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Understanding your customers: Introducing Smart Lists, part two

I hope everyone read Craig Walker’s original blog entry: Introducing Smart Lists. This feature broke new ground for us for several reasons. It’s one of the first major Xero features that’s almost wholly dedicated to proactive business management rather than straight accounting. It’s more about accessing and analyzing data than it is creating data entry. Lastly, because it’s not contributing to the general ledger, there’s not a “right or wrong” way to use it. So, I’ve put together this quick demonstration to help kick-start your creative juices:

Now I’ll admit, there was one thing that was always on my mind: If a feature doesn’t drive a quicker end-of-period close or faster tax preparation, will our accounting and bookkeeping partners still get excited about it? Well, as a matter of fact, they should! Even if they don’t plan to use the magic of Smart Lists themselves, there are still great benefits to educate their clients. Let me explain:

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Free up your cash with BlueVine

BlueVine provides small business with advances on outstanding invoices. BlueVine – Xero add-onCredit lines can range from $5,000 to $50,000 and deposits can appear in your bank account within 24 hours. BlueVine helps small businesses when they need working capital. Businesses often need additional capital to pay expenses, take on additional work, or cover payroll. One of the big challenges businesses face is long customer payment cycles and irregular cash flow. It’s a good option for those who don’t easily qualify for a bank loan.

Who is BlueVine for?

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PGG Wrightson feed goes live

PGG Wrightson and Xero accounting softwareFarming in the Cloud has taken another step forward today with phase one of our innovation partnership with PGG Wrightson. PGG Wrightson account holders can now sign up to have their transactions seamlessly fed directly through to Xero. To set this up just follow the instructions at the Xero Business Help Centre.

Mark Dewdney, Chief Executive Officer, PGG Wrightson, said: “We’re delighted to now have this feed up and running – Xero’s innovation is receiving international acclaim but we think that, back here in New Zealand, Farming in the Cloud is set to be a game-changer for farmers and the rural sector in terms of creating greater integration and more collaborative services.

“Farming can be a tough business and we are looking forward to using the power of the cloud to create more value for our customers and help them in managing their accounts and businesses more efficiently.”

Partnerships are now established with all the other major rural suppliers:

PGG Wrightson was the first partner to come on board and we finalized our agreement with them earlier this year. Xero provides real-time data for farmers and helps automate manual transaction entry through direct bank feeds, and rural supplier feeds. Don’t forget to check out the Receipt Bank rural solution which helps automate even more of your receipts and expenses entry into Xero.

Check out the latest Farming in the Cloud update. For more information email farming@xero.com.

 

 

Xero Touch 2.1 for Android

Last Tuesday we published the first major update to Xero Touch for Android since the native app was first released back in February. Read on for a summary of what was in the release, the history of Xero Touch on Android, and the implications of OS fragmentation for support.

The major item you’re likely to notice is initial support for Files for Xero. Previously you could only attach a single picture to a receipt, but now you can attach as many as you like. This creates a foundation for our next two Android features: attaching files to invoices, and accessing the main files inbox.

Xero Touch screenshot

Under the covers, we’ve also refactored segments of the app (particularly authorisation) into Android library projects. Xero Touch isn’t going to be the only mobile app we release, and this refactoring means that a lot more code can be reused for new apps. A more modular codebase also makes it easier for us to develop and test new features.

That’ll come in handy as we move to a more regular release cycle. Already the native version of Xero Touch has seen more regular releases, every five weeks on average (as opposed to five months for HTML5). Our customers also seem to like it a lot more. The HTML5 implementation at one point dropped down to a 2.4 star rating, but the current combined rating for the native releases is over 4 stars! It’s unfortunate that the ratings assigned to the old version of the app persist; this is why the overall app rating is only 3.55.

Version Released Ratings Stars Average
HTML5 1.x 1 Oct ’12 228 700 3.07
Native 2.0.3+ 19 Feb ’14 260 1079 4.15

 

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How CRM will benefit your business in just three words

SMB Tech Tips by Gene Marks: Gene Marks is a small business owner, technology expert, author and columnist. He writes regularly for leading US media outlets such as The New York Times, Forbes, Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur. He has authored five books on business management and appears regularly on Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC and CNBC. Gene runs a ten-person CRM and technology consulting firm outside of Philadelphia. Learn more at genemarks.com.

