Compliance Plus Conversations Equals Advisory | Will Buckley
Compliance Plus Conversations Equals Advisory | Will Buckley
“Compliance is that foundation, but the quality of conversation is the opportunity to play that connective tissue piece so that the business owners absolutely get the information that they need to continue to take those steps forward. I don’t think they get that from compliance specifically. It is the conversation and the trusted insights that you can deliver as an advisor to a client that makes all the difference”.
– William Buckley, Xero.
Today I’m speaking with Will Buckley, Country Manager at Xero Australia. Will joined Xero in 2015 working in the Australian business, before being appointed Finance Director of the US business and driving the launch of Xero in Canada. Prior to joining Xero, he held commercial finance roles in eCommerce and FMCG. He has a Bachelor of Business from the University of Technology, Sydney.
In this episode, we talk about...
Buckleybrown, a 100% cloud accounting practice for small business owners based in Sydney.
His interesting career with Xero, moving from Australia to the US, to Canada to New Zealand and now back to Australia again.
North American accountants and bookkeepers approach managing their teams and creating an engaging work environment that Australians can emulate.
“Compliance plus Conversations equals Advisory” and William’s take on compliance and where it fits in the future of the profession.
Discussing Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba – for his approach to compartmentalising his career journey to be more impactful.
A bit about Product Strategy at Kraft
Heather: We actually intersect at FMCG because my earlier career was in FMCGs at Kraft, the cheese company.
Will: Oh, really?
Heather: And I was very proud because we brought Vegemite to England because I worked in-
Will: Oh, that’s actually…
Will: That’s great. That’s a big achievement. And you can hang your hat on that one. Well done on exporting one of Australia’s finest-ever products.
Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Will: How did Vegemite go against Marmite in the UK? That would’ve been a hard thing to…
Heather: Well, interesting you ask because what it was, was about Marmite not being dominant on the shelves. And so, it was about the stores wanting Vegemite so that there were two options on the shelf and to take some space away from Marmite. So, yeah, that was an interesting strategy.
Will: Very good. That would’ve been, yeah, the dark arts of shelf space in the supermarket lands.
Heather: There was a lot of interesting things that happened. In fact, when I was there, the purple Milka chocolate they planned to completely drop, and their strategy was, “We’re going to increase the price by eight times and then we’re going to drop it,” which was a really bizarre strategy. They increased the price, the demand went up massively, and here we are 30 years later, and you can still find milk because it’s now seen as a premium product because they massively increased the price.
Will: That is a very interesting story. I actually have an opposite story to that which I can share, which comes from when I was working in the supermarkets here in Australia. This was the time when I think dollar a litre of milk and dollar white loaf of bread went on the supermarket shelf, and it was sort of like the dollar price was. I was at one of the supermarkets when we walked in one day and the competitor dropped the price of bread from a dollar 25 down to a dollar. And we sat there and had this moment at 8:00 in the morning before most of the pricing went out at 9:00 AM across the country, across all supermarkets. We said, “Everyone, what are we going to do with the price of bread today? Coles has just gone down to a dollar. Do we want to match them or do we want to beat them, or do we hold steady at $1.25?”
And we decided to drop the price of bread to 85 cents and beat them. What we didn’t take into consideration was that bread isn’t necessarily an elastic good and we didn’t sell any more loaves of bread by dropping the price to 85 cents. So, that was a lesson in price elasticity of supermarkets and how some products, the commodities especially, don’t necessarily respond to the same laws of economics as premium price goods.
Heather: As chocolate.
Will: There you go. So, there you go. I was there when Woolworths decided to put an 85 cent loaf of bread on the shelf and sold no more loaves of bread.
Heather: A proud moment. It is interesting to go through our career and then reflect on all of these sort of bits and pieces that happened in the background and pull on them. So, what I did want to start out with was my typical icebreaker question, and I first met you while you were wearing a Devo costume, so I’m not going to ask you to sing Devo.
Will: I was going to say, is this where I furiously Google the lyrics to one of Devo’s songs and have them on hand?
Heather: No, I’m not that cruel.
What’s your favourite song from the ’80s?
Will: Favourite song from the eighties… Oh my God.
Heather: It just needs to be a favourite, not the favourite.
Will: Favourite ’80s song… I’m probably going to have to go… I don’t even have one. I’d go maybe the… What was it? Was it Salt-N-Pepa by… Push It?
Heather: Yes. Yep.
Will: I’ll go with that one. That’s the first one that came to my mind. I don’t know, if you gave me five more minutes, I’d probably come up with a different one, but we’ll just stick with Push It and-
Heather: It’s just a favourite song.
Will: And I’m not going to sing it. There we go.
Heather: Very good, very good. They did a great medley on the… I watched their medley on YouTube quite a lot, so that’s a great song.
