/16, happy financial year to all of the people in Australia who are listening in.

I recently wrote and had published a blog post on TradeGecko about preparing and carrying out your end of financial year stocktake, possibly a little bit late if you’re listening in but if you do need to understand how to carry out an end of financial year stocktake and want some additional tips, go and have a look at that.

Sonia Cuff from the Computer Troubleshooters at Aspley contacted me this week with some surprising news. She let me know that an organisation called The Full Suite, an organisation that helps you migrate files and documents to the cloud who are based in Wellington, they included Cloud Stories, this podcast, in a list of five short business podcasts for people on the go.

Thank you so much to the Full Suite for doing that. They sent it out on the newsletter and we did have a noticeable spike in subscriptions, which was sitting there a little bit unexplained for a while until Sonia let me know. Very exciting and I hope anyone who is listening from the Full Suite is enjoying this podcast. Let me get over to our guest for today.

Today I am speaking with Lisa Martin from GoFi8ure. GoFi8ure – the ‘G’ is actually an ‘8’, so when you think of GoFi8ure, it’s with an ‘8’. Lisa Martin owns and manages GoFi8ure, a Wellington based mobile bookkeeping company working across the North Island with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Hutt Valley and Dunedin. At GoFi8ure, people are at the heart of the business, whether that’s maximising their client’s time by travelling to their offices to work on their accounts or giving their staff the flexibility to take charge of their own role in the business.

GoFi8ure provides piece of mind with premium bookkeeping and accountancy services. They’re an efficient, economical mobile service, perfect for small and medium sized businesses in the greater Wellington area. They can help with everything from bank or GST reconciliation to management accounting, payroll and reporting for businesses as big as 30 staff.

What I did was let people on social media know I was interviewing Lisa Martin. There was a little bit of a meltdown. People were very excited to have the opportunity to propose questions to Lisa and that quite nicely has filled out the bulk of this interview. It is a little bit of a long interview, so you might need to break it into two sessions, two commutes or two walks with your dog. I started by asking Lisa:

Lisa, what does a perfect day look like for you?

Lisa:                Well, travelling around the world Heather, obviously going to Xerocons and accounting and bookkeeping conferences, and following around little Sleeter, that would be quite a cool, perfect day.

Heather:        That sounds like quite a busy day. So it’s all work, work for Lisa.

Lisa:                Yes, unfortunately we’re in our busy time. After the 31st March right through to the 7th July, it’s a bit insane.

Heather:        Oh is it?

Lisa:                For us, it’s fair to say that I would probably be at my best from 7:30 am in the morning to 7:00 pm at night. Gabby brings me cups of tea and my lunch and I don’t move. I just power through one ledger to the next and so on and so on.

Heather:        Fantastic, excellent. That sounds like a very busy time for you.

Lisa:                Yes.

Heather:        I asked on social media for questions for this interview and I was blown away by the response. I’m very excited that I’ll be able to bring to you a lot of other questions. The first from people who are interested from the Xero community, the first question I have or the first statement I have is Gillian Rossouw, the world’s first Xero Gold partner, she wants to make sure you’re wearing your Xero Hero cape for the interview.

Lisa:                I can go and put it on right now. I’ve got some of them outside. I was wearing it today as I was dancing around getting a video shot by Devon from the Xero video team. They hid me in the phone box and then I burst out.

Heather:        The Xero video team there today on your busiest week.

Lisa:                You have to understand that us having fun in the office is all part of health and safety. You know how like every hour you’re meant to sort of stand up, stretch, flex because you can actually get almost stuck to your chair and have lower back issues? We like to think we’re fun and mobile but actually we’re just chained to our desks at the moment. So yes, it’s all part of just dancing around and freeing up the limbs, and one can only do that with a cape on.

Heather:        Definitely. I think we should explain to listeners what you actually have in your foyer.

Lisa:                Well, we branded ourselves basically back in about 2005-2006, it was quite some time and even before Xero, as the superheroes of the accounting world. We’ve even got a few trademarks on that much to I think … is it DMC Comics, there’s that comic … yes, they got up in arms about us actually using it but really couldn’t fight us using Superheroes of the Accounting World because that was a little bit less exciting than comparing superheroes to toothpaste. So they just kind of let us go with it which was very, very nice of them.

So we are superheroes. We have to be in multiple places saving many of our small to medium sized businesses at the same time. We leap tall buildings, although there’s not many of those in Wellington, in a single bound. We’ve got our brand story on the back wall and we’ve now got a superhero telephone box which we can go into and twirl around and get changed into masked and caped crusaders.

Heather:        Very good, very impressive, lots of fun happening there. That’s so amazing that DC Comics came and tried to sort you out there.

Lisa:                It was all because we went to get it trademarked and of course when you get a trademark they go global.

Heather:        Oh, fair enough.

Lisa:                But the American version of it just didn’t like it. Sorry.

Heather:        So before we get started into asking the questions from social media, let’s get an understanding of your background to set the picture for people who are listening in.

Where and when did you start GoFi8ure?

Lisa:                2002. We’re 14 years old. I really do feel I’m dealing with quite the mature teenager now.

Where did you start?

Lisa:                In Wellington. I was actually working for a multidiscipline design company and had a very big job that encompassed HR, management accounting functions, project management. You name it, I did it. My boss actually paid me for every hour I worked which was quite often consistently 50-55 hours. I was also going to university and studying my New Zealand Diploma of Business, majoring in accounting and HR, so it was all very, very relevant.

What happened was … you know how the building industry in New Zealand sort of waxes and wanes and has gone through some horrendous peaks and troughs? As a business owner I was pretty exhausted and made up this mind on a Friday that he was going to chuck it all in. pretty much I had to type up my own redundancy letter, hand it to him, he signed it and gave it back to me.

I spent the weekend thinking, “Right, I’m nearly finished my diploma. What am I going to do with my life?” I actually asked my mentor and she said, “You should do this part time accounting implementation, setup, control, part time financial controller role for SME (small medium) businesses who can’t afford a full time office manager. Go on, you can do it.” I’m like who will buy that?

