Highlights of my conversation with Sonia Cuff
- Challenges and successes of Computer Troubleshooters
- Shifting her business to a 100% Xero practice
- How she successfully builds her brand and expertise whilst working from home
Subscribe to Episode 27 of Cloud Stories on iTunes
Heather: Sonia, who would you like to have coffee with and why?
Sonia: Gosh you start with the tough questions. Oh my gosh! I don’t know. To the immediate mind pops all of the standard rock stars of the business world – Richard Branson and the like. I’m a bit more down to earth than that. I very rarely get star struck and I was at a conference this weekend, just saying hello to everyday ordinary people. So I think it’s more along the lines of just finding someone that I hadn’t met before. Maybe, it’s just in the small business owners’ space and just literally sitting down and having a chat with good old regular people.
Heather: Excellent! Awesome answer. So, Sonia, you run Computer Troubleshooters in Aspley.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Sonia: That’s one of my hats. There is never a dull moment in the household with this business that I’ve been running for 11 years. My husband and I run it from our home. So, the morning starts with the regular routine of getting children out the door and off to school. Then, by 9AM, I’m sitting at my desk with a very good cup of coffee which is essential in the IT industry to have all that caffeine. My day is so varied. I do some social media management for my clients. I’m the bookkeeper and the janitor. When you’re a small business, you tend to do everything. And I also have the joy of writing in an online space, chatting with the peers in my industry and connecting with my clients in solving their problems.
So, when did your own business move to Xero?
Sonia: We’ve only just completed our first financial year with Xero after much wailing and gnashing of teeth about making the decision to move over. We have actually previously used, we started off using MYOB when our business got established, and we transferred to QuickBooks because one of the other tools that we were using in the cloud had QuickBooks integration natively, so we made the move to that product. When Xero came along I was very quick to see some of the benefits of it, as a cloud-based system and going down with cloud-computing with our other systems as well was a natural fit. So, we’ve done the shift 12 months ago and we actually paid for a third-party integration tool between our invoicing system that we use and our Xero system for our bookkeeping.
Heather: So, what were the benefits you saw of moving to Xero?
Sonia: The biggest one has just been the time-saving. I can’t believe how long it used to take me to do just the data entry. Now, it’s just the bank feeds and reconciliations with Xero have been cut down significantly, so that’s got to be the thing that has really sold it for me.
Heather: And, were people telling you that before you moved to Xero, and did you believe them?
Sonia: I think I did to some extent because I knew how big an effort it was to enter data and other products. I think, to some extent, we did that. It’s like making any change with the technology and the system. Sometimes the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same. So, you just really sometimes need to suck it up and go, okay, there is going to be effort involved in switching to a different system, and we are going to have to spend some time to get used to it but the benefits of doing that are going to be worth it.
Heather: Excellent! That’s really interesting to hear. And you’ve told us that you use a job ticketing system as an add-on solution around Xero.
Are there any other add-on solutions you have plugged in to Xero?
Sonia: No, there’s not any other add-ons that we use into Xero. I don’t have to have a shout-out that I’m a big fan girl of Receipt Bank even though we don’t use it ourselves, I think they have an amazing solution in the industry. But what I started finding only recently is that the integration between Xero and some of the other software platforms that we already use like Office365.
Heather: Okay, I’ll ask you about that later. I’ll just touch on this question and then I’ll go to that.
PwC, PricewaterhouseCoopers, in partnership with Google, released a report titled Small Business: Digital Growth, which claims Australian small business could unlock an additional $49.2 billion in output over the next 10 years by better utilising already available technologies. What technologies should small business be unlocking, Sonia?
Sonia: I think there are two parts. The first part is they should be unlocking one of the systems they already have. Then, the number of businesses that go into where the technology, they’re only using a tiny part of what it’s actually capable of. If you install Microsoft Office back in 1997 and got used to a certain way of working with emails and Excel spreadsheets, a few system upgrading to the new versions that are out, but you are still running your business the same way doing those same processes, you’re missing out on the whole point of upgrading. So, I think small businesses need to have a look, first of all, what have I already got? What are the new features and functions in there, can I be working smarter with the investment I’ve already made? It’s a big thing that each of these don’t do.