In 2013, you founded BuckleyBrown, a 100% cloud accounting practice for small business owners based in Sydney. Are they getting preferential Xero pricing, and what have you taken from that experience into your role today?
Will: Well, on the preferential pricing piece, absolutely not. I’d say that the Xero platform injects a tonne of value that no one should need preferential pricing. What I would say, though, is starting an accounting firm, I think maybe back in, yeah, early 2010s, 2011, that was my first foray into what Xero has contributed to or did in the early years, to come onto the scene and almost challenge the accounting industry and offer a different path… You could actually sit at your living room dining table and start an accounting practice without having to drop any dollars on your credit card, which is what I did. I opened up my laptop, I had a few friends that wanted me to help them out with their tax returns, and joining the Xero Partner Programme and getting started up as a practice was just so incredibly easy compared to perhaps what it had been before then.
So, yeah, preferential pricing, a tonne of value there, not required, and most of Xero’s practice tools are all free anyway when you’re a partner. So, good value there for opening a firm. What did I learn? So, I learned that I wasn’t great as an accountant, and I was way more interested and curious in probably the tech side of things and the underlying… not necessarily workflow, but the flow of data and how to string together a really seamless data flow so that clients of mine could experience almost an invisible accounting or bookkeeping experience and just have their business running really smoothly behind the scenes and there was no friction points. And once I did that with each of my clients, I’m not going to say that I lost interest, but that’s the part that really got me hooked in and engaged, is how do you set up that really smooth data flow?
So, doing the tech and app implementation with clients was awesome. The actual doing the day-to-day accounting was less enjoyable for me. But once I built out the team and started leading people and saw that I was able to give some people an opportunity and watch them grow and develop and take on new challenges, that was also quite a rewarding piece for me. So, I found my way into Xero, I think it was back in 2015, because, yeah, I was really drawn to the tech side of accounting but also really enjoyed people leadership and working with large complex teams with different areas of specialisation and bringing them together. And I just felt that Xero was sort of the perfect place for me to learn a hell of a lot more in that space.
So, started the firm. The firm’s still running. I’ve handed the reigns over to my co-founder of the time, and he’s done an incredible job building up his book of business over the years and growing the team. So, I still pick his brain a lot on what it’s like, what it feels like being on the front lines in the industry as I do with many partners we have at Xero.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. It really turned the accounting model on its head, the pyramid model on its head, in that it’s so much easier to start a business with the solution and the tools and the cloud accessibility that it offers, and it’s so important about the flow of data. And I’ll reference people who are listening maybe for the first time because you’re a celebrity to go back and listen to the interview I did with Kendra, who is the head of data… probably not the right title, but it was a great conversation on data.
Will: Was this Kendra Vant?
Heather: Yeah, I had a great conversation.
Will: Oh, did you interview her? Oh, she’s awesome.
Will: She is the thought leader of thought leaders in the data space. And so, she’s been with Xero for a few years now. She’s incredibly impressive, and her knowledge and, I guess, vision for what’s possible in the world of data is very impressive. So, I’m going to go and listen to that interview as well.
Heather: Yeah. It gets better. Clayton Oates is on it as well. So, Clayton and Kendra. So, it was a very good conversation and we should do it again because I think sometimes you and I know that, and Kendra knows that, but we need to just keep getting it in front of people why we keep talking about data and why data is so important. And it’s not just about protecting it. It’s about using it and using it right.
Will: Yeah. Once you lay the foundations right and you get that flow in place, then that’s where you really have the rich insights at your fingertips, and that’s where you can take your level of professionalism and how you can engage with clients to a whole new level and really cut yourself off a nice competitive mote as an advisor that places you ahead of the pack in whatever community you look to service. Having those rich insights at your fingertips can make such a difference in the quality of conversation and how you make clients feel when they interact with you. And yeah, that is such a big piece of where the industry’s going, in my opinion.
Heather: Well, I’ll jump ahead. I’ll jump ahead and go.
You have coined the phrase ‘Compliance plus conversations equals advisory’. What’s your take on compliance and where it fits in with the future of the profession?
Will: I’ll say compliance is the bedrock of what connects the ATO, the industry, and business owners. I won’t go as far as calling it the connective tissue because I don’t believe that it plays that role, but it is the foundation for what brings those three key stakeholder groups all together. And the ATO has been very forthcoming in sharing their views on the role that the profession plays in making sure that the ATO is able to almost execute and deliver on its role as a digital service provider but also as a regulator. So, yeah, I think compliance certainly is that foundation for what brings those three parties together across business owners, the profession, and the ATO.
