Interview with Jeri Murphy
Morris: So Jeri you’re cofounder of WhichAddon.com and it’s got an obvious lead to what you do. Perhaps you tell us in your words what WhichAddon does, and what you do in relation to that offering.
Jeri: Definitely. So WhichAddon.com is a free website that provides helpful advice, stories and information to educate, most are Xero system. But any accounting person using a cloud accounting system, that want to be able to find the right add-on to connect to the cloud account system that they use. So it’s all about helping people find the right add on solution to whatever cloud accounting system they’re using.
Morris: And of course this is one of the big shifts in accounting software the last couple of years, isn’t it? We’ve seen an absolute inundation of add on. So your service must be incredibly valuable and sought after now, because I guess there’s a lot of bookkeepers who are a bit confused.
Jeri: Definitely. I was one of those bookkeepers originally that was confused, and obviously taken into the cloud change that’s happened over the last few years. I discovered Xero back in 2009, when I had my own bookkeeping firm. I convert that bookkeeping firm into an accounting firm when I got my tax agents license. That was really when Xero was having ramping up in Australia, and I was a hundred percent Xero. From then on I started hearing about add ons and I realised Xero needed add ons. Xero has been my main focus market for the last few years. I realised Xero needed add ons to build on the functionality of what Xero didn’t have yet. Now that’s not a weakness of Zero, it’s actually an advantage so you can have all these add on solutions that connect Xero. But what happened is people go through the process of finding out about these add ons and there’s so many. There now over 500 add ons that connect to Xero. So as you said huge amount of confusion that can happen, because people go oh excellent I need to learn add ons to become an expert on connecting Xero, and making Xero most useful for my clients, and help my clients in lots of ways. I started out when there was only 40, 50 add ons connected, now there’s over 500. So purpose of WhichAddon is to help people find the information they need, so they can make sense of all these add ons, and help people find the right solution. We pass on any knowledge that we learn basically. We live in this industry day in, day out, and anything that we learn, anybody that we talk to, we pass on that knowledge through WhichAddon.com.
Morris: Yes. And of course that’s a nice Segway into what we do at Bookkeepers Hub. We try to do exactly that, and that’s why we’re talking. That why we’re giving our members the benefit of hearing your story and your service, because I think without this kind of resource our Bookkeepers Hub and your WhichAddon.com, I think there’s a tendency to remain stagnant. That to me and to us is quite risky going forward. What do you think is the best strategy for a bookkeeper practice today; apart from obviously being trained on each add on. Generally where do you see the bookkeeping profession as such going through to 2016?
Jeri: I think the key thing that people talk a lot about now, and I can go as far as saying there’s been argument in the past about Xero advisors, and other people bringing out the issue that small business owners have so much more power, to do their own books now. Now that there is a cloud accounting solution out there, that is intuitive and enables them to do what they need to do. People worry that bookkeeping itself is going to be a profession, that’s not as required and as useful as it was in the past, and that is the reality. It’s definitely not the full truth, because there’s plenty of things that bookkeepers can do to provide extra service, and extra help to those clients. It’s not just about data entry.
I’m sure you’ve spoken about this in the past with others, that being able to provide extra value to your clients is the number one thing that bookkeepers can learn to do, and skilled in those areas. And add ons is helping them find add ons and suitably solutions, to add extra value and save the client time and save the client money, in terms of the operational side of their business. With add-ons like the ones we’re talking about. They can really help provide your client more value which in turn as a bookkeeper you can be that person that can help provide that value. If you just get yourself educated in some of these areas, which is where WhichAddon can help.
Morris: Yes indeed. With that concept is the fact that because we’re seeing the compliance side of bookkeeping, and accounting being not purely automated, but certainly automated to a large extent. It does present an opportunity doesn’t it, to bookkeepers to basically be more productive in what they are delivering, as the basic compliance related services. But then to have all this capacity now to really focus on adding value to the customer. I guess one of the things that must be happening as well, and I can only presume this although I speak to business owners as well. They too are confused and they are looking for guidance, and possibly the bookkeepers now thrust into a much more significant potential role. Because accountants do seem to still; they too are under the pressure of the compliance gun as well, aren’t they? So the question is, is this now also productivity gain potential?