Anyway, it was really easy. I just make the decision and I got a few clients from her and then word of mouth. Honestly, within about four weeks, I had 50 hours of part time controller work a week with some really, really good clients in Wellington.

Heather:        Excellent

Can you give us the name of your mentor?

Lisa:                Well, at the time it was Ann Stephenson from Stephenson Thorner.

Is she still your mentor or have you moved on to other people?

Lisa:                No, I’m incredibly loyal Heather.

Heather:        Okay, so you …?

Lisa:                If I actually moved on from Ann, she’d probably hunt me down and kill me.

Heather:        That’s loyalty.

Lisa:                No, I’m very loyal to things like my lawyer, my chartered accountant, my computing IT person. It is about relationships in Wellington and you just can’t be a fly-by-nighter who flits around to the next best thing. She’s been very good for my business and she actually cares about me.

Heather:        Excellent. I will get the details off Ann Stevenson and leave them in the notes for people who are listening in, so they can access and perhaps contact her.

Lisa:                Yes, she’s pretty awesome.

How many staff does GoFi8ure employ?

Lisa:                Right now – 12.

Where abouts are your offices?

Lisa:                We have almost like a satellite office in Dunedin. We have a lovely new site in Hutt Valley which is all dressed up in superhero … it’s quite wow when you actually drive past it. Half our team are out there and that’s probably the team that do more sort of in-house coding if you can imagine. But also we’ve got two trainers out there and a couple of mobile staff. In the Wellington team, we have the balance of the team and they are all sort of mobile management accountants, part time financial controllers who are never here, they’re always out in clients’ sites. Regardless of whether they use cloud technology, the clients just expect to see them.

Heather:        Yes, absolutely. I wanted to give …

Lisa:                We also have an office up in Auckland which I sublet, and that’s staffed by me at the moment.

Heather:        Okay, absolutely. I wanted to give our listeners sort of the size and depth appreciation of your organisation. Just before I jump into asking those questions from social media, let me just share a quote with our listeners of when I asked Rod Drury what he knew of Lisa Martin, let me just share this. This is Rod Drury, CEO of Xero.

‘Lisa has an infectious enthusiasm, always laughing and smiling. We love how she has embraced the cloud and is building a great business helping hundreds of small business owners. Lisa has been there from the early days evangelising and educating small business bookkeepers and accountants. Her leadership has helped grow a vibrant bookkeeping community and provide a new and purposeful career option for smart business people. Lisa is another one of the great people that makes our community such a fun place. She is definitely one of our Xero family.’

Lisa:                Woohoo!

How does that make you feel when you hear that?

Lisa:                All fuzzy inside because the feeling is completely mutual. You know what would be a really good idea Heather is if someone actually got that printed on a t-shirt.

Heather:        That would be a good idea. Maybe we can get a picture of that and put it in the show notes.

Lisa:                Heather, when I do travel the world, I wear that t-shirt always on the trip back so that I know that I can get back safely home to New Zealand.

Heather:        Very nicely done. I was really overwhelmed by the response on social media when I said I was coming up to interview rock star Lisa Martin. Let me go across to these questions. The first question I have is from Kate Underhill at Remedy Accounts. She asks:

Lisa, what would you do differently at the start of your business now with the experience you have?

Lisa:                See, that hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? When I was working in that previous job, I was definitely a manager. It would probably be fair to say that I was a pretty specific sort of task master, no one could do a job better than me, it’s been an evolution journey in terms of managing and … coming from 2002 to now 2015, I just wish I’d known more about leadership when I first started but I just don’t think you can.

When you’re doing it all … because I started off as a one-man band, I had to be the one that had to get around all the clients and deliver all the monthly management reports and the trial balances to the CAs and do the GSTs and deal with their weekly payroll stories. You’re just such a doer.

I was a really good attention to detail person. I had all the perfect traits for a great sort of mobile bookkeeper on client’s sites doing all that stuff and really making the chartered accountant’s life easier as well because you’ve got to imagine too, back in 2002, it was all desktop technology.

I took a methodology and I had to apply it to things like MYOB, QuickBooks, Quantum, Money Works, Quicken, bespoke packages like Job Bag, Real Estate Manager. The process was the same but the software just looked a little bit different. Of course, it all had to be done on client’s sites. You had to worry about people’s IT. You just had to be so on to it. You always had to have your game face on.

Then you get to the stage where you’re building clients, you’re building deliverables, so you decide to build a team. I know for a fact that I was probably never the perfect manager. It took a long time to learn how to get the best out of people. Also my clients could also see too that it was Lisa and team, Lisa’s business, Lisa’s invoice. “Tell Lisa we’re going to pay her invoice next week,” which just drove me crazy because I thought I was building a brand and a business and hiring people who were smarter than me because that’s how you build a successful business.

It probably wasn’t until I was actually working with a business coach which cost a lot of money but it was so worth it. I know that’s where a lot of start-up bookkeepers struggle. They can’t see there’s any ROI, return on investment, by going down the business coaching route when they first start. But you know what, you just have to. You have to speculate to accumulate.

I learnt so much and then I realised my job is a leader. I can’t be running around doing 50 billable hours a week. That’s just crazy. My team have to and they’ve got to approach their KPIs like they really want to eat them up and love it, and I’ve got to be there for them. The thing is, yes, I would love to have done some stuff differently when I started but you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Heather:        Yes.

Lisa:                Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can actually give a lot of advice … I mean we get start up clients all the time coming to us and setting up on Xero. We give them advice and we talk to them about people and strategy and execution and cash flow. We can give them the benefit of our experience but I don’t think I’m ever going to get 2002 back. You know what I mean?

Heather:        Absolutely. That’s really useful and hopefully Kate got a lot from that. We seem to be in a world that’s inundated with leadership quotes and memes for leadership but one that did strike me recently which resonated with me was the ‘conductor of the orchestra doesn’t know how to play all the instruments.’

Lisa:                Correct.

