Float & AM on workflow, cash flow and delivering value
When AM’s Jonathan Stobart met up with Float’s Sam Fairbairn, he thought they’d talk about cash flow. Hold up, said Sam - not until we talk about workflow first. Here’s how their conversation went.
AccountancyManager and Float share a number of similarities. They’re both systems designed to save you time through automation and improve efficiency and communication, for you and your clients. They both release you from the clutches of numerous, lengthy (albeit impressive) Excel spreadsheets and help you deliver more value to your clients.
And apparently we both share a bit of an obsession with workflows.
“It makes sense to partner with someone like AccountancyManager on this,” says Sam Fairbairn - Key Account Manager at Float. “Because obviously workflows are a big part of what you guys do. And so having a cash flow workflow in a tool helps ensure that the right steps are followed.”
2021 hails a new era for AccountancyManager’s own workflow. While retaining the current simplicity of the Task List, we’re adding the ability to break tasks down and assign different deadlines, staff members and automations at each step of the workflow. It’s going to be big. Watch this space.
So Sam, what’s the big deal with workflows?
“Cash flow is a bit of a buzzword at the moment,” explains Sam, “there’s this massive intention to move towards cash flow advisory services. Then there's this grand idea that we want to empower clients to make confident decisions about their business. But the execution of all that is down to whether or not workflows are actually being followed.”
A lot of organisations do themselves a disservice by not having workflows in place.
“The massive implication there, is that any plan to offer a cash flow service and to increase revenue from advisory falls flat at the first hurdle when those workflows aren't followed or shared across the entire team. From a firm perspective, you'll never deliver valuable cash flow services or cash flow advisory until you think about workflows. That's what makes it real.”
Float in a sentence: Cash flow your clients can understand
So, what exactly is Float? “Summarised in a sentence, Float is cash flow clients can understand. It's an operational cash flow forecast that’s simple, straightforward and shows small business owners what they want to see - visibility anywhere from the next 30 days to three to six months and up to three years.”
“Float exists to help you and your clients get paid, but also to empower your clients to make confident decisions about their businesses and help you drive as much value as possible for your clients. As a result, increasing per client revenue.”
Don’t wait for your clients to ask for cash flow services. You’ll be waiting a while.
Sam tells us that it’s very rare for small business owners to explicitly ask their accountant or bookkeeper for cash flow services. Instead, the trick is to look out for specific questions your clients might ask you.
Identify cash flow needs by listening out for certain client questions
“Things like, 'what happens if these invoices get paid late?” says Sam, “can I afford to hire, if not now, then when? And most importantly, when am I going to run out of money? Those are the key indicators that you want to be looking for as an accountant, bookkeeper or VCFO (virtual CFO) to signal that particular client needs a cash flow forecast.”
Ease yourself in with a ‘pilot’ client and iron out process issues
When a firm is new to Float, Sam recommends that they select one pilot client. Then, Float will help you separate out the two processes of client buy-in and service delivery, ensuring that you’re not investing too much time upfront.
“At the end of that pilot run, you can reflect on the process and say , these are the steps we went through, what worked and what didn’t?”
Create a standardised, yet malleable workflow - and review it regularly
This is the typical high-level workflow that you would go through with Float, but Sam is quick to note that workflows are never set in stone and to review them on a consistent basis.
- Check Xero is up to date
- Connect to your Float account
- Run initial forecasts
- Contact client to arrange a meeting
- Meet client and walk through forecast
- Review one week later and leave them to run
- Review again depending on client needs
- Move into ‘review’ workflow
Look at a client’s bookkeeping and credit control management first
The first step sounds almost flippant, but as Sam explains, it’s actually the most crucial step when it comes to planning out the rest of your cash flow services and advice for that client. “When Float is first connected to a client's Xero account, you can see any data quality issues that exist or bookkeeping errors. You can see transactions in categories that maybe shouldn't be there or any discrepancy between balances in Xero and the bank statement, so it helps demonstrate what priority number one should be for accountants.”
If your client doesn't have a solid invoice and bill management workflow in place, then your cash flow forecast and visibility is significantly limited.