The next thing is I think small businesses need to start reinventing themselves a little. Businesses that are starting up now, and we all know there is a huge thriving start-up scene to help businesses get off the ground and start-ups now, there’s a term that we use in the industry called “born in the cloud”. Born in the cloud businesses are these ones that have jumped into some amazing tools that are available across the board of technology and cloud-computing. They don’t have any difference. And it’s a real challenge for small businesses that have existed for some time that are used to the old ways of doing things. They’re used to having to go down to Officeworks, buying a box with a CD in it and a product key and installing stuff and upgrading stuff and that doesn’t with cloud-computing anymore. So, I think existing businesses need to look at themselves as a start-up again. They need to reinvent themselves and see what is out there and what is possible.
Heather: And, how do you think the busy small businesses learn the features and the functionalities of the solutions that perhaps they actually have in place? What do they do to move forward to learn those things?
Sonia: It’s that whole adage of how do you eat an elephant and that’s one bite at a time. I think one of the main reasons that small businesses don’t innovate is because it seems like such a big, scary time thing that they need to devote to, and I think they really need to look at their business and go okay, out of all of the things we do in our business, what is the one area that I can focus on today, this week or this month that is going to make the biggest difference and have the biggest impact to the productivity of my staff and the profitability of my business? So just start with one thing and go, this is what we do, how can we do it better?
There is a flood of information on the internet with free courses on how to use the stuff we already have. I obviously recommend also that you have a great relationship with somebody in technology that you can go to them with those problems and together you can work out the best processes for moving the business forward.
Heather: Yes, absolutely! Just inviting an advisor or a technology specialist such as yourself actually gives a business an opportunity to go through their workflow processes. I know, I’ve actually gone into businesses and seeing that they go one, two, three, four, five, six and seven. I just look at it and go, why are you doing three, four and five? Why don’t you just do one to six and seven? They’re like, yes. They’re not just seeing that. So definitely coming in and looking at workflow processes can be very useful.
So, Sonia, do you think accountants, bookkeepers and Xero advisors should offer advice to their small business clients about IT knowledge?
Sonia: It’s really interesting because when I asked my unity of bookkeepers and accountants, they go, yes, absolutely, we should be doing this! When I ask people in the IT industry, they go, absolutely no way they should be doing that at all! So, there is another term that I’ve heard in my industry where we call people “accloudants”. The “accloudants” are the new breed of accountants that are all about cloud-computing. And I think that there is room for accountants and bookkeepers to lead a business to cloud computing by example showing the benefits that it can make in that particular part of their business, but I think that it’s dangerous to make technology decisions based on silos and the absolute best partnership is if you have an accountant and an IT specialist that are singing from the same book. You need those two people working together and talking to each other about what the best systems are that get the results that you want to get in your business and they have to be on the same page. It’s not going to work if you have an IT guy who is very anti-cloud and is used to traditional software and wants to stay there and you have a forward-thinking accountant or bookkeeper. Obviously, it’s not going to work if you’ve got an IT person who is very keen on moving the business to cloud-computing but you have a bookkeeper who is still very passionate about installed versions of software and doesn’t see the benefit of cloud-computing industry. Yes, it’s rare, but you’ve got to find both of those advisors that are on the same page for your business.
Maybe, going on from that, and maybe you’ve already answered it, what should an accountant, bookkeeper or Xero advisor look for when partnering with an IT specialist?
Sonia: You need to look for an IT specialist who is all about the business and business benefits. Unfortunately, too many IT people come from a history of fixing computer problems and fixing your IT problems when things break. So you do need to find someone that is a little bit more forward-thinking than that and can actually talk about solutions and opportunities in the business that are going to help the business on an ongoing business and not just a problem fixer.
The other thing is you’re going to want somebody who is up to speed with what’s happening in Cloud and the IT industry. I’ll touch on another topic which is about Microsoft versus Google debate. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the best solutions for that client for them. If you have an IT person that can work with you whether they’re passionate about Google or they’re passionate about Microsoft software, it’s not going to make that big a difference as long as you’re both working together.
