Reckon Conference 2015

This article is a revised extract, taken from the Reckon Blog, of which the complete version can be found here.

The 2015 Reckon Conference kicked off with a keynote address by MD Sam Allert referencing today’s ‘disruptive’ business environment, and greater need for tracking KPI’s and also announcing the strong Reckon profit in first half year of 2015.

This demonstrates the strength of the Reckon brand versus competitors who have been in significant loss situations in same period like MYOB and Xero or declines in revenue/profit by others, like Intuit.

Newly appointed COO, Daniel Rabie followed up nicely with insight to global trends that surround the decisions that Reckon are taking with their deployment of solutions for business. A key focus today, is having the necessary tools in place to provide business analytics as well as compliance reporting. Reckon are addressing this with their agile approach to using API and developing a strong underlying technology base to promptly react with the growing challenges from interfacing to credit organisations, banks, Government agencies and inter-company transactions.

Panelists provided a terrific interactive session for Bookkeepers and Accountants to explore strategies for growing their businesses. These sessions provided invaluable comparison and feedback to the audience with questions relating to value-added services, pricing, marketing and the need for greater IT awareness. Today, there is a growing need for firms to extend their services to provide software advice, goal-seeking/business coaching consulting services, and to consider outsourcing these services to satisfy customer needs. With the increased dependence on Cloud services, there needs to be a parallel increase in providing something tangible to market and demonstrate the reporting services provided. Simple strategies like presenting monthly dashboard KPIs/analytics help keep the firms name up front with key clients.

Reckon continue to openly share their direction with Accredited Partners (AP’s) on not only the end-user products: Reckon Accounts (desktop), and the securely hosted Reckon Accounts Hosted and Reckon ONE products in Amazon’s Data Centres in Australia but also their long standing Practice Management suite of products for Accounting firms.

Key tips, tricks and business efficiency clues were found in many of the sessions, including “Geek Speak” (Jason Hollis / Tony Tran), “Work Tools” (Renee Herbert) and a simple-language overview of building a digital presence using website tools and optimisation strategies that bore out the importance of keeping it simple, and presenting meaningful content to raise interest in one’s business. (Well presented by Matthew Butler – Marketing Manager, Reckon). This information was coupled with presentations by Amazon Web Services, about their secure data centre operations. https://myaccounts.com.au/reckon-conference-2015/This provided an eye-opening examination of how risks of data loss can in fact be decreased by migrating operations to a data centre (Cloud) based environment.

Presentations delivered directly from the Product Managers (Dean Darke, Ed Blackman, Neil Rustige and Simon Hutchison) made a great impact on gaining a clearer direction of the overall roadmap in a time when technology advances and consumer demands are at an all time high. Amongst the many practical messages taken away from the conference, are:

– Future dependence on browsers, not operating systems, and the consideration of software update automation strategies
– Pending legislative changes that will require secure distribution of information
– Increased interest by business of workflow efficiency improvements and the tools that assist this
– The increased need to evaluate inhouse systems compatibility/impact along with internet access before contemplating Cloud solutions
– Mobile devices providing ever increasing solutions for POS, information sharing and data access
– The benefits of bundling a choice of modules in a “Software As A Service” (SaaS) business model for delivering IT solutions
– The opportunities available from integrating solutions from a variety of some 500 Software Developer Partners using API for ie: CRM, ERP, Manufacturing
– The fine print behind the authorisation methods for Bank Data feed interfacing – taking the direct Bank approach rather than just Yodlee
– The changing trends in how website ranking takes place in 2015
The continued interest in personal range of products for investment planning and personal budgeting – ie: Home & Business
– Key articles helping users with planning migrations to new versions of Reckon and operating systems.
– Growing roles where suitably qualified/experienced APs with IT knowledge can assist fellow Accountants and Bookkeepers.
– IDC statistics of the enormous growth in Cloud technology deployment – Presented by Clayton Brown, AWS, and Zack Levy CIO Reckon)
– Valuable tips for improving website presence
– Diplomatic observation of “Issues” versus “It’s You’s” – and the polite pro-active way of sharing the good oil to address any technology queries

Bottom line: The collective skills of AP’s with Accounting, Bookkeeping PLUS Computing/IT experience, can ensure that End-Users and AP’s alike can enjoy the full use of the fine Reckon product range.

Interview: Simon Kahil - CEO of Pepperleaf

Every Saturday morning, I receive a delivery of fresh fruit & veg, red meat & fish, meal recipe cards and a health magazine to top it all off. I’m a Gen-Y business owner that works long hours but also socialises excessively – therefore the most precious commodity to me is time.

When I’m at home, I find that it takes longer for me to decide what I’m going to cook, than it does to cook the dish itself. Pepperleaf, the new subscription based, weekly meal delivery service is an absolute godsend and most importantly, it solves this massive first world problem for me… when I’m not at café, bar or restaurant, that is.

I reached out to the founder and CEO of Pepperleaf and was lucky enough to steal some of his previous time for an interview.

Noel Tiufino: Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Simon Kahil: I think not running my own business has never fit with me. I have had ‘real’ jobs before my early mid-life crisis, but it never suited and I always felt like the work experience kid that didn’t go home.

NT: Do you feel more comfortable now that you’re running your own business?

SK: A lot more, yeah. Much happier. Leaving corporate jobs was a very, very good thing for me. Not to say it’s good for everyone, but I felt an enormous relief from getting out and doing something I love, and in fact, that’s probably the key to it – doing something I love rather than something I’m forced to do.

NT: You were a tennis coach prior to this. Now that you’ve started your own business, tell me – do you feel more like the coach or the student?

SK: The student, actually. I’ve got this very strong sense that you should defer to people that know more on a given subject than you. I give the company direction and I’ve got very strong opinions on everything, but if someone knows more in a given field than me, I defer to them.

NT: We touched on this before, but if you will, tell me a little more about the transition from employee to employer.

SK: Without sounding like a megalomaniac, it’s about having control over your destiny and wanting to pursue a vision rather than implementing someone else’s vision, as good as that vision may be. I’ve had experience working with people where I just didn’t buy into their vision and I think that caused a real internal dissonance. I found it quite stressful, wanting to do one thing; having strong opinions about doing one thing, but having to do another, and that might be a personality flaw but having the ability to author your own vision is a very, very satisfying thing.

