I’d never bought into “Kiwi no.8 fence wire” hype. I may be a cynical old bugger, but the whole thing reeks of misguided patriotism, and a worrysome she’ll be right” mentality.
So when my editor asked me to review Xero, I groaned and quoted that old joke,
“What do accountants use for contraception? - Their personalities!”. Sorry accountants!!!
After testing Xero out, I've come to realise that there’s always an exception to the rule, and Xero definitely fits the bill (or should I say invoice). After spending time with Xero I can see just what bean counters are getting so worked up about.
In the cloud
Created in 2006 by a bunch of particularly clever kiwis, Xero has become a symbol of success for New Zealand’s tech sector. Since then it has launched into the US, UK and is growing like topsy.
Xero has also sparked a mini tech renaissance that has seen a growing number of small tech start-ups flourishing in Wellington.
So what is the big deal with Xero? What makes it so much better than the others?
To answer the first question, Xero is a cloud based accounting system aimed at small businesses.
My wife (who recently started her own small business) uses it, and swears by it (not at it). Having seen her using it, it isn’t hard to see just what makes Xero so popular with small business owners.
Dare I say it, Xero makes double entry accounting (which isn’t exactly intuitive) seem almost logical. Much of this is due to a well thought interface design and solid online help system that gets non bean-counters (like me) making sense of basic book keeping tasks.
Aside from being so idiot proof to that even non accounting types can get to grips with it, Xero is also pretty capable. Detailed monthly Reports break out company numbers in an understandable yet useful way. Reports are also exportable as Google Docs (or Excel). And it links up with your bank. There’s also a smartphone Xero app available too.
Xero wins is ideal for small business owners wanting to focus on their business and not get bogged down in accounting administrivia.
Much of the complexity is gone in Xero, even though it sports the functionality you’d expect from a dedicated accounting package.
Xero includes Accounts Receivable/Payable, Payroll. There were also some Inventory Management capabilities although time constraints meant I didn’t get much of a chance to check it out.
Firing up a new accounting package for your business can be a terrifying experience. Xero has your back by providing a series of excellent walk-through guides covering major features and getting set up.
In use Xero is pretty intuitive. A clean and uncluttered interface follows makes for intuitive navigation. Accountants used to full accounting packages may find Xero a little minimal, but this simplicity is also likely to be a relief for new business owners.
Bells and Whistles
This isn't to say that Xero lacks functionality. There's plenty there. Xero’s main screen features 6 tabs across the top of the screen. These provide access to Xero’s functions to give you access to a Dashboard for at-a-glance view of businesses finances. A separate tab gives access to Reports. Here you can get detailed breakouts of your businesses performance, Cash levels, and other stuff such as Payroll.
the Accounts tab can be link up to your bank for bank account statements as well accounts receivable and payable, your business expenses, fixed assets, businesses check-book and payroll. Access to your bank is a killer feature. It means you can reconcile banking transactions against company accounts, and this should in theory allow business owners to stay on top of cashflow, avoiding accounting nasties such as going into overdraft.
Throwing money at stationary, laser toner and postage for invoicing is so 1990’s. Xero users can generate emailed invoices which gives customers a link to invoices, which can they can pay online. I was also surprised at how easy this was to do. Using Xero I raised an invoice, Once it Xero approved it, I was then able to click a large Send button. Xero crafted an email with an embedded link to an invoice whose layout I was able to customise.
Another function that impressed was the ability to upload files and link them to documents generated by Xero. I was able to upload most file types which could prove useful for keeping track of supplier invoices or even ratty taxi receipt which users can capture using the Xero Touch mobile app, or a PC webcam.
Another layer of reports is available from the Advisor tab. Here your businesses accountant can get a birds eye-view of your businesses performance via detailed Management Reports, Tax Reports and a bunch of other reports. You can also store customer and supplier details under the Contacts tab.
Last (but by no means least), there’s also a Settings tab.
This may sound like a lot to wade through, but compared to accounting packages, Xero is minimalistic.
This makes for a refreshing change. Xero’s task centric focus also means it won't get in the way, freeing you up to get on with important tasks like building your small business into a global mega comglomgerate. Maybe there is something to this no.8 fencing wire stuff after all.