Firm of the Future Profile: Business Works

Welcome to another in a series of profiles spotlighting the 2017 Firms of the Future. Our latest edition features Jo Tomlinson of Business Works, the UK winner of last year’s Firm of the Future contest. Stay tuned in 2018 for details on how to enter our next Firm of the Future contest and continue visiting our blog often.

Danielle Ernst: Welcome Jo and congratulations on being a Global Firm of the Future finalist/runner up! Tell us about yourself and your business.

Jo Tomlinson: I started the business about 10 years ago after working for 20 years as a commercial and management accountant. I was looking for a new challenge and thought the time was right to start up my own business. I spent some time thinking about what small- and medium-sized businesses really wanted from their accountant and structured the business to satisfy those needs. 

Initially, networking was our main source of new clients, and as the client base grew, I started to build a team. Now, most of our new clients come from referrals, closely followed by people we meet at events. We are now a team of 10, supporting and advising around 150 clients, and growing all the time.

DE: What makes your business a Firm of the Future?

JT: The Firm of the Future competition was looking for a firm of accountants who were considered trusted advisors to their clients. Having spent 20 years providing robust financial data and analysis to decision makers to support profit improvement strategies, it was a natural progression for me to fulfill this role for our small- to medium-sized clients. 

Business owners often say they don’t know who to speak to about their business issues. Our clients speak to me, ask me questions and include me in their decision making. I like to think that we are an integral part of all the businesses we work with, even if that is only in a very small way. We are also a value-based advisory service that solves real problems and needs for their clients because our clients want more from their accountant than an end-of-year history lesson.

Cloud accounting allows us to work flexibly and efficiently as a business, and we want this for our clients as well. They want something easy to use and efficient, so that they can focus on running their business. QuickBooks® allows us to offer the best possible support to our clients on all aspects of bookkeeping. 

DE: What’s on the horizon for your firm in 2018?

JT: After a 30 percent client base growth in 2017, we are continuing with the same marketing strategy, anticipating a similar growth in 2018. We will continue to work with our clients on the implementation of apps that will help them to be efficient, and we will move offices soon, as we have outgrown our current offices.

DE: What’s the most unexpected place you have ever worked?

JT: On the weekend, I worked for a short time in a hot tub in the Yorkshire Dales.

DE: What apps do you typically use? Any you recommend as a must have?

JT: We use Practice Ignition, FUTRLI, Taxfiler, AutoEntry, Receipt Bank, you can book me, GoCardless, PayPal and Digita. For accountants, we highly recommend Practice Ignition for quoting and contacts. I also love to book meetings directly into my diary using you can book me. For clients, AutoEntry and Receipt Bank can give such great efficiency benefits.

DE: About how much time would you say apps and cloud-based technologies save you/your business?

JT: It’s difficult to quantify, but could be as much as 20 hours per week.

DE: How does your firm use social media to its advantage?

JT: The greatest benefit we see as a firm by using social media is in the promotion of our events.

DE: For accounting firms not yet using social media, what would your advice be for them to take the first step?

JT: Start small with one tweet or Facebook post, and then repeat. If you stay true to yourself and informative, what can possibly go wrong?

DE: What’s your advice for getting online and adopting cloud technologies?

JT: If you are unsure, trial it with one client who you do everything for. When you see the benefits for yourself, you will feel much more confident talking about them with your clients.

DE: How would you encourage firms to implement a value-based billing model?

JT: If you talk to your clients about the value you can add, then why would you not invoice them based on that value? It changes the conversation, and the upfront quoting against the value a service provides gives certainty and the ability to plan for cash flow too.

DE: In your Firm of the Future nomination, you mentioned you are “a problem solver first and accountant second.” If you could invent any gadget or service to solve a problem, what would you create?

JT: I would invent a gadget that reminded clients that we don’t have a crystal ball, so the more they talk to us, the better we can advise them.

DE: What’s the biggest impact you have had on a client’s small business? Any favorite client stories worth sharing?

JT: When we suggested QuickBooks to one of our bigger clients, we needed to be sure it would improve efficiency for them. As QuickBooks could take a direct feed from their ecommerce platform, they saved a couple of days of data inputting per week just by not rekeying all the sales. Needless to say, they love QuickBooks!

DE: In your opinion, how important is networking to build trust with clients and potential new clients? Do you have any anecdotes from your “QuickBooks and Bookkeeping” seminars?

JT: I think it is hugely important to build relationships with potential new clients. We start most of these relationships at events, talking to a business owner about what they do and the challenges they are facing.

DE: If you weren’t an accountant, what would you be and why?

JT: If I wasn’t an accountant, I would love to be a baker, creating beautiful, unique cakes that make people feel special.

DE: What advice would you give to a firm trying to transition from their old ways to become a Firm of the Future?

JT: Come to QuickBooks Connect to learn, network and grow your business. You will come away with so many great ideas and probably also some new friends.