From XU Magazine, 
Issue 20

Getting back to their roots: WorkflowMax helps Sticks & Stones do what they love most

Are you finding that the day-to-day admin of your business is distracting you from the actual work you love? As co-owners of Sticks & Stones Landscape Design, Julia Levitt and Fiona Ericsson found themselves in this exact same predicament.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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Running an award-winning landscape studio in Sydney with a team of just four, Sticks & Stones’ star rose fast, but their trajectory was not without a few learning curves. With demand for their services escalating quickly from the start, they soon realised they’d need better systems to avoid burnout and cope with their workload.

As is the experience for many new business owners, no point in time was more difficult than when Sticks & Stones were first finding their feet.

“We had to decide how we were going to use the funds we'd put aside to start up the business,” says Fiona. “Spending on accounting software definitely wasn’t on the list then, so I used to put everything into a spreadsheet.”

The team soon realised that they needed something more sophisticated in terms of features but simple and easy enough to use day-to-day. Enter Xero. Intuitive, transparent and cloud-based meant the search was over, and better yet, they could work easily from anywhere. “It’s been amazing for our business,” says Fiona.

Taking off with Xero

Now with Xero under their belts, the accounting side of things was humming. And so was business overall. It didn’t take long for the Sticks & Stones brand to become synonymous with premium outdoor lifestyle design, especially after a few spreads in House Magazine and some excellent referrals from award-winning architects. Unsurprisingly, business boomed and so did their needs.

“Our business advisor suggested that we focus on the things we're good at and invest in a bookkeeper to manage the day to day accounts,” says Fiona.

Wanting to only surround themselves with the best, Julia and Fiona discovered Sophie Andrews from Carbon Group through Xero’s advisor directory.

“As our bookkeeper, Sophie oversees our day to day accounts. She pays the wages, checks our invoicing, receipts and everything in between. Sophie plays a crucial role in our business. She makes sure everything is above board and leaves no stone unturned,” says Julia.

“We don’t even worry anymore. Knowing everything is under control gives us peace of mind AND some valuable time back, to do what we do best.”

Things were certainly starting to look up in the world of Sticks & Stones, with only a couple of pain points left to address. Next on the agenda was tackling project management and quoting, not necessarily an easy feat as Julia confesses.

“We have quite a complicated business structure and that’s reflected in the way that we quote and price, hence we needed an app that met all our needs, including Xero integration.”

So the team set to work searching for market-ready software solutions and signing up for trials when possible, but things weren’t going swimmingly. “We were well ingrained in Xero and it was working well, but in addition to quoting and pricing complexities, we didn’t really know where our money was going, what project it was going to or how much we’d made on each project,” says Fiona.

Struggling to find something suitable, things took a happy turn when Sophie suggested they meet with local cloud integrator Clinton Cowin from TradiePad.

MAXimising efficiency

TradiePad is a technology training company that specialises in helping small businesses in the construction industry learn how to transition their operations to the cloud. Clinton is also a WorkflowMax implementation partner and recommended the software after assessing the team’s needs.

“He sat down with us and spent the time to really understand our business,” says Julia. “Turns out WorkflowMax could be customised into exactly what we needed. We have a complicated setup and what we required was very particular, so Clinton created custom-made templates and it’s saved us so much time!”

Now they’ve done the setup and training phase it’s all about refining the system and using WorkflowMax to its full potential, through regular monthly catch up sessions to continue to learn from the status quo and drive efficiencies through the business.

“When I come out for our regular sessions with Sticks & Stones, the girls make the comment ‘whenever you come to see us we make more money!” - Clinton Cowin, TradiePad (Sydney, Australia)

Using an implementation expert can be a priceless step in the process. When you have someone on board who understands both WorkflowMax and Xero, as well as your own unique business needs, the result is that you truly harness the full power of both products working together.

The integration with Xero was a deciding factor for Sticks & Stones, and that’s exactly what WorkflowMax is good at. ‘It’s fantastic!” says Fiona. “Now when plotting things into WorkflowMax, all information flows seamlessly through to Xero, eliminating the need for double handling. Because it’s so easy to use, we can all speak the same language. Everybody’s onboard.”

“We use WorkflowMax for project management and scheduling, quoting and invoicing, as well as running reports,” says Fiona. “Time management is also a big one, we can now see how much time is being spent on each project and manage the status of the project as it moves through the design and construction stages.”

“Sometimes we have jobs that can run for up to two to three years,” says Julia. “So to be able to actually see how much money is being spent on the likes of design time versus consultancy management gives us a far better view of our project profitability.”

If you’ve been considering WorkflowMax for your own business, Julia and Fiona have a few words of advice.

“Just do it – itís been incredible for our business. We don’t have to worry about any frayed edges, everything’s in place. The system’s fantastic, and we can now spend time doing what we love, designing gardens!”

Why leave it there?

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