“We’ve created simplicity in numbers. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication as a great designer once said. And so everything about that is stripping back the complexity of business, making it easier for small business owners to understand their numbers and how to do better.”

– Aynsley Damery, Clarity

Aynsley Damery Founder and CEO of Clarity joined me to talk about…

  • Rolling out business advisory in a typical compliance-based practice.
  • Making the leap from accounting to founding a technology company
  • Why business advisory has been so tricky to introduce in the past, and why it is easier now
  • The Five Steps for offering Business Advisory.
  • Supporting the Clarity community with education, mindset and technical support
  • Their giving initiative, through B1G1

What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?

What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?

Aynsley Damery: Aynsley is danger. Danger guy, he likes dangerous. He gets a thrill sometimes from dangerous stuff. Do you know what? I think the most dangerous thing I’ve done is not the bungee jump in the shot over in the South Island near Queensland, it was the drive up to the shot.

Heather Smith: Queenstown, maybe Queenstown.

Aynsley Damery: Queenstown, sorry. Yeah, Queenstown. Sorry. Yes. Thanks for the correction.

Heather Smith: I’m in Queensland for our internationalist listeners.

Aynsley Damery: Yeah. Have either drive up the mountain to the bridge is probably the scariest drive I’ve had in a long, long time. So other than skiing off weird things, I think that drive was pretty scary and dangerous.

Heather Smith: Heights and drives terrify me as well. And for those listening in, Melanie Morris, who is the head of Xero Bookkeeping in New Zealand picked me up from the airport at Christchurch and promptly drove me up a hill, of which she didn’t realise I was absolutely terrified. And I was holding on to everything with my eyes tightly shut, and sort of fell out the car and kissed the ground when we finally got to the top. It was beautiful but terrifying. Anyway, back to you, Aynsley.

Can you share with our listeners a bit about your background? How did you get to where you are?

Aynsley Damery: I was very interested in the design and the creative side of life as a kid. And I went to university and studied for a commerce degree, which was a broader degree in Ireland. And it’s like America, you major in your final year. Now, up until my fourth and final year, I was interested in doing marketing and advertising and the management side of the business. And by the time I got there, there was a major recession in Ireland, and the jobs in those sectors were none to be found. And so I kind of fell into accounting. I was good at maths, good at stats, and so I fell into accounting.

Aynsley Damery: And it was years later, I think when I was talking to somebody who was actually on a dent event that I was talking with Daniel Priestley, in the UK. And a marketing guy came up to me into advertising, and he said, “So why did you get into accounting?” And we had a little talk about it and he said, “That makes obvious sense. From a design perspective, everything is mathematically based. So based on the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratios, and so what looks good from a design perspective is mathematical, so I can see that.” I thought it was the first time that somebody had kind of put Aynsley’s design brain and accounting in the same space. So that was weird.

Heather Smith: Very good. Very good.

Aynsley Damery: Anyway.

Heather Smith: So you started off in marketing. That’s unusual.

Aynsley Damery: I know. It is unusual. We didn’t do a huge amount of marketing. But by the time I’d left, it was straight into accounting. I did my articles, I left Ireland and worked with KPMG and Guernsey in the Channel Islands, so I was doing a lot of audits of offshore banks, trust companies and insurance companies. And I really enjoy that because people assume auditing is really boring. But when you’re auditing banks and insurance companies, it’s really walking around talking to people, finding out how systems work. The level of actual ticking and bashing is quite minimal. Now, some will have a critical swing at the Big Four on audit for that purpose, but it is a lot more conversational.

Aynsley Damery: And it was actually when I got promoted, there was a lot of people left in front of me, and so suddenly, I got promoted really, really quickly within KPMG. Jumped a couple of layers in a couple of months. And then I was stuck in an office managing a team of 40, and I hated it. And that’s when I actually left KPMG and moved into a regional accounting firm in the UK, which was I think, again another shock to the system. It was purely compliance space, and I just wasn’t used to that. And it was bizarre how they treated their clients thinking they were doing the right thing by their clients.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. We are going to go on and talk about your solution which very much sits in the business advisory space, but I am interested and I just want you to just very briefly answer this within mind the person who has just graduated with an accounting degree who wants to get into business advisory.

What career path do you suggest to someone who’s actually graduating with a similar degree to yours and who actually wants to become a brilliant advisor? What would the ultimate map from university be?

Aynsley Damery: I think numbers are the language of business. Accounting is the language of business. It’s you’ve got to have a really deep understanding of numbers, of data, understanding what the numbers are saying. And it’s not just about reporting, which we’ll probably come on to. It’s about analysing that data, it’s about giving insights, it’s about being able to break that data down in a way that people can understand. Now, this also goes to listening skills and an ability to empathise. So I would encourage you to have as broader a degree as possible. To yes, get the numbers understood because they’re important but it’s more than that. It’s about being a human, it’s about being real, it’s about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes.

Aynsley Damery: And so all the soft skills that we often talk about, Heather, are really, really critical and really important. There are some accountants who want to sit behind a computer and crunch numbers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. And there’s a need for those people. But there’s also a need for people who want to talk, who want to help, who want to understand and who want to be able to make a difference.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So would you recommend, and I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m trapping you in this question.

Would you recommend someone graduating still look to join the Big Four or the Big Eight, or the Big Six, wherever they currently are sitting at?

