By Sarah Pilling and Vita Lo Presti, Founding partners, Bramble and Briar, Victoria
Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.
Chartered accountants Sarah Pilling and Vita Lo Presti have made an art out of finding the right fit. Having met as graduates in the Big Four world, this entrepreneurial duo soon discovered that advisory was their ideal match. So they went and did something about it.
Bramble and Briar was founded to meet a gap in the market for pairing small business clients with their dream apps, all with the help of the Xero apps ecosystem. Here, Sarah and Vita explain the carefully considered process that’s behind matching their clients to business-boosting apps.
We like to think of advisory as somewhat like matchmaking. As for our own story of how we met, we were a pair of accounting grads who were lucky enough to learn and master the trade together. After moving on to pursue other opportunities, we got together to compare notes about the service gaps that we saw in the marketplace. From that initial discussion, Bramble and Briar came to life.
When we worked in a top-tier chartered accounting firm, we handled both advisory and compliance for large, privately owned companies. We couldn’t help but notice that few smaller or midsize businesses were able to access Big Four services while in the rapid growth phase. We thought, surely there had to be a solution to offering them this expertise, because in many ways they’re the ones who need it most. So we made the decision to start our own firm, focusing on the task we enjoy most, advisory.
Starting our business, we had little idea that most of our customers would wind up being creatives – not quite the typical client you encounter at a Big Four. But today, designers, coders, jewellers, furniture makers and others are finding us mostly through word of mouth and social media. And we’ve discovered the benefit of finding a colourful niche in the market.
Perfecting the tailor-made approach
Part of our appeal lies in our patient, thoughtful approach with customers. We tend to visit our first-time clients on site for two to three hours, where we sit down and get to really understand their business and their pain points, rather than simply assuming, “You have a store, so you must need an inventory app.” Naturally, the advisory process is a little more complicated than that. Chances are, the apps they need are unexpected, which is why very few of our clients get a straight-off-the-shelf solution.
Recently, a maker of high-end gowns approached us with a problem: she was turning a profit but didn’t understand her costs. She couldn’t even tell us how many of each make of dress – many of which were priced at $10,000 or more – she sold during the year.
Following our advice, the client also added inventory management software solutions TradeGecko and Katana and installed Campaign Monitor for email marketing (along with entirely overhauling her website), all of which synced seamlessly with Xero. A reminder that it pays to search for the right apps only once you’ve determined your client’s needs.
Looking beyond ‘cash in the bank’
We tend to see the same issue pop up amongst most of our clients. They think, ‘Well, there’s cash in the bank, therefore we’re making money.’ But they have a weak understanding of their margins, their points of difference with competitors, and where their efficiencies lie. Without a fundamental understanding of what makes their business successful, it can be hard to maintain success over time.
For example, a client approached us for help tracking room rentals at the co-working space he owned. But when we examined his business, it turned out that most of the revenue came from services such as printing and reception. Renting space was actually the easiest component. So we installed NetSuite as a CRM, with management of recurring revenue built in, to solve most of his problems at once, all the while keeping better track of profit centres.
Delivering on differentiation
Once clients come on board for systems and advisory work, they often want to bring everything over. So we had to add compliance to our offering, which is probably the inverse of most traditional firms. Compliance is a necessary part of business, but it’s hard to differentiate your firm if that’s all you’re providing. So first-off we delve into systems, margins and risk management; everything the others aren’t really examining.
We like to think another point of differentiation has been our flexible approach, both within the firm and with clients. Everyone in our female-led firm works the hours that suit them, and is paid for every hour they work. We prefer staff to be on site with clients or to work from home, rather than sit in the office. Technology has helped erase the hard lines between work and home, something we embrace. Again, it all comes down to finding the perfect fit.
Our top tips for choosing the right app, every time
- Start with the client: Look for an app only after you’ve determined your client’s needs.
- Go deep on the functionality: Once you’ve found the right solution, learn all that you can so your client gets the most out of it and you boost your knowledge for next time.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by choice: No one person can stay on top of the 800-plus apps in the marketplace – look to the Xero playbooks and your fellow partners for guidance.
- Keep it fresh: Apps are always being upgraded and improved along with new ones emerging, so something that might not have been suitable a year ago could now be the perfect fit.
- Get the priorities straight: When dealing with a complex business, start by providing one app-based solution at a time. Continue adding more where relevant, and you’ll forever be providing value – your clients will love you for it.
- Always choose functionality over price: Investing in the right tools today will unlock efficiency for your clients and future-proof their business.
Finding the perfect app
The Quilt Shop is tucked away in Eltham, a leafy suburb northeast of the Melbourne CBD. The business is committed to providing not just fabric, kits, patterns and supplies, but a feel-good experience where customers can pop in and say hi or stay for a cuppa and a slice of cake.
The challenge: To provide a POS system that could track products that were sold in portions, such as fabric by the metre. And it needed to do so across thousands of product lines, hundreds of ranges, and dozens of brands.
The solution: During our initial meeting with the Quilt Shop, we identified the need for an inventory management system. Suppliers often sent incorrect items or only partially shipped orders. The answer was the perfect combination of Xero and Vend, which has automated much of the accounting process and inventory management.
Don’t know where to begin with matching client to app? We’re here to help narrow down your choices. Xero’s app advisory playbooks are broken down by industry verticals and come complete with checklists to identify the right solution for your clients’ needs. You can find them online under the ‘Accountant/Bookkeeper resources’ tab. If you’re new to app advisory, we recommend kicking off with ‘Learn what app advisory is and how to get going’. – Bryan Williams, Head of Ecosystem & Marketplace, Xero Australia