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The Pillow May way: Passion, cloud and pink

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10th Feb 2015
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AccountingWEB recently caught up with Jessica Pillow, director of Pillow May, shortlisted for Technology Champion in the 2014 Practice Excellence Awards. 

Based on a farm on the outskirts of the bustling Wiltshire town of Chippenham, Pillow May is a firm whose ethos is equal parts talent, technology literacy and client focus. Everything about the firm - right down to its cosy pink Wellington boot branding - suggests that it has struck a distinctive tone for its countryside clients. 

AccountingWEB met firm founder Jessica Pillow recently in Chippenham to find out more about the firm and what made it tick.

Enthusiastic and bubbly, Jessica can’t curb her passion for the two loves of her life: technology and accountancy. Her enthusiasm for her profession and its future is infectious.

Her Why

Both of her parents - a GP and a farmer - passed on their enthusiasm for saving tax  to their daughter, who has specialised partly in agricultural and healthcare industry clients.

An avid fan of numbers from an early age, Jessica said she was drawn to accountancy from the start. After taking a combined university degree in physics and French she gained practical accounting experience with a local firm. She then joined Deloitte in Bristol, working in both the agricultural and medical sectors before moving to PKF. 

Halfway through her training contract however she left to go self employed, working as a subcontractor before joining a Chippenham-based firm, which she left after the birth of her daughter. The desire to run her own ship and to work in the way she wanted so she could still look after her children influenced her decision.

Her passion for technology led her to cloud based accounting software and Xero. Within the firm she has installed a hosted desktop system for office and specialist accounting tools so her staff can work remotely too. This flexible approach is something she says her clients appreciate and enjoy.

While being technologically available to client most of the time, Jessica sets herself boundaries and knows when to switch off – between the hours of 5pm and 10pm, when she spends time with her daughters.

“Why work if it means I can't spend time with them?" she says. 

Technology

As her technology champion nomination proved in the Practice Excellence Awards, Jessica loves technology. Her firm and its clients reflect this enthusiasm. 

Her firm uses a variety of technology and software, most notably Xero and the expenses management app Receipt Bank. Pillow May has bundled these into a pacakge called My Business on my Phone, which lets clients monitor their own businesses from a mobile. 

The development of her own app has increased client size, Jessica said. Because of the app, clients are realising the skills available within the firm and are willing to pay higher fees for enhanced services. 

This means she sometimes has to say goodbye to lower level clients to make room. But an agreement with other local accountants means that the transition is easy and works well as a two-way relationship.

Jessica maintains that accountants may be missing out on an opportunity around cloud, namely the initial set up of the cloud for clients. 

“We’re now charging 10 times the amount we did originally. I wasn’t confident enough to charge realistically at the beginning. From the value point of view, people will pay: Receipt Bank gives them massive savings but they need to be trained how to use it properly.”

Branding

Pillow May's brand reflects its surroundings and its staff. With mostly female accountants working for her, Jessica opted for a pink-themed approach, reflected in a pair of pink wellies on her website. The 'uniform' is pink, and the approach she says, is popular with both male and female clients.

The brand definitely suits Jessica's personality and appears to put clients at ease; this informality and personal approach is something other practitioners could learn from when considering the core values of their firms. 

Clients

Technology allows Jessica's firm to segregate different types of client service levels. Pillow May offers a gold, silver and bronze level of service - with different processes for different clients, including tighter timelines and partner attention for the upper levels.

The firm gives each client a feedback form at every meeting to ensure it is giving clients what they want. She also interacts with clients via social media and has an active Twitter presence; however the bulk of online referrals comes from her very well-made website. 

Pillow May's monthly email newsletter is a valuable way of communicating with clients, especially when they hit the target with certain topics. She says, for example, that a lot of work was won one month after a bulletin on growth vouchers. 

A growing firm such as Pillow May, receiving on average one to two clients per week of 'better grade', needs an effective communication method with these for a variety of reasons. Keeping in touch via email newsletter, particularly one that is well thought out and designed, is one way of doing this. 

In terms of fees, Jessica works off a fixed-fee approach, all of which are available on her website. However any extras must be billed for.

Talent

In the competitive accountancy recruitment market, Jessica says she has no problem finding talent to suit her firm. In fact, they tend to come to her after hearing of her approach to flexible working and firm's ethos.

Work done is tracked within Salesforce and reports help to plan resources needed for the next week. 

Jessica feels strongly about working mothers and flexible working as a general working principle. “There’s no reason why an accountant can’t work flexibly," she says, and with her enthusiasm and in-depth understanding of the latest technology and how it works for her and her clients, her firm seems to have struck a balance between talent that understands and works well in this way and clients who do the same.

Specialisms

Jessica's firm specialists in contractors, which are serviced with FreeAgent cloud accounting software. Twice a year, she holds contractor evenings for these clients. Other areas her firm caters for includes technology companies, which Jessica is especially keen on, food and rural and consultants. 

The firm is also developing virtual FD services for some of these clients. 

Growth

Jessica works closely with professional mentor Heather Townsend to implement her business plan and grow the practice. While interested in refining the firm and focusing on a certain type of 'ideal' client and market sectors, Jessica says she is not intent on world domination, and happy to plateau at a comfortable level of business.

Her own role has changed, as the firm's business development strategy evolved. The early days of networking meetings has changed to more meetings with existing clients. 

She has found that personal service is key. And key to achieving this goal is to automate the compliance work, to tailor the service to suit the client. 

In addition, collaborative cloud technology allows them to do this, and to be more proactive and sometimes spot errors or queries before a client.

"True proactivity is ringing the client before the ring you," she surmises wisely.

What do you think of Pillow May's practice approach?  Could her flexibile working ideas and enthusiastic use of cloud technology work with your client base?

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Replies (2)

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
13th Feb 2015 18:06

Smoke and mirrors

Fancy talk may look (and sound) good but its the bottom line that counts.

Well, at least that's what I tell clients when we look at their accounts.

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By Rachael White
09th Mar 2015 14:04

In this case

It's not all smoke and mirrors - Jessica is a very passionate and intelligent person and her firm and branding merely reflects the work she and her team does. 

But you are right - it's no use having brand without substance. It's great when they complement each other however! 

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