Heather: Perhaps we can step that back a bit.
If possible, could you explain Google Apps? Because I believe that’s what you’re talking about; you’re talking about Google and Microsoft Office 365. Is that what you mean when you say Google versus Microsoft?
Sonia: Yes, pretty much.
Heather: If you could explain Google Apps to people and then Microsoft Office 365, so people can have a really good understanding of that. That would be most appreciated, Sonia.
Sonia: So Google, as a company, started off with some consumer offerings where you could open up a Gmail account, get your free email address and they started connecting their Google accounts, so you could now sign and save your searches and do a few things like that. Google Apps, the business, was their foray into providing a business grade service where you could put your own domain name on your email address, you can have extra storage in Google Drive and extra things like Pages and Sheets which are Google’s equivalent of Word and Excel, for example.
Yes, that is certainly a viable option. This is the step 1 in looking at the solutions for cloud-computing where they have that word processing, spreadsheeting and emails and all of those kind of things under the one banner and integrated. Microsoft had a hard battle and still have a hard battle shrugging off their historical way of doing business. Because you mention Microsoft to people, they think of Windows. They think of buying office in a box and installing it from CDs. Microsoft has radically changed their business in the last couple of years and Office 365 is their cloud solution and Office 365 comes in a range of different flavours depending on what you need and how much you want to pay.
It also includes business grade email and calendaring. It includes online file storage with OneDrive for business. But the platform integrates a little further into the Microsoft Office platform in terms of getting your access to things like using the office applications with someone without having to have them installed. Being able to install their products on more than one device with the same license fee. Being able to collaborate in documents natively in the cloud with other people and its little things like being able to send somebody an email with an attachment. The attachment is already a native link into your cloud storage. So it’s not now a siloed individual copy of that information; it’s the same piece of information that you’re looking at in the cloud. So, it enables that collaboration on the same piece of information together. They have a pretty powerful platform which is part of the story as well, mostly to do with the integration with the products that most people are already familiar with.
Heather: So, do you have an opinion on which solution works better with Xero?
Sonia: Watch this space! And the reason I say that is because I think Microsoft has been late to the game. I know that Google has some lovely integration with practice managers, and I know that Microsoft is working on some things that are coming. Because Microsoft had launched their cloud solutions much later than Google’s, I do think that they are playing catch up a little bit. But there are some interesting things coming. That’s all I can say. Watch this space.
Heather: What solutions do you use yourself in your own business?
Sonia: We use Microsoft Office 365. We use that for collaboration both within our team here and our suppliers and our customers.
Heather: Excellent! So, I guess anyone who is on a computer recently will notice they’re getting all these little popup messages notifying them that they can update to Windows 10. What does an update to Windows 10 mean for the small business owners, Sonia?
Sonia: Windows 10 is the new way that Microsoft are looking at rolling out the application updates and updates to the operating system. It’s interesting that they’ve come out with an offer to say that it’s a free upgrade at the moment and it’s valid for the next 11 months. So, it’s really been the best operating system that Microsoft had put out with such a major change with the free upgrade. The benefits of doing that for small business is it’s going to enable them to always stay current.
In IT you’ve got things that are constantly being improved and constantly being updated and security vulnerabilities that are being found and being patched. You really want to stay as close to the new as you can. Now, I know that some businesses are concerned about being leading edge and installing on day 1, but there’s a bit of a story behind Windows 10. Windows 10 was subjected to the biggest beta testing programme in the history of Microsoft. It has something like five million beta testers testing it for a significant amount of time, and these beta testers weren’t Microsoft employees. They were IT people, small businesses people and people in the real world that said yeah, we’ll have a bit of a play with it first. So, it has undergone a significant amount of pre-testing before it was released to the world. I really think that small businesses don’t necessarily need to jump onto it today if they have other priorities in place or they don’t have a plan in place with their technology. Certainly, over the next 12 months while it’s still a free upgrade. It’s certainly something worth looking at.