Jeri: Definitely is. The bookkeepers themselves and the accountants can certainly provide the add ons and the cloud solutions that are available, can certainly provide great productivity. I think as you know many people see that from a threatening position, especially if they’re charging hourly. If I’m going to be working less hours, and that’s going to be less income, I need to find more clients. And the whole cycle begins, and the fears that come around that whole scenario, of course creates worrying. Creates a whole lot of pressure for bookkeepers in business from that side. The way that I myself got around that was I developed my skills in becoming a trainer. Becoming a trainer and becoming an expert in additional areas, so I could provide higher value services to my clients that they couldn’t find elsewhere. So as I said I was a bookkeeper, and I still do bits and pieces now but more from a review level aspect. Where I review peoples files and I provide feedback, and training on what they’re doing wrong. So I’m empowering them to be able to do what they need to do. So I still provide that side of it, but we don’t do a lot in relation to direct data entry bookkeeping. I spend more time training bookkeepers, training accountants and cloud integrated how to help provide greater value services to their clients.
WhichAddon is just one way we do that. WhichAddon.com providing that free service and that free education, that people can really learn from what we have to give. But it’s all about learning how to provide higher value services. If the bookkeeping services you provide have less value because you’re doing less, it’s becoming more automated because there’s less processing time. Then use those skills that you have as a bookkeeper, being able to train others. A lot of people think I can’t train, I don’t have the confidence, but if you think about it bookkeepers provide advice, provide training. The biggest thin a bookkeeper does is, I’m thinking about the conversations. I can’t explain that too well, but the conversations you have with the business owner. You’re in the bookkeeping position because they don’t know what they’re doing in a lot of cases.
So a bookkeeper you do what you need to do because you know what you’re doing, and then you can provide them with the information that they need to be able to make decisions about their business, because you have processed their data and you make it sensible for them. In a lot of those cases you’re also explaining to them what it is that, that information means, so they can go make the decision that they need. Training is not much different to that. Training is teaching someone how to provide the information for themselves. If you’re already doing the bookkeeping that you’re doing, think about provide training services as an additional services for your clients. Even if it means that you’re empowering those clients to do what you’re currently doing for them. You can provide a much greater skill. You can charge more for it. There’s so much more that you can do to value add to that client that creates great referrals and so on. So it’s something I’m very passionate about, in terms of assuring people realize what they can do. If they chose to do it and have the confidence to do so, because I’ve been there.
Morris: Amazing. That’s great. It’s great to get your personal story in there Jeri, because that’s probably one of the things that we’re very keen to do always, is to empower our bookkeepers. They often see it as a leap of faith. I think it’s just a as you say, it’s a learning exercise really to be trained. And often training of the mind set rather than the actual doing of it. To me its sounds incredibly valuable, because I can imagine it opens up a whole new way of dealing with the client. I mean rather than perhaps I’m exaggerating this. I know my members won’t be offended if I say it, but often bookkeepers are hiding away from the call face. Well of course they have to do the work. Often they seem to be hiding. They don’t get a chance to face off the client, in a way that actually opens up new opportunities.
I can see this opening up new opportunities perhaps spend who knows 20 minutes a month, perhaps working at a whole new domain of activity which can then lead to questions like; perhaps we can talk about what you might need in reporting. So this is a case of lifting the bookkeeper’s capability to whole new levels really.
Jeri: Definitely. I often tell the story or tell my story from the point of view of, I used to be the bookkeeper that charged $30 an hour. Then when I became an accountant I was like, I was cheering because I was charging $50 an hour. And I was charging $50 an hour; I tried to fix pricing things which didn’t work for me. That’s a discussion for another day, but I now charge $275 an hour for everything I do. Training, advice, scope calls everything that I do, and I do it all completely from home. I do online. I had turned my web camera on; I turned my screen sharing on. I’m still tucked away in my house. I’m still tucked away in a place where it seems like I could be reclusive but I’m not. Because I’m there and I’m accessible to my clients, when they need me and to anybody all over the world, still doing and working in the same, getting benefits of anyone like a bookkeeper that’s working from home. So anything is possible if you choose to learn how to do it, and choose to have the confidence to do that.
Morris: That’s a great story. So we got just a few more minutes, so perhaps start to discuss a couple of things. I always struggle with this one. The typical bookkeeper we do know that there’s several types, and we just talked about one of them. And perhaps the second one being more like yourself, which is certainly out there and showing the way. So let’s just spotlight a typical customer or client of yours, and how they engage you in brief. So our audience can self-identify with the opportunity.
Jeri: Yeah definitely. The main services that we provide and how we, I suppose make money through WhichAddon.com is through cloud integration services. Getting comfortable with a particular add on solution that connects with Xero. I’m very comfortable with Xero. I’ve been using and training on it for a lot of years. People really come to us and say I need Xero on its own, tell me if Xero is the right solution for me. Or they would come to me and say this is what my business needs, is Xero the right fit and if so I need something else that will do this, this and this. And so need something to help fit in those areas, so can you help me tailor a solution to that? Then we provide that solution to them. We charge $275 for a scoping call for an hour, where we go through possible solutions, to understand what their business needs and come up with some different solutions. And go away and research it if I don’t have the right thing. Then we implement and train them on that solution, once they’re ready to go.