NT: Agreed. So now about your business – Pepperleaf, can I please have the elevator pitch?

SK: We are a meal kit delivery service. We’re asking customers to do everything in a whole new way, to shop differently – we are very much a lifestyle product. We try to give back time to people who are time-poor.

You’ve worked long hours, Noel, but you still have answer the question, “what’s for dinner tonight?” and we like to think we help answer that question – we give people back a bit of the time they have to spend planning meals and shopping. We also have a philosophy on supporting artisan food producers. You won’t find anything in your delivery that you can go and find at Coles or Woolworths.

We support small, local producers. It [the food] is not from factory farms, it’s not from enormous dairy companies… Noel, you asked for an elevator pitch, this has turned into a monologue!

NT: Ha ha! That’s alright.

SK: … so we’re trying to do things a bit differently.

NT: I love it – I’m a big fan of the concept. So what is your vision for Pepperleaf?

SK: To be huge! We have ambitious targets but our vision for Pepperleaf is to stay true to our ideals – I’ll give you an example. We have an opportunity. We could expand into Brisbane tomorrow. There is the infrastructure in place to do that. However we won’t because it compromises on the freshness of the produce. It has to spend an extra day in transit. It’ll be capital-intensive but we would rather start up an operation in Queensland, when we can deliver fresh and local.

We can get to Sydney and Adelaide [from Melbourne] overnight, and that’s not a stretch for the produce, but if we start selling to Brisbane customers now, we compromise on freshness. So while we grow, we want to keep revisiting why we’re doing this – stay true to the ideals, use small local producers and all the other things that I’ve spent a lot of time boring you about. Stay true to that while we expand, that’s my vision for it.

NT: That’s a great vision, definitely one to be proud of.  So we’re on to the most fun part of the interview, bookkeeping and accounting.

SK: Right. Stop, Noel.

NT: Ha ha! I recall a conversation we had a while ago about accounting software for your business – why Xero?

SK: I’d seen MYOB in its old incarnation in my wife’s business and I felt like its tentacles were pretty strong [in that] it locked her into some ways of doing things.

I just wanted information to be accessible. We’re not financial experts so we want it to be accessible, easy to understand, and not just spreadsheets. Xero certainly is super accessible. You just check in.

NT: Xero just checks all those boxes for you?

SK: Yeah, absolutely it does, and we can manipulate it however we want and look at reports.

NT: How often do you aim to review your financials?

SK: We like to keep a pretty good eye on it – we look at key metrics every week.

NT: And what are those metrics?

SK: Subscriber numbers, churn, so they’re all revenue measures, and then the cost obviously. What’s the saying? Revenue is vanity and profit is sanity.

NT: … and cash is reality.

SK: Exactly right, and that’s why you’re paying for coffee Noel.

NT: Ha ha, I already did! How important is your relationship with your accountants and why?

SK: Very important. Going back to what I said about deferring to people who are experts, we don’t have that expertise and we’d be foolish to try and do things that we can’t do when they’re that important.

NT: If you were to wind back the clock to the inception of Pepperleaf with the knowledge that you have now, what changes would make, so as to give advice to people who are currently starting out?

SK: What it looks like now is so different. There’s not a thing, apart from the core proposition that it’s going to be food and delivery on a subscription basis that looks the same.

We were willing to make anything change along the way. Not in the ‘whatever way the wind blows’ kind of way but I think if you’re too dogmatic about your idea, you’re going to miss opportunities to learn and change and be armed better information. So, back to your question about my advice – to be open to change and to keep your eyes open for opportunities.

NT: That’s great advice! Anything else for entrepreneurs starting out?

SK: I’m a big fan of gut instincts, and I think we’ve developed those gut instincts over a millennia and to disclaim them now would seem foolish. Going on gut instinct but being open to change and advice, I think that’s a nice blend of skills to have.

NT: Great, well thank you very much for your time and all the best with Pepperleaf!

SK: Thank you, Noel. I appreciate your time.

The bottom line of accounting revolution

During the recent Accounting Software Roadshow merry-go-round, I asked myself in a state of exhaustion ‘what is this all for?’ I had momentarily lost sight of the fact that the advancement in technology is ultimately for the benefit of the most important aspect of our businesses – our clients.

Since Xero came along to Australia in 2008 and forced a revolution in the Australian Accounting space, My Accounts along with thousands of accounting professionals have had to learn, adapt and improve our service offerings in order to keep up with what was now available to both us and the clients. At times it has felt like we’ve been on a Hamster-wheel of never-ending changes, improvements and expansions in accounting software that we need to be aware of at least, and be a master of at best.

So with my focus on clients back in check, I reached out to three accounting industry leaders to get their insight on why the recent accounting revolution is important to small business and how it benefits them.

Right at forefront of the revolution delivering news on all the changes across all the platforms is Sholto Macpherson. Without his updates, our job as accountants to keep up would be much more difficult. He had this to say:

“Business owners can look forward to expecting a lot more from their accountants. Accountants often have a negative association because they are associated with paying money for compliance. In the case of the ATO it can be quite a large sum of money, but so can the fees. In both cases it feels worse because the fees and tax paid are variable. So the business owner knows they are going to pay money each time they talk to the accountant but they never know how much. 

And there’s the problem that they never know how well the accountant is doing their job. They just see the number of hours but have no way of knowing whether that reflects a job well done. Should it take that long to do a tax return? Are they just slow and inefficient? Or could they have reduced the tax further if they had spent more time on it? 

This new wave of accounting technology is supporting a better relationship between accountants and business owners. The fees are fixed so the business owner knows exactly what it will cost. And they pay monthly, so there’s no anxiety over paying several grand in one whack. The biggest opportunity to improve the relationship is for the accountant to set KPIs and review them regularly. This is exciting for a business owner because it’s the kind of advice that helps them make decisions about how to improve their business. There are an infinite number of things you can do to increase your revenue or profits, the hard part is committing to one idea and being confident you can tell whether that idea worked or not. To have someone beside you working that out is a huge relief. It makes running a business a little less lonely and hopefully a lot more successful!”