Aynsley Damery: I think it’s a great experience. Great experience from a risk management perspective. And it gives you a good understanding and a broad brush of many different aspects of the space. So I do think it’s helpful. There are elements of it that don’t work, and I’ve had fun working around those when I moved to a smaller accounting firm. But I certainly think it gave me the, I suppose the ability from my small business background training from my dad with the combination of that risk management and that whole corporate process and repeatability and scalability, which I think is important when you move to the other side of the business.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a question that people ask frequently, and it’s really a hard one to say yes or no to, and I think it’s what people actually make from it.

What was it that led you to make the leap from working in the accounting world to into tech?

Aynsley Damery: I had spent a lot of time in accounting. I did a lot of work in changing how our firm had worked, and I suppose I’m maybe a typical business owner. I like bright, shiny objects. And I think I had done what I wanted to do with that accounting firm, and I think I needed a new challenge.

How long were you in the accounting firm? How long did it take you to get bored?

Aynsley Damery: It was approximately 10 years.

Heather Smith: Okay. Fair enough. Yeah.

Aynsley Damery: It was a reasonable time. It was a good time. I had taken that compliance only firm and transformed it into a niche business advisory firm. So I had put in place the systems and the processes and the tech and the people, the whole, I suppose infrastructure and architecture behind that. And I had got to a stage where I had gone from wanting to help as many small business owners as I could, and ended up going too far down the advisory tunnel and ended up creating a KPMG style advisory firm for a much larger base of small business owners than I had intended to. And I wanted to make a bigger impact.

Aynsley Damery: I’ve come from that small business background, I desperately want to help small businesses, and I knew that the service level that we had created effectively only worked for firms in the UK with turnovers of a million pounds plus, so that’s $2 million. And there’s a huge amount of small businesses below that that desperately needed help, and we weren’t set up to help them and I wanted to make a bigger impact. I met a fellow founder who was in exactly the same position as me, and we wanted to make a bigger difference to small businesses and ultimately that’s the reason I’m being flippant in that I like shiny objects. I do, but I can also stick by something. But it was that wanting to help more small business owners was the catalyst.

Heather Smith: The transition, taking a compliance firm and listeners know I don’t sit in the compliance space at all, and evolving them into sort of a niche advisory firm, that must have actually been quite a journey.

Is the solution simply to go to the technical solution that you’ve developed or do you have any other suggestions for this?

Aynsley Damery: No, it’s definitely not just about tech. Tech isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not going to solve all the problems. Tech nowadays does the heavy lifting, which is great, and we’ll come on to that heavy lifting, I think in a little bit. But it’s very important to have the right people doing the right things. So the right people on the bus and the right people on the bus doing the right things. It’s really also important to have the systems and processes in place as boring as that sounds, to be able to help you deliver repeatable consistent results. And so I spent a long time in the background building those systems and processes, understanding why things didn’t work and fixing them, and making them work consistently well. And so we took a lot of pasting in the UK media for the brands that we had created with the firm I worked with.

Heather Smith: Pasting. Okay, explain pasting to me.

Aynsley Damery: Bashing.

Heather Smith: Okay, pasting. Thank you for that. Today, we all learn.

Aynsley Damery: We learn every day. So we took a lot of bashing for our brand. It was fluffy and it was soft, and people thought there weren’t many layers to it. But there were a lot of layers. It didn’t happen overnight. Yes, the brand changed the way people I suppose understood the business and how they got to the business, but there was a lot of sweat and tears to go into it to make it that business that ended up winning all those awards that again we got a lot of bashing for.

Heather Smith: Yeah. Look, I work inside and on the outside and go to a lot of conferences, and it’s a massive journey for accounting practices to go through. And you see the evolution of the fighting against the evolution is very emotional and very real and very there. So kudos to you for doing that. So with this, you leapt into the technology world.

Can you share with our community the solution that you have found?

Aynsley Damery: Yeah. I mean, I’ve always loved tech. In one of the first accounting firms I joined as a summer job, I installed a computer network. So you had a computer room. I mean, can you believe it? I’d never heard of a computer room, where they used to do the keying in. Now they didn’t do a lot of accounts prep as such, so I presumed the need wasn’t vast for tech, but I just couldn’t believe that. So I’ve always had an interest in tech, always built websites with the design and logo designs that I did for friends or parents, I was always into building.

Heather Smith: That’s the design coming out as well.

Aynsley Damery: Yes, it is, and that inevitable interest in tech. And when we decided to create Clarity, it was about how do we help as many small businesses as we can? And we were really, really lucky that the tech now that exists enabled us to crunch so much data so fast, and use the architecture and infrastructure, I’ll have to plug AWS here and they’re beautiful. With the tools that they have, we wouldn’t have been able to build Clarity four or five years ago. We wouldn’t have been able to crunch the numbers as quickly as it’s doing at the moment. So our solution effectively gives accountants the ability to create a scalable advisory offering that’s profitable and time-efficient for the firm but delivers it in a way that small business owners are able to afford to pay for.

Aynsley Damery: So this is both sides of the equation. And you’ll probably want to understand why does advisory not stick generally, or why has it been difficult to get advisory into an accounting firm in the past? Well, a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re using Senior Team. That Senior Team necessarily cost a lot more money. And the solutions that are delivered by the Senior Team are often out of the affordability price bracket of a smaller business client. So there’s an advisory and there’s a type of advisory that we can do that is actually profitable and efficient for the firm, but actually at a price that a small business owner can afford to pay.

