Alan Hemingway's voyage into the cloud began with one huge explosion. Richard Hattersley finds out how this rapid expansion created a cloud universe.
Two years ago, Hemingway left a regional QuickBooks Connect event in Coventry with a renewed sense of direction. Everything had clicked into place. On the car ride hom to East Yorkshire, he revealed his plan to his apprentice, who had reached the same conclusion: Hemingway wanted to orchestrate a big bang approach to cloud migration.
With HMRC’s drive towards digitalisation, the debate is over: cloud is mainstream. Convincing some clients to move into the cloud raises the prospect of resistance from those content with their current setup. But Hemingway challenged himself with the Herculean task of migrating every client.
Amazingly, he only lost one client through his cloud migration. “We tried them two or three times on QuickBooks Online, and they said that they couldn't get the hang of it,” Hemingway said. “She was a lady in her late fifties and no matter what we tried she couldn't get the hang of it. We had her in twice.
“She went to another accountant in her town, who gave her a spreadsheet and she was happy with that. ‘I just want a spreadsheet, I don't want any of that fancy clever stuff’.”
Being ambitious towards the cloud
Emerging from a career in industry, Hemingway’s relatively late entrance into the practice side of the profession meant he carried no baggage or preconceptions towards what clients want or how things should be done. Even back two years ago, Hemingway sensed the government was rapidly moving towards tax digitalisation, so he decided to take all his clients into online accounting.
Being a relatively new firm at that point, Hemingway only needed to convince 70 clients about the benefits of the cloud.
“I think you'd be better off being upfront and saying this is what we'd like to do,” said Hemingway. “You're taking them forwards because you're giving them better software than they got now and opening them up to more possibilities.
“The view we took was, we were going fully into the cloud and give all our clients QuickBooks Online free as part of the package.”
After explaining the firm’s reasons for moving to the cloud, he sat his clients in front of the software for a three-hour training session. The show and tell didn’t get through straight away with all of his clients; it took a while for some to reach that lightbulb moment.
From Hemingway’s experience, small contractors are not the best at software or general record keeping. So when a couple of them convened at Hemingway Bailey’s Beverley offices, he knew the way to sell the cloud was by trying to find those trigger points that make them happy. “We'd take them through a test company and show them how to raise an invoice. Talking them through what to do helped them realise how easy it was.
“A lot of times contractors are just concerned with cash and making sure that they're going to get paid and get the invoices out,” he said. “Because we'd taken the time to get to know them, we'd hone in on the what we knew they'd want.”
So Hemingway built his training around how they could seen when clients opened their invoices. “So when they've said they've not received it you can go back to them and say, you opened it on the 25th at 11.50am,” Hemingway told his contractor clients.
The big selling points
Once he displayed how easy it was to raise the invoices, the contractors warmed up towards the tech: one of their biggest problems had been solved. Hemingway reflected back on those training sessions: “My big selling point was that you're going to get something much better than what you got now and at no real extra cost.”
Hemingway realised he wanted to spark this large-scale evolution when he saw the apps available in the cloud universe. He knew his biggest selling point was how the software could open his clients up to more possibilities.
“Back in industry days, we'd spend a lot of money on a bigger ERP system that would cost £100,000. Obviously, you don't get all the capabilities, but you get so much at your fingertips for a small price. It's a bit of a no-brainer.”