A company revolution within an industry revolution – Reckon have been extremely busy with the release of cloud-based ReckonOne hitting the market at an impressive starting price of $5 per month. One of the driving forces behind this success that has led to a market-leading ~30% share price increase (Jan ’15-Jan’16) is Daniel Rabie who shared the following practical insight for small business:

There are over 2 million small businesses in Australia and they are a major source of employment (~45%) and contributor to GDP (~35%). Innovation in accounting software is necessary as it helps SMEs add value to their business, which in turn leads to higher employment growth and economic value. Take a practical example for a tradie – the innovative dashboard for ReckonOne gives you a real-time view of cash flow. Having a transparent view of the business means when it’s midyear and business has picked up, a tradie can easily determine whether to buy another work vehicle and put someone on to service additional demand. This innovation could give the tradie a commercial advantage over competitors and help him identify opportunities to grow his business.”

Posting a growth of 81% in subscription revenue in FY2015, Xero continues to lead the cloud accounting space. Managing this explosion of subscriptions across the ACT & NSW is Rob Stone who acts as a conduit between Australian small business, their advisors and Xero. He issued this statement:

“It matters to Australian small business that accounting standards and accounting software move with the times. 

Businesses always face uncertainty when making decisions. They need consistent, accurate and reliable financial information. And that only happens if accounting standards reflect what’s happening in the economy.

Innovative accounting tools help businesses thrive. They benefit – saving time and gaining new insights – when their accounting software becomes simpler yet smarter and more powerful.”

I felt a huge amount of relief after speaking with Sholto, Daniel and Rob about the positive impact of this accounting revolution. Any innovation that drives our industry forward, creating better accountants and better relationships between clients and advisors is alright by me. Sometimes the bottom line isn’t just a red or black number on a page, but also people – our clients. The bottom line is that all of this is for them, and I’m ok with that. Bring on the next roadshow!

This old wolf can learn new tricks

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Aesop’s fable ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, but as a refresher, Aesop tells story about a boy who issued repeated warnings about the presence of a wolf near a village, threatening his flock of sheep. Each time this boy issued a warning, the leaders of the village would investigate, but would quickly discern that the boy was telling a lie – there was no wolf. In the end, the boy cried wolf once more and due to his track record of telling lies, no one came to his aid and the boy’s sheep were killed. Traditionally, the moral of the story is concerned with lying – ‘a liar will not be believed, even when telling the truth’, however, I’d like to focus on another aspect on this fable – the repeated warnings.

In December 2015, I shared an article that was written for The Institute of Chartered Accountant’s magazine Acuity called ‘What lies beneath’ about the ATO getting tough on SME debt. To recap, the article shared the following insights and quotes:

Admittedly, I shared this article with a slight pinch of salt. Across our networks, there hadn’t been any noticeable increase in ATO action. The small amount of notices, penalties or wind-up applications that we heard of were duly warranted, however, in most instances, you were able to avoid this by making a quick phone call to the ATO to keep the wolves at bay – this was the pleasant village I lived in.

That was until our weekly team meeting on Monday the 21st of March. After the usual formalities, we opened up the floor to the team for questions or comments and one of our Team Managers – Natalia Daoud, shared some interesting insight about a couple businesses she had encountered over the last week.

The first, a start-up consulting firm who had been on a rolling payment plan with the ATO (and never missed any payments), had the ATO contact them to inform that this was no longer acceptable as they have evidence to suggest that they have the capacity to repay on time, but are electing to continually use the ATO as a bank to smooth out cashflow.

The second runs a vitamins and supplements store. They elected to not lodge multiple BAS’ because 1. They didn’t want to 2. They kept forgetting to and 3. They supposedly lost their accounting data. The ATO subsequently fined them $30,000, which whilst thoroughly deserved, is still quite a hefty fine for an SME.

Our MD Simon Allsop reinforced Natalia’s comments and shared a similar story about a business in his network – a professional services firm in the Sydney CBD. This firm was also regularly on a payment plan and sticking to payments and lodgements, however they missed one IAS lodgement which resulted in an automatic default of the existing payment plan and when contacted, the ATO refused to reinstate it under any circumstances, leading to an immediate demand for a payment in the vicinity of half a million big ones. Ouch! I’m not aware of many SME’s who can afford to pay out that kind of money when not planned for.

I was already taken aback by these actions from the ATO, however no later than half an hour after this meeting and well before my much needed second coffee for the morning, I received some mail from Worrells – it was their Annual Insolvency Report. Given what I had just heard in team meeting, the timing of the arrival of mail and my anxiety from caffeine addiction, I feverishly flicked through the report and sure enough, our boy really had seen and cried wolf.

In the Worrells report, it states that the “The ATO has been active in the latter part of 2015, with unprecedented winding-up applications.” Along with this statement, they showed this graph:

Worryingly, along with the winding-up applications, “there appear to be just as many, if not more, statutory demands being issued that are due to expire, which will underpin the ATO commencing more winding-up applications in the Federal Court of Australia”. Yikes.

The Worrells report doesn’t stop there however – “In addition to these winding up applications and statutory demands, the ATO is using several debt recovery tools including director penalty notices, garnishee notices, and in some cases, seeking third party property as security for repayment agreements”.

I began to think about why these statistics and the recent reports from within our client base were in fact, surprising. If the boy had been crying wolf since just after the GFC, as suggested by this article in the Australian Financial Review in 2010 and many other similar and subsequent reports, why are we surprised at all?

Going back to our good friend Aesop – the writer, not the skin care brand, the villagers in the fable would not have been surprised by the reality that a wolf could attack the sheep – after all, that’s why they appointed a shepherd. They would’ve been surprised that a wolf did attack the sheep after the many false warnings.  Similarly, I don’t believe we’re surprised that the ATO can take action, it’s the fact that they are now taking action, when they previously afforded us some grace.

So is it possible to think that after several warnings over several years about the ATO coming down on us SME’s, but never actually taking a bite, that we’ve become a bit complacent about paying our ATO debt?

I believe the answer is yes and if you too allowed yourself some introversion, you’d most likely discover a laissez-faire attitude towards the ATO as well. So now that the wolf is at the door, what can we do about it?

I asked good friend James Carey – Director at Prime Partners to help me address how to best manage our ATO liabilities.

Most small businesses only know how much they have to pay once they, their bookkeeper or accountant calculates the BAS, but this doesn’t need to be the case.