But I think where the connective tissue piece comes together is how the profession… and this is where I think the profession actually plays the leading role, is how the profession is able to take that foundation of compliance and, again, get to that trusted insights piece so that you can elevate the level of conversation or discussion with clients, which is almost informally educational for clients, so that we can lift the benchmark or the standard level of knowledge and awareness for how business owners should be running and maintaining their own level of financial wellbeing in their business but also in their personal lives and with their families.
That’s the role that I feel conversation plays off the back of compliance. So, compliance is that foundation, but the quality of conversation is the opportunity to play that connective tissue piece so that the business owners absolutely get the information that they need to continue to take those steps forward. I don’t think they get that from compliance specifically. It is the conversation and the trusted insights that you can deliver as an advisor to a client that makes all the difference.
Heather: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people have that in them, those conversations in them, they’re just not aware that that’s sometimes what we’re referencing when we are actually referencing advisory.
Will: Oh, yeah. As people that are very, I guess, savvy in numbers, we can pull apart a P&L and a balance sheet incredibly quickly and do quick ratios. That stuff doesn’t come second nature to a lot of business owners. A lot of business owners tend to operate on the left side of the brain, very creative, strategic thinking, and not necessarily as financially astute as what we are. So, yeah, from our perspective as advisors, what we perhaps take…
Heather: For granted.
Will: Yeah, what other people would take for granted is just how financially astute we are. And we should probably not take that for granted. We should break it down and meet clients where they are. And we probably find that a lot of the times, just extending the olive branch and having a very entry-level conversation on some insights of what that could potentially mean could strike up all kinds of potential conversations and scenarios that a business might apply the left side of their brain to for where they want to take their business.
Will: So, I think the conversation is key for me, but you can’t have that conversation again without the compliance piece squared away.
Heather: Yeah, I completely agree. I completely agree.
Can you share an interesting or fun memory of your time with Rod Drury?
Will: I can. Rod Drury. Rod’s an interesting character and he’s done a lot of interesting things in his time. But I’d say the one that sticks out for me is when we were at Xero Con in I believe it was Austin, in the US, Austin, Texas. And I remember seeing Rod five minutes before his keynote presentation in Austin. He was riding around on his skateboard as he does through the exhibitor hall, talking to the app partners. And it was like five minutes. And I remember looking down at the agenda, which I had on my phone, going, “I’m pretty sure Rod is supposed to be up backstage getting mic’d up to be rolling out his keynote in five minutes.” But here he was skating around being a man of the people, which was great.
And he rode his skateboard passed me, and he stopped in front of me, said, “Hi,” because we were in North America together, but he knew that we had spent time in New Zealand, Australia, together. So, a familiar face. So, I felt great, and I asked him, I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be on stage in the next couple of minutes?” He said, “Oh, yeah, I should probably head over there.” And I asked him, like, “Are you prepared? How are you feeling?” He goes, “Yeah, well, I’ll just get up there and we’ll just probably ask the audience to give me a bunch of questions and we’ll just make it a very open Q&A type session.” And I was mortified for him. The fact that he was going to walk out on a Xero Con stage with no plan for what content he was going to deliver… He just wanted to be on stage in front of everyone and take questions and be very authentic? I was really worried for him.
And then fast forward to when he actually got out and did his keynote, he did. He got up on stage, he was mic’d up, and he said, “We’re going to pass around a microphone around the room, and feel free to ask me anything you want to ask me.” And people did. People started asking questions from the crowd, and they were really great questions, and Rod, without any preparation, just almost delivered these beautiful answers that were filled with so much insight that other people… I mean, my brain doesn’t operate anywhere near the level that Rod’s does. And just seeing him operate in that moment with such conviction and confidence of what we were all working towards as a profession, but also at Xero, was a really humbling moment, that I think it probably extends to the power that founders have in setting a vision and bringing people on the journey with them, marching towards that vision. Founder-led businesses can be incredibly, incredibly powerful.
So, yeah, that’s the moment for me that is probably my highlight of my experience with Rod, was just seeing him own that moment and be so calm, composed, and confident that there was no question that anyone could ask on stage in front of 1,500 people that was possibly going to stump him. He wanted to hear it and he wanted to deliver on it, and I’ve always admired that about him.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a privilege to be amongst such a brilliant person and to be able to work and help the community led by him. And I know that he still has such an important role in the Xero community, so, wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.
With Xero, you’ve moved from Australia to the US to Canada to New Zealand and now back to Australia again. Half of your career working as the underdog, and the other half working as the dominant player in the market. What have you learned from those two experiences? How do you take that underdog energy back into the Australian market?