Aynsley Damery: And I think all the solutions in the past on advisory have come from the Big Four, and we’ve just taken what they do and repackaged it and delivered it to small businesses. And that doesn’t work. It needs a different type of advisory for a different type of business owner.

Heather Smith: That’s really interesting. That’s the first time ever anyone’s ever said to me, it’s because stuff delivering is too expensive essentially. But the funny thing is, the staff in the senior level, I would have thought would actually really, really love the opportunity to advise into some of those smaller micro-businesses, because you can actually have a massive impact by doing that.

Aynsley Damery: Oh, huge. And I’m not saying that you eliminate the higher level team from being engaged.

Heather Smith: We’ve just fired them all.

Aynsley Damery: Exactly. No, but they can do so much more by doing so much less. So less is more in many respects. Good is good enough, oftentimes, and in accounting, this is another thing. In accounting, we’ve always sought perfection. We need to know the accounting treatment of everything, we need to know the tax treatment of everything. When it gets to business advisory, it’s different. Or when it gets to business, it’s different. Let’s even drop the advisory aspect. When it gets to business, it’s different. Good enough is good enough, prolific beats perfect. Perfection takes too long, it costs too much, and it’s too hard to achieve. So sometimes we have to deliver a solution that maybe isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for the person that we’re delivering it to.

Aynsley Damery: And I think this goes in many respects, I hated when I was in practice the thought of doing a budget of last year plus X percent. I thought that was the cheapest, dirtiest way to do a budget, a crazy way to get small business owners involved in their numbers. But in hindsight, that’s better than nothing. And if it gets them on the road, and it gets them to thinking about their business, and it gets them started into that whole process, then last year plus X percent, which any number of solutions out there will do for you, is a great way to get going.

Aynsley Damery: All the talk that we do with our accountants worldwide and from all my masterminds and networking events in accountancy all over the years, we know that fewer than 5% to 10% of small businesses have projections, budgets, cash flow, three-way, whatever you want to say there’s no financial plan in 95% to 90% of small businesses around, and that’s dreadful. So if we can just do last year plus 5% for even 10%, 20%, 30% of them, that’s a good enough solution that gets them started.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. What you just described there could be easily packaged up by anyone at any level, pretty much anyone who’s competent, any professionals whether it be bookkeeper, whether it be the greatest accountant in the world. It’s quite a simple thing to start to put on the table and start having a conversation around.

How does your solution, Clarity, work?

Aynsley Damery: It’s Clarity. We had to call it Clarity HQ because when we put it on Xero Marketplace, somebody had somewhere along the line registered Clarity. They had never released the solution, but they still had something called Clarity.

Heather Smith: Damn them.

Aynsley Damery: Damn them. So we had to call it Clarity HQ. Now in hindsight, that worked from our website, because we had a .io domain, so we were able to get the clarity-hq.com domain. So I suppose in hindsight, it worked out well. So we call it Clarity, other people call it Clarity HQ. It’s like Aynsley, I get called everything under the sun, as you can imagine, especially with the spelling of the name. So I talked briefly about how it’s pronounced or what it said.

What is Clarity?

Heather Smith: Yes. Share with us, give us clarity around Clarity.

Aynsley Damery: Okay. Well, Clarity, we’ve broken down the advisory mechanism that’s used in consultancy firms worldwide, and this is any type of consultancy firm. So whether it’s wealth management, whether it’s business advisory, whether it’s tax advisory, it’s effectively the same process that’s gone through. It depends obviously on the size of the client and the size of the engagement. So effectively, what our solution does is it helps accountants better communicate with small business owners. So it’s been developed from a small business owner’s perspective. And so we’ve created simplicity in numbers. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication as a great designer once said. And so everything about that is stripping back the complexity of the business, making it easier for small business owners to understand their numbers and how to do better.

Aynsley Damery: So effectively, we help accountants help their clients understand where they are now, from a numbers perspective, understand where they could get to and what’s possible in the business, and maybe what they should be aiming for. Then helping them understand what that gap is between where they are now and where they could get to. Our solution helps create plans to close the gap. So we’re huge advocates of action plans. Numbers plans on their own are important and I’m not denigrating numbers plans. But I’m saying that you need to build action plans in conjunction with that number plan so that the small business owner can understand in the short term, what actions they need to be taking to drive the numbers in the right way. So we help build action and financial plans and the funding plan. And finally, we help accountants and small business owner measure where they are against their plan.

Heather Smith: So for those listening in what you described there is actually sitting on the front page of Aynsley’s Clarity’s website. And it does sound, it’s very sensible, it’s very simple, it’s very straightforward.

What is your solution giving the person beyond that sort of foundation?

Aynsley Damery: Well, it’s stripping back the complexity of the numbers. So we’re taking out the complexity, we’re crunching numbers fast, we’re crunching numbers in a way that makes it easy for an accountant to talk to a small business owner about their numbers. We’re giving them a way to create sensitivity analysis that’s easy for both to use and understand. So this is about bridging the communication gap more than anything else. Small business owners don’t get their numbers, and this is about helping accountants help them understand their numbers.

Is Clarity suggesting clear communication as well?