Tip 1. Know what you paid last time
Unless you’re a rapidly growing (or shrinking) business your ATO liabilities shouldn’t change too much. If your payroll is consistent, your monthly IAS should be roughly the same (subject to the number of pay days in the month). Same goes for superannuation. Always keep that figure in mind and make sure you have the cash available.

Tip 2. Save for it
When you first set up your bank account, your bank probably offered you a linked savings account or GST account. Though I see a lot of people with this, I rarely see it used. Once you have a good estimate for your quarterly BAS and Superannuation liability, divide that figure by 13 which gives you a weekly savings estimate. Set up an automatic transfer to ensure you always have enough cash saved to pay these liabilities.

Tip 3. Pay more often
If you are hopeless at saving (don’t feel bad, most people are) one solution is to pay your BAS and super more frequently – monthly. As long as you or your bookkeeper is keeping your accounts up to date, this will smooth your cash flow and take away the temptation to spend your quarterly BAS payment.

Tip 4. Treat the ATO like any other creditor
Enter the BAS / IAS into your accounts payable ledger as soon as they are prepared.

Tip 5. Look at your balance sheet
The balance sheet is just as important as your P&L. The balance sheet will tell you exactly what you owe to the ATO at any point if you know where to look. There are key accounts to look at:

If your bookkeeping is following tip 4, then any time you look at your balance sheet it should show your current amount owing. 

So even though the old wolf has learnt some new tricks and they are now hunting SME debt, we can learn some new tricks of our own and run healthier and leaner businesses. I believe the moral of this story is that complacency is not often a word associated with successful business. It’s time we listen to the boy’s warning and prepare as best we can by being proactive in managing our liabilities.

Time, distance & speed - Running a(nd) business

I was stopped, frustrated, by a red light at the intersection of Falcon and Miller Street. I was on the last uphill home and wanted to hit it with momentum. When the walking man flashed green I took off. My calves ached and my lungs burned, but there wasn’t long to go – I could afford to exhaust the gas. I remembered tips from short articles I’d read – shorter, quicker strides uphill; focus on pumping your arms to propel forward.  I hit the last incline with pace as I turned left into Ernest Street, gritted my teeth and exhaled hard. I sprinted the last 50m into my cul-de-sac – I had made it.

I had no performance goals when I started running. The basic measurements of time, distance and speed were irrelevant to me at that point. When I began, there was only one metric that was important to me – survival. I also had a vague and hopeful long term goal of a reduction in weight, as well as a gain in health and fitness. Simple.

If we replace the running jargon above with the lexicon of business, it becomes quite a familiar narrative that I hear on a daily basis from business owners.

Most businesses start with a great idea and lots of passion. Success? Well, statistics say that’s a little harder to come by, with 30% of small businesses ceasing in the first 3 years (according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics).

The key metrics that should be measured whilst running a business are, for most start-ups, irrelevant to them at that point in time. There is only one metric going through an entrepreneur’s mind – survival.

HOW DO ADVISERS LIKE ACCOUNTANTS HELP BUSINESS OWNERS BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN BUSINESS?

To answer that question, let’s look at the role of a running coach:

So, back to my original question – how do advisers like Accountants help Business Owners become successful in business?

If we replace the running jargon above with the lexicon of business, it becomes a like for like answer. Your adviser should be able to help you define what success in your business looks like, help you develop a plan with metrics to measure like revenue and profit targets and most importantly, keep you accountable on a regular basis.

Good advisers deliver reporting on a monthly basis at minimum, showing budget (goal / target) vs. actual reports across all your important metrics or KPI’s. The best advisers talk you through these reports as well to see if there’s anything to be learnt or if any of the plan needs to be adjusted for the inevitable punch in the face that always seems to just be around the (red) corner of the boxing ring that is small business.

Through my ongoing journey of learning how to run and running a business, I’ve learnt that the foundations of successful strategies in one, often translates directly to the other… and this is a great thing – I bloody love champagne.

Cheers!

Things I've learnt half-way through Dry July

You know when you make those rash decisions based on a flash of inspiration, and then realise the consequences of what you’ve just committed to? Well, I made one of those in June when I noticed a Dry July poster next to the elevator door in Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) in St. Leonards, Sydney. My dad recently spent 42 days in the Cardiovascular/Intensive Care ward and I thought, what better way to give back than to raise money for them as tiny token of my appreciation.

As has been the case over the last 9 years, My Accounts had my back. So, the team jumped on board – perhaps also not realising the consequences of their commitment – and together we jumped in (or out) the deep end (of a Martini glass).

Now that we’re half way through July, I’ve learnt some pretty cool things about myself and of course, about business. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

BEING OPEN AND PUBLIC ABOUT YOUR GOALS HELPS WITH ACCOUNTABILITY

If you read through the comments on my donations page (https://www.dryjuly.com/users/noel-tiufino), there are equal amounts of encouragement and tongue-in-cheek doubt and I wasn’t at all surprised. At the risk of sounding like someone in the denial-phase, I don’t necessarily drink regularly because of my love for alcohol, but because of my love (need) for socialisation – yes, I have very real FOMO.

When I became serious about doing Dry-July I told every single person I knew. I spoke to every local café, bar and restaurant owner. I sent massive group emails and posted alerts on social media. It would be easy to mistake me for just being a zealous, philanthropic man with a huge heart, but alas, I am simply a man who also doubts my ability to abstain from the sweet, sweet nectar of a Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, a glorious Henschke Henry’s Seven GSM or a heart-palpitating Espresso Martini, hence my need to let everyone know that I need their support; not just financially, but also morally.

I realised that, with My Accounts, I am also very open with my friends and professional networks about what it is that we’re trying to achieve. Our mission is to empower small businesses by providing them with a valuable, timely and clear picture of their financial performance. I like to be held accountable for this, so having everyone around me on the same page as my business goals is as necessary as having a muzzle across my mouth when I enter a bar in July.

EVERYONE ACTUALLY WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED

At times, I’ve caught myself fearing tall-poppy syndrome – that if I was to stick my head up, it would be lopped off quicker than you can say ‘Who’s got next shout?’

This experience has definitely restored my faith in humanity. Examples like the one from Leigh Dunsford at Waddle above genuinely helped – I really feel like people have my back and want me to succeed.

