Episode 10: Eliminate, automate and delegate


All Xero In episodes

Hosted by Jeanne-Vida Douglas and Rob Stone

We all do a lot of things in business, in our lives, in our everyday working that we actually don’t need to do. How can you identify what needs to change – and then change it?

Growthwise founder Steph Hinds reckons you eliminate, automate and delegate, starting with an investigation into how your business is doing, and how it’s being done.

In this conversation with Steph, Xero In hosts Rob Stone and Jeanne-Vida Douglas talk about her unique approach to helping small businesses make better use of process and technology to fulfil their potential.

Episode transcript

Participants: Jeanne-Vida Douglas [JVD], Rob Stone[RS], Steph Hinds [SH]

RS: Welcome back to Xero In, I’m your host, Rob Stone and joining me is JV. How are you JV?

JVD: Not too bad at all it’s lovely to be here Rob, and I’m really excited about our interviewee today.

RS: it’s awesome to have Steph Hinds. One of Xero’s pre-eminent and longest standing gold partners up in the Newcastle region, is basically just a guru when it comes to all things Cloud. And the thing I’ve – I’ve been really impressed by Steph, and we were up there recently at a Dig Festival which is kind of the South by Southwest of the North by Northeast coastline. It’s the – the impact of what Steph brings to her small business owners.

JVD: Yeah, and she’s really really engaged with the local community and really understands, I think, what the business people around her need and need to know, which is – which is really really powerful.

RS: And she’s a storyteller.

JVD: [Laughs] Absolutely.

RS: You know, she’s fantastic in terms of being able to breakdown a business and say, this is – let me tell you a story about how to improve it and how to bring in change and one of the great things that she always reminds me is when you’re looking at a business the three things to effect change is to eliminate, delegate and then automate and she’s going to unpack that for us.

JVD: Absolutely, let’s switch over to Steph.

SH Often times as a business owner, especially a small business owner, they don’t focus on stepping outside and looking in because they’re so focused with getting what needs to be done done.

SH: Growthwise started just over six years ago now, because I really love working with small business. I thought okay, how can we make this work and – and really turn the focus of accounting from being number-crunching for small businesses to really being able to help them.

JVD: When you say helping small businesses, what was it you were going to help them to do?

SH: Understand what their business actually was doing, what the numbers meant in their business, how they could improve depending on what it was that they wanted to improve on. Is that giving them more money, more profit, more time, more focus, more growth? So really being able to drill down and – and extract I guess, out of the small business owners, what did they want to actually do with themselves.

RS: And when you’re looking and you’ve done the diagnosis about the small business, and then you’re looking for solutions to make it more efficient and to give them back time or – you know optimise their business, what’s the process that you take them through to implement that change?

SH: The first process is actually understanding what’s happening, or what happens on a day-to-day, week-by-week and a month-by-month basis in their actual business.

And that might be as simple as literally writing down things that happen during the day, or it might be a much larger scenario of someone else coming into the business and – and really doing some analysis work.

SH: The first step in the eliminate, automate, delegate realm, or why we do it to start with, is to get people to think. So a bit of psychology, you know, as children we’re quite creative and the older we get, for some people, the less creative we end up being. So part of Growthwise’s mantra is think, learn, grow, kick arse. So the framework of thinking is okay, what could I have eliminated, automated or delegated. We all do a lot of things in business, in our lives, in our everyday working that we actually don’t need to do, that isn’t going to make a tremendous difference to the product or service that we’re selling, or anything else that we’re doing. So we start with what could you eliminate out of your life?

The next part is all around automation, and this is when the Cloud tools come in. We’re getting clients to look at every single step in their process, from when a first enquiry comes through and how that flows through maybe their website or an email or a phone call into their business, and all of the little steps that you need to do along the way, and how can we automate all of those things as well as the big ticket data items of, you know, where’s your cashflow, what can we do here etcetera.