Will: I would say that there’s just a mindset at Xero that we always adopt that challenger… not necessarily underdog, but challenger mentality. Always have to be innovating. Yes, Xero is doing incredibly well in Australia and we love the community that we’re part of here, but by no means do we feel like we’re done. There is a lot more innovation to come. There is a lot more that we can do to continue to deliver value for, yes, our existing customers today, but also for… I think over the next 10 years, the stats show that over three and a half million small businesses are going to open up in Australia. So, by no means would we feel like we’re not the challenger and don’t want to be thinking along those lines. There is still a lot of opportunity and a lot of work to be done to take advantage of that opportunity by delivering the value and reaching our full potential.
So, going to North America and planting the flag for Xero in Canada with the team was a tremendous experience. Learned a lot about how to build up the Xero business, build up the Xero community, and how to sequence how you enter a new market. Work with banks, work with regulators, work with the profession, work with industry influence groups, and how to sequence all of that out. That was really valuable in Canada. I think the key takeaway is that, that still applies in the markets where Xero has a thriving community and a large community already.
And there’s probably key takeaways of just never rest on your laurels, don’t get complacent, there are always more conversations you can have with customers and partners around what kind of value could we be delivering next, and leaning into those conversations and never feeling like you should take the high road. Speaking to customers and spending time with customers and partners is always very, very humbling. And just always, for me, comes back to, yes, there absolutely is… there’s more work to be done and there’s more value to be delivered, so let’s crack on with it and get our heads down and make sure that we’re meeting everyone where everyone wants to meet us.
Heather: I love that conversations continue to be a part of that. And I know that you have been actively engaging with the community in Australia just in the short time you’ve been here.
Will: It’s the best part of my job, just being able to go to conferences, go to events, pick up a phone and speak to customers and partners. That’s where you get all the really rich insights. When a business gets much bigger, it can become more complex, and it’s very easy to almost get stuck in your own four walls and almost over-engineer and overthink how things should be done. So, one thing that I’m incredibly big on with the team is just making sure that we always over-index to spending time with customers and partners and not fall into the trap of over-indexing and spending times with ourselves, convincing ourselves of what the right thing to do is. Let’s get out and listen and learn what the right thing to do is, and then bring that back and then go and deliver on it.
Heather: Yeah. Oh, that’s really interesting because it has felt for a while that it blew out and it became this massive corporate train, and you’re sounding, no, we’re still here and still very connected. So, that’s cool to hear.
Will: Yeah, yeah. No. We’ve gone on an incredible growth journey so far at Xero, and then if you look globally at what the opportunity that still lies ahead, we are still just a very small part of the way there. So, growth and innovation always has to stay in our DNA, and I think if we look back at the first one and a half decades of the company and the journey that we’ve been on, there’s a lot of valuable lessons that can be applied to how we continue to go on the growth journey over the next decade.
And here in Australia, one key thing that has always run true for me is how influential and critical the role of the advisor or the profession, accountants and bookkeepers, really is in the small business economy. And I’ve got a stat that the ATO has published. So, 95% of all small businesses in Australia have a relationship with an accountant or bookkeeper, which is from the ATO, from Chris Jordan, from the commissioner. And that stat is just incredibly powerful. It just really speaks to how influential the profession is, and we’re right behind that. That just validates everything that we’ve always believed about what we can do to work with the profession to help the profession help the small business economy.
So, there’s no such thing as a silver bullet in business, but working with our partner community feels as much of a silver bullet as anyone’s ever going to get in the world of business.
Heather: Absolutely. And there are a lot of smart future-focused people in the community who are very generous in their nature and wanting to help, wanting to be a big win-win-win situation.
Do the accountants and bookkeepers in North America have a different approach to managing their teams and creating an engaging work environment that Australians can emulate?
Will: I’ll probably elaborate more on the answer than when you first asked me the question when we were on that panel. You did a great job moderating that panel, by the way.
Heather: Thank you.
Will: I really enjoyed it. I want to do more of it. Are you moderating any more panels coming up? Is there more of these panels that we can be on together?
Heather: Alas. I’ve said yes.
Will: You did a great job-
Heather: You probably have more influence in getting me as a moderator than I do.
Will: You did a great job putting us in the hot seat, and you asked some very thought-provoking questions, which I felt like was great for the audience. So, on this question, I think the first time I answered it I spoke to maybe some of the differences culturally between North America and here in Australia, and I sort of shone the spotlight on Canada and the US being two completely different countries and different cultures. And then, perhaps that that meant that the labour market around the profession operated and functioned a little bit differently.
I think that’s probably just table stakes. Where I’d love to take my answer to now having reflected on that the first time is the one thing that really has always remained consistent across, in my experience, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US is that the firms and the firm owners that found their firm on common values that are an extension of their own individual identity means that those firm owners can show up to work and to the office and online with their team every day very authentically, and with their clients. And that seems to attract a certain type of talent of people that have similar values that feel a connection with the firm and want to apply and learn and develop professionally in that team environment as opposed to the other ones.