Aynsley Damery: Clarity is much more than a piece of software, and everybody will tell you that. So we’ve understood that the software solution on its own isn’t everything, so we’ve built a whole implementation process. We’ve built a whole, I suppose education and community process around Clarity. So it is much more than just a piece of software. Somebody said it’s a shift in the way you do business. And so yes, it is about language, it is about the process, it is about the, I hate this term journey you take your clients on, but it is about taking them on a road, on a route map, and it’s following the way we think about delivering business advisory for small business owners.

Aynsley Damery: Now accountants love solutions. They’re great at coming up with solutions, and they jumped straight through to the solution, which is the problem. And so when you say to a small business owner, “I know what you need. This is what you need.” The small business owner is looking at you confused, wondering how have you made that leap, saying, “Well, how much is this going to cost me? And I don’t understand it. I don’t understand where we’re going here, and I’m not going to pay for it, or I don’t want to pay for it.” So it’s really important that we follow a way of engaging the small business owner that takes them with us and doesn’t leave them behind.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I think what you’re talking about the education piece is incredibly important, and having… I’m trying to think of a word, a synonym for clarity so I don’t use it again. But having that clear understanding of what you’re actually doing, and what your solution does, and being able to message that and then be able to support that with the education. I think a lot of solutions in our industries, unfortunately, missed that important education piece, both alongside how the solution works and then the delivery actually of the solution. So that sounds very impressive.

How do you deliver this education? Why haven’t I been invited to any of these wonderful workshops going on?

Aynsley Damery: Okay. Well, that’s something we’ll have to fix definitely going forward. The education is number pronged. So there’s an education piece on as you said, the software itself. Just how does it work? How do you make it work? How do you get it to work? How do you use it? What’s the best way to deal with it? And there’s also the systems and toolkits that we give in addition to the software so that the firm can have an out of the box solution that works with the people process and technology. Because it’s the three that are really, really important. So we give the accountants the systems and processes that they can use to get out of the box.

Aynsley Damery: They can adapt, of course, and change them for their own accounting firm of course, or their bookkeeping firm. It’s important that we give them that I think solution to start with, and then they can tweak it and change it. But apart from that we’ve got a whole implementation kit effectively. So we’ve got a fast track implementation for those that hate following instructions. We’ve got a quick start, which is a process that helps people. It’s a good resource, it helps them understand our methodology. It starts educating them in the language they need to start using with small business owners about the problems that small business owners are suffering and how accountants really and bookkeepers do have that superpower to be able to help small business owners in all the challenges that they need.

Aynsley Damery: And we’ve got also an ability and an implementation plan to go from zero to hero with business advisory. So it’s complete scalable solution. It goes through nine individual steps and takes people… It’s probably a nine month programme once you’re ready to make the real lead in scaling business advisory. Now, Clarity is for the 80% of small business owners that don’t get any help. We know that the top 10%, 20% of everybody’s clients get loved, cared for, they’re looked after. Whether it’s structured or not, they get business advisory support because they’re paying good fees, they’re having good communications with the senior level and the senior members of the accounting firm, and they’re getting what they need from that accounting firm however it’s structured.

Aynsley Damery: But there’s a huge tranche under that, that are just getting accounts and tax returns. And it’s that assumption that they don’t want to pay for it or they don’t want it, or they’re not interested. And so this is about the 80% or let’s even discount the 20% of that 80%. It’s for the 60% of the client base that’s looking for support but isn’t getting it. So we’re looking at how we can help accountants then take it to the next level and scale it to about 60%. So it’s all great getting 100 clients working on this, or 10 clients or 20 clients, but it’s how do we get it out to 60%? And so that’s where that programme helps accountants scale it to that remaining 60%.

Aynsley Damery: We also after that have a member success programme. So this is about not just success in compliance or advisory, this is about success in the firm. So it’s not about how do you make Clarity a success, it’s how do you make your firm a success? Because we’ve understood that they all work together. And when we were having conversations with people about advisory, we were talking about time management, we were talking about offshoring, we were talking about efficiency and automation and the compliance process, we were talking about team management, leadership. And so it was huge, I suppose the issues that were arising.

Aynsley Damery: Steve and I have a wealth of experience in all of that from an accounting firm perspective, and we thought we’re missing the point here, people need help more than just Clarity, more than just our solution. So we’ve introduced a huge amount of community events, and we talk about startups, we talk about leadership, we talk about time management, creating clear laser focus. We have two mastermind groups that are working really, really well. We’re expanding that this year, and bringing in the boardroom which is a level down below mastermind, because there’s such a demand for it. And we’ve also created some workshops which are working hugely well.

Aynsley Damery: Now, we were so disappointed and we haven’t even mentioned the C-word. But given where the world is, and we can’t do live face-to-face events yet in the UK, we decided to bring a day workshop online. And we broke it down and reimagined how it would work from an online perspective. And actually, in hindsight, that’s been fantastic. Because by breaking it down, we’ve been able to control a really tight learning implementation accountability loop in each module. And so we’re getting people to not only learn but to take action, to share, to improve, to be able to collaborate and to be able to move forward. So those workshops have just generated stonking results for…

Heather Smith: Stonking.

Aynsley Damery: That’s another, stonking.

Heather Smith: Yes. Tell me about these stonking results.