Heather:        That was kind of, “Yes, that makes sense.” It is something. I know that there are a lot of leadership courses out there, etc., to do but something key to work on. What I’m hearing from you: learning how to be a leader, learning how to be a manager and using a good business coach, which is always … we’re going to leave Ann Stevenson in the show notes but it’s always difficult to find a good business coach I think.

Lisa:                Who I worked with in 2005-2007 was Results Group but I think they might be called results.com. Really simple philosophy, some great business coaches there, and Ann uses them as well. That was one of the reasons why. But their whole methodology about business is just focusing on the four pillars: people first – so that’s staff and clients, strategies – you’ve got to have them around everything, executions – there’s no point having a strategy and then popping it in a draw and closing it is it, you’ve got to make sure that you’re living the dream every day and demonstrating that you do what you say you’re going to do, and cash flow.

I give heaps of advice to clients about how to manage their cash flow, how to have a savings account, how to put a third, a third, a third away. Do I necessarily do it myself? Well, needs must. I’ve got to pay the staff every week, never defaulted on that, so feel pretty proud.

Heather:        Very good, excellent, thank you so much for that Lisa. My next comes from Tracy Newman of Cloud Accounting. She has asked:

How has social media helped you grow your business? I know Lisa is very present on Twitter. For those of you listening in, Lisa’s Twitter handle is gofi8ure, so if you’re walking the dog you can stop and send her a tweet, gofi8ure. How has social media helped you grow your business Lisa?

Lisa:                Hugely. Gabby Simpson, our business development manager for GoFi8ure pretty much nationwide, started with me over three years ago. She had a passion and a bent for social media and Facebook and posts. You can’t always be posting on a daily basis, like calls to action to your business. That’s just kind of a little OTT. Also I think possibly not the right thing to do.

You’ve got to engage the audience and educate them. We’ve kept them real fun around that because, like I said, we’ll probably deal with new clients every week and interestingly enough they ask all the same questions. It’s all about educating them and we can actually do that before the attraction and retention, through social media. We’ve got our Facebook page. We did a little bit of advertising to promote people to it but it’s linked up to Twitter.

I sometimes personally make a few cheeky tweets as well depending on the flavour or where I am or what I’m doing or what’s important that day but they’ve all got a theme of education. It’s not like we’re ramming, “You must get our bookkeeping services,” down people’s throats, it’s actually about attracting them. Social media has probably, in the last three years, doubled our business.

Heather:        My goodness. Wow, that’s amazing.

Lisa:                So you have to put with that too, with Xero, in fairness, because it’s so out there in the cloud and it’s so bloody easy to work with and it’s just … I’m so comfortable with it now. I must admit, whilst I love other software packages, I do find I’m getting into someone else’s car and I don’t know where things are. I can get my way around but I feel a bit clumsy.

Honestly, getting into Xero and setting it up for people, and the ease of I always know the answers to the questions, probably because I read from cover-to-cover Xero for Dummies. It’s just a great book. Actually, a training programme, ironically enough, is the same as your book. It almost follows … not like word for word but the content approach that you’ve got and you go from this to that in the book, we do that in our training programme.

Heather:        Smart people think alike, very good.

Lisa:                The thing is, social media kind of hit us around the same time we really embraced the Xero wagon. It’s just been so easy. It’s probably been a combination of both: social media plus Xero has doubled my business in the last three to four years.

Heather:        Excellent. I am very much about social media and putting content out there and just putting content, content, content out there and education which is very much what you’re about as well. I think that that’s really helpful for people. You might not have this philosophy but I’m like even if I put it out there and don’t earn a dime from you but it helps you, I’m in a good place.

Lisa:                Yes.

Heather:        How do you deal with … this was a question asked of me recently, how do you deal with, if you are so high profile in social media … here in Australia we have a concept known as tall poppies or perhaps, I don’t know if you have that in New Zealand, bullying on social media. Do you get unwarranted attacks on social media?

Lisa:                No, I don’t believe so.

Heather:        Brilliant, that’s fine.

Lisa:                I try not to do anything so controversial that you would. Also, to be fair, in New Zealand people are a bit PC but I think personally on my Facebook page, I can say something that’s a little bit out there but I would make sure that there’s a limit and boundaries with GoFi8ure.

Heather:        Yes.

Lisa:                Because at the end of the day, it’s still educational. We don’t want to turn people off.

Heather:        No.

Lisa:                But it’s interesting that you say, “Is there tall poppies in New Zealand?” Yes, I’ve seen evidence of it.

Heather:        Moving on from that. Sally Gorojovsky … sorry if I say that wrong Sally, from Ablaze Consulting based in Sydney, she’s asked a lot of questions for you so get ready. This is for Sally.

How has Lisa handled the quality of work produced? I kind of thing to extend that: what quality controls do you have in place?

Lisa:                We have our best bookkeeping practice programme. It actually encompasses how we would do on site part time financial controller work. There’s the same rhythm about checking things weekly and monthly. It doesn’t matter what software you use. We use work papers to check back. We go a little bit further whereby each month we don’t just do income and expenditure reports. We reconcile the balance sheet as well.

There’s a saying out there, “Bookkeeper is just income and expenditure. Accountant does the balance sheet.” No, not at GoFi8ure, we actually go the extra mile so that the CA knows, with data integrity with our clients, that everything is being managed well and the reports are accurate monthly. We pride ourselves on that.

That same process we can apply to going out to a brand new client’s site and doing a warrant of finance on them, like a WOF, and our training programmes. Those standards are adhered to. If we get a new person, like a graduate who comes to work for us, they have to work with a buddy and all their work is checked by a supervisor. No GSTs are filed. Nothing is sent to a chartered accountant without it being checked by a supervisor who knows the system and, at the same time, can turn around and helpfully get that graduate to graduate intermediate to senior status so that they’re following a career pathway in GoFi8ure as well.

