User Spotlight - Fresh Financials
Xavier chats to Founder Emma Fox about how she's turned bookkeeping on it's head
By Helen Lloyd • April 30, 2020
Emma Fox, Founder of Fresh Financials, has always had a passion for bookkeeping. From a very traditional background and using Quickbooks Desktop, Emma had to find new ways of working when she moved across the country from her clients. In 2012, she picked up Xero as a sole trader, and has since grown to a team of 7, winning Xero’s UK Bookkeeper of the Year Award in 2016 along the way! The team offers an outsourced finance solution that revolves around daily bookkeeping. The services they offer can be really involved, but at a minimum all clients receive daily bookkeeping, cashflow forecasting and credit control if they need it.
We asked Emma about her revolutionary bookkeeping practice, how she and her team were managing during the current COVID-19 crisis, and how they were helping their clients to survive.
How are you and your team adapting to the new situation?
Since the COVID-19 crisis arrived, the team have managed to adapt really quickly. As they are all working parents, every team member had a home setup for flexible working. The practice office was mostly an opportunity for them to get out of the house! When social distancing began, the only real change was the team taking the comfy chairs home. Some of our IT company clients saw their biggest growth in revenue in March to supplement home working IT needs.
We use a lot of collaboration tools for working from home. Zoom is used a lot for daily team meetings, there’s sometimes nothing to talk about but can see each other’s faces. There’s also Slack, and WhatsApp. The WhatsApp is for chat, silliness and banter, while Slack is for work purposes. We have a channel for each client, and some clients have joined that channel as guest members. It’s a huge improvement on email, particularly for quick FYI’s. Nobody has Slack notifications on; because everyone works flexibly, it just stops people from being bothered in their own time.
What’s your approach to bookkeeping?
Fresh Financials has flipped bookkeeping on it’s head! Bookkeeping used to be known as data entry, but no one in FF should ever be typing in anything. At enquiry stage, we are really clear on processes and onboarding. We always start with a health check, even before a quote. The health check was a process we did prior to using Xavier, when it was built as a google sheet, where we do a deep dive and generate a project proposal, with a detailed report. We’ll then share with the client using a video recording or a zoom call. This includes what the team have found, what they quickly fixed, and what still needs to be done. It takes at least 6-8 weeks from meeting a new client to onboarding services, which gives the team time to be really clear on expectations - our relationship with our clients is a two-way thing.
We don’t offer quarterly bookkeeping, so the expectation from the client is that everything is submitted via Receipt Bank. We are very transparent on our processes; if you don’t give us all the details in Receipt Bank, the cashflow forecast isnt going to work. Being clear on this from the start is much better in the long term - particularly now, all clients were up to date when the crisis hit and we could start a deep dive immediately.
Putting the clients through a deep health check allows the team to understand what tech stack the user will require, how much work is expected to maintain the daily bookkeeping, and can also allow the team to make a judgement on what the client will be to work with as a person going forward. If you’re working with a client every day, you have to like them!
Clients are presented with a few options to proceed so they can choose their price point. We do find that daily bookkeeping saves a lot of time from a cost perspective for some clients. The process of doing bookkeeping all the time means it takes less time than if it was done monthly, and it also makes the rest of the service much simpler.
What’s your tech stack?
Lots of cloud tools! We use Xavier, Xero, Float, Receipt Bank and Chaser for credit control. We also use MinuteDock, as well as Deputy and Workflow Max. Plus GoCardless and Stripe for payments.
How does Xavier fit in?
Xavier is used as a big part of our new client health check, at the proposal stage before any work is done.
Once we’ve taken on a client, Xavier is then used to prove our work quality and reiterate our values of clean and up to date data to our clients monthly. We used to do a health check report at the end of the VAT period which our clients rarely bothered to look at, but now we use the Xavier reports, this is shared with the client. Our clients actually enjoy seeing the nice green heart score!
Xavier also works as a training tool. New members of staff are encouraged to deep dive into xavier reports as well as Xero and google drive, so they can get a snapshot of what the client looks like from a numbers perspective. For Junior bookkeepers, they take less time to get up to scratch, and the Xavier data reiterates their learning and helps them to see the bigger picture for the client. The team also use Xavier to check their performance internally - it’s self teaching in that they can see their own mistakes and correct them by themselves. Because of the way the team work with their normal clients, they are always wanting to beat each others’ internal health scores!
How has using Xavier impacted your clients?
Our clients are guaranteed they have nice clean xero accounts, and the team are able to be really confident with the figures now everyone has been requesting information about their cashflow. The team can also reiterate their value of good quality daily bookkeeping using the Xavier health score as proof, in a way that clients understand and appreciate.
In terms of client success, because our team is involved in the business and talking to them all the time, the furlough process and tweaks were easy, and we already knew if anyone was in danger. Some clients have completely flipped their offers to manage the situation, and have been very successful as a result. Because we already had the relationship and knew them so well, we were able to help them through it.
What’s your biggest win / key improvement?
By completely trusting my gut instinct and changing the way we offered services, we turned traditional bookkeeping on it’s head. We’re 100% paper free and don’t even see the paperwork, it’s the clients responsibility to submit it electronically. This means the service we offer can be seen as controversial, but it’s been the biggest improvement. It took some bravery but it’s worth it for everybody. A recent new client actually moved because their previous accountant couldn’t complete their VAT return without getting into the office and accessing the servers!
What’s your no.1 tip for firms in the covid crisis?
The relationship is so important; you need to understand your clients and their needs.
It all comes down to communication. I’ve been really shocked by the number of people who have said they haven’t heard from their accountant or bookkeeper during this time. We are in contact with our clients around 3 times a week including newsletters. As soon as it all kicked off, we phoned every single client.
The relationships we have built with our clients means some of them are now clients for life, they have valued the support so much. We make sure to understand the human aspects of our clients lives as well as their business, as the relationship is that important. It all comes down to the human factor - with all of the automation and technology we use, the real benefit is freeing up the team up to have real conversations with our clients.
Emma Fox was speaking to Helen & Simon from Xavier. Thanks Emma!