Aynsley Damery: Wonderful results for people who aren’t taking action on our learning and sharing with each other. And we had a startup accounting firm that looked at how they could speak about Clarity and talk about the business advisory. They went into a local growth hub, they offered it as a free service, as a free meeting. They took on a really interesting company that was just about to change with COVID, how they were delivering and creating and packaging their fancy trainers. And they said to the guy who followed the process, “Nobody’s ever talked to me about my business like this. No accountant has ever gone through my numbers like this. It’s just like you’ve opened my mind, you’ve lit a fire beneath me, and I’m so excited about my business,” was actually the feedback.

Aynsley Damery: That business owner told everybody in the growth hub about this, and the guy had to just stop taking on new clients. He couldn’t cope with the level of new work that he had taken on suddenly, which was all about going and delivering a free session in a growth hub using Clarity as the basis. We’ve had one accountant who has been, he’s well-known in the Xero world, won awards, and he took a client from X, let’s say, it was 100 pounds. I don’t want to give exact numbers because I don’t want to be doing them an injustice. Let’s say it was 100 pounds a month and took those to say 600 pounds a month using the process and what we were teaching them in the workshop.

Aynsley Damery: Now on the workshop, as you can imagine, it’s not just about Clarity, it’s not just about the business advisory. We do and naturally the conversation flows into all things, I suppose practice-related, and they’re all interlinked. And so you can’t just deal with one side of the coin, you’ve got to deal with all of them.

Heather Smith: Absolutely. So he increased his services to like six times.

Aynsley Damery: Five times. Six times, yeah.

Heather Smith: And I have heard that trying of actually offering something for free, putting it in front of someone can actually be really effective in terms of starting that conversation often and people hearing the conversation happening. I’ve always, I don’t do too much work now, but I’ve always sat in the management accounting advisory space, and I never really understood why people have struggled so much to move into it. But I just was like a little hermit just doing my own stuff and putting a case study up and getting the next one along. But it sounds like almost what that gentleman who went to the business hub…Was it a business hub you mentioned? Growth hub. Growth hub.

Heather Smith: How he just kind of put it in front of one person and it snowballs. Because people you do something, you get the word out there about what you can do and it just rolls from there. So we have touched on it how to scale advisory.

What is the smallest client you think the advisory types can do using Clarity, and what’s the smallest client that we could be potentially pitching it to?

Aynsley Damery: I’ve had accountants that use it with businesses with turnovers of between say $100,000 to $120,000 Aussie dollars, which I didn’t think it was possible to be able to deliver a solution effectively to them at that level, but I do know accountants that are doing that. I would imagine it sits probably naturally in maybe the $300,000 to $400,000 space up to, well in the UK it would be 10 million, so $20 million in Aussie dollars.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So hopefully that gives listeners some idea of if that is your client base, what you can be doing and whether this is a potential solution that you should further explore for your client base. Now you talk about this solution Clarity focusing on seven key numbers.

What’s to stop me from just understanding those seven key numbers, delivering the advisory outside of Clarity and not using the solution or not becoming part of the community?

Aynsley Damery: I think you’re going to miss the breadth and depth of experience in the community so that would be a shame. Absolutely. Look, nothing’s new in the world. Everybody’s using similar methodologies, similar types of ways of doing business. And that no idea is generally really, really new, it’s taken or adapted from somewhere else. Our seven key numbers are publicly available. Everybody knows how we calculate those seven key numbers. So absolutely, you can dump them into an Excel spreadsheet, and you can crunch them and get the Excel spreadsheet to do at your heart’s content. If you’re doing that for 500 clients at the click of a button, you won’t be able to get Excel to do that.

Aynsley Damery: So first off, it is the technology doing the heavy lifting and the crunching in the background, that’s going to give you the ability to see across your entire client base. And if that’s 1000 clients at the click of a button, you can improve all their seven key numbers by say 5%. It’ll show you instantly what that does to all of those clients and show you a batting order of clients that you need to be speaking with, or those that maybe you’re not doing anything with, it’ll highlight those, that you should be having those conversations. Or that have an issue with cash, or that have an issue with operating profit or any of the other key numbers that are important from a business perspective.

Aynsley Damery: And we chose simplicity and the seven key numbers. And on the face of it, Clarity looks simple, and everybody says, “Oh, that’s really simple and easy.” Yeah, but there’s a lot of complexity in layers. Like everything else, there are layers and layers and layers below. Now those seven key numbers, we’ve chosen simplicity from a business owner’s perspective. And so it’s important that we haven’t overcomplicated the user interface, but there’s a lot of I suppose depth beneath. And the ability and leveraging of technology to create a financial plan at the click of a button, for example.

Aynsley Damery: People say to me and have said to me recently when you go and buy a car, and the car tells you the price, and you go, “Yeah, that makes sense,” because the computer is telling you the price for a new car, because you build it and you add things to it, and the computer is just chugging on all the additions, and then it comes up with a price and spews it. And you go, “That makes sense. I get that.” And so, that’s been why pricing and onboarding tools have been so effective and efficient for the accounting profession. Well, it’s the same with business advisory. It’s about showing simply, visually to a small business owner, what’s possible in their business. And so if you start using clunky stuff, then it’s going to be clunky, and you’re going to lose the magic in being able to communicate with small businesses.