Perhaps the days of tall-poppy syndrome are fading, or perhaps it’s the network of positive people I surround myself with, but the support I have as a Director of My Accounts is just as uplifting as one of those bad days when someone says ‘stay strong’ rather than providing anecdotal advice like ‘maybe you should try spend less to increase profit’… wow.

In retrospect, that fact that Leigh was sending me encouragement at 7:40am on day 1 is a rather worrying sign.

FOCUSING ON IMPROVING IN ONE AREA OF YOUR LIFE OR BUSINESS WILL HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT IN OTHER AREAS TOO

Aside from raising money for RNSH and abstaining from alcohol for a month, I’ve found improvement in other key areas of my day to day life. I normally manage to exercise 3 times a week and whilst I’d like that number to be higher – there are just too many distractions*. Since Dry July, I’ve easily managed to increase that number to 5, and the reason why it wasn’t 7 was a conscious decision to have rest days.

In business, I’ve also recently sought out to improve aspects of my leadership. I was given a book called ‘Being The Boss’ by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback and found a huge amount of practical advice and inspiration which truly resonated with some of the challenges I was experiencing.

Whilst focusing on improving my leadership, I also found that other areas that I was responsible for like Business Development improved dramatically. I had a renewed energy and focus and could tangibly feel improvements akin to the ripple effect on a pond across our business.

Whether in your personal life or in business, never underestimate the power that one small positive change can make.

*To be clear, by ‘too many distractions’ I mean there are about 200 different types of alcoholic distractions at my local bar – that’s a lot. By eliminating the primary distractor, I freed up an exorbitant amount of time  particularly on Saturday morning  which is normally my foetal-position-on-the-couch-watching-national-geographic as I manage my dehydration (hangover) time.

MY ATTITUDE SHAPES MY EXPERIENCES, NOT THE BEVERAGE IN HAND

On Thursday the 7th I had dinner with two of my best mates at a Brazilian restaurant called BAHBQ in Crows Nest. These are the kind of mates that you can’t shake – you’ve just known each other too long, so they aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much you try and remove them from your couch.

I was genuinely curious about how I’d go at this dinner, and so were they. They were acutely aware that I’m normally the one dishing out all the peer-pressure to have just one more drink.

Over dinner, we re-told a story about one of them who had endured one of the most epically failed dating experiences ever. Of course each time it’s retold, superfluous and hyperbolic details are added, but we never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Emotionally, it’s one of those tales where you shout NO!, cringe, laugh, cry, hide, clap, point and laugh multiple times in the space of 3 minutes.

Whilst wiping the laugh tears away before they salted my beef rump cap, I thought in a moment of reflection that this is no different to any other time we’ve had dinner together (or told this story): alcohol has had no effect on me or this evening and I’m genuinely having the best time.

I made the decision that doing Dry July wouldn’t make me a recluse. I made the decision that I could still do all the same things and experience the same euphoric feelings with my mates without a drink. For once, I couldn’t have been more right. It’s not the beer bottle in my hand – it’s my mate on the couch that makes life so damn good.

I’m sure we’ve seen all those inspirational memes flooding our social media pages, heck! we’re even guilty of posting a few ourselves, but since doing Dry July I couldn’t be more convinced that our mindset and attitude is the single-most important factor of the success in business, not the expensive CRM system or how detailed an operations manual is. So please, open up Instragram and don’t stop scrolling until you’re ready to win!

IF YOU’RE AN IDIOT WHEN YOU’RE DRINKING, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT AN IDIOT SOBER

The morning after I had dinner at Brazilian BBQ, I realised I had lost my car keys. I had a quick look around the house, but it wasn’t in all of my usual spots – so I just booked an uber because I needed to get to the office. I sent a couple texts out to see if anyone had seen then.

Turns out I left them at the restaurant. I guess this isn’t the most stupid place to have left them, but what was really moronic was bringing my car keys in the first place – I didn’t drive.

Dry July has stripped me of the ability to blame silly things like misplacing my car keys on external factors like alcohol, but sober or not, should we be able to continually offset blame prior to pointing back our ourselves?

In both my personal life and business world, I realised there are really are no excuses for doing dumb things (like filming a Facebook live feed sideways), or serious things (like not managing a challenging situation as best we can). We shouldn’t blame external factors like alcohol, the other Manager that was working on the project or Facebook for not correcting the orientation of the video. We should instead, take complete ownership of our actions and not seek to delegate blame on anyone (or anything) else.

I’d say that half-way through Dry July, I’ve managed to learn quite a lot. Most of them positive, some of them challenging, but I’m definitely grateful for this experience and I’m looking forward to riding out the rest of the month stone sober. With any luck, I’ll still have my best mates on my couch, my car keys in my pocket and a huge donation for the Royal North Shore Hospital.

Cheers!

The comfort of innovation

Do you ever buy several books only to place them on your shelf and think that you’ll get to them soon, only to add more new books in that information queue fighting for your attention? Unfortunately, I am often guilty of this practice.

In January of 2015, I purchased ‘How We Got to Now: 6 Innovations That Shaped the Modern World’ by Steven Johnson. I loved everything about it – the aesthetically pleasing cover, the quintessential buzzword ‘Innovation’ in the title and, of course, the new book smell.

Sadly, all these positive traits were not enough to grab my attention when I scanned my bookshelf for new inspiration until April 2016. On a slow weekend, I was watching National Geographic on TV and it turned out Steven Johnson now had a TV show explaining the amazing narratives behind some world-changing inventions and the impact they’ve had on the world.

One particular story focused on the creation of air conditioning – its original purpose and how it was then re-purposed with some astounding world-changing consequences.

The first air-conditioning unit had nothing to do with keeping us humans cool. The original purpose was to keep the environment of the machine printing press cool enough to stop ink from smudging, but after receiving feedback from operators of the machine that the room was increasingly pleasant to be in, the concept of using this invention in an effort to drive comfort began to take shape.

Cinemas, in their first iteration, were quite seasonal. Picture yourself on a hot summer’s day walking into a room and taking a seat elbow-to-elbow with 100 other people with minimal air circulation where the temperature is hotter, stickier and more uncomfortable than outside – it doesn’t sound very appealing, and this was a problem for the concept of cinema. That was until the air-conditioning unit was able to be utilised in this situation to make cinemas an increasingly pleasant environment to be in. Now the film industry of the Unites States is forecasted to make $679 billion by the end of 2018[1] – thank you air conditioner, thank you.