And those firms tend to be the ones that actually correlate with the ones that are winning new business, new clients, and keeping clients longer and keeping staff longer. So, it’s not so much what’s different about each of the markets that I’ve observed, it’s probably what has actually really stuck out as being consistent, which is firms and firm owners that can be values-led that are able to show up authentically for their team tend to attract and build the type of culture that people want to be a part of and want to hang around for and contribute towards as well over time and go on that ride, that wave together.
That, for me, has been probably the biggest learning and biggest takeaway. And I’ve heard tonnes of stories of firms that have tried different things, gone in different directions, how to win and retain talents when clients retain clients. There are lots of different ways to do it. So, I guess I’m probably not best placed to talk about the how to do it, but what I have observed in my time is that those are the firms that seem to be doing it really well, is the ones that come back to the culture piece.
And I would love to hear stories for how firms go out and seek to build that culture and what the right process or approach… or valuable process and approach could be for others that want to go on that journey. Because, yeah, it definitely does work, and I think the proof is definitely in the pudding with those firms that actively seek out how to build a really strong team culture that is really values-led from the firm owners all the way through the organisation.
Heather: Yeah. And especially in this tight talent market, I look at firms… I’m not looking for a job, but I look at firms and go, “I’d like to walk in and work with them one day,” that I fit in there and it would be good, and I’d enjoy myself because I want to enjoy myself.
Will: Yeah. It’s tough, though.
Will: It’s really hard to do that because everyone’s got finite resources. So, when is the right time to invest? When do you take that first move towards investing and building that culture, that culture piece? What is the right first step and how do you have the confidence that taking that leap of faith and making that first play or placing that first investment is the right thing to do and that it’s going to pay off?
So, yeah, I’m curious to hear and learn from others that have been on that journey successfully, and just keen to hear those stories and then amplify them and share them as much as we possibly can. Because anyone that has been through that ambiguity of taking that leap of faith and perhaps over-investing in their firm and not being certain of if it was going to pay off for them… Would love to know how people have navigated through that moment and what advice they could give to others that are keen to go on that journey as well.
Heather: Well, for our listeners listening into that, and if you do have a good culture story, I’m sure if you can get someone to write it up and send it in, Xero will be interested to hear. But we all, the community, will be interested to hear. So, please do that. We do encourage you to do that, and reach out to Will or I if you want to be put on the right track of who to contact for that.
What do you mean your client relationship is your business IP?
Will: Yeah. I look at the client relationship… I don’t work in client services anymore, but my perspective and view on it is-
Heather: Well, I guess it’s relationship actually. Just if you pull it back-
Will: It is.
Heather: … to relationship. Your relationships. Yeah.
Will: I always treat every relationship not so much as a transaction, but I treat it as an asset that needs to continue to be invested in and nurtured over time for it to be able to reach its maximum potential. And when I was running a practice and even working in practice, I always felt that the value that sits behind an accounting or bookkeeping practice or any service business is how valued clients feel and how connected clients feel to their relationship manager or the principal of the practice.
And the more connected and valuable those clients feel towards that individual or that team, that is what creates the super valuable asset that is the practice. It’s the collection of a bunch of clients that feel incredibly connected to the practice that becomes the IP of the business. And what you can do, what kind of platform that creates from every client feeling connected and being able to then create that community across all of your clients so that you get clients talking to one another and engaging with one another and helping one another out, that’s where it becomes really, really valuable.
So, to throw an accounting treatment term of goodwill over an accounting practice, the goodwill comes from how connected clients feel. So, for me, that is the relationship is the IP. And from someone looking out into the firm, I always look at how valued do clients feel and how connected do they feel to the practice. That’s how I would, as an investor or someone that was going to go and acquire or buy accounting firms, I would always look at how valuable the relationships are with clients.
Heather: And the relationship keeps them sticky and it keeps them there for a long time, and it is extraordinarily important. And I recently gave a talk in Britain for their International Trade Week, and they asked me to share some nuances of Australia business work environment. And researching that, one of the things that surfaced was Australians don’t have transactional relationships, they have relationships. And it was interesting because that actually meant that other countries do have transactional relationships, which I thought was interesting. And then, so-
Will: I love that. I love that. And it’s so true. Anytime I’m interacting with anyone, if I’m buying something from someone or if I’m selling something to someone, I’m always trying to place myself in their position and do the role reversal. And actually, I read a great book when I was in Canada, and it was called Sell the Way You Buy, which was by David Priemier, who was a senior vice president of sales at Salesforce for a number of years in Canada. And he wrote this book on selling technique, and he actually came in and coached a lot of the Xero team as well in Canada.
