During this challenging period, many small business owners and their advisors have never been busier. But while the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, the requirements of year end remain. And, now more than ever, it pays to be prepared.
As part of our series, ‘The sum of us’, the Xero team is exploring the relationships that pave the way for mastering tax time. Today, we’re speaking to bookkeeper, Jo Doye and her small business client, Steve Abbott, to uncover not only how they take on year end together, but why they couldn’t do it without each other.
When did you first meet?
Jo: It was my husband who first mentioned Steve back in 2012 – they worked together at our local council here in Bendigo. I needed some help with an event and Steve was a town planner in his day job, so he was able to share his experience and then it all started from there.
Steve: Back then, I remember Jo’s husband said to me, “Jo is forever retrospectively designing the systems that support small business. And she just wishes that new businesses would think about how to set themselves up for the long game.” That resonated with me because I was working on a small business idea and I thought, “I want to make sure we get this right from the start. I’d like to lead by example and be that kind of model client from the outset.”
How would you describe each other in three words?
Steve: One word stands out the most and it’s ‘driven’. Jo works really, really hard. But I also think that she’s driven in the way that she’s really invested in her client’s success. She looks to clients as though they’re genuine partners within a local community. She wants to see them do really, really well.
‘Balanced’ is the other one. Jo recognises that the world of small business can be stressful and demonstrates a self-awareness about it. It takes real leadership to actually go, “You know what, it’s time for a break.” It’s not that easy to say, and it’s even harder to do. She demonstrates the leadership on that front.
And the third one’s ‘genuine’. I was thinking about words like trust, honesty, caring, no judgment. But I think it comes back to being a genuine, practical person. I think that sums her up.
Jo: The biggest one would be ‘passionate’. That was one of the things that we’ve always had in common, Steve is really passionate about whatever he’s doing. Also ‘smart’ – he’s always really good at articulating his point of view and what he’s trying to get across. And ‘driven’ – he doesn’t leave things as they are by accepting the status quo. He’s always looking at what’s a new opportunity or something that could be done better whether it’s in his job or in the multiple side hustles that he has going on.
How do you work together come EOFY?
Jo: We obviously ramp up our conversations around this time of year, beefing up the communication about what to expect. We let our clients know what we’re taking care of so that they don’t stress or worry if something comes from the ATO – they’ll know we’ve got it covered.
Steve: Jo gives us the confidence to not sweat the small stuff and to think about the momentum of the business. You can feel like you go into a natural pause through June and July, but Jo and her team give us the confidence to keep forging ahead, keep the business momentum going, and focus more on the year ahead rather than on closing off the current financial year.
What are your favourite tools or features in Xero that you use during EOFY?
Steve: My favourite is to be able to pull out what was in the budget across the whole year, interrogate the actuals, and try and work out where our assumptions and forecasting weren’t quite right. And just try and get that better for the year ahead so that our goals really are achievable for the future that we’re not being unrealistic around our profit aspirations.
Jo: There are a couple of new ones that started last year. Obviously Single Touch Payroll finalisation is really good. And then the new TPAR reporting. But depending on the client and our level of involvement, the favourite is always the good old find-and-recode. If we haven’t been hands on during the year, things might’ve just gone a bit astray. So when you’re trying to reconcile and compare figures, being able to easily search and recode things is really good.
Why is your relationship with each other vital in stressful times?
Jo: When you’ve got a bit more of a personal connection with someone, there’s the trust, but then there’s also the level of understanding. They appreciate what you’re doing for them. So if we don’t get back to them as quickly as we might, or they call and they catch us at a bad time, there’s the understanding that we know they’re working really hard behind the scenes to make sure everything’s covered for us
Steve: When everything seems uncertain, you need some things to be stable and clear. And that partnership has been critical. Jo used the word trust – that is super important to me. So when COVID restrictions started to hit, we looked at our operating expenses and thought, “We need to really try and eliminate as many of these as possible until things are clearer about reopening.” But not for one minute did we consider eliminating the service arrangement that we had with Jo and her team. What Jo’s provided us with through this far outweighs any costs of that service. The value is very much there. That doesn’t mean you get to increase your fees Jo!
How did you both work together to get through major changes like JobKeeper?
Jo: Our biggest thing was to try and understand what was going on first. When things are coming out in drip form from the government, it gets pretty stressful. Our biggest focus was making sure we were communicating; letting Steve and all of our clients know, “Hey, we don’t know enough, but we’re going to keep working until we do”. Once we had more information, making sure we went back to them, to say, “Look, you are going to be eligible. These are the steps. This is what we’ll take care of for you”. So, yes, the biggest one was communication.
Steve: At first it was information overload across the board, from various sources. People were trying to share information, but a lot of it wasn’t useful and we appreciated Jo’s clarity on what we were eligible for and what we needed to do. Then we responded with the same clarity back to Jo and Alluvia to say, “Here are the specific things that we’re going to need help with.” That included applying for the government relief packages. They just got on with it and started applying even before the information about the timing was really clear.
What makes your relationship special?
Jo: If we ever need a serious chat, we’ve got a really good understanding of each other and know when to knuckle down. I think we both respect that about each other, and we’re definitely there for one another.
Steve: Jo and I both have the same mindset about being heavily invested in our community and wanting to succeed. I didn’t want to start something that might be successful but might also have failed. Failure is not an option in a place like Bendigo. And that’s been something that’s stuck in my mind, ever since we started.
For more on how to prepare for EOFY, see Xero’s dedicated resource hub. It includes sections dedicated to accountants and bookkeepers, and an area just for small businesses. You’ll find the latest resources including webinars, checklists and useful information.