Practice Insight: Sarah Travell from Virgate Accounts
We talk to Sarah Travell from Virgate Accounts, who told us how Senta has helped streamline her practice’s processes and how it supports their advisory work.
Today we talk to Sarah Travell, managing director of Virgate Accounts, an amazing practice based in Gloucester. Sarah started her career in accountancy over 10 years ago, working for companies in the retail and hospitality sectors. After several years of working for others Sarah set up her own practice, Virgate Accounts, which has grown and is now assisted by a fabulous and highly professional team.
But Virgate Accounts is not a typical accounting firm. They specialise in providing a complete solution to retail and hospitality businesses, providing them with their own hospitality experienced accounts department, for a fraction of the cost of them having it in-house. Acting as a one-stop shop for their clients, the team provides their clients with everything from daily bookkeeping, payroll and bespoke management accounts, to year end accounts and tax returns.
However, it’s not all about compliance. Sarah and her team also provide businesses with valuable industry advice and growth projections along the way: “We believe that today’s business owners need and want their accountant to be an all-round business adviser. Producing a set of accounts at the end of the year isn’t enough. By then, it’s too late to impact on performance.”
“Our extensive experience and exposure to so many businesses in retail and hospitality puts us in the fantastic position to help businesses to grow and thrive by advising on industry standards and best practices. We are more than just their accounts team, we work closely with them, supporting and mentoring them every step of the way.”
Sarah also told us how our practice management solution has helped her practice with bespoke features to accommodate their needs as the practice grew: “I had different needs when it was just me, but since the team has been growing, there are new things that we need to add in. With Senta we just go to the support guys and ask if it's possible to do this or that and they never say no. They’ll take some time to think about what they can do and then, all of a sudden, they’ll get back to us with a solution. It's brilliant.”
Sarah, why did you choose Senta?
That's actually a funny story because it was from an article I read on AccountingWEB! When you’ve got a couple of clients you can remember that perhaps the VAT quarter is that month so you have to remember to do their VAT returns and things like that.
Then the practice started growing and I started getting new team members on board and I felt like I was going to start making mistakes. I thought maybe I would end up forgetting someone's VAT quarter deadline or that I would forget a certain task that needed to be done at a certain time.
So last year, when I went to a CIMA Members in Practice meeting I asked other accountants how they scheduled all their tasks. I asked them if they were using any type of software to manage their workflow, tasks and deadlines, and I was surprised because none of them said they did. They just said they used Google Sheets to keep track of their tasks. I thought there had to be a better way because with Google Sheets there is room for errors if, for instance, you miss a task or the team doesn’t update the list.
So that day I decided to start doing some research and I found some things about other providers and then I came across an article on AccountingWEB about Senta. I had a bunch of questions about their software, so I emailed the Senta support team and they came back to me answering all my questions and suggested I signed up to the free trial and see if I liked it.
There was no obligation, so I just signed up and I started entering all my clients in and seeing what it could do. I brought all my team members on and we saw we saw all the useful default tasks and that we could add other bespoke tasks which was really helpful. We really liked the fact that Senta has default workflows that you can personalise depending on the service that you provide.
I find that really useful because we are not an accounting practice that just does their clients' tax returns, so we need to create a set of workflows to deal with the day-to-day managing of the accounts department. I find it really useful that we can go to the back end and create all that ourselves. I find it quite easy to do. The first time I did it, I was worried I would maybe need to ask Senta to do it for me, but I just did it myself and it was really easy. It’s great that you can just customise the software yourself.
Can you tell us about a problem that Senta has helped you solve?
We wanted to see where we were with everything and we were going to go down the route of using spreadsheets to do it. Instead, we now have something that I really like, which is a big screen up in the office where we can see a collective view of the tasks of all the members of the team. That way we can always see the oldest tasks and who's responsible for them and make sure that everyone is up to date with everything.
Which is your favourite Senta feature?
There is a feature that was created from our request, which is the auto refresh, which is really useful now that we have the screen with all the projects in the office. Now every time that someone completes a task the big screen automatically refreshes and the task disappears.
What do you wish you knew about Senta when you first signed up that you know now?
Every time I wanted to find a particular client I used to go to the top menu, look for the client list and then scroll down until I found the one that I wanted. But then, one of my colleagues pointed out to me last year that there is a little search button at the top and if you just click that and start typing the client you want, it immediately appears. That's quite a nice shortcut that I didn't know straight away.
Has Senta helped you manage processes more effectively?
Definitely! What I always do when new staff come on board is show them Senta and how it works. Once they get used to the system I ask them to let me know if the workflows are missing anything or if we could take a step out of it, or if we could change the order of any tasks or make any other changes to make us more efficient.
Every time a member of the team has a suggestion, we make the changes and that way we make sure that the workflows have everything we need, so that no one needs to keep any additional to-do lists outside of Senta.
Has the software helped you introduce new service lines?
Yes, since we've been able to customise tasks, we can actually build in the ones that relate to our advisory services. For example there is a bit of financial consultancy that I do for restaurants chains. I have a framework of the tasks that I follow and I've been able to put that in Senta so that I can follow it in there instead of having different tasks lists elsewhere.
As part of our advisory services, we also do a quarterly review of our clients so that's one thing where Senta really helps us add value. We enter certain tasks every quarter, for every client so that we can keep track of all these advisory tasks such as reviewing their P&L, coming up with any cost efficiencies that we see, reviewing their director's loan account and flagging up any issues early in the year.
Now each task from that quarterly review goes to the relevant team member's list and we just need to create a PDF pack every quarter to send onto the client. It’s great because it means that each member of the team just needs to add their little bit of input into it at the right time and the report is created effortlessly.
Huge thanks to Sarah Travell for taking the time out to talk to us!