What struck me about this narrative was the theme of comfort and its importance as the driving force behind the proliferation of air-conditioning and its resultant world shaping feats.

The idea of comfort as a driving force for innovation really intrigues me. I find that often it’s large scale innovation – take Uber disrupting the taxi industry as an example, that reserves the space in headline news.

If we modernised the narrative of air-conditioning, I can’t imagine the Australian Financial Review running a piece on the cool air in a machine printing press so that it’s ink aligned better. However, it’s these very instances that we, the small business community, should be conscious of.

The immediate benefits of the cooled air not only improved the printing quality, efficiency and therefore profit of the company but also improved the comfort and therefore morale of the team. It is these consistent 5-10% improvements that can take our businesses from good to great – it’s 1,000 small steps, not a silver bullet.

So what makes you uncomfortable in your business? What keeps you uncomfortably awake at night? Sitting here in my wonderfully comfortable and air-conditioned office, I am convinced that improving on these aspects – whether they be your cash flow, your client attrition or your staff turnover – will not just ease the pressure on these focus areas, but have an exponentially positive effect in other areas too.

[1] https://www.statista.com/topics/964/film/ – Statistics and facts about the film industry.

Growing up - An adult (in) business

Recently I’ve been exploring the concept of growing up as a business, and the correlation between growing up as a business and growing up as a person… probably because I get told to grow up on a weekly basis.

Last month, My Accounts onboarded two new shareholders – Matthew Rowe as an Executive Director and Andrew Walsh as a Non-Executive director. This not only triggered something akin to a ‘grow up’ period for My Accounts, but also for me personally.

To add some expertise to my exploration, I interviewed one of our new shareholders Matthew Rowe on a Facebook Live Interview on Thursday the 22nd of September so that I could get his thoughts on the concept of growing up in business through his various roles advising business owners through their growth stages.

Below is an edited transcript of this interview.

Noel (NT):             Matthew, by way of background, can you please provide a summary of your roles in advising small business?

Matthew (MR):    Sure. I’ve chaired family offices for high net worth families. I act as a board advisor and board member for a number of boards – from not-for-profits to people in the health space, professional practices and a number of clients as well. I’ve had a mixed-bag of experience. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it all Noel, but I’ve definitely seen enough to know what not to do.

NT:                         You’ve definitely seen a little more than me! In your last full-time role, you were the Managing Director at Hood Sweeney. At what point there did you realise you’d become an adult business?

MR:                        I think when we had an ASX listed shareholder take equity in our business. Going through this due diligence process, showing them that we had continued growth potential, systems and processes, governance, financial disciplines and a talented bench-strength.

NT:                         Can you identify a time at Hood Sweeney where you felt like you developed from ‘infancy’ to being an ‘adolescent’?

MR:                        I think that would’ve been the time we recognised and agreed as a group of shareholders in the business that we weren’t good at doing everything ourselves, even though we thought we were. We had to go and get some outside assistance. For example, because we’re a people business, one of the best things we did was take on an HR professional – a guy called Jock Duncan who’s got a Master’s Degree in Psychology and he helped us with the people element immensely.

NT:                         What were your three biggest growing pains during your time at Hood Sweeney?

MR:                        Managing cash flow and understanding the levers in the business – particularly the operating cash cycle. You can be making a profit and still go broke – you need cash. So that was one. The second – the planning aspect and not dedicating enough time to planning. The third would be about people management. Particularly the management of the shareholder group.

NT:                         By planning do you mean working on strategy?

MR:                        Yeah the strategic planning and also the operation plan. Having an idea of where we want to go, but then more importantly, how we’re going to implement that.

NT:                         So with regards to your point about cash flow, how did you go about overcoming that growth pain?

MR:                        We hit a point in our history where we hadn’t been managing our debtors, work in progress and the cash flow for our business well enough. It came to crunch time where we were going to have to put our hands in our pocket. That’s always a defining moment in terms of a burning platform.

Once we got through that burning platform, we realised that we had to be more on top of our own numbers – we actually got our own CFO and made sure that those mistakes were never made again.

NT:                         With regards to strategy, did you get someone external to help with strategy or was it something you managed internally?

MR:                        Initially, we did it ourselves, but we had to find the time to go and do it. The problem in a smaller business is you’re busy being busy, like you’re busy changing the printer toner cartridges – so you’ve just got to find the time, then you’ve got to have some disciplines around it. You’ve got to then make sure that you’re following up on it and you’re checking back in with everybody. You need to bring everybody with you and I think that’s a key learning.

It has to become a core competency within your skill set. If it doesn’t, you’re just going for a walk. You’ve actually got to dedicate the time – it’s an investment.

NT:                         In retrospect, is there anything you think you would’ve done to accelerate growth during your time in Hood Sweeney?

MR:                        With the benefit of hindsight, I think if we had spent more time initially planning things rather than just doing them. There’s a great saying that action without vision is a daydream, but vision without action is a nightmare and I agree with that.

NT:                         Conversely is there anything you did that stunted growth?

MR:                        We did a number of acquisitions and mergers. I think maybe with the benefit of hindsight we would’ve worked through the process a little better. If you’re going to grow inorganically, and you’re going to do with through M&A, it actually needs to become a core skill set. I think the danger here is that you tend to overestimate the expense savings – you overestimate the financial synergies and you underestimate the time and the bandwidth that these things take up. That would absolutely be a key learning to me.

NT:                         So you mentioned that you sit on several boards and advise business owners in various capacities – what do you see as a common trend, behaviour or habit that tends to stunt growth for business owners?

MR:                        I think when business owners move outside of their core. So when they don’t understand what their core is within a business and they chase bright shiny things. If they move outside the core, then they move up the risk spectrum quite significantly.

Also, if you’re going to go and make an acquisition or do a merger… I don’t know too many that actually work out really, really well. There are some statistics going around that about 80% tend to not add to shareholder value. The key decision point is, what’s this going to do for shareholder value? It’s not just about looking at a profit line number.

