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Transforming small businesses’ financial health starts with a human touch

Leigh O'Neill

Leigh O'Neill

Oct 23, 2022

The stress of running a small business is a feeling that accountant Stuart Hurst is familiar with. Growing up, he watched his father suffer from the pressures of being in control of the family business’s finances, having no support to help him make sense of them. The devastating impact resulted in the business failing and the loss of the family home. In some respects, this set Stuart in a direction to ensure he could do his part to reduce the financial burdens on other small business owners. 

Today, Stuart is a Director at Accounts + Legal in Manchester, UK and he believes working with clients should be about more than just numbers. 

“Humanity is at the centre of my work.”

When Stuart onboards a new client he recommends they have quarterly catch-ups which forms the basis of a #beautiful relationship. 

“The first step is getting customers comfortable with their numbers. It is amazing how many come to us and do not understand the difference between a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet.

“They are often very good at their key skill set – whether it be construction or digital marketing – but they don’t know their core numbers.” 

Quarterly catch-ups, coupled with Xero, means Stuart can get a real-time and accurate picture of a client’s financial situation and make the right recommendations. This dedicated face-to-face time also allows Stuart and his team to check-in at a personal level and reevaluate their business goals. 

“We ask a client what’s the dream, what are your goals and what’s keeping you up at night. Knowing the person is really important for how you develop their relationship and help them beyond debit and credits.”

Supporting cash flow management

Cash flow is a very real and impacting factor for the survival of small businesses. Our recent Xero Small Business Insights special report found that 9 in 10 small businesses experienced at least one month of negative cash flow in 2021. 

In his advisory role, Stuart works with clients to find ways to minimise cash flow risks and the personal toll that comes along with negative cash flow. 

“Many business owners get stressed at the thought of not getting paid, it keeps them up at night. No matter how amazing your product or service is, if you don’t get paid for it you’re going to go bust. 

“As part of our onboarding process that’s one of the first things we do. Get the invoice branding right and pick the right payment option, like Stripe or GoCardless, providing their customers with different online payment options. This not only helps our customers get paid faster, but also helps them look more professional. Businesses in the construction industry are a great example of where professional looking invoices give their customers confidence in their service.” 

Offering this advice gives Accounts and Legal a differentiator. Stuart explains, “Within the first 30 days of working with us we’ve added something which can really change the way a business operates. If our clients are getting paid quicker, it can help them to potentially grow. We want to do as much as we can to gear that business to success and payment services are a simple tool to help.”

Using data to build confidence

Stuart believes whatever the size of the business, the level of cash flow pressure is the same. That’s why he collaborates with his clients using smart financial tools to set goals and budgets, so he can help every business better plan for the future. 

“When clients are wanting to grow or buy something new, often they know in the back of their mind they don’t have the funds. Most need help understanding their finance options as they have usually been to the bank as a first port of call and been rejected. We come in and let them know there’s many other options depending on the need and explain how their Xero data is hugely important when it comes to accessing finance.”

Xero’s accounting data provides lenders with rich and reliable business information, giving them confidence and allowing more small businesses to access finance without having to go through lengthy and stressful application attempts.

The ease of Xero’s lending experience means Stuart can spend less time on preparing applications and more time getting to know his clients and everything that surrounds their business – personally and professionally. 

“We’re one of the leading UK firms when it comes to digital accountancy and using the Xero App Store to build app stacks that help take our clients’ business to the next level.  We love our tech, but it’s during the quarterly catch ups where the magic happens as we spend time building confidence in financial literacy, educating business owners on how to use Xero properly and keep the data up to date.  It’s awesome to see the transformation when clients start getting excited about the numbers. 

“For us it’s a reminder that if you’re in a service industry, you’re only as good as your people and customer service no matter how good the technology behind it is.” 

A lesson for us all to remember. 

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