But yeah, sell the way you buy. So, being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the buyer’s shoes, what kind of experience and how do you want them to feel guides how I want to behave and be perceived and project myself out into the world. So, yeah, but the relationship piece is just so key. So key.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. I do wonder whether if you sell the way you buy, do you get caught up in your own bubble?
Will: Ooh, good challenge. That is a very good challenge. Yes, because then you can go on that, I guess, perpetual cycle of cognitive bias and positive reinforcement. So yes, someone needs to come in and almost encourage you to do a period of self-reflection and show a high degree of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-reflection, empathy to be able to then have confidence that, yeah, you are putting yourself out there in the very best way. So, yeah, sell the way you buy, but show a high degree of emotional intelligence while you’re doing that.
Heather: Don’t do it 1:00 when you’re clicking on everything.
Will: No. No, no, no.
Heather: New pair of shoes. So, Will, you’re 33 years young I have been told. Is that correct? Wow.
Will: That is correct.
What do you hope to achieve in your role as country manager of Australia?
Will: I love waking up every day and coming into this office and working with our team. And I’ve been with Xero for seven years now, and of all the countries I’ve lived and worked in with Xero, every member of the Xero team is incredibly passionate and connected to what Xero is trying to accomplish and our vision. For me, I want to make sure that we double down on that passion that we bring as Xeros and amplify it and extend it outwards to our community. So, what I’m really, really big on is making sure that we are way more outward-facing than inward-facing. We get out into the community, we spend time with customers, we spend time with partners, and we are super focused and very deliberate in what type of actions we take to make sure that we’re supporting our partners so that you can support your clients.
Again, I come back to the silver bullet. There is no such thing as a silver bullet, but the most silver bullets that I’ve ever come across of any business book or any business podcast or any textbook through my studies that I’ve ever gone through, the role that accountants and bookkeepers play in supporting the small business economy is so influential that we have to make sure that every day we show up for those advisors that are showing up for their clients. So. as long as we always double down into that dynamic, I feel like we’re going in a very positive direction together.
So, not here to rock the boat, rattle the cages, and change direction and throw the Hail Mary pass. I’m here to get very crystal clear on what is most valuable to our partner community and what you need from Xero to add value to your clients, and that’s what we need to go and execute on.
Heather: You mentioned that three and a half million businesses are coming on board forecast, and you obviously have an existing base of customers. Are you seeing growth with new businesses, or do you perceive that there’s still potential growth with businesses that are on other solutions that could be moved across?
Will: I see growth in both vectors, so growth with our existing customers as well as with new entrants coming into the market. So, I’ll maybe touch on new entrants first and then go to growth with existing customers. New entrants into the market is an interesting one because we’ve got three and a half million new small businesses coming on and starting. That’s a lot of volume. That’s a lot of customers coming through. It is a great opportunity that we’re staring into to get as many of those three and a half million businesses to get the right piece of advice at the right time so that their first couple of steps or foray into the world of business as a business owner are the best possible steps they could possibly take. So, the opportunity to get those businesses set up right and getting the right advice at the right time when their business is just at its infancy stage feels like a big opportunity for us to never want to look beyond.
We really want to lean into that and feel like the advisor community can play a really big role in that. So, keen to work with the profession on how we can come together to help as many of those three and a half million businesses get up and running and be incredibly successful, because what that’s going to do to the Australian economy from a currency perspective, from a GDP output perspective, for what we’re able to export as a market… In terms of improving the margins within the Australian economy, what we can do to marginally improve the rate of success of new businesses coming onboard and taking them all the way through to being thriving businesses is a huge marginal gain when you do it across the entire three and a half million.
So, keen there. And then the other one on working with existing customers. I think from having worked in different countries around the world, the rate of innovation and where Australia is from a digital adoption, digital transformation perspective, I firmly believe from my experiences that Australia is the leader in the movement towards being a frictionless economy. I think the role that the ATO plays, they’ve done a really good job of leading the charge and bringing together the right industry groups as well as software providers to facilitate this really rich innovation roadmap and digital roadmap that the ATO is looking to take business owners on over the next couple of years. And I haven’t come across that as strongly in other markets.
So, working in the US with the IRS, working in Canada with CRA, and working in New Zealand with the IRD, the ATO for me has done a really good job of paving that pathway forward for everyone to move towards a frictionless digital economy. And I think the way that Australian businesses have responded off the back of a couple of challenging years through COVID, the way that… and I know this is a soft spot for the industry, but the way that stimulus payments were injected into businesses, the speed at which they got there, has made such a big difference to the underlying health of the small business economy in Australia and the way that we’ve been able to bounce back post-COVID>
So, coming into the next couple of years or the next period of uncertain economic conditions, it is very impressive to see how the small business economy in Australia is managing itself and is performing through that period of uncertainty. And I know the role that advisors have played to prop up that small business economy is huge, and it’s been taxing. But yeah, I’d say the opportunity over the next… let’s just say over the next 10 years, while we talked about the three and a half million, the opportunity for businesses in business today and working with advisors is to charter and navigate through the uncertain economic times, but also pick their moments to double down and get after opportunities that make sense for them to get after. And I think there’s going to be lots and lots and lots of those as we go through the next couple of years together.
