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Panel discussion: mobilising the small business economy

During Xerocon London 2015, we pulled together a panel of business and technology experts to talk about the importance of tech. Specifically, how it will mobilise the small business economy in the UK. 

Our panel included:

  • Founder and CEO of Mumsnet and Gransnet, Justine Roberts
  • Xero small business customers and co-founders of the Cereal Killer Cafe, Gary and Alan Keery
  • Xerocon guest speaker and Editor of Wired David Rowan
  • Our own UK managing director Gary Turner.

Our experts discussed some important business advice and a call to government to provide a more accessible broadband service to small business. They also talked about how SMEs must run with the rapid progression of new technology and the need to keep pace with consumer behaviour change and evolving business models.

In a world moving fast towards ubiquitous connectivity, every business will become digital. Small teams of highly motivated entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to evolve and adapt with new technology and position themselves ahead of large, slow-moving incumbent businesses.

 

Reflections on Xerocon, desktop data amnesty

Apparently the true measure of any conference that claims to be worth its salt these days can be quickly discerned by weighing both the quantity and colour of the social media chatter the following day. Indeed, judging from the large number of “Post Xerocon Blues” tweets that peppered my timeline twenty-four hours after Xerocon London 2015 had closed its doors, our UK conference seemed to have very much hit the spot for a good many of our 800 attendees this year.

In barely more than two years, Xerocon London has grown to become what I believe is now the UK’s largest gathering of its kind, eclipsing the mainstream accounting industry bodies’ annual conference circuits, nevermind those of the accounting software industry.

Alongside some great guest speakers, forty-odd exhibitors and sneak previews of coming product updates to Xero, the bigger news items that featured this Xerocon were the UK launch of our new Payroll in Xero, the accelerating pace with which the UK banking community is now attaching itself to our platform with news of our new technical partnership with Metrobank, our desire to support our UK Partner community in telling the cloud story and the growing incidence of Sage and Quickbooks customers choosing to migrate to the cloud with Xero.

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The American Dream is alive in small businesses

After completing a survey of small business entrepreneurs in the US, it seems the American Dream is alive and well. Almost three-quarters of US small business owners are optimistic about growth in 2015. What’s more, two-thirds of entrepreneurs are prioritizing customer growth and one third plan to invest in technology. This indicates that 2015 will be a year of continued economic recovery.

What do US small businesses value?

While hacking scandals and ethics controversies rock big businesses, small business owners are prioritizing honesty and respect as guiding business values. It’s no surprise then, that close to 20 percent of respondents aspire to be more like Ben & Jerry’s than tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft or Google. Only 1.6 percent named Uber as their role model – the least aspirational of all companies named.

Millennial’ small business owners quicker to adopt new trends

Leading the charge toward the optimistic and ethically conscious small business are the tech-savvy millennials. An overwhelming 90 percent of are optimistic about growth in the coming year, compared to 74 percent of total respondents.

Millennials also feel more comfortable with the cloud. Over half report at least 25 percent of their business runs in the cloud – compared to just 23.5 percent of all respondents. And the majority of millennials (80 percent) use Facebook for their business, with only 40.4 percent of total respondents claiming to lean on the social media giant.

When looking at all this data it’s quite clear where businesses see themselves in the very near future. Social media and the cloud are becoming the norm with younger business owners, and doing business fairly wins out over growth at the expense of ethics. Continue reading ›

 

Why my small business switched to Xero

Today’s guest author is small business and finance expert, and co-host of Sunrise, David Koch.

David Koch on online accounting for small businessI’m not a huge fan of the Super Bowl, but I love seeing the ads. They’re always the highlight of the whole event for a lot of people. This year there was a great ad by BMW that showed a clip of two TODAY show hosts from 1994 who were reading an email address out loud. It was obviously the first time they’d done so. They didn’t know how to pronounce an ‘@’. This led to the perplexed duo questioning “what is internet anyway?”

Today’s rapid outpouring of technology and innovation often leaves business owners wondering “what is this?” and “do I really need it?” In a lot of cases, perhaps not. Small businesses have enough on their plate without trying to educate themselves on every single new ‘life-changing’ product or service. But when it comes to online accounting, it truly is a revelation. And in the world of online accounting, Xero is at the leading edge.

