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How a Hawkes Bay cattle farm’s operation moved online

Posted 6 years ago in Small business by
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Guy Coates’ A3 sheets are legendary. Covered in scribbled pencil and eraser marks – the figures are almost illegible. The long-time rancher, originally from Montana, USA, would lay them out on the coffee table at his Waipuna cattle station and try to figure out how to grow his business.

His yearly budget and forecasts laid bare, Guy’s accountant Ben Gilmour, from Moore Stephens Markhams Hawkes Bay, could see the hard work he’d put in. But Ben knew immediately that this paper-based system was slowing things down for the Coates family.

“You could see that there was a lot of time spent on [those A3 sheets] when there could be something faster that’d free Guy’s time up,” says Ben. “To spend more time outside, to go out and buy stock, to free him up to enjoy a few things with his family.”

Rounding out Guy’s financial team alongside Ben was Chris Lamb from ASB Bank. The trio were itching to grow Guy’s business and ditch the cumbersome A3 sheets.

“Also, having done the budgets on paper, you didn’t want to change it, ever! Change meant hours of work erasing all of those figures and putting in new ones. [Having a paper-based system was] really a disincentive to try and be creative with your budget, take on risks, and grow. It was easy to just keep doing things the way I had always done it” Guy recalls.

“Guy was our first Figured client. We sat down at the coffee table and nutted it out, and convinced Guy and his family to give it a crack,” says Ben. “I thought it was going to be a bit of a process to switch Guy over, but it was surprisingly easy.”

“It was an accelerated process once we arrived here in New Zealand. It felt like we stepped into the fast lane with technology. I think, for farming especially, technology and banking relationships are way ahead of the United States.”

Communication is just key, and the basis for that is the information we need to make the right decisions. The fast lane of technology, with cloud-based systems like Xero and Figured, was something Chris Lamb, ASB’s rural manager in the Hawkes Bay and Guy’s banker, was always working to keep on top of. Having worked in rural banking for more than quarter of a century, he’s seen a lot of technological change in the farming sector.

“We didn’t even have computers when I started,” says Chris. “Farmers have literally gone from writing figures on the back of cigarette packets to Xero and Figured in 25 years!” he laughs.

“Communication is just key, and the basis for that is the information we need to make the right decisions. It’s all about planning; if something’s not looking right, then what are we going to do about it? You have the results, you have the figures, and they are what they are. Xero and Figured provide all of that important information in real-time to help us make those critical decisions.”

A major shift for the team has been to how they go over the annual review. “[Before Xero and Figured] It was like driving forward and always looking in the rearview mirror,” says Guy.

“What’s been most effective for our business,” says Guy, “is having a fluid plan and this ability to see forward and make changes, rather than just hoping for the best.”

“Everyone knows what’s going on so there’s no surprises,” says Ben. “You get quite a kick out of it when Guy phones you up and he says he’s looking at buying some new livestock, and he’s running a first forecast at this moment to see if now’s a good time to buy based on cashflow. That’s just gold. You can see how much more profitable he’s become compared to the old paper-based system.”

“The hardest part is getting their [a client’s] buy-in,” says Ben. “People don’t like change. If they’re using CashManager, say… even if they’re not using it properly, they’re scared of moving to something else.

“Sometimes we run Xero and Figured for them while they’re still using their system, then we catch up in a couple of months. I show them the results and what it’s doing for their business, and they’re blown away. They say to me ‘I want to be using that.’” Once you show them how the software works, they’re on board.”

For Chris and ASB, the access to real-time data and information that Xero and Figured provide have been the biggest changes to how he manages his clients.

“I love information. My job is so much easier because it’s all there, any time I log in [to Xero and Figured] at any time of the day. I don’t have to pester Guy or Ben and demand information, because it’s all there online,” says Chris.

“Now, when I come out to see Guy at his station, I don’t need to sit there and spend half an hour with him saying ‘where are you at, what are you doing’. We can talk about what’s coming up rather than dwelling on the past.”

“We’re going to keep doing what we do, but with Xero and Figured, we’re going to do it better.”

Which means no more A3 sheets of paper laid out on the coffee table.

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