NT:                         Something I’ve learnt from talking to business owners whilst researching for this interview is this concept of ‘growth-hacking’ –  it’s a common buzz word that’s floating around on Social Media. How do you feel about this concept?

MR:                        Growth-hack and disruption, these are words that are being thrown around a lot at the moment, but let’s deal with growth-hack. I think that there is no magic bullet to growing a business. If you’re going to grow the business, you need to make sure you’re doing it in a sustainable fashion. Growth-hacking can deal with different marketing channels now, social media in particular, not just going through the traditional methods – and I absolutely understand that – but there’s no point going and putting your growth trajectory on steroids and then not backfilling and having things in place that will mean that you can bed that down; so you can embed the growth you’ve got to make sure that your business is sustainable going forward.

NT:                         Got it! Well, my next question is about whether you think you can artificially stimulate growth successfully. Should I read between the lines and say you can’t?

MR:                        Noel, I think when you’re in business, it’s a bit like a banana. A banana is either growing or it’s ripening. I think with businesses you need to understand you’re either growing or you’re not growing the right way so you’re on a downward path or a downward trajectory. I think you just need to have a growth mindset. There’s no silver bullet. There’s no consultant that’s going to come along and just fix it for you. If you don’t have a growth mindset to start with you’re going to be really up against it.

NT:                         In closing, what final piece of advice would you give business owners who are about to enter a period of growth and want to avoid some of these growing pains?

MR:                        I think that being in your own business and being an entrepreneur, a start-up, is a very, very lonely thing at times. I would be talking with people that have done it. Find a mentor or an advisor. With advisors, there’s a lot out there that say that they’re coaches or advisors. I would find people that you can actually ask or explain within your background and industry, ‘how have you done it?’ and ‘tell me the story’. Not a lot of people are the actual bus driver, but there’s a lot of passengers on that bus.

So don’t be alone. Find people that you can talk with that you respect, you rate, and that are actually driving a bus, not just a passenger on a bus.

NT:                         Kind of like what I’m doing I guess?!

MR:                        Kind of like what you’re doing!

Insights into a winning culture: 2016 AFL Grand Final

Late in the fourth quarter, I still held out hope that the Swans would break through and overcome the suffocating pressure of the Bulldogs. We were trailing by 9 points, which given the way the match was being played out, was beginning to look insurmountable.

In the centre square, our $10mil talisman Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin gained clear possession of the football and looked to either shape up for a shot at goal or offload to a teammate in a better position. The collective hopes of everyone in attendance at the Rocks Brewery in Alexandria – a sea of Red and White fans, simultaneously stood as one as we all screamed out whatever harboured hopes we had left directly at the big screen. ‘BUDDY!’ or ‘GO BUDDY!’ I heard all around me and screamed myself, whilst my hands supported my weary head which was exasperated from being 2nd best for most of the last 4 quarters.

As Buddy danced, searched and hesitated, Dale Morris (playing with a cracked vertebrae) from the Bulldogs stalked, tackled and wrapped him up – Buddy was unable to offload the ball and the opportunity was gone. Holding the Ball –­ free kick to the Bulldogs.

We often describe a moment like this as having the ‘air sucked out of the room’, this wasn’t air – it was our collective hope. We knew at that moment that the 2016 AFL Grand Final was lost, Sydney was incapable of overcoming the relentless pressure and intensity of the Western Bulldogs and their fairytale was complete.

Here are some insights into the winning cultures of the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs throughout the 2016 season, as well as the number one reason why the Bulldogs prevailed in the final. To assist me with sporting insights into the 2016 Grand Final, the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs, I spoke with news.com.au sports reporter – Tyson Otto and for business insights, I spoke with My Accounts Executive Director – Matthew Rowe.

3 INSIGHTS INTO THE WINNING CULTURE OF THE SYDNEY SWANS

1. A CULTURE OF DEVELOPING AND NURTURING YOUNG TALENT

In the 2016 season, the Sydney Swans debuted 7 seven players – the most out of any club that finished in the top 8. Of these 7 players, Callum Mills won the 2016 NAB Rising Star Award, finishing 8 votes ahead of Caleb Daniels of… yep, you guessed it – the Western Bulldogs.

Having people on your team that are smarter than you, more talented and who have plenty of runway in front of them are indicators of a business leader confident in and of themselves. A mix of youthful enthusiasm, talent and experience leads to discretionary effort, and the success of a business can be measured through the culmination of such discretionary effort.

On the other hand, when a business leader is insecure this may manifest in a reluctance to employ people that may “show them up”. This same insecurity is often shown in the need to micro-manage, a style that can be a morale killer and limits the team’s capacity to grow and develop.

2. STRONG BENCH STRENGTH = A STRONG TEAM

The Brownlow Medal is awarded each season to the best and fairest player in the AFL. In 2016, Patrick Dangerfield of the Geelong Cats won the medal with a total of 35 votes. However, if you look at the total number of votes per team, the Sydney Swans tallied a total of 105 votes – the most votes accumulated by any club. The Western Bulldogs accumulated a total of 81 votes as a team.

There is a link between strong leadership pipelines and strong financial performance. Strong leadership ‘bench strength’ is built through a focus on culture, a learning mindset, knowledge sharing, collaboration and a willingness to have difficult conversations.

Organisations that follow these basic rules bring in 37% more revenue per employee, are four times more likely to be efficient (measured through profitability), and are three times more likely to be market leaders and innovative by nature.

3. STRONG IDENTITY – MISSION, VISION & VALUES

When Paul Roos was appointed to Head Coach of the Sydney Swans midway through the 2002 season, it had been 69 years since the Swans had won a Premiership. Roos set about changing the culture within the club, forming a collaboration with Leading Teams and from there, the ‘Bloods’ culture was created.

The Swans went through the Leading Teams process of developing a team Trademark, and the club’s first leadership group was established. The playing group began speaking openly about what behaviour they expected from each other, both on and off their field, in order to meet the requirements outlined in the team trademark, and which would ultimately lead to Premiership success.

Since the Swans initiated its famed ‘Bloods’ culture at the end of 2002, they have played in twelve of the following thirteen finals series – winning the flag twice (2005, 2012) and finishing runners-up in 2006, 2014 and 2016.