Certainly six years ago we were starting our journey to change all of our clients from using old-school desktop accounting to being able to use Xero. Since then it’s really easy to get our clients quite excited because they’ve been through that first step, they’ve seen the dramatic difference that it makes in their life, and then they’re excited to go to the next level. So they’re excited to implement point-of-sale systems or simple backend systems like Zapier or whatever it might be, because they understand the benefit of automation, and they understand the benefit of that data that they get out of it.

SH: The last step in the process though is delegate. Because if you do the first two things exceptionally well you end up needing to hire less people for the same level of output.

RS: Steph could you give us a real-life example of one of your clients where you’ve put this into – into practice?

SH: So we have a - a café client, and they were using a very, very old-school point-of-sale system. And five years ago when we started to work with them the - the process was we would get the daily sales out at the end of the day, and on a weekly basis we would type that into their accounting system. All of their receipts and invoices would be sent via paper, by mail. They would need to enter them into the accounting system manually. They would need to enter in all of their bank charges and all those other things manually because there were no such things as bank fees. They would need to do payroll semi-manually. So this process used to take on average about 15 hours per.

First of all we changed their accounting system because we’re big believers in if you throw everything at someone to change everything on the one day, it’s never going to work. But we changed their accounting system first, we made sure that rather than having to enter all of that data in, it was coming in automatically.

The second thing we did was setup Shoeboxed for them, which meant that every single one of their invoices were all then being emailed, there was no paper handling, there was no filing, and everything that they needed to pay their suppliers was automatically being put in Xero for them.

The next thing we did was implement a point-of-sale system. So the point-of-sale system, again we were using Vend for these guys, it integrated straight back into Xero for them. So their daily takings, their daily sales were automatically being put back into Xero at the same time.

Now that simplistic set of - of tools that we ended up implementing, means that most weeks, except end of the month when there was a little bit more data analysis happening, most weeks they were doing everything in 15 minutes not 15 hours.

JVD: Wow that’s a huge save.

RS: Yeah but what are they doing with all this free time now?

SH: Well they were so excited they ended up selling the café.

JVD: Aren’t we awesome now we sell.

SH: Well, but hang on, so this is the fun part. So they sold the café and now what they’re actually doing is helping other café owners, so they roast coffee beans as well, so now they’re helping other café owners set up. So they’re actually using everything that they learned from that process to go in and help other café owners set up from scratch so that they’re automated from day one.

JVD: And - and you know what I - I find fascinating about this is so much - so often we put the cart before the horse. We buy the technology and then we think about changing. And what you’re really proposing is you do it the other way around. You go in and you make changes and then you implement the technology. You know, the point-of-sale system was where you were going but that’s not where you started.

SH: Correct - we try and look at the people, and we try and go into every business and look at where are the really exciting gains, and where are the really big pain points to start with. We often know, if we go in and do some analysis of a business, exactly where that business will be in 18 months to two years, but you can’t just throw everything and expect that every single person in the organisation is - is going to jump on board. You do have to go through that process.

SH: There is always something else to help them with, or that they come up with another problem as they’re growing as well. So despite the fact that the process, or you know the start to finish of a project management style implementation might be six months, it’s never ending because we are accountants and we are dealing with these clients on a month-to-month, on a quarter-by-quarter basis in any case in the future. And that’s really where the excitement comes in.

JVD: So essentially it’s not really about Cloud Accounting it’s about taking on a whole new business model.

SH: It is about taking on a whole new business model, but the thing here is without Cloud Accounting it couldn’t have existed.

SH: What we’ve tried to do over the last few years now is have a suite of great tools for each industry. So we know, as an example, that Vend is fantastic from a retail perspective. And we know if somebody wants a very, very complex e-Commerce website etcetera, that Neto is a fantastic example. Or we know anyone in hospitality Counter is a - a really, really good application. What we try and do with the rest, i.e. the Zapiers of the world, is we know that there are things in everyday life that doesn’t need to integrate necessarily with an accounting system, or a point-of-sale, or an inventory or something else, and that’s where I see the next ways of being able to help clients comes from.