Heather: I don’t know where we’re going to find all these accountants and bookkeepers to meet that challenge, but certainly sounds exciting. And I do see that more businesses are growing. More smaller businesses are growing in the economy, so I definitely see that happening, but goodness, we have a skills shortage in the area. Which is not Xero’s fault. It’s industry fault.
Beautiful is embedded in the Xero brand. Why should beautiful questioning be baked into an organisation DNA?
Will: Ooh. Everyone talks about the tech stack. I’ve heard of a new phrase that has come out recently called the question stack for advisors. This came out at Xero Con in Sydney this year. So, I know the profession and advisors have done a great job of everyone has their preferred tech stack that they offer clients based on the client’s type of business, but I’d say the question stack is an interesting one. What are the top questions that we ask in any new-forming relationship that allow us to form a stronger bond and stronger relationship quicker or sooner? And there is… I keep plugging books, but there is another book that I’ve read called A More Beautiful Question.
Heather: Maybe you had mentioned before, and that’s where I got the question from.
Will: So, that’s where you got it from. My God, you are a great researcher, Heather. I do believe in the power of asking beautiful questions and what that does for the strength of the bond that you can form with someone, or the strength of the relationship. So, taking the time to really understand what the right next question is to ask that is going to strengthen the relationship rather than just stay surface level and not be able to break down the barriers of a deeper connection.
And the phrase that came up at Xero Con of having a question stack, I think, is really, really valuable. So, one key takeaway would be spend time thinking about your top questions that you can ask and refine that list as you go to always make sure that your top five questions are questions that you’re proud of, that are unique to you, that you can tell through your experience have a difference in the strength of connection that you’re able to form with whoever you’re trying to form relationships with.
Heather: I’ll throw that back to you.
Is that something that could be softly standardised and developed through a thought leadership table of the Xero ex-pat members?
Will: I love that, and absolutely.
Heather: Get them working hard.
Will: Yeah, I think we could have a much bigger, broader conversation on how that comes together. But I think the piece that is going to be most important is that everyone feels like they can come up with their own questions. So, yes, there could be a framework of a question stack, but I think it does have to be personal, and I think everyone should hopefully feel the freedom and comfort of figuring out what those, say, top five questions are for them that are unique to them, that they know through their own experiences allows them to form that stronger bond. And if people want to share what their top questions are in their question stack as thought provoking for others that are trying to form what their question stack looks like, then that’s great. All the more for sharing.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, and it does help, and it prompts you, and having discussions like that are always interesting, but that is something I will explore. Now, to another question for you.
About Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, and his approach to compartmentalising his career journey to be more impactful. Is this something that you’ve tried to emulate?
Will: Definitely. I can’t remember how old I was when I came across this YouTube video of Jack Ma and when he was sharing his perspective on how he’s managed his career, but it goes something along the lines of this. In your twenties, you need to find a good company to work for and a good boss to learn from and just absorb and become the sponge in your career. That’s what he treated his twenties for.
And then he said in his thirties, he switched out of being the sponge and moved into building mode. What am I building? What am I building towards? How am I taking the next 10 years of my life to build something that when I get into my forties and my fifties, I can reap the rewards from and feel very comfortable operating in that environment? So, for me, learn as much as I can, work for really good, strong leaders like Rod Drury, like Trent Innes, and I’ve worked for a few really strong leaders in North America as well in my time, which I feel very grateful for.
So, when I saw that Jack Ma took that approach in his career, that hit home for me because I have tried to focus my attention and efforts on learning as much as I possibly can and finding a good company to work for and good leaders to work for and work with. But I do feel that I’m firmly in that building phase right now in my own career, and I am very glad that I find myself a part of the Xero community as the community that I’m building with. And I see a lot of runway and a lot of exciting times ahead while we are in that build phase together.
And why I’d call it a build phase and not sort of like a market maturity phase is because, again, I feel like if you ever feel like you’re done, when you’re done, you’re dead. So, always innovating, always challenging, and always looking to add value and grow and take things further towards achieving ultimate potential. So, yeah, Jack Ma’s words of what you do in your build phase feels very personal to me. I feel very firmly that I’m in the build phase of my career and I’ve got a lot of great support of a very vibrant community around us to do that with.