For some businesses, a mission, vision and value statement can just be set of words on the wall and in the un-read Employee Handbook with no correlation to behaviour, business plans and crucially, no accountability framework to uphold the mandate. In the past, we’ve even been a bit guilty of this!

For both the Sydney Swans and successful businesses, setting up an identity, through an agreed mission, vision and value set is not just a task to check off a corporate to-do list, but rather the backbone of a successful winning culture.

3 INSIGHTS INTO THE WINNING CULTURE OF THE WESTERN BULLDOGS

1. WINNING AGAINST THE ODDS – THE WILL TO WIN

At the end of the regular season, the Western Bulldogs finished 7th out of 8 teams that qualify for the finals series. Their run in the finals was arguably the hardest, requiring 3 successive away-from-home victories. Here’s how the odds stacked up against them in each match:

The Bulldogs started each final as the underdog (excuse the pun) and it was no different for the Grand Final:

So how did they do it? A dejected Josh Kennedy of the Sydney Swans answers this question best in a post-match interview after the finals – “…at critical moments of the game, they stood up and we didn’t… the Bulldogs were a bit more consistent over the four quarters… every possession was well earned from both sides, but they [Bulldogs] just got on top of us a bit in that area – contested footy.”

Having won 3 consecutive matches in the finals series with the odds firmly against them, the Western Bulldogs had the resilience to stand up when the contest was at its fiercest.

Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change and to keep going in the face of adversity.  A business is successful when it has people that build resilience reserves that can be drawn upon in a time of need. The depth of these reserves depends on individual circumstances and the team environment. In a survey, a whopping 75% of people said that the biggest drain on their resilience reserves was “managing a difficult person or office politics at work” so a strong team that quickly rids itself of negative influences is crucial for a winning culture.

2. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT / PASSIONATE SUPPORTERS

Can it be denied that the most passionate supporters during the finals series were the rabid Bulldogs fans? I don’t think so. There seemed to be a disproportionately large amount of news articles in the lead up the Grand Finals about the antics and ground swell of the Bulldogs community.

From the Bulldogs team anthem ‘Sons of the West’ being played through the speakers at the West Footscray Station to fans painting their properties red, white and blue it seems as though the community were doing everything they could to push their sons over the line.

The community engagement didn’t just flow one way either. Luke Beveridge – coach (turned cult hero) of the Western Bulldogs gifted some of travelling fans with some money for breakfast to thank them for their committed support, prior to the Preliminary Final against Greater Western Sydney.

The reputation of an organisation is the sum of what the community thinks of it.  How we treat the community we serve, speaks to the moral compass of any business and its leadership.

3. LEADERSHIP

In round 3 (of 23), Western Bulldogs club captain – Bob Murphy, attempting to mark the ball, got tangled with another player attempting a mark and went down clutching his knee – it was devastating news. He had ruptured his ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), damaged his MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of 2016 season.

Speaking to reporters after the news emerged, coach Luke Beveridge spoke of Murphy – “He’s the spiritual leader. He’s the actual leader.”

Fast forward to the 2016 Grand Final, after the siren had sounded and the Western Bulldogs broke their 62-year premiership drought, is the moment that will forever remain in our memories.

It is a moment about leadership. It is the moment when Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge takes off the medal that’s around his neck, calls out Bob Murphy to the stage amongst rapturous applause from the crowd and places it around his crying club captain’s neck – “This is yours mate, you deserve it more than anyone.”

We left Leadership – this insight into the Western Bulldogs winning culture – to last because we believe it was the most important aspect of getting the Bulldogs across the line in the 2016 Grand Final.

Simon Sinek, author of the influential book ‘Start with Why’ explains Leadership perfectly and succinctly in a recent tweet – “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Is there any doubt that the Western Bulldogs, from top to bottom, looked after each other on the field when they faced insurmountable odds, looked after their supporters when they travelled to cheer them on or looked after every player that deserved to be recognised, whether they played or not? The Western Bulldogs are Leadership personified in a team.

Whilst researching and writing this piece over the last month, I observed business through a slightly different lens – the lens of a winning culture, and it became very clear to me that a business will never consistently outperform the leadership that guides it.

We left Leadership – this insight into the Western Bulldogs winning culture – to last because we believe it was the most important aspect of getting the Bulldogs across the line in the 2016 Grand Final.

Simon Sinek, author of the influential book ‘Start with Why’ explains Leadership perfectly and succinctly in a recent tweet – “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Is there any doubt that the Western Bulldogs, from top to bottom, looked after each other on the field when they faced insurmountable odds, looked after their supporters when they travelled to cheer them on or looked after every player that deserved to be recognised, whether they played or not? The Western Bulldogs are Leadership personified in a team.

Whilst researching and writing this piece over the last month, I observed business through a slightly different lens – the lens of a winning culture, and it became very clear to me that a business will never consistently outperform the leadership that guides it.

Technology in the coffee shop

Just five years ago, technology didn’t really have a place in the coffee shop, but things have changed a lot in this short period of time. Products like Vend and Kounta have changed the game significantly with their ability to report real time to a café owner who could be located anywhere in the world. Add this accessibility to their ability to sync with cloud based accounting software, and it creates some very timely and valuable data.

When choosing the right programs for your café, it is important to use technology that speeds you up rather than slows you down.

Improved agility
A large number of café owners do all their own accounts, have a handful of other businesses, and are incredibly time poor. Cloud based software like Xero allows them to quickly reconcile their accounts and see how they are tracking. Bank feeds and invoicing are also major factors in streamlining this process. Quick and accurate coding of transactions makes it is possible to run weekly profit and loss statements to monitor performance.

Find the numbers that matter and check them regularly
Through choosing the right software it is possible to run weekly and even daily profit and loss statements so they can see how they are doing real-time and make any tweaks. Simple analysis like comparing results to the previous month or a budget are a good way to ensure the business is going in the right direction. Checking the money in the bank is really not good enough if you want a thriving business. Real-time visibility enhances growth because it allows the cafe owner to respond to things much quicker.

The margins in hospitality are extremely thin. If somethings not delivering, it needs to be changed and changed fast. rain cloud . It may be too much wastage, or food priced incorrectly, so it’s far too late to do all these things after the end of the financial year.

If you would like assistance in deciding what software is best suited to your business, please give us a call, we would be only too happy to have a chat about it!