Tech Talk: Stephen Pell from Pell Artists

28th Feb 2019
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Welcome to Tech Talk, a monthly catch-up with an accountant in practice to find out the effect that technological changes have had on the industry over the years. Stephen details his impressive tech stack which epitomises his efficient and modern accountancy practice.

Stephen Pell

Today we are joined by Stephen Pell, founder of Pell Artists, an accountancy business exclusively for those in the music industry. Stephen established his business in 2015 to help ambitious musicians to run world-class businesses and to ultimately support them on their journey to global success.

Besides accounting, Stephen and his team also provide business management and tax advice to internationally mobile people and businesses within music. Stephen is also a strategic advisor to several disruptive tech companies operating in the music space.

Stephen, what’s the first piece of technology you interact with when you step inside your office?

It's probably not an obvious one, but the coffee machine is the first bit of technology I interact with. My order of priorities when I get in the morning is coffee first… and then I see what we are dealing with the rest of the day!

Can you tell us about the tech set up within your practice?

We are 100% on the cloud so we can work from anywhere. Basically, it is mandatory for our clients to be set up on Xero and Receipt Bank because all of our processes are built around these two solutions. We use them for the ledger side of things and we use Dropbox for our document filing.

Also in our tech stack is Karbon. We use Karbon to manage and automate our workflow and client interactions. We try and avoid email as much as possible although we obviously have to use it occasionally for some things. But for all the internal communications we use something that is quite unusual because it has been designed as a gaming tool. It is called Discord. It's like Slack, but we find it better in so many ways. It was an idea from my trainee who is obviously a keen gamer. We love this kind of outside the box thinking.  

Discord has been a big hit and does all the stuff you would expect it to (if you’re familiar with Slack). You can do video calls and have channels for communications. It's taking everything that we do internally out of email into this sort of chat and it works really well particularly when we’re working away from the office. Another reason we like it is that we can get it to talk with our other apps through Zapier.

For all the compliance we use Digita Personal Tax, Corporation Tax, Accounts Production and Company Secretarial. We use it for all the statutory stuff and we really like it because it integrates with Xero. 

We use GoProposal for sending out proposals and automating a big part of the client engagement process. It also integrates with Xero and the other systems that we use. 

And to link everything together we use Zapier, which is the glue that automates all of these processes.  

How has the setup changed since you started out?

I would say there are two things that I've noticed. One is that the workflow management tools that we use have improved hugely. They were really expensive a few years ago and I spent a lot of money and time trying to develop a solution using for our specific needs. But they were too clunky and not really made for the cloud.

They’ve come a long way since with software like Karbon and other similar tools that are now a game changer for small accounting businesses because they are on a subscription-based model, meaning there's no barrier to enter, no initial investment and they’re really easy to set up and use right away

The other thing that has changed a lot is moving away from emails even with clients. We don't tend to email clients so much these days, we mainly communicate through our apps. Also internally there are pretty much no emails.

All the communication goes through our Discord channels and we find that it’s so much better because we have quite a young team and they expect to communicate through instant messaging rather than emails. 

What three considerations did you make when choosing the technology for your practice?

Firstly, ‘is it going to save me time and money?’ That is number one. The next one, which I think people sometimes overlook is whether it’s fun to use: ‘Is it designed well?’ I get put off quite quickly by technology options that look a bit dated, so they've got to be a bit gamified. 

And the third one whether it will integrate with the rest of the tools that we have. What I mean by that is can we create a Zap for that? Can we use Zapier to integrate the systems? So basically, does it have an open API?

Do you have any favourite technology products at work and at home and why?

I still love my Windows laptop; it's still my favourite thing and it seems to always be a talking point in client meetings too. I think one of my favourite tools though is Braintoss.

Whenever you have an idea you can speak into this app and it sends a message into your to-do list, which means that wherever you are, you can always chuck something into the list and then it is off your mind and into the system. I think that's probably one of the best tools I've found. 

Can you tell me about a recent project or process that you made better, faster, smarter or more efficient?

We tend to spend about a day a week as a team going through projects and systems and processes and making them better, faster and more efficient. On Friday we sit down and go through all of this so it's a really big part of what we do, hence the tech stacks that we’ve developed. But automation is a big driver. 

The most recent one was that we set up an integration from our proposal software that linked with our team communications' channel to notify when a new client has signed up and then it automates a set of next steps. For example, "call the client to welcome them on board" or "send a welcome package" and we've managed to automate a lot of that which really “wows” our clients.

Is there a task that you prefer doing manually, instead of using tech?

As big as the importance of tech is and although I have a system that sets up all my tasks and automates much of that, what I still like to do is to write down my to-do list and cross it off. There's still a lot of psychological relevance in doing that. 

Is blockchain a marvel or a mystery to you?

I’m certainly no expert in blockchain technology but I understand the concept. I've been listening to the music industry talk about blockchain for a long time now and to be honest I thought the technology would have been a part of my everyday life by now.

I can certainly see its value and potential for both the accounting and music industry. If it can continue to build trust and increase the speed of processing transactions it is going to be a game changer. 

If you liked this piece, take a look at what  Victoria Cooper has to say about the tech set up within Red Shoes Accounting Services.