At the latest Xero Roadshow, I caused a bit of a shock wave by stating that Fresh Financials works 100% remotely, from any device, anywhere, at anytime.
As a firm, we’ve been working this way successfully for quite a while which means that I have some insight on the topic and I thought I would share how and why we do this. With Xero providing instant cloud access to your accounts, it seemed to me that remote working was the norm for most accountants – but clearly, that’s not the case for some practices.
So why are we leading the way with remote working at Fresh Financials? Let me explain.
We love being part of the Xero community
I LOVE a Xero event, be it a roadshow or the annual Xerocon tech conference. At a Xero event, you’re guaranteed to learn something new and engage with some fantastic people.
So when the dates for the London Xero Roadshow were launched I booked tickets for the whole of the Fresh Financials team. Some might see it as a risk to close the office for a whole day (we’re based in Sussex, so with travel time it takes up the whole day) but I see it as not only a great experience for the team, educationally, but also a good team-building day out.
I felt especially honoured to be asked to speak on the Partner Panel at the end of the day. I don’t know if you saw me speak, heard about it or are completely oblivious to it (hopefully, not the latter). The Partner Panel is an opportunity for those of us that have been on a ‘cloud accounting journey’ to answer questions and share our experiences and thoughts.
Being such a ‘small’ business, it’s always wonderful for me to be in a position to share how we’ve got to where we are today. I shared some of our working processes, a little of our journey, how we work 100% remotely and how we’ve only met about 40% of our clients face-to-face (I’ve since calculated that it’s actually more like 25%).
To me, this was all ‘business as usual’ and not intended to be a shock revelation in any way. So I was hugely surprised about the impact this information had on the attendees.
So many people took the time to talk to me afterwards to ask how on earth I had achieved 100% remote working. And there were plenty of questions: How had I had convinced our clients to do this? Did it work on a day-to-day basis? Was it fast and efficient?
So, in the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d explain just how were made remote working deliver on its promise – and why I believe it’s the ‘new normal’ for businesses.
The history of Fresh Financials
I started my bookkeeping career straight from school and undertook all my professional qualifications whilst working for a small firm of solicitors. I’ve always been a numbers person and love tidying things up – give me something to reconcile and I am in my element (honestly, I’m much more fun at parties)!
I started my own business when I was pregnant with my first son in 1999, in the main because I wanted to be able to work from home and have the flexibility of choosing my working hours (usually late at night or while soothing a sleeping baby – not often, though, as my eldest was the world’s worst sleeper).
I always had a handful of clients (most of whom are still with Fresh Financials today), and meetings would be held around my dining room table – so geographical location was imperative. Once all of my three children were at school I had the flexibility to work during ‘usual’ work hours, so started working onsite (at their premises) for clients. However, the evening work was still inevitably there. If one of the children were ill I had to cancel any appointments and stay home with said ‘sick’ child (any parents out there will know that phone call to come and collect your ‘very ill’ child from school to find that by the time you get them home there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them!). At this point in my life I was a single parent, with no back-up options for childcare – so I knew that a change was needed in how I worked.
In 2009, I made the decision to move 75 miles to Sussex, right at the base of the South Downs. I still had all my clients – I just now needed to find a better way to work. I’d moved in with my now husband so had assistance with the childcare one whole day a week, and I’d managed to find ways to work from home for the rest of the week.
On those home-working days I’d get up at the crack of dawn and drive the 75 miles back to Surrey, work all day onsite, have lots of meetings then finish very late and drive back. I did this for a few years but realised this was not sustainable for me.
I needed a better way of working – why on earth did I need to keep visiting client sites? Plus I was finding it hard to gain new clients as this was such a time-consuming way of working.
Then, in 2012, I discovered Xero. And it changed my life!
What does remote working mean?
‘Remote working’ doesn’t only mean that we work in a remote area in the country – which we do, with our offices in the top floor of a converted barn in the middle of the rural Sussex countryside.
