One of the benefits of becoming a virtual FD is the opportunity to support local businesses in achieving their goals. I have recently spoken to owners of several local businesses to understand their views on both their individual industries and also how finance and accounting impacts them.
This blog has been created following an interview with Steph Lucas, founder of APARO. APARO is a consultancy business that specialises in work management strategies. They improve efficiency by developing strategies and systems that aligns the work of their client’s employees. APARO specialise in distributed and agile working practices, which is of course very apt at the moment with so many businesses working from home or requiring new ways of working following Coronavirus!
Steph’s background of working closely with CEO’s and high performing entrepreneurs enabled her to identify that a common pain point for most was how their workforces were not aligned, meaning they weren’t working together to enable the overall strategy and vision of the businesses. Steph realised there was an opportunity to promote work management as the answer to this.
APARO has a human first approach, with people put at the forefront of any strategy, as research shows that people are pivotal to the success of change management and implementing change management. The more involved and aware staff are in change, the greater the likelihood of successful implementations.
Location isn’t a barrier for working with APARO. Although they are lucky enough to be located on the sunny south coast, they work with companies across the world!
Steph answered the following questions about the work management and accounting sector during our interview:
What inspires you?
Technology, as that’s what businesses are built on in a changing and adapting world. I can’t wait to see where technology moves in the next decade. My team also inspire me, with their approach to listening and learning and being really invested in APARO. Their passion has been fundamental to driving APARO’s growth and success.
What is your favourite memory since starting up APARO?
When APARO initially formed its focus was providing a business management service. In May 2019 we decided to pivot to our consultancy service. It was scary initially as we felt like a start up again, but the move gave us the opportunity to grow as a B2B (business to business) service, instead of providing a service predominantly to private individuals, because I could really see the future in remote working. This also gave us a larger pool to generate clients from, giving us a better chance of success. The results over the last year have shown that it was the right move to make.
How has Coronavirus impacted the business?
From a working perspective it hasn’t, as we were already set up for remote working. We literally shifted home working only with the team, and were able to carry on as normal. We have now got our office open, but it’s a hub and most of the team still mainly work from home.
What has happened though is it has rapidly changed the demand for what we do, as people try and find their way in this new way of working. Where Coronavirus has forced a change to remote working, I have been pleasantly surprised at how people have embraced this change. I thought there would potentially be more resistance, but workforces have been extremely receptive to improving the way they work.
Research has shown that flexibility is more important then remuneration for employees, and current events are backing this up.
What do you think will change in your industry over the next 5 years?
It’s hard to say as recent studies have shown that the current pandemic has accelerated remote working 5 years ahead of where it was originally thought we would be in 2020. This is really exciting for us in the work management arena, but it makes it harder to predict the future.
What do you know now that you wish you had when you started your business?
Firstly, that should make cash your priority, as it’s fundamental to the success of your business. Then it’s developing an acceptance and understanding that you can’t control everything that impacts your business. Owning your own business is a roller-coaster of highs and lows; you just have to do your best and then let go and enjoy the ride!
How do you measure business performance?
Our main financial metrics are revenue and profit however, we also monitor sales metrics (for example conversion rates) to understand our sales funnel and ROI (return on investment) on marketing and sales activities.
We review each project on an individual basis and report on these. We have project debrief sessions where we look at the learning (there is always learning!) and see what worked well and if there are any efficiencies to be made that we can take onto the next project.
What do you find most challenging from a finance perspective?
Pricing and cash flow management, due to being a project-based business which impacts the timing of expenditure and receipts.
Are there any products/services you use that you would recommend to others?
We love technology and have multiple systems that we use, such as:
Xero – for our accounts, expenses and payroll
GoCardless – for direct debit collections
Calendly – for arranging meetings
Asana – this is our core project management system
Harvest – this is a time tracking software
Slack – for communication with our clients
Dropbox – to share documents securely
We also use Float for cash forecasting and scenario planning. I look at this daily and it really helps me keep focused.
How has your accountant helped you understand the financial side of your business?
I have monthly financial planning meetings with my accountant where we look through my plans and multiple scenarios. They support me when making some of the more key financial decisions, such as how much growth is required to support expanding my team, or working out how my plans could be achieved by making adjustments. It’s great to have someone to talk to as a business partner, who supports me to understand if decisions pan out as expected.
What finance changes would you like to see in future?
IR35 is potentially a big issue for our business in the future, where we will have to take staff on as employees instead of them being contractors, which increases the pressure on the business. Ideally, I would prefer the government changes the way it taxes the self-employed rather than implement this solution.
What is your view of the accountancy sector?
They are pivotal to the success of any business, but it is important for me that my accountant is not just looking at the technical / transactional elements of the business, but is privy to the full business vision so that they can really add value.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I have a young family, so I tend to spend time with my daughter. It’s her 4th birthday soon and she wants to go camping, and I have been told I need to leave my work phone at home! We are currently renovating our home which takes up a bit of time! I also LOVE wine, and am obsessed with learning about it – not just drinking it!
One of my passions is fitness, so I currently use the FIIT app to put on-demand workouts on our TV. You are able to monitor your heart rate, and there are also class leaderboards, which makes it a bit more competitive!
I would like to thank Steph for her time being interviewed, and if you or anyone you know requires any work management advice, you can contact:
020 3488 2774