Heather Smith: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. I do think that it’s something that I’ve always done. But for people listening in, having a community around you, I think your community are on a bus, my community are in a canoe, but all moving in the same direction and sitting there and being able to ask one another while you’re going through learning, delivering, refining, learning, delivering, refining the process of advisory, being able to then jump into a safe community and ask questions can massively speed up your ability to absorb the education piece there and deliver that. And it’s nice to be able to niche into an area where everyone’s kind of thinking the same and just wants the best for each other.

Aynsley Damery: The accounting community is amazing, and the bookkeeping community. When I’m saying accountants, I’m talking about accountants and bookkeepers, let’s be clear. Because bookkeepers have an amazing relationship with their clients and have probably an easier into business advisory than their accounting cousins, because they are having that regular contact. So when I talk about accountants or bookkeepers, I know amazing bookkeepers so I am referring to both. So apologies if it’s been just accountants that I’ve said. But you’re right. This industry is just incredible. I have never known an industry where people are prepared to share stories, share successes, share what’s working, what’s not working.

Aynsley Damery: And this has been throughout my career in accounting. I’ve never really, I suppose, come across anybody who isn’t prepared to share how they’re doing it. And that’s how we moved quickly at the start, because when I went to awards and found out who was winning, and I’d go up to them and ask them why, how, like I don’t care about the fluffy stuff underneath. How is this happening? How are you doing this? And it’s about learning from people and circumventing and jumping the curve, and not making the same mistakes. And it’s also important to look outside accounting as well, by the way.

Aynsley Damery: It’s important to look outside our industry and take what’s working elsewhere and bring it back into the accounting world. But this is an amazing industry for people to share. And you and I have been to so many events, wherein the bar afterwards, the amount of sharing and knowledge and support is whopping. It’s fantastic.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I was going to come on to that question in terms of as we have entered the conference landscape, which was somewhat bleak for 2021. And the best thing about conferences is actually the side conversation, what happens in the bar afterwards.

How do we continue to do this in a distant yet digitally connected world?

Aynsley Damery: It is online, as you suggest, but it’s not doing the same things online. It’s not putting a webinar on, it’s not putting an online conference that we’ve seen. We’ve seen some people try to replicate conferences and sticking them online. You’ve got to think differently. You’ve got to engage with people. This is about engaging and communication and speaking. And I don’t want to rabid about the same trite stuff over and over again, but it is people to people, and so we need to create an environment online that gives that people to people connection, and that ability for people to learn and share. That’s what’s more important than holding webinar after webinar, after a webinar or putting an event together, which is seven discrete webinars. I don’t think that works either, to be honest. I mean, webinars have their place, and I’m not dissing webinars, they do have an educational place, but we have to be careful how they’re delivered.

Heather Smith: Yeah. And it is strange and everyone’s at different stages in terms of where the lockdown is happening as they’re listening into this, but the collaborative engagement, emotion in the communities and the communities are out there, and I do believe that you can connect with your community on your website and I’m always putting published… Everyone who’s listening in would know about my communities. So please do reach out and join them and work out which whereabouts you actually do need to go with that. I do want to touch on your solution doesn’t, and you’ve told me this so I know that she lied to me, doesn’t replace things like Float or Fathom or Microsoft Power BI.

Aynsley Damery: No, absolutely not. Every piece of technology has a place. I have used all of those tools in practice. And we’re coming from a gap that we felt in our accounting worlds where we were delivering and using those tools to deliver high level advisory. There is an element of advisory that’s needed below that for that 60% of the client base. And a lot of our members use multiple of those tools to be able to help them deliver advisory thereafter. It’s about starting the conversation, it’s about positioning, it’s about getting the client on the road, it’s about delivering a good enough solution to the majority of your clients. And then it’s about going deeper, because some of your clients will need more.

Aynsley Damery: Seven key numbers is great for starting the conversation and great for the large trunks of your client base, but thereafter you’re going to need to get into key performance indicators, you’re going to need to get into more complex financial modelling, you’re going to need to get into those clients that need that level of management reporting and support and cash flow projections, and that side of things. It’s really important that you deliver the right solution to the right client. This is about getting them on the journey. This is about delivering a good enough solution for a large trunk of your clients. And then for those that really need help in specific areas and in more depth than these solutions are fantastic.

Aynsley Damery: And it’s why we partner with so many of them because they can see Clarity actually helps from a broader perspective in the education piece, in the community piece, in the training, the implementation. All of that is done. The pricing is all done for them through Clarity. And if you then want to go in and deliver a very niche model, even Excel, a complex financial model in Excel will be right for some clients. Clarity can help you do that. So absolutely, it’s not replacing any of those apps, it never intended to do that. It was filling a gap that we had in practice that needed to be closed. So yeah, I have a lot of respect for those apps that have really pushed hard and have developed their software at alarming rates. And it’s been wonderful to see.

Aynsley Damery: I would hint though and would mention that if you’re going to try and flog a report or flog a cash flow solution to a small business client, it’s not going to work. And that’s why it’s not working. The client ain’t going to buy if he doesn’t understand why they’re buying a financial projection, a three-way forecast, a four-way forecast as some of them are now doing. It’s just they’re not going to understand it. I can understand with cash, they have a cash issue, “How am I going to pay my GST bill or my VAT bill?” That’s an instant need and they can understand why cash then becomes important.

Aynsley Damery: But if you’re going to start selling them management reporting, and detailed management packs, until they understand the value of that and understand why they’re doing that, and why it’s important in the whole piece, then they’re not going to get excited about some of those areas. And so that’s why I think it’s important that you look at a business holistically.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely.