Back in the day, when I talked to small business owners like myself, no one knew what CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was. Now, everyone seems pretty familiar with the concept, and the more well-known applications like Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Batchbook. But the sad fact is that even though many know what CRM is, most still aren’t using CRM systems very well. In fact, of the 600 clients my company serves using various CRM systems, I’d say only 20 percent of them are really doing the right things. And what are the right things? It’s all about three words.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. Integrate. A CRM system should not be on its own island. It should be talking to other systems — which means that your CRM software should be exchanging data with your accounting system, website and other databases. So when you choose a CRM application, make sure it has links into these other systems. When you view a customer’s record, you not only want to see their activities, notes, emails, pipeline and other CRM data but you also want to know their order history and whether or not there are any outstanding invoices.If you’re a Xero user, then check out the many CRM systems that partner and integrate with Xero. Also, Xero just introduced a new CRM-like feature called Smart Lists that let’s you search your customer data to create highly targeted lists that you can export to a CSV file to use via your email system or export to Constant Contact for targeted email marketing campaigns. The main point here is to centralize your customer data. Don’t be stuck doing duplicate entry. Don’t fall victim to bad data. Integrate.

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Mulcahy and Co. make Xero Platinum Partner in record time

I’ve been working with Mulcahy and Co., a mid-sized firm based in Ballarat, for a while now and I’m excited that they have made it to Xero Platinum Partner.

As one of the top five firms in the region, they look after an interesting mix of clients, with around half of their client base being farmers and the rest being SMEs in Ballarat and beyond (they also have clients in most other states).

From the moment I caught up with Jamie and Chris Mulcahy – the charismatic brothers who set up the firm in the late 90s – and Mark Cunningham, who’s been a team member since 2003 and a Partner since 2010, it was clear they were the kind of guys with boundless energy to grow their business and help their clients do the same.

What’s really blown us away is how quickly Jamie, Chris and Mark and their team have progressed from Bronze to Silver and now Platinum Partner. Starting in March 2013, they got to Gold Partner just a few months later in July and then leapt ahead to Platinum Partner in June of this year, adding 500 Xero clients in just 15 months. And they’re the first independent firm in Australia to reach this milestone, which is a stellar achievement.

Clearly, an effort like this deserves a big pat on the back (and then some), so we invited Jamie, Chris and Mark (pictured below with Stuart McLean, Xero’s Chief Revenue Officer, Chris Ridd, MD Xero Australia, and myself) to our Melbourne office for a chat about how they did it.

Xero Platinum Partner Mulcahy and Co. with Stuart, Chris and Jeremy

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Setting up shop overseas – a new place for your add-on

There are now over 300 add-ons available to increase the functionality of Xero and let you create a system that precisely fits your business needs. That flexibility is something we’re exceptionally proud of. And it’s something that our clients love.

As Xero has grown, so have our add-on partners’ businesses, and many are expanding into new territories and new overseas operations. Vend is a responsive point–of–sale (POS) system, Spotlight Reporting is business intelligence that creates fast, efficient performance reports and Receipt Bank is an ingenious tool for making your expenses more efficient – and all of these businesses have been blazing a trail by opening global offices outside their home territory.

We caught up with Richard Francis, founder of Spotlight Reporting, Vaughan Rowsell, founder of Vend, and Michael Wood, co-founder of Receipt Bank, to hear about the opportunities and challenges they faced when moving outside their local territory.

Richard Francis of Spotlight Reporting at Accountex 2014

Richard Francis of Spotlight Reporting at Accountex 2014

How difficult was it to get Spotlight up and running in New Zealand to begin with?

RF: “Perhaps the biggest challenge was deciding to start out as ‘Xero only’ – supporting Rod and Hamish and their vision from day one. We started out as the first independent Accounting Firm Partner (Francis Consulting), where we were already using cloud as much as possible, and then Spotlight Reporting was one of the very first add-ons (alongside the likes of Vend and Unleashed). Being ‘Xero only’ in the early days in particular meant you only had a limited user base, albeit a fast-growing, highly-engaged one.”

Did you have a similar experience when setting up Vend as a business?

VR: “Getting the initial product built was the key part, and making sure it met the needs of those early customers. You can’t underestimate the amount of work required to get this absolutely right.

But even then, once you have built the first version of the product, then you are really only at the starting line. The really hard stuff comes next. Finding customers and growing like crazy. Raising capital from investors early on helped, as it provided the fuel to really start to grow, and build out the initial Vend team. Getting the right people on board early really helps with success. You can’t do it all by yourself.”

When you started Receipt Bank in the UK did you have a comparable experience when growing your customer base?

MW: “I would agree with Vaughn – there is a huge amount of work involved in building a product that meets the needs of customers. From day one our aim was to build a product that saved time for small businesses but which could also create huge efficiencies for firms of bookkeepers and accountants. The fact that we were just concentrating on the UK (at that time) made things much easier – each time we have entered a new country we have worked closely with local accountants and bookkeepers to refine the product appropriately.”