“It'll also highlight quite clearly and quickly how much credit control management is required for a particular client. When Float connects to Xero, QuickBooks or FreeAgent, it will pull through all the upcoming invoices - draft, repeating, and overdue invoices as well. So you can go in there and tally up the total value of the overdue invoices or overdue bills and see how much cash is being misinterpreted or misunderstood.”
“You’ve got to look at the bookkeeping for your client before you even look at the cash flow. And you need to have a conversation about their credit control management and improve that system. From a cash flow perspective, if your client doesn't have a solid invoice and bill management workflow in place, then your cash flow forecast and visibility is significantly limited.”
The importance of standardisation - and malleability
Your internal cash flow service workflow needs to incorporate identifying any issues or problems early on and communicating them to the client. This is where standardisation is key. “For example, in Float you've got the cash threshold feature for if cash is going to go below zero on a certain date. If there's not a step in place for one of the team to look at that and notify the client to act then you can do the client a disservice.”
“However, as much as a workflow is a series of steps, it does have to be malleable and able to map to the client's situation. Some might have an inhouse FD some might not. The business owners themselves might have different expertise compared to other clients. So their contribution in the workflow, what they can take on at each step, will vary client to client.”
Streamlining a virtual CFO’s workload
Sam notes that if you act as a VCFO, Float can work especially well. “If you think about that outsourced finance function, it's quite broad and wide ranging, so there needs to be time and efficiency gains. The cash flow element is typically done on spreadsheets - in amongst everything else that needs to be done - and that can be problematic. Float is an automatic and efficient way to improve the cash flow element of an outsourced FD or VCFO.”
Automation? Efficiency? More time with clients? That sounds familiar
It’s pretty well accepted that solutions like AM and Float are simply the way modern working is going in the accountancy industry. If a piece of tech can do something for you, then why not grab that extra time and channel it back into your clients or readdressing your work/life balance?
Your spreadsheets - with added accuracy, automation, simplicity, speed, visibility...
Everyone’s proud of their spreadsheets - whether it’s for cash flow forecasts, workflow, client management or even remembering which software has been updated. Until, that is, they realise the possibilities of an automated system, accessible by everyone, kept up to date with accounting software integrations, that communicates important things to both you and your clients at the right time - all built based on the kind of spreadsheets you love. Like AccountancyManager - and Float.
That's where there's an alignment between AccountancyManager because there's a massive impact on saving time and efficiency
“The big one is efficiency, right?” agrees Sam. “Traditionally cash flow forecasts are made in Excel spreadsheets and those are incredibly inefficient. Even if you're using cloud accounting systems, you have to take information out of invoices and bills, put those on the right dates, create the budgets, update the budgets... then, as a by-product, there's inaccuracies.”
“That's where there's an alignment between AccountancyManager because there's a massive impact on saving time and efficiency. They do all that work for you, that you normally need to do in creating and maintaining a manual Excel spreadsheet.”
Leave the input to tech and focus on the output
Like AM, Float integrates with Xero, Quickbooks and FreeAgent, which means the ‘admin’ side of what you do is already done, thanks to the data sync. This also means you are free to focus on the future - however quickly the data changes. “Float helps you manage and advise on outputs versus the more old school way of just focussing on the inputs and then giving the client 'this is what the cash flow forecast is'. Because by the time you've sent it to the client, the client's done X, Y, Z to change the cash flow forecast.”
With an Excel spreadsheet, if you're using it offline, not connected to the cloud, essentially you're charging a client to maintain a cash flow spreadsheet
“If there's less time spent setting up a cash flow forecast, there's more time spent advising on it. That's the key thing. With an Excel spreadsheet, if you're using it offline, not connected to the cloud, essentially you're charging a client to maintain a cash flow spreadsheet, which there's no real value in. And arguably that puts the price up higher if it's taking more time. It's all about making cash flow more affordable and accessible for clients and empowering both the accountant and their clients to make confident, timely decisions.”
For more information about Float visit their website, available here
For more information about AccountancyManager visit our website, available here