How do our listeners get started with Clarity?

Aynsley Damery: The easiest way is possibly to join a workshop. It gives you an ability to look at business advisory beyond that of Clarity. It means that you can use Clarity as a base, and if you don’t like it, then you can use something else.

Heather Smith: And they’re listed on your website?

Aynsley Damery: They are.

Heather Smith: Okay. They’re listed on your website. That’s excellent.

Aynsley Damery: They are listed on the website. Alternatively, I think it’s important that they speak to one of the team. We don’t do free trials, because free trials never work. When people want to do a free trial, they put it off, they don’t spend the time.

Heather Smith: They want a 30-day free trial.

Aynsley Damery: Well, we will certainly give the free period.

Heather Smith: Not for you but I’m just saying for all the other tech solutions out there, “Don’t listen to that. We want 30 days.” But yeah, you can keep going.

Aynsley Damery: No, we do give free periods. Absolutely. There’s a difference between giving a free period and giving a free trial. I know that might be semantics, but there’s a different mindset in using something free for a period or just on the website signing up for a free trial. So we want the person to understand what’s possible in their accounting firm, using our calculator to determine what’s possible for the firm. We want them to understand and drill down to their problems and to make sure that Clarity is the right solution for them before we give them the free period. So there is a conversation. You certainly can have a free period on Clarity.

Heather Smith: I don’t need a free period, but I’m just saying to the other people who are the tech solutions, I don’t want them to drop their free period. But I do know that I did recommend a lady to… I’ve recommended some people to sign up for your workshops, and they’ve come back raving about them, so I do encourage people who are listening in to check them out. Now, I would like to… I’m not sure whether this is your mission statement or your vision statement, but I’m just going to read it out quickly for our listeners. So this is from the Clarity website.

Heather Smith: And I think it very much aligns with what many accountants and bookkeepers feel. We want to give every small business owner around the world Clarity so that they can create a better business for themselves, a better life for their family and team, and ultimately contribute towards a better world. So that’s a wonderful vision, mission statement there. And I know that that’s an ethos that you very, very firmly believe in. Clarity plays a big part in your world, and you do a lot of partnering with B1G1.

Would you like to share with us a bit about that?

Aynsley Damery: 100%. I’ve always felt that we need to do more. In business, we need to do more. There’s a social responsibility. We’re building a better business for ourselves. We obviously, and from experience from my parents in small business right through to working with clients, the challenges and issues on the stress business owner for their team and for their family is quite large. And so we want to create a better business so that ultimately that business owner can create a better life for themselves, for their team and their family. And then I do believe everybody has a social responsibility to give back and to do something for those less fortunate as well.

Aynsley Damery: I know that as entrepreneurs and business owners together, we can come together, each doing something small, but small business is huge. The power of small business is colossal, and if we all did something small together, we could make a huge difference. And for me, that was first, I suppose brought to light in a simple way to do it. So again, we’re looking at the methodology and a way to get involved in a simple and easy way that’s consistent and repeatable, was buy one give one, a B1G1. And I had heard of Holden years ago, everybody was talking about accountants bootcamp. For years, I’d never been to a bootcamp, but they were like, “Bootcamp, bootcamp, bootcamp.”

Aynsley Damery: And I was using some of the tools that Principa had at the time. So I came from a Big Four, obviously, you take systems and processes and you cascade them. When you’re in small business, you don’t have anybody to give you systems and processes. And so I looked at Principal, which was Ric Payne at the time. It worked with Porter. And we were using some of their toolkits. And when I got the opportunity to hear Holden speaking in Birmingham, I thought, “Oh, this is good opportunity to go and see one of the guys that’s on some of these videos. And when he was talking about buy one give one, it completely resonated with me and it made sense. It’s about together, it’s a habitually doing small amounts that together can make a big impact.

Aynsley Damery: And it’s not necessarily about the money you donate or gift, it’s about the impact you’re creating. And that’s very much for accountants too, and it sits with us as accountants and bookkeepers. Because we should be focusing on outcomes not the inputs. And so from a B1G1 perspective, it gives you a great way and an easy way to get involved with high impact projects on a global scale. And I’ve worked with B1G1 now for years. I’ve brought worthy causes into the B1G1 family. There was a food poverty charity in Gloucestershire called the Wiggly Worm, which I got onto the B1G1 panel. And so I’ve been heavily involved on both sides.

Aynsley Damery: I’ve gone and seen the projects working on the ground. So I’ve been to India and I’ve been to Cambodia. I’ve seen a very different type of organisation. And it’s not the charities that we kind of assume, like in the UK we have the Red Cross, and I’m not dissing any of the charities but we’ve got Save the Children or big charities that look to have big marketing budgets and big salary spends. These are small charities, small worthy causes operating on the ground that are giving as much as they can and doing as much as they can to help us work and those less fortunate.

Aynsley Damery: So I think the giving back and creating a better world I think is a natural extension. We want to as entrepreneurs and as small business owners create an impact in our lives, in our family, in our businesses, but we also there’s a need to do something bigger than that too. And it’s very important to us. Sorry, I blurb a lot, Heather.

Heather Smith: That’s all right.

Aynsley Damery: I’ve also kissed the Blarney Stone, which hasn’t helped.