In the wider sense, remote working means being able to work from anywhere. It also means that we can work with clients who are based anywhere – immediately removing the problematic geographical restraints of having to fit clients around my dining room table!
All of our business systems work in the cloud, meaning we can log in from anywhere, on any device and work as though we’re in the office. We’ve worked very closely with our IT and security partner to make sure all our systems are set up correctly and are super secure, as that’s an area that has to be rock solid when you’re working with sensitive numbers.
We use LastPass (a password manager) and two-factor authentication on everything; which I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s either starting a business or has an existing company that strives to be safer online.
Working remotely with our clients
Once I’d discovered Xero’s beautiful online accounting software it was easy to find additional systems to ‘add-on’. The Receipt Bank smart-scanning and data management app, for example, which removed the need for us to visit client sites to work on paperwork, or negates the client needing to post a big envelope of receipts and invoices. Just using Receipt Bank and Xero changed the working process drastically. The client takes photos of the paperwork as they receive their bills and invoices and we do the rest (well actually Receipt Bank does, but hey).
Client engagement is easier than ever before. We can now connect with our clients by email, telephone, Skype, Google Hangout and Slack. We can discuss requirements, have a virtual meeting and then send over a proposal via Practice Ignition. This proposal also contains our engagement letter, so once a prospective client has accepted the proposal they’re also able to the terms of engagement. This also links to Xero and bam, your sales invoice is created.
It’s simple, it’s connected and it’s all done in the cloud. And that’s what allowed us to make remote working a success: by using those benefits while keeping the customer experience as personal and supportive as it had always been.
Why customer service drives everything we do
We pride ourselves on our customer service here at Fresh Financials – we’ve even won awards recognising our dedication to customer service.
Just because we don’t visit our clients at their business premises it doesn’t mean we can’t have fantastic client engagement. All of our agreements include unlimited support, and that means clients can pick up the phone, arrange a virtual meeting or come to the farm to meet with us and have a coffee in the tranquillity of the countryside.
We love talking to our clients and make sure that we ALL build up a personal relationship with them. If any client calls (phones are diverted to wherever we are on a given day), whoever answers knows who they are, what position their accounts are in and whether we have any outstanding queries for them. But they’ll also know whether the client’s daughter broke her leg on the Easter Skiing trip and will ask how she’s doing (we love being totally open with clients and strive for a friendly working environment where we know our clients, and our clients know us).
The beauty of this way of working is that it makes the whole team incredibly productive – and that means we can offer a better level of service for a lower price.
We’re far more available for meetings, or a quick chat regarding a client issue, as we’re not spending time travelling from A to B. We also don’t have a problem when that phone call to come and collect the ‘very ill child’ from school comes in: we don’t have to cancel anything; we simply work from home for the day.
All of our team have Chromebooks, so if they want to work from home anytime no one even knows. For example, today my twins had a 2-hour orthodontist appointment. So I set myself up in the waiting room, used my iPhone as a remote hotspot and got all my usual work completed. I even had a Skype meeting with a client, all from the waiting room.
Remote working isn’t shocking: it’s the norm
So, there you have the reasons why remote working is the perfect fit for Fresh Financials. And, more importantly, why it’s also the perfect fit for our clients.
We get the flexibility and additional productivity of working from any location at any time, while clients know they can connect with us at any time during the day to help solve an issue or check in on a particular piece of work.
It’s this ability to work from anywhere that enabled me to close the office for the Xero Roadshow, spend the day with my team and for this to have absolute NO negative impact on the day-to-day running of our business. Our clients know this is how we work, my team knows this is how we work and everyone is happy. After all, the Fresh Financials motto is ‘Numbers shouldn’t be this much fun!!’
So for all those businesses that have yet to make the move, we have one piece of advice: start remote working and see how much value it brings to your business. It’s not the future of working – it’s already the norm for a great number of highly successful small businesses (ours included!).