Heather:        The programme that you initially mentioned, is that in-house or is that like a purchased programme? The Better Bookkeeping …

Lisa:                It’s in-house; it encompasses what we see as the 12-step bookkeeping process whenever you hit a file and things for you to do. They’re just sort of no brainer stuff but you would actually have to reconcile all the items on the balance sheet, not just the bank but fixed assets, loan accounts, credit cards, equity accounts, all sorts of … bank loans, all those sorts of things that come in as well, monthly, not just at the end of the year.

We kind of want to keep the workflow consistent and the bills even as well. It’s awful for a client to get a whopping great big bill at the end of the year. These things, if we’re actually doing accounts for people, data integrity, we want to be doing like the matching process as well. We want to be making sure that all the bookkeeping principles are adhered to so at any time, a client could pull up a profit and loss balance sheet and go back to the bank manager and say, “I can service the loan.” With my hand on my heart, right? It’s not a bunch of complete twaddle.

Heather:        Yes. I’ve forgotten the question I was going to ask. Sorry, I went blank there.

So does GoFi8ure use client managers and if so, how many clients per manager or is the ratio managers per bookkeeper?

Lisa:                The Wellington team are pretty much management consultants. Is that what you mean?

Heather:        This is from Sally.

Does GoFi8ure use client managers?

Lisa:                She might be meaning do we have in-house project managers and then we have coders. I’m not too sure. I’ll tell you what we do in Wellington. Say for example with Gina, she’s probably got 15 clients, six of which she sees every week.

Heather:        Yes, wow.

Lisa:                Some she might only see every fortnight or every second month for GST. She’s probably our biggest in-house mobile management accounting consultant because each week she’d be spending that weekly day or day and a half with the same client. Big volume, high feedback but quality work. Now Jamie has probably got about five of those as well but he also has about 30 clients because he gets the little ones where it’s just GST supervision every second month, and new trainings because he’s our training manager. You look at those ones.

Vivienne has probably got an even mix. She also spends 85% of her time out of the office on client’s sites. She’s a bit like Gina. I do like in-house coding, rebuilds, conversions, training. The Hutt ladies are sort of a mixture of each as well. The idea is that each mobile should actually manage their client load, dealing with the coding, the detail, the reporting, the delivery and the relationship with the chartered accountant.

But definitely with the Hutt office, all of the team there, their work gets checked before it goes anywhere by the two directors out there because that’s where their skill level is at and that’s where we’ve pitched that at.

Heather:        Yes, excellent. Hopefully that’s answering Sally. Now, I remember the question I wanted to ask in relation to what you’ve been talking about.

Do you offer fixed pricing?

Lisa:                Yes, for new clients. We’re still working for clients that I got in 2002. Go figure. 14 years! Clearly I’m not doing some of those big clients, the team are, they are delivering. Some of those that have been with us for 14 years, they’re definitely on a fixed monthly fee because after 14 years if you don’t k/now how long it takes, something’s wrong.

Then we’ve found that say there’s less time imputed into things like entering accounts payable, we have more time spent on say CrunchBoard reporting for clients or using technology to show them the great stuff that’s coming out and the enhanced features rather than just the grind.

I’d hate to think that any of the team are actually going to a client’s site now and attaching visa slips to a credit card statement and doing it that way. That would make my skin crawl but each to their own. They’ve got the technology available to them. We’ve paid for it on behalf of our clients, so fill your boots. Where were we going with that?

Heather:        The question was fixed pricing and you were confirming that you do offer it but perhaps some just aren’t mainly …

Lisa:                Honestly you say to them, “How long is a piece of string?” we have certain things like our training is fixed price, our warrant of finance is fixed price, supervision of an end-of-year pack for our chartered accountant, giving them a heads up and helping them with it is a fixed price. Conversions and rebuilds are fixed price but with an out if there’s something extra because we all know that they can go terribly wrong.

We always go into a new client and we’ll do an onsite assessment or maybe we can do it from the cloud, we can do an assessment, we can give them an idea of what their monthly bookkeeping is going to be. But honestly, there are still some people who come to us, maybe not all the time but once a year, bless their little cotton socks, and we just have to kind of do it at an hourly rate because we don’t know that it’s going to be bigger, larger, better, Six Million Dollar Man than it was last year.

Heather:        Yes, it’s very hard.

Lisa:                So definitely going down a fixed rate route. We just have to make sure that the person who assesses the job, their ability to do it, if they choose to delegate it to one of the team who are maybe not as skilled as we are, that we can accommodate for that because there can be a huge amount of wastage. You go and give it to somebody who is semi-skilled and they take twice as long, they still get it wrong and they don’t think like you do.

That’s an internal training curve but it can’t come as a cost to the business. We have constant conversations here about billability, unbillability, KPIs, training numbers. There’s only so much bloody training you can do.

Heather:        I think that’s really important. For people who are listening in, who are running their own bookkeeping business, who are running their own advisory businesses, and contemplating offering fixed value, I know that everyone is talking about it at the moment, but you need to have an out on all of your conditions there because there can be something in there that you don’t work it out until you’re an hour into the project. The contract’s been signed and you’re like, “Oh, what’s here?”

Lisa:                Yes, you also need to have a really good handle on what’s your break even for the business. Ideally, a bookkeeping practise with a couple of great ladies working out of someone’s home, is going to have a much lower overhead structure than the ridiculous setup we have now here because we’ve got rent and accommodation and multiple IT and probably not the most economical phone contracts. There are a lot of inefficiencies about trying to merge a team. We’ll get there but it just takes time.

Also too, we had a way of doing things, the Hutt has a way of doing things, we’re trying to all get on the same team but we do have different skill levels. You have to accommodate that also assume not everyone is like you. But the quality of the work still has to be checked by a supervisor at some stage.

Heather:        Yes, and that comes back to that original question, how do you get that quality out there on a mass scale? Next question Sally asks is:

How have you advertised? I think you have talked extensively about the branding of your business. Do you take out advertisement per se as in newspapers or radios or anything like that? It sounds like you did a bit of small social media.

