Recently, Liston (on our support team) shared a great result with us. Mark Francis, from Francis Bookkeeping Solutions Ltd, had casually mentioned that he’d doubled his client base by using AccountancyManager. Hold the phone. We said: We feel a case study coming on.

AM’s CEO James Byrne caught up with Mark and discussed, among other things, opinionated mothers, IRIS OpenSpace and what Mark’s problem is with farmers…

From a newspaper ad to striking out on his own

Travel back with us to Barnard Castle, circa 2003. A picturesque market town, 30 minutes from Durham – now with an infamous Specsavers (circa 2020). There, 18-year-old Mark Francis is in disagreement with his mum. He fancies a year out, then a degree in Print Journalism. She would rather he get a job, sharpish.

The first job Mark finds is for a local accountancy firm and just like that, he finds his calling. He completes his AAT and stays at the firm for the next 15 years. 

A creative mind – blessing or curse?

Speed forward to 2018 and Mark’s creative side has crept out. He’s the firm’s expert on software and responsible for all marketing – on top of his accountancy duties. But while the world had raced to adopt new technology, Mark faced reticence at his firm.

“Everywhere I turned, I was facing opposition. ‘Why are you trying to change things?’ No one likes change.” 

“I had a lot of ideas on how to move things forward. It was a very traditional practice, very much on paper, manual processes. I just didn’t like it. I love the idea of bank feeds, photographing receipts and getting everything into the cloud.”

Welcome to Francis Bookkeeping Solutions Ltd – where cloud is king

Remember GDPR year? For Mark, 2018 prompted an even greater change. Unable to implement his ideas and now facing GDPR in an inflexible environment, he took the leap to go it alone.

Francis Bookkeeping Solutions Ltd is a company owned by Mark Francis

Finding freedom on the cloud

Working alone and for himself, Mark revels in the freedom to work where and when he likes – with no one to answer to. 

“I like to do as much as possible in the cloud and with technology like AccountancyManager, Receipt Bank and QuickBooks, if I don’t feel like going into work. I don’t need to.”

This extends to Mark’s clients. He’s not afraid to turn people away that aren’t willing to embrace cloud technology. “I prioritise startups so I can teach them good habits. Getting people on the cloud can be quite difficult if they’re stuck in their ways.”

So what’s the deal with farmers?

Apart from complete technophobes, Mark is happy to work with any kind of client, though he finds farmers’ accounts a little frustrating…

“How can you lose sheep? I mean, they’re out there… Same with cows, they have hundreds, but there’s like 60 or 70 missing. Where did they go?!”

Mark sees the (big green) light 

Mark’s top priority in setting up his practice was to make his admin processes as efficient as possible. He was leaning towards hiring a receptionist when his annual ‘holiday’ to Accountex came around. 

Initially attracted by our logo, Mark popped over to our stand. “I had one of your colleagues do a demonstration and everything just ticked all the boxes…”

AccountancyManager's stall at Accountex 2019

“…That it had the online anti-money laundering checks… that I was able to put all the information in there, then send it to the client for them to update.”

“Same as when you add your services – it’s just click, click, click. Just saves me so much time. Always good to know that the HMRC integration is there as well for doing the 64-8s.” (We didn’t want to interrupt him.) “Then you’ve got the audit trail in there of how everything’s happened, which I really like. So you know what you’ve sent and when.”

“AM’s just a great bit of kit that saves you loads of time. And it’s not an expensive piece of kit either.”

Not one to have the wool pulled over his eyes, Mark adds “I was impressed [with the demo], but you can look at one thing, then put your own into practice, and it doesn’t quite work. This didn’t happen. It worked exactly how I was hoping it would and impressed me with extra bits I wasn’t expecting.”

Onboarding: tick. Emailing: tick. Receptionists need not apply 

The process of onboarding new clients was another bugbear of Mark’s. “I don’t like writing a load of legal stuff. The stuff from my institute is just reams and reams of paper and I just haven’t got time to edit it all.” 

“Using AccountancyManager for letters of engagement is an absolute godsend. Especially when I had to redo them all for GDPR!” 

“It saves me loads of time when it comes to year end too, like with bulk emails. Especially lately, those have been really wonderful – for communicating all the government grants and HMRC changes such as SEISS and JRS. You just click a button ‘All clients’ and off it goes. Like I say, an absolute godsend for the time saved.” 

“The time I’ve saved means I haven’t had to hire a receptionist. We’re talking hours and hours a week.”

AccountancyManager’s Client Portal: 1

IRIS OpenSpace: 0

“I used to use IRIS OpenSpace for approving documents, but they were going to start charging, which I wasn’t too happy about and I’d noticed clients were struggling.”

Sick of having clients ringing him saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do that” and “It should be self-explanatory.” Mark recently switched over to AccountancyManager’s portal instead.

“With AccountancyManager, people manage to authorise things, approve things so much easier. They can just click, click, click, done”. 

Mark’s absolute favourite thing – tasks and notifications

“I love the task list. I constantly add extra tasks. I used to always have bits of paper all over my desk. Now, instead of writing a Post-it note, I just put it on AccountancyManager.”

AccountancyManager is designed to manage your whole day, like a mission control – and that’s exactly how Mark uses it: “First thing I do is go into my account, check for any notifications that need dealing with – if anyone’s approved any documents overnight or whatever. Then I’ve done all my little admin. Then notifications pop up throughout the day with anything else that happens.” 

“The automated tasks are invaluable. You look at your task list: “Right. What do I have to do this month or this week?” And it’s all there.”

Unexpected delights 

Seeing how uncluttered AccountancyManager is, Mark expected that it wouldn’t be as detailed as systems he’d used before. “I used IRIS practice management at the previous firm – but there were too many lists, too much in it – just too busy. AccountancyManager has the ability to be as busy as you want it. But at the same time, it can be as streamlined as you want it as well.”

“Others can be quite strict in how you can change things. But you can change [AM] to how you want it.”

Let’s hear it for Team Quickbooks

Finally, we always ask our interviewees what they’d change about AccountancyManager. We were pleased to find that the only thing Mark wants isn’t just on the roadmap, it’s almost ready to launch.

“The integration between QuickBooks and AccountancyManager is the only thing I need for that last tick in the box.”

Ever the optimist, rather than be disappointed that our Xero integration came out first, Mark sees the silver lining:

“I like that the Xero integration came out first. Now, when QuickBooks comes, you’ll know what the problems are going to be!”

Turns out you should listen to your mum (sometimes)

Before we left Mark to take down his ‘do not disturb’ sign and re-enter lockdown life – with two dogs, two kids and his wife, a childminder – we asked whether he still dreams of a career in print journalism. “Sometimes I think if I had gone to uni my life would’ve been so different. But I don’t regret what I’ve done.”

“I love what I do. I really enjoy it… I have a passion for helping people get what they need out of life. And accountancy is how I do it at the moment.”

We’ll take that as a no.

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