Heather: Excellent. Excellent. So, I’ll search and drop the video in the show notes, and I’ll add to that. As people will know, I’ve recently did all of the Xero Cons, and I got to meet all of the current new leaders of the different Xero bases across the world. And I just am so positive and hopeful for the future, without sounding like I’m drinking the Xero Kool-Aid here. But I do think that you attract the future-focused accountants, and all of the leadership have so much energy, so much future focus happening there, and smart and savvy and listening to the community.
So, I’m very hopeful of that. Everyone’s had a really challenging two years. We got through it, we saved livelihoods, we do a great job of that, and hopefully… and to that, I will add, from today, I am on leave. So, I hope a lot of other people are taking a nice long leave over the festive period and taking that break and resting and restoring themselves for a big 2023.
Will: I’m going to take a really good break over this holiday season. I’m looking forward to. I’m curious, Heather, what are you doing for your break?
Heather: Nothing. Nothing.
Will: Just nothing? Unplugging?
Heather: I’m pretty much doing nothing. I say that, but I’m jumping on a plane tomorrow and flying down to see Steph and Beau. Steph Hines. Do you know Steph Hines?
Will: I don’t know Steph Hines. I haven’t met Steph Hines yet.
Heather: Oh, okay.
Will: But Beau Gordron and Cliff Hartner. He’s an expat.
Heather: Beau Gordron is extraordinarily famous for his Christmas lights. So, I have-
Will: Oh my God.
Heather: … flown down… This is my second time of flying down, and tour buses actually stop outside his house to watch his Christmas lights. So, I’m going there to do that.
Will: We all expect a video and a photo on social media when you do that, please.
Heather: He has a Facebook page for his Christmas lights that goes up every single night, and it has a full musical orchestra playing to it. Oh, it’s massive.
Will: Oh my god.
Will: Oh my god, I didn’t know this. I feel like I need to make a trip at some point as well.
Heather: It is the craziest thing to be aware of. Yeah, it’s just like, “What? What is happening?” I had to fly down, and I’m flying out again, so that will bring me my great joy. But yeah, nothing. Planning to do nothing. So, I hope other people are planning to-
Will: Well, I hope you enjoy it, and-
Heather: Oh, yeah.
Will: … come back feeling refreshed in the new year, and we’ll see you at the Xero Roadshow.
Heather: So, you’re going to give me a Xero contact then? Accidentally slipped that one in.
Will: Let’s start with Roadshow.
Heather: Roadshow, sounds good.
Will: It’s Roadshow season. I love Roadshows because we get to… I love Xero Con as well obviously, but Roadshows is an opportunity to get around the country and experience local communities more and where our community actually is and operate it from… and we get a lot out of travelling the country and coming to see you. So, looking forward to… This will be my first Roadshow season in Australia, so-
Will: … I’m looking forward to it.
Heather: Fantastic. Well, it should be. I’m booked for Gold Coast and Brisbane, so hopefully I’ll see you at one of those.
Will: I will. I’ll see you there.
Heather: So, the other thing that I had to announce for this podcast was this marks 100,000 downloads of the Cloud Stories Podcast. So, you’re-
Will: Hey, hey.
Heather: … celebrity guest for that episode.
Will: Congratulations. That’s great.
Will: Thank you for taking the time to interview all of us and get these stories out into the community. It’s great for the community, it’s great for the profession. So, thank you for showing the initiative and taking the time to do it, Heather. Appreciate it.
Heather: Yeah. No, the joy is mine, and I’m very fortunate. I’m very grateful for your time today and for everyone’s time, for everyone who listens in, and on the smell of an oily rag I’ve been running this podcast, so very excited that we’ve been able to achieve that, which is kind of a million hours out there of someone listening to, which is a bit scary. Apparently, I have a voice that’s easy to fall to sleep to.
Will: I don’t know about smell of an oily rag. Those LED lights you’ve got behind you in your backdrop look pretty fancy to me.
Heather: Oh, that’s Genio, G-E-N-I-O. All of my house is smart, and everything activates by the touch of my voice. And they’re pretty cheap. They’re from Kmart.
Will: Well, they look good.
Heather: They do. They do. That’s what accounting’s about. Fun, fun, fun, now that we’ve got paper out of the office. So, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners? How can they get in touch with you?
Will: Yeah. Look, I’m quite active on social media, on LinkedIn in particular, so I would love to chat and thread away on LinkedIn with the community. So, feel to jump on and send me a message or connect with me. I enjoy sharing moments with our community. So, yeah, please connect with me because I would love to share future moments with you. I get a lot out of it, and I hope to also contribute just as much back to keep everyone smiling through their days as well.
Heather: Excellent. Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time. Cheers.
Will: Thanks, Heather. Bye.
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About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.