RS: And as more small businesses go through this change, you know if you put your futurist hat on for a little while, where - where do you see this all ending up in a small business community? How - how - how do you see the landscape changing?

SH: So small businesses literally drive the entire Australian economy at the moment. And this is one of the reasons why we’re so passionate about this industry. So the more the small business economy can thrive, and the more these brilliant business owners can come up with creative ideas and better products and better services, the better everyone’s life, certainly in Australia, is going to be, and the more opportunity that they will have on the world-wide stage to be doing what they love and expanding etcetera. So all of these tools, you know this whole landscape for a small business owner is dramatically changing. So you can have a tiny niche product now that would never have flown in a localised situation 15 years ago, potentially might have been okay if - if you were thinking about an Australian size. But now these small business owners with some of these tools can be global in a very, very short amount of time, and can really start to make a difference to their own businesses as well as all their employees and everything else that goes along with it.


RS: Now JV I know we tried to get Elon Musk to come in today but he was busy, but Steph you’re the closest person I’ve - I’ve met who - who’s met Elon Musk.

JVD: So with just one degree of separation.

RS: If you don’t know Elon Musk, Steph like who is he, what do you like about him so much?

SH: He’s - he really is a futurist, and he is not afraid to challenge people. He is not afraid to put things out there. And he’s doing things that are going to make a massive difference on our world and our environment. So everyone should look him up and be in love with him.

JVD: How important do you think it is for business people to have someone like that, that they look to and listen to and that inspires them?

SH: It’s super important, because as a small business owner life is very lonely a lot of the time. But some people are exceptionally lucky to have a great group of people around them, maybe their family has been in business or what - whatever it might be. But a lot of people don’t have - they don’t have that support behind them, and you’re making decisions on the fly every minute, every hour of every day, that is going to make an impact not only to your life but your employees and everyone else. And that can be very, very lonely, so it is crucial that you have someone, be that a mentor, be that someone who can inspire you that you can sit across the table and have a coffee with. But also feel that it’s very important for you to have people or role models that you look to that will challenge yourself, and just give you a bit of pumping up and motivation at a time when things are tough.

JVD: It’s really interesting because we do hear a lot about the importance of working on your business and not just in your business. But you seem to have taken this to another level and be - of the importance of working on yourself and then on your business.

SH: Definitely. We’re all - unless you have a completely robotic business which at some stage we will all have. I’m still gunning for the robots. But unless you have a completely robotic business, every single business is built on people. And unless you have exceptionally passionate people who really, really believe in what you’re doing, and what you’re trying to do, the point from A where you are now to B where you want to be, is going to be so much longer than necessary. And there’ll be all of these different headaches and hurdles along the way.

RS: And if you’re not passionate why get out of bed in the morning in the first place?

SH: That’s exactly right.

SH: I think this whole arena of change and small business, and just business in general is so exciting, and I don’t understand why everyone isn’t wanting to be either in - in this, or supporting, or services for this whole industry, because it is just fantastic at the moment.

RS: I couldn’t agree more.

JVD: So you’re taking business not just into the Cloud but into the stars.

SH: That’s exactly right, well look at that.

RS: Oh JV. Steph, I loved talking to you thank you.

JVD: Thanks so much for joining us.

SH: Thank you.

RS: Okay, well that was illuminating. What did you get out of that, JV?

JVD: Oh, it’s just, it’s so lovely to find someone who’s really really engaged with her community and – and really knows how to help people out in a way they understand.

RS: Yeah, she’s so authentic and what they’re with the North by Northeast is just incredible.

JVD: I can’t wait to go it’s definitely on the agenda next year.

RS: Don’t forget, if you enjoyed today’s podcast subscribe to our show – the link is in our show notes on Xero.com. It’s actually North by Northeast, what is it?

JVD: Thanks for joining us.

RS: Bye-bye.

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