"Software like Spotlight enables better collaboration with your customers and a clearer process within your team, which unlocks substantial value."
Ian Meaker (Founder and Director of Creative CFO in South Africa) is powered by Spotlight and tells us how it helps his business.
Hi Ian, great to be speaking with you today. To get us started, tell us about Creative CFO and what you do.
Our vision at Creative CFO is to create a world where more SMEs succeed. Everything we do is geared around creating a platform for SME success and we’ve built up a set of tools and services to enable that success. We offer services such as accounting, tax, investment support, and financial systems support. We use great cloud-based software like Spotlight Reporting as well as Xero, where we are a Platinum Partner.
We’ve never been a compliance focussed business – we’ve always positioned ourselves as a financial consultancy that is here to help identify problems and provide best practice solutions. Naturally, delivering first-class accounting and tax services are a big part of the platform, but instead of aiming to be a compliance firm, we’re focused on helping businesses solve their financial management problems. We do this by implementing the best systems and processes to give business owners the financial clarity and peace of mind to drive their business forward.
When did you start using Spotlight Reporting and what was your experience? Before we started using Spotlight Reporting we actually tried using another platform 3 years ago. At that time we struggled to effectively launch a new approach to management reporting and learnt that it takes a lot of time and effort to adopt and use a new management reporting tool in a way that delivers more value than a standard internal accounting report.
Changing your internal process on a key customer document can be quite a big risk for any practice, and focusing on customer output and value is key. Xero is obviously the foundation, it has the profit and loss, balance sheet and underlying transactions, but the best shot you have at expanding your offering is when you understand the reporting tool really well and are able to leverage off the strategic analysis sections absent in a traditional financial report. Those analysis sections are about ensuring the integrity of the financial data, commenting on financial controls, and then providing guidance and strategic analysis to ensure that the business owner has financial clarity.
When we eventually signed up and started using Spotlight Reporting, we were ready to embrace this full process. A big part of the change was ensuring we had full technical competency with the software amongst all our team and having it as a core application in our business alongside Xero Accounting and our payroll application. Once we'd adopted the tool, production process, and standardised a Spotlight template across the financial management team, we identified the additional sections of the report that drive the financial clarity that businesses are looking for.
There are visual representations that Spotlight does and those are great (it’s a different way of looking at the numbers), but we also embraced the top sections in the report, which we enhanced to incorporate more financial risk metrics. There is the ‘Overview’, which is what people usually use, but we split it into two sections: 1) a ‘Strategic Summary’ and 2) an ‘Operational Risk Dashboard’. The former is a strategic overview of the month and key financial metrics, the latter is where we look for a number of operational risk metrics that the business owner can understand and identify with, before delving into the numbers; like are your bank accounts and reconciliations up to date? Is the tax authority happy with all of your recent tax submissions? Are there any other risks around fixed assets not currently recognised? We emphasise to our clients that these operational metrics are the ones to get right if we are going to get good numbers. Spotlight Reporting allows us to create a connection with those numbers, that wasn’t necessarily there before.
For example, at a board meeting, it’s not just about staring at a P&L or a Balance Sheet – it’s about looking at decisions that were taken, measuring against those decisions and understanding if you have achieved your operational and financial goals, such as hiring a certain number of new salespeople as well as meeting certain sales margins. We’re using Spotlight Reporting for that, especially in those upfront pages to encourage a strategic conversation. These are not fields that you have in Xero, and Spotlight was the place we could collate that metadata to create a bit more colour around the financials. We had to really embrace the management report as the most important document in the customer journey and bringing the metrics to offer something more than JUST an accounting report.
Tell us which Spotlight Reporting features you enjoy using the most and the ones that make your job easier.
In the additional analysis pages at the top of the report, we really like the progress bars, showing the business’s journey towards 100% accuracy and completeness for the operational and risk metrics.
The other thing that makes it easy is having a range of comparative numbers on a time basis, so this month vs. last month, etc. Xero can do a lot of that and is getting better with their new reports, but in general, the way Spotlight lays it out, and the flexibility you have to show different time periods, creates a good final product.
Having visual interfaces in the reports helps to draw people into the conversation. Our customers love the data visualisation because it is clear to understand and enhances the connection for the business owner. It’s a lot harder to get them to understand aspects like liquidity, insolvency and cash on hand, so the visualisations and information graphics around these aspects help.
How do you rate the customer support you’ve received from Spotlight Reporting? It’s been good. We’re on a journey with you guys and we’re very happy now. At the beginning, it was a little tough and I got some feedback from the guys that they weren’t getting the technical answers on the software as quickly as they would’ve liked. There is a learning curve in the first 2 or 3 months that requires support, and after that, it drops off. We had to push, but Debbie was very supportive in that process. She acted as the bridge and we’re up and running now.
From a technical support perspective, it would be helpful to assign a tech person to new partners and be there to handhold through the initial steps. Resolving technical queries is a little bit of a skill in itself. It requires a specific language from the user. I used to work in IT support during my school years, prior to studying accounting, and am familiar with how to drive a support ticket conversation to get the right answer, but ideally there would be a person that you can work with closely over the first few months to avoid confusion and being passed around.
What would you say to anyone considering any other reporting tool? It’s really about collaboration and creating a beautiful product. The tool should allow you to communicate with your customer better and understand and analyse the business better. Look at Spotlight and think about how it will enable you to engage with your customers on their growth journey, to give them more insight and ultimately allow you to present the data in a better way. You have to see it as an opportunity to connect with your customer and it is a great tool to do that.
So does Spotlight Reporting allow you to connect with your customers and have those important customer conversations? It’s a really powerful tool to connect with our customers. There are certain things I can’t do in a Xero report. When we embraced the flexibility of the pre-financial pages, that took us to the next level.
Is Spotlight Reporting value for money? Yes. Software like Spotlight enables better collaboration with your customers and a clearer process within your team, which unlocks substantial value.