Making the switch to online accounting

I’ve been a small business owner for over 25 years now and have employed teams from five people right up to 70. Bookkeeping used to mean shelves and shelves of folders and actual books. There were days on end spent reconciling accounts, and using a ruler to scroll down pages of transactions (yes, I’m old). At the time, it was just something we had to do. But now, with the beauty of hindsight, it was a nightmare.

After a lot of research into the market, my family business, Pinstripe Media, made the switch to Xero last year. This was because we’d heard so much hype from other business owners, and our accountants, about how easy and how enjoyable it was. I was sceptical at first. How on earth could anyone make small business accounting and bookkeeping enjoyable? Fortunately, I was convinced to give it a go.

Never looked back

Nine months later, and I can tell you without any embarrassment that I love logging on and checking the accounts. I’m a control freak, and Xero’s platform really is impressive. Everything is simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate. In just a few clicks, I can see how much money is owed to us compared to what we owe. I can get a P&L for any specified time period – and even just for individual jobs – to compare against other jobs. I can see  bank and credit card balances, and reconcile it all straight away. Our bank feeds come straight into the dashboard. I love the dashboard.

The best part about it is that I can do it all while sitting on the balcony at home. Because these days I’m trying to spend as little time in the office as possible. (That’s why you have kids, to take over the family business isn’t it?). With the footy season coming up and, a lot of trips to Adelaide and Melbourne, I can keep checking up on things from the road whenever I like. And that’s the real beauty of Xero – it gives me not just peace of mind, but the freedom to have peace of mind from anywhere at any time.

So if you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about, then give it a go and see for yourself how much it changes your life as a business owner. Because in a few years it won’t be “what is internet” jokes playing on Super Bowl ads, it’ll be “what is online accounting?” And when that day comes, you can sit back and be proud that you knew all about it. And you may even have your Xero dashboard open next to you.

As a side note, in case the sceptics are wondering, I did pay for my Xero accounting package. We made our decision to switch without contacting them.

David Koch is the owner of Pinstripe Media. He also hosts Kochie’s Business Builders, co-hosts Sunrise, and chairs the Port Adelaide Football Club. Connect with him on Twitter @kochie_online.

 

Five tips to create sales quotes that get accepted

Small businesses win work by using sales quotes (also known as price quotes). Yet they often don’t realise that how they prepare and create quotes can cost them business. Many lose revenue by not following up on quotes or turning quotes around fast enough.

According to a recent US survey, the number one financial challenge of small businesses is cashflow and getting paid.* Getting on top of the quoting process can reduce the number of days to acceptance, which reduces the number of days to getting paid and improves your cashflow.

So, getting on top of your quotes make a real difference. Xero’s Head of Accounting, James Solomons, offers the following tips to help you prepare and create quotes that get accepted:


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Kitchen table entrepreneurs – turning your hobby into a business

From cupcake-crazy home bakers to fitness addicts and artistic dreamers, more and more entrepreneurial Britons are turning passions and pastimes into money-making enterprises. In fact, latest studies show there are 600,000 more micro businesses in the UK today than there were during the onset of the financial crisis in 2008*.

emma lomax

A separate report by the Office for National Statistics also found that self-employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began 40 years ago. However, one of the big differences between being self-employed and turning your hobby into a business, where you’ve had no formal training, is that you’ll have to work even harder to get a grip on market and customer demand.

Do your homework

Before taking the plunge, homework and research are key to deciding whether or not it’s just a pipe dream. This needn’t break the bank – depending on the business and what you want to find out, you could try face-to-face focus groups in your local community, as well as free online polling tools such as surveymonkey.com.

Social networks give fast feedback and are a good place to find other people in your industry – and discover what your customers are saying about you. Or why not delve into big data? Google Trends and Google consumer surveys show the types of terms people are looking for online, which can assist in optimising your website copy using SEO (search engine optimisation).

Create a business plan

As with any new venture, creating a business plan and working out costs is also hugely important, especially when it comes to figuring out prices, profit and securing investment. That’s not to say it’ll be easy – many small businesses fail in their early years because owners make mistakes, misread the market, or fall victim to other external factors.

Get it right and you’ll end up wishing you’d done it sooner: “I used to teach textiles and was always sewing between classes,” says SewLomax founder and creative director, Emma Lomax. “Starting my own business meant moving to the next step. It was no longer about embroidery; it was about making something people wanted.”