As far as personal experience with the software, I have a laptop that is over five years old and it flies, and it flies because of two things. One, I put Windows 10 on it and the performance that I’m getting out of my old hardware with this new software is just incredible. The other reason that applies is I have put something into my computer called a solid-state hard drive. Now, a solid-state hard drive works like a USB disk or a compact flash drive. It’s not the old mechanical hard disk with hidden factors and moving parts. The performance increase that I’ve got from a solid-state drive, my computer which I said is over five years old, it starts up in about 30 seconds. From hitting the power button to logging in.
Heather: Is that something our listeners can get from you? Or, do they go down to a store and buy a solid-state hard drive?
Sonia: I really encourage them to talk to their local IT people. If you’re running a small business, you need a relationship with somebody in the IT business. What they should be able to do for you is find a solid-state drive that is going to be compatible with your computer. Take a backup with all of the software that you’ve got on your PC at the moment, put the new hard drive in and you can get everything up and running exactly the way that it is today just on this new piece of hardware.
Heather: Excellent! That’s very exciting. So, with the Windows 10 coming out, I’ve seen two comments in the media, one of them being Windows 10 has stopped all of the pirated software being able to be used, which probably is to be expected. But the second one is that the ATO portal doesn’t work on Windows 10, which for overseas listeners, that means how you submit your Australian taxes. You do it through a portal to the Australian Taxation Office. Supposedly, it’s not working with Windows 10 at the moment.
Sonia: I think the problem with the ATO portal and Windows 10 is the Microsoft Edge browser. So the Microsoft Edge browser has been put into Windows 10 for the first time as a replacement for Internet Explorer. One of the core things you can do in Edge that you can’t do in any other browser is actually draw on that, mark it up and scribble on a webpage and send that to somebody else. They can see your feedback. What they’ve done with Windows 10 is they made that new browser the default. There is a little “E” that kind of looks like an explorer, but that’s the new Edge logo. When you click on that or when you click on any web, for example a Microsoft Edge is going to be the browser of choice, and that’s not compatible with ATO website.
The trick is, with Windows 10, you can still set your computer to use any browser you like, and it will be the default browser that gets used as your preference. Internet Explorer 11 is still part of the Windows 10 selection. What you need to do is, when you get Windows 10 on your computer, you go down to the search bar that sits at the bottom of your screen on the taskbar and you type in ‘set default browser’ and that will bring up a link to the settings where you can go and set your computer. I always want IE 11 or Google Chrome or Firefox or whatever browser you still like to be the default one on the machine. And I understand that AusKey is compatible with IE 11 on Windows 10.
Heather: Excellent! Thank you for that. That will save a few business owners. I think sometimes, when the small business owners say I can’t move forward or even me I was worried about that, that gives them that solution to actually go forward and open the barriers.
Sonia: To be honest, that search bar is my biggest tip for Windows 10. When you get on your computer, don’t worry about stress in trying to find out where are the settings, where can I go, how do I launch whatever. I do all of my launching and all of my programs and any settings I need by starting to type in search. I want to launch Word I just start typing Word into the search bar.
So, upgrading to Windows 10, how should the small business owner or the Xero advisor go about doing that?
Sonia: The download itself, people will have been getting a prompt on their computer that they can do the download and do the installation themselves. I have seen a lot of success where people do the installation and I’ve seen a few failures. It’s very like the upgrades that came out for the iPad. When the iPad came out and released IOS7/IOS8 you will get a percentage of the people who have said I’ve tried this upgrade and it’s failed, it hasn’t worked.
So, there are currently over 53 million computers that have been upgraded to Windows 10 since it was released, and we get to hear the horror stories of the ones that failed which fortunately hasn’t been 53 million. What I suggest you do in Windows 7 or Windows 8 that you will currently be running, there was an option to create a system restore disk. A system restore disk is your very best friend. You need to grab a blank USB key. It would probably need to be about 4GB in size or smaller, and Windows 7 or Windows 8 will let you create onto that USB key a system restore disk. If you do that first before you start your Windows 10 upgrade, if things turn to custard that system restore disk is going to get your Windows 7 or Windows 8 working back on your computer with all of the settings that you had before. That’s my very biggest tip.
Heather: Excellent! Thank you very much for that, Sonia.