Lisa:                Well, let me tell you a story Heather la di da di da, hope MediaWorks aren’t listening. Anyway, in New Zealand, what happens is if you decide to advertise on the radio, because radio advertising is ego brand advertising, it gets your name out there and I must admit in the past I have done radio advertising. It’s a huge cost. I mean it’s someone’s salary a year. You have to be at that stage where you’re ready to position it.

They’ll probably give you some stats on the return on investment of radio advertising but it’s not the reality. We had one person in 18 months who rang us up immediately after an advertisement and said, “Hi, what do you do? Are you a gym? I just heard your advertisement on the radio. It sounded like fun.”

What I did was a campaign on the radio where I said, “Are you a small to medium size business owner? Does looking at your bank accounts drive you to drink? Did I say that out loud? Shock. Education. Attract. Come on, come to GoFi8ure, we can help you out.” Then I stopped advertising for about 18 months and I had people come, “I hear you on the radio all the time Lisa,” and I’m like, “What? I don’t know what radio station you’re listening to?” the thing is it’s hugely expensive and there isn’t a load of return on investment. I’d think seriously about doing that.

I did have a mandate in my head that bookkeeping margins and net profits in a bookkeeping practice are never going to make me any money. Simply, there’s no retained earnings, no growth, no fabulous picture for someone to pick up and buy my business. What I had to do was I had to put money into the brand. So brand equity, I did heaps of research. I talked to all the key people in Wellington. I studied people like Richard Branson and Virgin. If you can actually get your logo known, if you can get that good will into that brand equity, someone will buy that.

We’ve also done things like … we hired a PR expert. She got me into several articles for magazines that people would look at, you know, small to medium sized business owners. She got some great articles in there, one of which I fondly remember because it was about New Year’s resolutions, like doing your bookkeeping is like going to the gym, that’s when we became like financial fitness trainers, and we’ve got the hoodies which we get heaps of comments on.

When we’re out and about, we’re advertising our brand all the time. At the airport, I get people coming up to me all the time. I actually think they want to buy me a drink because they fancy me, I’m so gorgeous. But there are just so many opportunities to be seen. “Oh, financial fitness trainer, that looks good.” We’ve done newsletters. We’re heavily into promoting the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association of course, the Hutt Valley Chamber, the Wellington Chamber. We’ve even talked about the Auckland Chamber. We try to just get there. Of course, winning awards would be good, like if you win awards, you get a raised profile.

Heather:        Absolutely. So it’s very much been about building brand equity for GoFi8ure.

What percentage of new clients have been gained through marketing versus referral marketing, maybe paid advertising versus referral?

Lisa:                I got this guy called Richard Petrie … I won an award and got a free session with him. He’s awesome actually, so clever and clued up. He came in and we sat down and did a little exercise, and it turned out that there was a 400% return on investment for word of mouth referrals and chartered accountant referrals in the Wellington region. 400%.

Heather:        400% return on referrals from chartered accountants and people in the area.

Lisa:                Correct or people who like … say Gina is out there working for a client and he tells his mate who says, “We just want Gina. She sounds great,” but then his mate goes, “No, you can’t have Gina. I can’t sell a secret.” 4% search engine optimised Google, LinkedIn, advertising referral. Go figure!

Heather:        Wow, go figure.

Lisa:                It goes to show that basically if you can demonstrate good work and get the kudos from that, the five touches really … sure people could hear you on the radio but chances are they’re struggling, they’re out there on a Saturday night talking to their mates, “Oh God, who do you know who could help me with my GST? My staff member has just left to have a baby. My staff member has just left and stolen heaps of money from me. Who do you who could come in and help me out? SOS.” It’s always going to be a word of mouth referral.

We do get a lot of people … I’d say 50% of search engine optimised enquiries of which we would get three to four a week, so I’m not too down on the whole website Google thing, it’s pretty cool, I’d say we’d only convert 50% of them though because the other 50% are just tyre kicking.

Heather:        Pricing, yes.

Lisa:                It’s all about price. You just know as soon as they ring you up or they email you and they say, “How much, how long?”

Heather:        Yes, they’re price checking or they just like doing investigative research. The number of people I get who kind of contact me and then six months later say, “Okay, I’m ready to do it now,” and it’s like the 30th June. It’s hard for me to do it right now. Yes, that’s I guess the access to the internet.

Lisa:                I don’t know whether you have this in Australia because quite frankly when I went around the globe and asked the question, in the UK they’re all a bit embarrassed about calling themselves a bookkeeper. They’d rather say that they’re accountants or cloud integrators or trainers because they can get more an hour. That’s a bit sad. In the US it seems that it’s definitely a combined approach. Every practice has two CPAs, a couple of bookkeepers, a couple of accounting technicians, and they all work together. They do all the enablement and training in-house. There’s none of this segregation like New Zealanders really kind of get into.

Then of course with ICB in Australia, and Matthew Adamson is just a god, besides new BAS agents and bookkeepers over there, you’re just revered as absolute gods. I just wish we could get that in New Zealand because that would be really awesome. I don’t know.

We’ve got some bookkeepers who aren’t belonging to our Bookkeepers Association, who will literally, if you ring them up, they’ll say that they will do your bookkeeping for your business for $20-$23 an hour, and that’s a little bit of a crime to be honest. When we’re out there saying you need someone who knows what they’re doing, so they can have a qualification or they could be certified or they understand how to reconcile a balance sheet, then don’t underestimate expertise.

We all know that saying, “You think it’s expensive to hire a professional, just wait till you hire an amateur.” But unfortunately, that’s just something … we don’t have that compliance legislation in New Zealand that really stamps out, “You can’t do this if you’re not a BASS agent.” Pretty much anyone can file a tax return and they usually do badly.

Heather:        That’s interesting.

Lisa:                The other thing you’ve got is you’ve got people out there who are probably willing to say, “Yes, call me. We do your books for $20 bucks an hour,” and it’s kind of like … it’s sad for the certified bookkeepers and it’s really sad for the clients because they will get burnt.

