Fail Fast – The 5 invaluable lessons we’ve learnt @SmartBooks Online

SmartBooks Online has been floating around the internet over the last 12 months. During that time, Rowan and I were both working full time and progressing in our respective careers – jobs that we genuinely enjoyed doing – whilst running the business by night.

Some called it part time entrepreneurship. Others called it a lifestyle business.

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We called it ‘beta testing’.

Needless to say, offering a 100% virtual solution for bookkeeping – a traditionally high touch and interpersonal service – definitely didn’t come without its challenges.

Here’s what we learnt

Communication is imperative – We’re not the bookkeeper that sits in your office once a quarter and madly churns out accounts for the BAS. We facilitate data entry on a weekly basis enabled by a killer stack of cloud apps.

Some of our clients felt that whilst the work was getting done, they didn’t feel we were ‘a part’ of their business – i.e. physically present.

We’ve learnt that communication with our clients is even more critical in a virtual environment. In an effort to above and beyond, we implemented the 12 hour rule to solve this problem – we respond to all customer requests within 12 hours. In addition to monthly notifications when month end is complete, most of our clients speak to as regularly as they do their family!

Xero is still the hero – Feedback from accountants was that we were limiting our opportunity to service the market by being a Xero-only firm. We took the feedback on board and moved to accepting all other accounting packages. However, this came at the sacrifice of internal efficiency.

From our experience, Xero is still the superior product from a user’s and accountant’s perspective. If the others lift their game @Intuit!? then we’ll consider them again. But right now, Xero is still boss.

Pricing must be strategic – Pricing SaaS is hard, and we are no different. We priced wrongly at the start. $300 a month for bookkeeping which included weekly data entry and software worked on paper, however it was soon proved unsustainable. There are firms out there that offer rates even lower than ours. Good luck I say. Cheap comes at the sacrifice of quality and service, and that is not our game.

We increased the price of our packages, which has not only made our service sustainable, but also qualified our prospects to show that we mean business.

Staffing – We manage a team of offshore contractors in Jaipur and New Delhi in India. At the same time we had onshore account managers to project manage jobs and review the accounts prepared by the offshore team.

We made every mistake possible and I could (and will) write pages of what we did wrong and how we could have handled things better. I’ll share these learnings in a separate article.

Well-oiled systems are key – We’re a team of Chartered Accountants, and one thing accountants love are systems. Systems are important, even at the cost of sales and marketing 😉

Whilst we could picture in our minds the perfect streamlined back office (enabled by smart software) it took time to implement, and like every piece of new software – it needed to be tested.  Our systems and processes have come along away and like anything there’s always room for improvement (or further automation).

As you can tell we froth over this stuff.

What to expect

After 12 months, our ‘beta testing’ is over. We’re now in full scale release.

We’ll be sharing our journey of becoming Australia’s largest 100% virtual, fixed-fee bookkeeping practice. Sharing our lessons learnt, our progression and tips and tricks along the way. We’re even lifting the skirt on our operational metrics – leaving little to the imagination…

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