Jessica Pillow founded Pillow May in 2009, in response to the lack of flexibility in traditional accounting roles for working parents. However, as the practice went from strength to strength, she encountered one frustrating hurdle; finding highly skilled staff willing to work for a small, new practice, in a rural location, who were also a good fit for Pillow May…
Jessica’s answer to this was to tap into an overlooked and often undervalued talent pool, this particular pool happened to contain arm bands and swim nappies! That’s right, Jessica’s key to success was to recruit an army of highly qualified, flexible working parents. She now employs nine flexible workers, eight of which are part-time and one works from New Zealand. However, without the right software and systems in place an entirely flexible workforce could have been a disaster. Here are Jessica’s insights on how using cloud accounting software can enable flexibility and therefore access to a wider recruitment pool.
Recruiting good staff is vital for any new business owner. Relinquishing control and delegating tasks you previously undertook yourself at the risk of your firm’s reputation is a daunting experience, especially in the accountancy industry where you need to recruit skilled staff with specific qualifications. I started Pillow May when I became a parent, fuelled by my own belief in flexible working so it was important for me to recruit staff who would also feel empowered by flexibility.
Increasing numbers of companies are offering flexible working packages but as I discovered myself, the accountancy industry still has some way to go in breaking traditional stereotypes. I knew the demand for employment was there, so setting up Pillow May allowed me to test this concept and offer employment opportunities based on skill and motivation, not on availability and willingness to travel.
Steps to enable flexible working
The first problem was to work out how I could make recruiting part-time flexible workers a practical business reality? There was no point satisfying my beliefs, if as a result my business was going to suffer. I needed to take practical steps to ready my business for a flexible workforce. I strongly believed that with the right systems and software in place, a group of part time staff could work together as effectively, or even more effectively, as say one or two full time members of staff.
- Get on the cloud
I had long been an advocate for cloud accounting and we were already a very technology-led practice. I chose Xero for our cloud accounting software as with flexible workers it was crucial that all our data was accessible and synchronised, we all needed access to accurate real-time information from home and on any device. Xero was also very secure so it made sense for us as a practice. Xero has continued to satisfy our requirements as our client numbers have grown and now six of my nine employees are Xero certified.
- Go paperless and centralise files
Pillow May has been paperless from the off-set so we had a head start with this, but there was still a fair amount of time consuming file tidying that needed to take place. Even now our systems are well established, I still have a member of staff accountable for maintaining the accuracy of the client data. We needed a central client database that would sync with Xero so we started using Salesforce.
- Review internal processes
Enabling effective flexible working doesn’t just rely on great software you need to have really slick internal processes whereby every team member knows their role and the work that is allocated to them. With part-time workers, it’s even more important to use an internal work-flow tracker, such as Mtrio software. This workflow tool automatically allocates the next action in a job process when the preceding action has been completed. Clear reporting also allows visibility over the progress of the whole task.
- Focus on security
With staff accessing confidential data from different places on different devices I needed to ensure that our security was up to scratch. Our online password storage crypt is invaluable for allowing the team members access to all the practice log-ins, so long as everyone makes sure they keep it up to date!
- Communication is key
It was important that my team could communicate quickly and easily no matter where they happened to be working. We use Glip for our instant internal messaging system – we found this easiest for quick internal dialogues, rather than keeping track of long email chains. We can all access each other’s calendars and email accounts, and transfer phone calls to colleagues working from home from the VOIP office phones smoothly.
Maximising flexibility in the future
Facilitating a team of flexible working staff has taken some ground work but it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. It made me question how efficient our systems were and challenged me to find better ways of working, and investigate new technologies. Our turnover is very low and having the software in place now means I have no restrictions in any future appointments. Being able to recruit from New Zealand without it causing any inconvenience to my team is really quite a unique position to be in. I have also been able to retain a fantastic student as she can now continue to work from campus and offer opportunities to staff returning after career breaks.
If my staff need to reorganise their hours to watch an assembly or cover their child’s sickness, it’s never an issue as I know they can work from home to catch up. Our systems were really tested last year when I relocated to the South of France to run Pillow May whilst recovering from cancer, this wouldn’t have been possible without using Xero.
For me, the key to managing a flexible workforce is to keep everything accessible and transparent, my staff have clear objectives, and they feel empowered and motivated by them. As an employer I have the insight and creative input of nine intelligent individuals without paying nine full-time salaries, which a business Pillow May’s size could never support. For me, recruiting flexible workers has been a win, win; I have a fantastic team and in the process of facilitating this, I have set up the most efficient possible systems and software for my practice.