* Data from Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce/Etsy.

 

 

Adopting cloud technology: eat or be eaten

 

Cloud technology adoption

Over the past couple of decades, The Chasm Model has been the centrepiece of nearly every conversation I’ve had about launching new technology.

While its merits are many, lately I’ve been wondering how applicable it is in business-to-business markets. Sure there are early adopters. Perhaps even an early majority. It’s the late majority that seems to be in trouble.

Having sat around harvesting revenue from their customer base, the late majority wake up one day to face a revenue precipice. In short, the early adopters and majority reach a tipping point and start acquiring their customer base en-masse. Powered by the economics of the cloud (not just technology but also business) these new players scale at speed – achieving continuous growth rates in the high double and even triple digits.

We see a couple of shifts driving the acceleration of the new players. For instance, cloud technology and business models on the supply side, and then mobile on the demand side. Entrepreneurs emerge from both sides presenting the late majority with an impossible force to counter – and their brand advantage and customer relationships are quickly weakened.

Look at what happened to booksellers, record stores, and others. We are seeing the same in accounting where new disruptive value propositions are being built on cloud platforms like ours. What’s important is that these new players aren’t just using new technology – they are reshaping their brands, service offerings, price points and more.

The message is clear. Rather than wait for the late majority, fuel the high-growth early adopters and watch them grow. Who would you rather be (or be backing)? The eater or the eaten?

 

 

Xerocon London 2015 – day two highlights

We welcomed our guests back to Xerocon day two after a big night of celebrations at the Xero Awards, acknowledging the success of our high achieving partners.

Branding your practice

Rita Clifton, chair of BrandCap, opened day two with why branding is so vital in the digital age. Successful branding is about being clear about who you are and what you stand for, communicating that in all that you do, and employing people who stand for what your brand stands for. “It helps if the CEO isn’t an idiot… they’ve got to epitomise who the brand actually is.”

“A brand is more than packaging and labelling,” she said. “It’s the substance that lies beneath.”

Rita Clifton Xerocon 2

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Guest post: How to perfect your pitch to gain customers

Today’s guest author is international motivational business speaker Debbie Mayo-Smith.

You know how important it is to have a small elevator pitch or few word summary of what you do. Not only to have it – but to get it right.

This is something that I have had great difficulty with. No, more than difficulty. It has painfully eluded me. Even though I am a marketer and normally have a way with words and know how to talk in benefits. Well, you would think – that is until it came to describing succinctly what I do. Having that wee pitch that generates interest and ‘tell me more’

Oh the struggle! Every time someone would ask ‘so, what do you talk about’? A feeling of pain would have to be carefully hidden from showing in my facial expression (because I knew I hadn’t found the perfect description) as I would stammer out an answer.

This past week I was in Melbourne, invited to speak at a very important event – AIME. Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo. This event is populated with my prime target market – professional conference organisers and event/meeting planners.

I thought I was creative in picking this title for my presentation:

Tiny Tweaks – Great Gains. Fabulous smartphone, software, Internet, cloud tips from the queen of productivity Debbie Mayo-Smith.

Yeah, I agree now in retrospect. Toooooo verbose.

Keep your elevator pitch simple

The day before my keynote session, we had several networking events. Seeing simply my company name SuccessIS, which I never use anyway, people would ask, as they do, “So what do you do?” and “What do you speak about?”.

“I show how to use your everyday business tools better for more time and more income.”

“I talk about using everyday technology better.”

“I show how to make small changes for great gains in using everyday business tools.”

The response has always been bland – not that “ohhhhh, tell me more” that you are supposed to get (according to the people that teach you how to get the elevator pitch right). Yet, the subject matter – email overload, smartphones, software, the Internet, is something everyone uses and struggles with. Continue reading ›

 

Xerocon London 2015 – day one highlights

More than 800 accounting industry professionals rolled into Battersea Evolution this morning for Xerocon London 2015, the UK’s largest fintech conference. Attendees arrived from far and wide – New Zealand, Australia, and the US, as well as all across the UK. Many rolled in on our awesome Xero shuttle bus, and some even arrived in our Xero black cab… though it’s no longer black!

xero black cab

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