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Are you in the business of storing paper?

Free up space with a paperless officeDavid Worrell, entrepreneur and author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Financial Statements, is dedicated to helping small businesses grow through powerful financial and business development strategiesToday he shares his tips for moving to a paperless office.

It seems like we’ve been dreaming of a “paperless office” forever. Now, 44 years later, I can say with confidence that the paperless office is finally possible. In fact, going paperless is now so easy, so prevalent and so powerful, that it’s impossible to ignore.

The paperless office is everywhere

This is not science fiction. More and more industries are going paperless – it will eventually reach your industry too, if it hasn’t already. Consider healthcare – with a US government mandate to implement Electronic Medical Records, even old-school doctor’s offices are going paperless… and realizing the cost savings of automation too. If a doctor can do it, any small business owner can make this work.

How paperless is your industry? If it lags behind, now is your chance to leap-frog your competitors, slash costs and build new digital capabilities. If your competitors are already heading that way, don’t be left behind.

Paperless = powerful

Going paperless is not just about saving trees – it’s about grabbing power.  When you go paperless, you’re transforming business documents from pieces of paper to actual data points, which in turn means you can get all kinds of meaning from that data.

Here’s a great recent example: Xero just released Smart Lists. Smart Lists allows you to use the data you already have on your customers to build targeted marketing campaigns, track down debtors, and search your customers by city, region, last buy date and more. Smart Lists works by analyzing information like invoices, purchasing history and more. If that information was on paper and stored in a file cabinet, creating segmented lists would be too time-consuming to be worthwhile. But with that information stored in the cloud, you can quickly segment it in a meaningful, valuable way.

Start with paperless finances

The simplest way to move toward a truly paperless workplace is to start with the accounting function. Since accounting touches every other aspect of the company, digital accounting will introduce – and spawn – paperless systems in the rest of the organization.

Picking a place to start is simple too. Here are three key products to get you started filing away financial documents and automating payments, record keeping and more.

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London roadshow – Sun, SaaS and Summer Camp

Sunshine in London!? Yes, it really did happen. And as Gary Turner, our UK Managing Director, put it, ‘We even ordered up the hottest day of the year for our Xero London roadshow outdoor lunch’.

Thankfully, the outdoor courtyard area at The Brewery was perfect for coffee breaks and lunchtime chats, so no-one missed out on that all important sun. When you’re a Londoner, you can’t afford to miss out on valuable tanning time.

We kicked off proceedings with a beginner’s guide to Xero for those people just starting out on their cloud accounting journeys. It’s always great to see a room full of Xero enthusiasts, but it’s even more heartening to see people who are just beginning to understand the immeasurable benefits of working in the cloud. For many, it will be the start of a long-lasting relationship with Xero and a brand new chapter in the evolution of their accounting practice. That’s great to see.

London Xero Roadshow

Evolution: that’s the overriding theme that came up when chatting to clients and prospective partners over the course of the day. Whether is was brand new start-ups, as yet untested in the marketplace, or more experienced practices looking to take that first step into the cloud. Both camps have realised that small business owners are getting younger, smarter and more tech-savvy. And this affinity with digital, mobile technology means that these innovative business owners choose cloud-based solutions as a matter of course. If you’re doing your marketing on Facebook and Twitter, and your admin with Google Apps, why would you not do your accounts in the cloud too? Answer: there’s no good reason not to choose the cloud. And accounting practices of all different levels of size and experience are starting to realise the implications of this shift. A new breed of cloud advocate small business needs a similarly innovative breed of accountant. And those accountants need to be using a cloud accounting platform, like Xero, to meet the needs of the new breed of SMBs.

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Farming in the Cloud update – July 2014

It has been a big few months unveiling of our Farming in the Cloud solution to our New Zealand customers and partners. The farming team (banker, accountant, farmer and farm consultant) can now all work together on one true online platform.

Phase 1 included launching our farming software partner Figured on Farm to the market at Xerocon, running early adopter sessions with 60 accounting firms from around New Zealand, a national roadshow to hundreds of rural professionals, and of course a massive debut at Fieldays.

We were excited to announce our partnership with all major rural supply companies, and continued discussions with key industry bodies including Dairy Base and the Red Meat Profit Partnership to assist the industry deliver real-time benchmarking. As we build out the eco-system it feels like we are bringing an industry together.

We’re kicking into the next phase, which is about extending the farming eco-system. We’re inviting more farming software partners and linking on-farm software and monitoring tools into the farm financial platform to complete one end-to-end platform for rural NZ.  The next phase also includes looking at how we deliver this model globally, so if you’re outside NZ, please email farming@xero.com to register your interest.

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