Heather Smith: I have no idea what the Blarney Stone is, so maybe I’ll look that up afterwards.

Aynsley Damery: It was probably for Americans, or the story was probably built for Americans. And I think if you kiss the stone, you have to go backwards, and they dangle you off this really dodgy ladder, this really… I mean, actually, that’s probably one of the most dangerous things I’ve done. And you have to kiss the stone backwards. And apparently, it gives you the gift of the gab.

Heather Smith: Because you needed that. Well, some people might need that. So thank you very much for sharing about B1G1. Appreciate that. I’ve had you here for a long time, so I’ll just wrap it up quickly. You have mentioned three books that you’d like to share with listeners, so let me read them out and then if you just talk about one of them, why our listeners should try it out. So Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, which has been mentioned on the podcast previously. Getting Real, 37 Signals. I know 37 Signals has been mentioned before, but I’m not sure about that Getting Real book. That must be a new one from them. And Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter.

Aynsley Damery: Well, the only one that obviously hasn’t been mentioned before or may not have been mentioned recently is John Kotter’s The Iceberg is Melting.

Heather Smith: So the penguins are worried about this one, so…

Aynsley Damery: The penguins. Now we know that change management and getting organisational change to stick is a big problem when you want to scale something new. So it’s all very well one or two people in the firm being really excited about a piece of software maybe, prepared to work with it, and then trying to get everybody else in the firm to use it can sometimes be a challenge. So John Kotter’s eight transformational steps for change is a really wonderful framework for you to understand how you can get your firm on board with something. It doesn’t have to be technology, it can be anything. Our Iceberg is Melting is a beautiful parable. It’s very easy to read, probably two and a half hours. It puts the eight steps into more, I suppose, into real terms. And by using penguins and that story of penguins, it means-

Heather Smith: So it does have penguins in it.

Aynsley Damery: It does have penguins, and the penguins are all characters. And it means that from a team perspective, when you share the book with a team, when they’re talking about it afterwards, they can blame or they can talk about a penguin and the character in the book that’s stopping something happening rather than blaming one of the team. So it does facilitate that discussion on organisational change and what’s stopping changing sticking really good. So I think that book is a very simple read. It’s very easy to understand those eight steps and it’s great for helping people make change stick.

Aynsley Damery: Now, one of those steps is creating and creating quick wins. Can I just leave you with this quick wins bit? As accountants, we are always… When I deal with accountants, and for years and years and years this has been the case and bookkeepers, when we’re looking at something, they always try to go to the hardest solution or the hardest problem first. And so the attitude is, if it will work for this, it’ll work for anybody or anything. And that’s where the problems start. So if we can actually look at creating and planning for quick wins, and thinking about how we could make something work, and if we were to make it work, how would we make it work? So not sticking with the status quo, how could we make it work and how could we plan for a quick win? And that’s a great way to start being able to get others on board to be able to bring the change forward.

Heather Smith: Absolutely. Thank you very much for that, sharing the quick wins. I personally could call them quick and dirty wins, but I’m not going to give you that. But I really appreciate you spending your time with us here today, Aynsley.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before we leave you today?

Aynsley Damery: Actually, I don’t hear that anymore. When I lived in Ireland on the south coast, there used to be a falcon that used to go off all the time and you just don’t hear it after a while. That’s the same with that clock. I didn’t hear it.

Heather Smith: It was a clock.

Aynsley Damery: It was a clock. Nobody was trying to break in, and there’s probably another one about to go now as well. They’re all different times because they’re old clocks, so they’re not great. I suppose the thing I wanted to share was that accountants and bookkeepers can make massive changes. They can do massive things in the world. When Prince Charles said in the UK at a dinner at the ICAW that accountants could save the world, everybody laughed at him. But I do think we have all the inherent skills, training and ability to make a difference to small businesses. And I think everything that a small business is challenged with an accountant ultimately has the solution to be able to deliver.

Aynsley Damery: And so I think it’s about understanding that, it’s about engaging the team, and it’s about I suppose valuing what we do and what we can do for small business owners is immense and a great, I suppose understanding and ability to give everybody. And so I think you need to think of your firm like a book, and if you’re the author of that book, what would you want the story to tell and what would you want it to be? So I think you control and can have a massive effect on small businesses, you can change the success, you can contribute to communities. And that’s what they’re desperately looking for.

Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing that. I completely support that ethos and value, and loved hearing that from you. I was listening to Helen Brand who heads up the ACCA yesterday. And she said, speaking of just time during COVID, accountants don’t save lives, they save livelihoods. And I think that that’s kind of accountants and bookkeepers, that’s a really important place that we have the opportunity to really improve livelihoods and help dads take their daughters to ballet and take their sons to soccer, or buy a second home if that’s what they wish, whatever they need. So thank you so much, Aynsley. Really appreciate you joining us today.

How can our listeners get in contact with you?

Aynsley Damery: Our website is clarity-hq.com. We are across pretty much most of the social media platforms so you can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

Heather Smith: You’re so shy on social media, aren’t you so?

Aynsley Damery: I am. I am very shy on social media. So people really if anything resonates, it’s easy to get in touch. I am happy to talk about… As you know, I’m happy to talk. I’m happy to talk about anything from an accounting practice or a bookkeeping practice-related, so please get in touch.

Heather Smith: Thank you so much.

Aynsley Damery: Thank you.

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