Heather:        Absolutely, and they’re not getting the accuracy or the knowledge to actually move them forward in their business by understanding what the numbers are meaning and the education that you can give them around that. Compliance, well it’s horrible, I don’t like compliance and I hate payroll even more than that, but that’s kind of like at the side. It’s like, “Let’s talk about the next stage and let’s help you with making those decisions,” and the cash flow like you were talking about before, those sorts of things.

For those of you listening and from overseas, Matthew Addison heads up the Institute for Certified Bookkeepers here in Australia. There is one in the UK as well, and he was very instrumental in getting the tax practitioners board up and running as well. Matthew and I used to go to ATO meetings every six weeks or so for like two years doing that and he’s now on the board of that. That has registration for BASS agents and for tax agents. So for people listening overseas, that’s sort of the situation here in Australia. But in New Zealand, you have … what’s the name of the organisation in New Zealand you have?

Lisa:                We set up an organisation … or should I say Melanie Morris set up an organisation in 2010 called the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association Incorporated. Lovely association designed to basically collaborate our bookkeepers, get them together, come to an annual conference, feel as if they’ve got support. I mean for her, she found that she was working from home. I guess her clients were renting space in her head. Who could she talk to? You know what I mean?

She found a few other people in Christchurch. They got a founding committee together. They started looking nationwide New Zealand at who else had a voice around the bookkeeping thing. I’m always banging on about bookkeeping and saying that everyone needed one, even those clients that are out there who’ve got just naughty people working for them, who just take advantage of their business owners. You know what they do Heather. It’s just terrible. Business owners need to know they’ve got someone working for them who actually knows what they’re doing, that has incredible qualifications.

Heather:        And as well, you’re using the word naughty, every month a case of fraud comes up with a bookkeeper, and we’re just saying someone who’s referencing themselves as a bookkeeper comes up, a case of fraud, they’ve done this, that or the other, and one of the things about using a professional is that they will actually lose that professional certification if they are caught doing something fraudulently. That’s one of the benefits I guess.

Lisa:                Well, when you look at a practice like mine, I mean we’ve got professional indemnity insurance, all of us are certified, it’s a no brainer. When you start in the first week, you have to be certified for New Zealand Bookkeepers Association, and the second week Xero Certified. Then each mobile here can get one specialty product if they want. Like they can go off and learn MYOB or they can go off and learn something else. But at a given, it’s really important that all of our clients know that we operate at the same standard. There’s no deviation.

Heather:        I will leave links to the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association in the show notes. Please if you’re listening from New Zealand and that resonates with you, please contact them. I’m guess that if you’re looking for a bookkeeper in New Zealand, obviously first port of call is to go speak to Lisa but I’m also sure the New Zealand Bookkeepers Association perhaps has listings as well on there.

Lisa:                Yes, we do. We’ve got www.nzbookkeepers.co.nz. There’s a big map and you can go find a bookkeeper.

Heather:        Brilliant.

Lisa:                So you could go to Dunedin and click on it and see the bookkeepers in your area. Those who are certified are the only ones who make it to the map but we do have a lot of other bookkeepers on our database as well. They’re not yet certified, so they don’t make it to the map. You can also contact us on info@nzbookkeepers.co.nz. I feel like a radio commercial.

Heather:        Thank you for that Lisa. Please do contact them if you are based in New Zealand and looking for that extra support. I’m not sure whether this applies to you.

In New Zealand, do you have access to like a Xero marketing budget?

Lisa:                Yes, if you’re a gold member, you can apply. The budget I think is up to $5,000 a year. You have to apply, tick all the boxes … say for example you get something that they approve for $1,000, they would give you $500 towards that. It’s not up to $5,000, do you know what I mean? It’s like everything you do, it’s just 50% up to $5,000. But it has been a bit tricky in the past. We’ve gone, “Oh, could we do this?” “No, that doesn’t qualify.” “Could we do this?” “No, that doesn’t qualify either.” In the end, everything that I’ve done with regards to Xero and our GoFi8ure brand has all been funded by me.

Heather:        Oh. Well, putting it out there for people who are Xero silver or gold partners. That might be a potential avenue. I am speaking purely as an independent but speak with your Xero account manager and maybe you can access something there hopefully. Sally has one more question.

What work management software are you using?

Lisa:                We use their WorkflowMax that comes with Xero. It’s now called Practice Manager. That was interesting as well because we merged with Active Admins to grow our team by double at the end of last year, so they also had a practice account with Xero and they had the practice manager accounts. We had to merge everything. I can’t tell you whether that was painful or not but Tanya managed most of that. She uses all the functionality in there as well, the tax practice manager and all that sort of stuff.

By all accounts, it’s pretty famous. We log all our time in there, our unbillable time and our various volunteer efforts as well. Then we do our billing from that. I’ve got certain KPIs, like in the past I’ve always said, “If the mobile is 80% plus billable, and they can bill all those hours and collect the money, we’ll actually make some money.” But just because you double your team doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to double your revenue because you have that CPD all the time across more people.

In New Zealand, we seem to have a statutory holiday day every bloody week. Actually I think there are 11 but they just all hit you in the first four months. We’re just constantly on holiday. Then we have school holidays. Then we have various deadlines. So it’s very good for monitoring continuity workflow across each mobile manager. It’s an effective tool … thank you WorkflowMax and Xero, it’s an effective tool to work out who is making your business money and who is costing your business money.

Heather:        Excellent. For people who are listening in, Workflow Manager or Practice Manager is I believe free to Xero Silver partners and above. Definitely worth exploring and get your accounts set up on there as soon as you hit silver, and maybe that’s what you can use, alongside the leadership, to grow your bookkeeping business. You’ve certainly got all the cloud tools there. Xero is providing all those cloud tools there.

Lisa:                Just on that though, I think it’s really important to note that we pay for a lot of ReceiptBank ledgers sometimes on behalf of our clients. Some of them pay us which is super, that’s really nice, but some of them we just put ReceiptBank in as part of our offering.