Yes WhichAddon.com our main sort of area where we make money is that we provide cloud integration services. So we have a scoping call usually, is our initial point of contact with the client. They come to us and say I’d like to use Xero, or I’d like to use Xero and something else in order to provide a particular solution for their business, depending on what type of business that they have. In the scoping call where I charge $275 for the hour, I understand everything they need in their business. The key people and the key processes in their business. Then at the end of that call I can either give them a recommendation of what could work for them. Or I might go away and a do a little bit of extra research, if I need to earn something that I can recommend. We then can provide implementation and training services, should they like to go ahead. So that’s our value piece initially as cloud experts, where we provide extra advice and extra value to our clients, based on what we’ve learnt.
Now the key part, the key stumbling block between going from doing what you’re doing currently as a bookkeeper, to then going and providing services in this area. And providing those greater added value services to your clients is about learning how to become a client expert, learning how to actually take in and learn a particular solution, that’s going to be valuable to your client. I see so many people and I did this myself in the past. So many people that just go and learn particular add ons that they think that everybody wants to know. Or they think that’s the next new craze, or the next add on to know and they go and learn it. And they sped hours and hours learning it, but they never have a client that it suits. Or they don’t have a way of marketing it, because they never dealt with that industry before. So what I teach people to do is to identify the industries that the clients are already in.
Look at their existing clients, and look at what their existing clients need, and how what might be out there can help them. As you said whether it be in reporting, or point of sale, or inventory, or a particular industry specific solution. If its construction or trades or things like that. Work out what your clients already need. Then go and learn what it is that you know they already need, that you can then start educating yourself, and then educating them on what’s actually possible. Don’t just go out there and just learn, feel like you need to learn anything and everything because you just end up taking in a whole bunch of information, that can’t provide you any value quick enough. So it just becomes exhausting, because you’re taking in all this information. So pick at solution that you can actually help people with, and you actually want to talk about and can actually provide great service, to someone very quickly. Then you can build on your experience as a client expert, and then keep helping people in other areas whilst you got those skills.
Morris: Just finally. You think there’s any value looking at the so called phone of the future, in bookkeeping. There’s a lot of discussion about that from certainly the accounting software, industry side of things. Who of course got their interest and personal agendas. To me it sounds like an opportunity also, as you say to specialise. Well you call them cloud experts, or cloud accounting experts, or whatever. In fact to me and possibly to yourself, that’s a much more relevant kind of conversation isn’t it, for the bookkeeper to take on with the potential client?
Jeri: Yes. I think the biggest thing I learned, I myself. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term, multi passionate entrepreneur. I myself consider one of those. Where if you tell me I have to just learn just retail add ons, and retail business. And I had to focus my whole marketing and everything I did on retail, I’d probably just be very, very unmotivated. That’s a lot of what the accounting solutions talk about is only specialize in a niche, and I may do this and I may do that in particular ways. What I say to people with that is do that, because for a period of time until you’ve grown enough expertise, enough confidence and enough marketing materials, in whatever area that interest you right now, that can provide great value to your clients. Focus on that now. Then as soon as you’ve got that going, you got some of that process automated and you have clients in that area, then go and jump on to the next one that interest you.
I did it when I first started my cloud integration and training business. I went and I learned 3 add ons, and I just learnt those 3. I forced myself to learn those 3, using similar methods to what I teach people on how to become a cloud expert now. I went through those processes. Force myself to write blogs, force myself to learn new solutions, then I jumped on to the next one. The next client that came along that needed to know that solution, or the next solution that people were asking me about. I went and learned the next one, and just continued to do that over the years. So it’s about picking something, choosing it, focusing on it so you do it well, then you can move on to the next one, if that’s something that you really want. I find 20:58 yourself into one particular area can be dangerous. But if you can do it long enough to focus on it, and make sure you create the marketing behind it. Don’t just become an expert. If you don’t tell anyone about it, what’s the point? You got to become an expert and then tell people what you can do, what you do, share your stores. That’s all marketing is. Share your stories; tell people how you’ve helped others, and how you can help them, and people will come.
Morris: Jeri that’s really fantastic. A lovely note to finish and probably inspiring conclusion to an otherwise, what could be quite typical. We’ve already had a bit of that. So look I appreciate your time Jeri, lovely talk. Our listeners can check our website and certainly got to your website at WhichAddon.com. They’ll be able to read about it shortly and listen to this podcast. So thank you and don’t go. I’ll just sign off here and close this