Once they’ve upgraded to Windows 10, will they be lost? Are they still able to navigate the new operating system, or is it overwhelming or do you feel comfortable in it?
Sonia: I think they will be less lost than they were with Windows 8 because the start menu has been retained. In Windows 10, when you click on the little window logo at the bottom, you get a list of your most commonly used programmes. You get a link to get into File Explorer to see your files and you get a link for all apps which ends up in an alphabetical listing of all software that you’ve got installed on your computer. So, from the usability perspective, I think it’s less of a change than Windows 8 was. If you’re used to using the start menu, then you will be good. As I said, that search bar is my biggest tip for finding and using things.
Heather: Excellent! Thank you very much, Sonia.
So, Sonia, what do you look forward to doing most in your day or your week or your life?
Sonia: That’s an interesting question. I just like helping people, whether it’s answering a question on Twitter or it’s a problem for a client or writing a new blog post. I just like being able to share the knowledge that I’ve got with people who are having a hard time with something I may know the answer to. And that kind of extends out of my business life as well so I’m also a volunteer with Queensland State Emergency Services. So I go along every Tuesday night in my orange overall and I’m one of the qualified trainers. I train people how to search for missing people, I teach them how to put tarps on roofs and I’m a first aid trainer. I just want to get involved.
Heather: Yes, absolutely! Thank you so much for your contribution to helping people through the volunteer service. That’s amazing. I think it really gives you some perspective. It really gives you some balance to your work when you do something like that in volunteering in some capacity.
Sonia: It’s the best stress relief away from the computer, I can tell you.
Heather: It does make what you’re dealing with and the overstress of what you’re dealing with sort of come to reality when you sort of deal with someone’s houses burnt down or the various things that you have to deal with. It sort of puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?
Heather: So, what does the future hold for Computer Troubleshooters?
Sonia: The future for Computer Troubleshooters. Well, our Computer Troubleshooters business is actually part of a franchise. So, a franchise was started in Coffs Harbour about 15 years ago, and it’s now actually an international franchise headquartered in the States with about 500 franchisees across 23 countries. So, I like to tell people we’re the largest franchise you’ve never heard of because we exist as a support system for people that want to own their own IT business. We have a common brand, great connections across our global networks for help and support. Our franchisees have the flexibility to deliver the services that they’re comfortable with in their own local market and do the marketing and promotion that fits with where they’re at as a business. Just keep an eye out now and see whether or not you see anybody’s car or anybody’s advertising on Google popup. And they’re actually part of our global franchise group.
As far as the future for our particular franchise business, Tony and I are looking to get some of the regular tasks that we do catered for by some other staff members. We are actually looking to see how we can set up a business structure to support other people who would like to do IT services, but are a bit scared about taking the plunge into their own business but still want to have the flexibility of working from their own home. So, we have some exciting plans for the structure, how to deliver service and how to give people some employment opportunities in the IT stuff.
So, if people are interested, should they just get in contact with you?
Sonia: Yes, absolutely. I actually got my details at the end.
Are you able to do that on the global basis or will it just be a local basis?
Sonia: It really depends. I think Australia was such a great petri dish to be able to spend something on a model like that and try and see if it works. Maybe, we will start local and will think global.
Heather: Excellent! I should ask you just one question before I go.
Whereabouts is your client base based? Are you servicing global or are you servicing local?
Sonia: The majority of our business customers are in Greater Brisbane and Sunshine Coast region in Australia. However, a lot of our customers also have offices around Australia or offices in New Zealand as well.
Heather: Excellent! Thank you. So, I think it’s really important. When I talked to people in the Xero community to identify people to partner with, I think it’s really important for Xero advisors, as we’ve discussed here today, to look to IT specialists who are on the same page as you as Sonia described to partner with. Some of you who are working as Xero advisors, may well get in contact with Sonia as someone you need to partner with to take your Xero journey further. Thank you so much, Sonia, for talking with us and sharing your information. I’m sure you’ve helped a huge number of people to really move forward both in their business and understanding the technology in their business.
Sonia: You’re welcome. My pleasure! Thank you.