The other thing that we did as well, in February this year, was we signed up for CrunchBoards and then what we do with that is we apply that to all of our big part time financial controller clients, which is just outstanding because obviously all your data is up-to-date, the data integrity is great, CA is really happy you applied CrunchBoards, and then when you come to do your monthly managing reviews, sit down with the actual client and give them the visual.

Sure, reporting in Xero is awesome and I love training people in it, they always go, “Ooh, wow, that’s so exciting,” but if you’re actually working with a client for eight hours every week doing everything for them, that third week you need to show them CrunchBoards and go, “Are they having their KPIs so they get a visual?”

They can see it and then they go, “Oh my God. That’s fantastic. Look, I can compare that to last year,” and they get all excited about the colours and the wibbly wobbly bits going up and down, “That’s really good.” We actually do that for our clients. That’s part of our service offering as well. GoFi8ure pays for it. The client doesn’t pay us. They just pay us for our time and expertise to know how to use it.

Heather:        Absolutely, so you’re bringing the tool to the client and you’re giving them the advice from that. It’s probably putting you in a position to give a lot better, insightful advice.

Lisa:                You go, “Wow, look at that.”

Heather:        As the client likes the wibbly wobbly bits as you said.

Lisa:                Yes, that’s right.

Heather:        Hanna and Amy will love that you referenced their wibbly wobbly bits in CrunchBoards. Onto the last question, goodness we’ve run a long time on this interview but you’re sharing so much useful insights for the bookkeeping community. This one is from Ben Dangel and he’s all the way from Omaha, Nebraska. If people are listening in, please send Ben Dangel a tweet. His Twitter handle is #bjdangel and he thinks he’s the only Xero certified person in Omaha, Nebraska.

Lisa:                Awww.

Heather:        Awww but please send him a tweet. Make him feel part of the community. What he asked was:

What add-ons do you use and recommend to clients … what add-ons do you use? What do you recommend to clients and if you focus on a niche? Let me break that down. What add-ons do you use in your own business? You’ve said Xero, WorkflowMax, ReceiptBank, CrunchBoards, anything else?

Lisa:                Debtor Daddy if we can get it in there. Let’s see, what else?

Heather:        So people listening, Debtor Daddy is a debt tracking solution.

Lisa:                In New Zealand. I guess the thing is that first and foremost there are people who pick up Xero and if we can, we absolutely make sure that they … if they insist on doing it themselves, we get the training in there. That’s just got to be right from the front.

Like I said, we train it in the same style as your book Heather, and people just learn so much. They also too realise the value of bookkeeping. They’re happy to look at reports. They want to see the net profit. They really do want to focus on doing the business that they do best with best, rather than grind away at a bank rec.

There are lots of opportunities for us to work together and we train them to really appreciate the software. Then we get them on to other things. You’ll always see opportunities right. I mean are you serious? Are you keying in all those invoices? Right, let’s put you onto ReceiptBank.” “Oh, you’re having a problem collecting cash? Okay, let’s put you onto Debtor Daddy.”

I’m sure if I got this global it’d be Satago because Steve Renwick is a complete fox. So it Matt from Debtor Daddy but, you know … so you’ve got to just make sure all those things are in place, then of course for a management reporting tool there’s huge products out there. It was just that Amy came and stayed in my house and she was just so good at the demo that I just had to sign up to CrunchBoards. There are always those personal relationships.

Heather:        Absolutely. You can just imagine Amy visiting everyone’s accounting house like, “Can I just come stay the night and I’ll how you my demo of CrunchBoards.” Brilliant. Very, very good.

Lisa:                If you just set her up with a bit of pizza and a couple glasses of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, I can’t remember what it is she drinks now, she’s just crazy. She’ll just sit there all night sorting shit out for you. She’s awesome.

Heather:        That’s fantastic. It sounds like she needs to do demos that way. Pinot Gris with CrunchBoards, excellent. We do love CrunchBoards. For those of you who are listening in, I did interview CrunchBoards in one of the earlier episodes of Cloud Stories, so please go back and listen to that. I’ll highlight that Lisa mentioned Debtor Daddy and she mentioned Satago.

One of the things that I’ve found in exploring the different add-on solutions is if they’re priced in their own currency, it fluctuates quite a lot. That’s something that you need to take into account when you are … because Satago is northern hemisphere, Debtor Daddy is southern hemisphere. If I was recommending products to people, it may change depending on the hemisphere they’re in. I don’t know whether you feel the same way Lisa?

Lisa:                Well, I guess what I was just going to go back to is that always when we train people, we show them the add-on library. Do you know what I mean? Like it’s a really important couple of minute’s conversation with them, “This is where you need to go. Your business is going to evolve. Right now, you probably just need to record income and expenditure but you may have needs later on like inventory, etc.”

We always say, “Here’s the add-on library. Do your own research. Follow up on their own web account. Watch the videos. Do the tutorials. Even try the trial accounts that are there because some of the websites are easy and they’ve got reviews and some of them are not. We want the client to decide and to make an informed decision.

I think the worst thing a client could do is go, “Um, I need inventory,” and then they send an email or pick up their phone and ring their chartered accountant who doesn’t specialise in that and go, “I need inventory. It’s really important. What are you going to do for me?” They have to stop and drop and research something. They’re going to charge you a minimum $150 an hour?

Heather:        Minimum, absolutely.

Lisa:                And come back to you with, “Oh, you could do this, this or this, and here are some names and numbers to go for.” You could do that yourself. I enable people to make their own minds up and feel under no pressure or obligation because if people want to sell it to you, they’ll actually make an effort and contact you and do it. There’s nothing worse than making contact with an add-on product who dismisses your email, never emails you back, it’s kind of like, “Are you crazy? Don’t you need to actually make some money?”

Heather:        Yes, it’s interesting to hear you say that because I find that I go out there, I get called in for a meeting, they’ll say, “What do we need?” And I will perhaps lay out a smorgasbord of, “This is the solutions I think will fit you,” and they do it all themselves. I’m like, “Don’t you want me to do that for you?” They’re like, “No, it was so easy Heather. We don’t need you,” and I’m like, “Okay.”

But that sounds like almost the same thing of what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Go to the marketplace and look at what you’re needing.” The great thing about using these add-ons is as your business grows, they will grow with you. A lot of them start with a very, very light, cheap option that when you take on an extra person, when you take on another person, when you start with inventory, your turnover should be growing so the extra subscription price shouldn’t bother you.

Lisa:                Yes, definitely.

Heather:        You’ve very much answered add-ons that you’re recommending to clients.

Was there anything else that you’re specifically using in your own business? There may not be. We covered that quite extensively.

Lisa:                No, I use all those.

Heather:        In your own business.

Lisa:                Yes, I’ve lately adapted to ReceiptBank but honestly, I couldn’t imagine … apart from the fact that all those guys at ReceiptBank are just gorgeous and Nelson … seriously, the thing is I can’t imagine life before ReceiptBank. I mean how would I ever now grab a pile of creditors, A-Z, and enter them in manually. I mean ugh.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Lisa:                I sometimes see my team doing it. I go, “What are you doing?”

Heather:        In your leadership manner, you yell at them. It sounds like you need a ReceiptBank bat in there for them.

Lisa:                No, they’ll come around.

Heather:        Yes.

Lisa:                They’ll come around but I do remember Michelle Clemens saying to me, “At the end of the day, it’ll always be you Lisa, championing the cause because you can see it, you can see the big picture whereas your team, bless their cotton socks, might still be in delivery mode.” That’s the other thing I think that bookkeepers who are evolving into a leadership role or a team who are delivering the services, you’ve got to keep your eye on that. Make sure you’ve got a vacuum of time in the week to be able to help your team still learn more.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Lisa:                You can always …

Heather:        Absolutely. So ReceiptBank is I believe … amongst the partner community, about 40% of partners use that. honestly, if you’re a Xero partner out there, you’ve got to use one of those solutions for the bills, whether it be ReceiptBank or … there are some other ones out there, I’m not going to mention them here but you’ve really got to take it to that next step and use that because you’re just not valuing your own time if you’re not.

Lisa:                Also the most important thing too Heather, is when you’re preparing your ledgers for end-of-year trial balances for your chartered accountant and uploading everything in files, you don’t have to if you’ve been using ReceiptBank all through the year. It’s all there. your assets, your legal invoices, your insurance invoices, all the stuff that you’ve got to fluff about and find at the end of the year and it’s all such a panic, “Oh my God!” Just put it all in there: files and find and recode were things where Christmas came early this year. Thank you Xero!

Heather:        Thank you Craig Walker I think was it? I think that was his baby.

Lisa:                I think Matt Barnett came up with find and recode and pushed it for 14 months, so thank you for persisting.

Heather:        Oh, is that Matt from Community Manager?

Lisa:                Yes, well, he’s now in the product team. A god with Andrew Tokes (Tolkely)  but the reality is that those things just make our life so much easier.

Heather:        Yes, I think someone commented find and recode actually does so much more. You didn’t even know you needed what it does, that’s how good find and recode is. I encourage people to use that, absolutely. One last question from Ben Dangel from Omaha, Nebraska, please tweet to him #bjdangel.

Does GoFi8ure focus on a niche and from my own perspective, taking that step further, what do you think about bookkeepers focusing on a niche?

Lisa:                So is this like verticals? Well, when I started my business, I totally had to focus on creatives basically because Ann did and those were the clients she gave me. Creatives here were graphic designers, photographers, people who were selling time and services, possibly product, architects. I just found that I worked with them really well because I was sort of quite right brained, they’re very left brained, but I can also be creative as well. That’s the fun part of my job. I’m lucky that that’s in my genes probably because of my parental influences.

I have to be disciplined and I can see the debits and credits but I can also tell it like it is and give it to them in the language that they need to receive it in. IT professional, lawyers, I also started getting really popular with those. These were all people who were selling time and are not interested in doing the number but they want the net profit. That was our niche for a really long time and probably still is to be honest.

Do we work well with café owners or shops or …? You know, we’ve got a small number of those but probably not because it’s sort of high volume, very low margin, so they don’t actually value what we do. We go in there every second month to supervise their GST return and they see us as an expense. The people who sell time and have us in their business every week or as their part time financial controller love us, and that’s the closest we get to be revered as gods like BASS agents in Australia do.

Heather:        Fantastic.

Lisa:                We love them and they love us. That’s our niche.

Heather:        People who revere you as a god.

Lisa:                Oh yes and I might add who probably bill time for more an hour than we do, so they totally get what we do for them …

Heather:        Yes, absolutely.

Lisa:                As an overhead or an expense or something they can’t afford. They see us as a strategic partner in their relationship. That’s what’s worked for us.

Heather:        Brilliant. Thank you so much. People who sell time for more than what you’re selling it to them as, that’s the people who are actually going to value you. That’s brilliant. Thank you so much Lisa for sharing so much wisdom and insight with us today. You are going to help so many bookkeepers and advisors in the Xero world. We really appreciate it. I’m sure social media is going to go a bit crazy once this podcast gets launched.

Lisa:                Well, you know, seriously, I’ve been doing this for 14 years and no one ever told me that I was in the business of people doing the business of numbers. There have been times when it gets a little bit overwhelming and you want to give up. All I can say to you is actually don’t give up because what would you go back to: an employed job with a manager who probably knows less than you do and you still won’t feel valued? Quite frankly, the positives so outweigh the negatives.

As long as you’re not spending beyond your needs or not able to manage any kind of renegade staff member who’s out there crucifying you like, “Oh, did I say that out loud?” You want to be in the situation where you stick true to your values. We do this because we want to make a difference in our client’s lives. We don’t come here to make a living. Yes, that’s nice and it’s a by-product, we want to make change and we love it when we see that look on their face that you just can’t pay for. Like they’ve actually seen education, enablement, freedom, and you’re a big part of that. So don’t give up.

Heather:        Don’t give up. Thank you so much Lisa. I will let you get on with your evening. Thank you so much.

End of Transcript


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