From XU Magazine, 
Issue 16

Q&A with Richard Francis, Founder & CEO, Spotlight Reporting

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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XU: I am joined by one of the early adopters and long-term supporters of XU Magazine; Spotlight Reporting’s own Founder and CEO, Richard Francis. Richard, it is great to be able to speak to you today about all things Spotlight Reporting. Could you start by giving us a brief overview of your story and what led you to found Spotlight Reporting?

RF: I had a long career as a business advisor and chartered accountant, first for a big firm then in the UK (we lived in London for 4 years), before founding my own business consultancy back in New Zealand.  All along, I focused on entrepreneurial clients and also my own side projects and initiatives.

The emphasis in our business was always on creating an impact beyond our modest scale, which led to very early involvement with Xero. As the first accounting partner, we’ve really worked closely with Xero from the very beginning of the Rod Drury/Hamish Edwards dream.  Xero made it easier for us to go ‘full cloud’ and more nimble as advisors - but crucially there was a ‘gap’ that I saw and that led to the founding of Spotlight Reporting.  With Xero rightly focused on beautiful accounting, my advisory background really demanded more - visualisation, forecasting, consolidation, action plans, advice and strategy - and so Spotlight Reporting was born.

XU: It’s amazing to hear your journey and how it has brought you to be the CEO and Founder of such an exciting company. Are you able to tell our readers more about Spotlight Reporting and how it can help impact their businesses?

RF: We work with thousands of accountants and CFO’s to empower and fuel their conversations with clients and stakeholders - and grow fees and customer satisfaction. Our reports, forecasts and dashboards are fast, effective and illuminating - a great foundation for sharing insight, asking questions and providing meaningful and proactive advice.  Just the sort of work proactive accountants crave but often struggle to deliver well or at scale.  We take the pain away and add multiple opportunities to kick open the door to advisory services, new revenue and better client outcomes.

It’s not just about the software for us. Because our team has some very experienced accountant-advisors on board - and a range of us have also come from software industry peer companies such as Xero, Receipt Bank, Deputy, etc. - we can truly work alongside our partners and understand the challenges. Our advice, resources and training/support consistently get ‘best in class’ ratings, because we do genuinely ‘get it’ rather than just sell and move on as others do.

XU: It’s clear that just being a compliance Accountant in 2018 isn’t enough. One of your tag lines is ‘Spotlight Reporting helps you, from service provider to trusted advisor’. How do you help deliver this?

RF: The software (empowering tools) is one pillar; our customer success and training teams (empowering support) are the second pillar; and the third pillar is via our Education, webinar, Transform! Advisory Playbook, accreditation and other contributions to the advisory movement (empowering advice).

XU: How important is it to educate Spotlight Reporting’s new and existing partners on being a trusted advisor and how are you doing this?

RF: We have boots on the ground for this - our excellent and experienced Customer Success Team - as well as 24/7 coverage by Training & Support. We do dozens of public and bespoke webinars and training sessions every month and also share widely via blogs, our Transform book and whitepapers; such as those around Cashflow Services, KPI’s and the Perfect Advisory firm. We also speak at many conferences and collaborate with great coaches like The Gap and others.

XU: Understanding Cash Flow and Forecasting is always important. How does Spotlight Reporting make this clear for Xero Users?

RF: We’re working with Xero to leverage the messaging around Cashflow, but it’s great to see our Forecasting tool being chosen as ‘best of breed’ by big, global firms as well as many progressive Xero firms around the world. Recent releases such as Dynamic Rules, Loan Amortisation and Report Cover Designs have cemented this as a fast-growth tool.

I’m personally passionate and outspoken about the fact that accountants don’t do enough cashflow forecasting and budgeting - I think it’s a huge gap and a huge opportunity for both advisors and their clients. Our Cash Is King white-paper goes into this in more detail and can be downloaded here:

XU: How do you help Xero Users present this information to their clients in a way that’s easy to interpret for use within their business?

RF: The accountants are key to this, as I think great businesses need great guides. We’re “by accountants, for accountants”, which is a different emphasis than some. CFO’s within groups, franchises and not-for-profits also love us, as we make them look good to their stakeholders and save them truckloads of time.  I think too that our front-line experience of delivering Spotlight sessions and actual advice to clients over the years means that we know what works and how to visualise and explain actionable advice in an easy way. We’re not faking it till we make it.

XU: It’s been great to see your involvement with webinars. How has this helped you to educate Xero Users about the benefits that Spotlight Reporting can bring to their advisory business? Also, what’s the next exciting webinar to watch out for?

RF: We have a few webinars coming up in all territories, often in conjunction with others. The best place to find out more is to check our social channels as well as our website. Education and discussion never stop!

XU: I know you personally travel to put on Spotlight Reporting events around the world. How does this help you connect with Spotlight Reporting customers and how has this made Spotlight Reporting develop as a company?

RF: One year I did 55 flights - which just about killed me - so I’m thrilled that my great team take a lot of the load on now. With nearly 50 staff, you’ll be seeing Spotlight team members all over the world representing the brand, and I’m personally proud of the quality of our team and their commitment to the industry. We do the hard yards always, getting face-to-face and developing relationships, whether it be supporting Xero and progressive accountants in Cape Town, Hong Kong, Queenstown, Hobart or Toronto.

XU: You have been integrated with Xero for quite some time now. How has this helped the development of Spotlight Reporting?

RF: Xero was of course our first integration and we added WorkflowMax at the same time too. Alongside all of the support over the years both for and from Xero, this has proven to be an incredibly popular integration. Julie and me of course also had Xero Workpapers acquired in 2012 and spent some time ‘inside the tent’, which helped cement some key relationships, as others on the team have as well.

As we move into our 8th year, it’s incredibly gratifying to still have our work recognised with a Xero App Partner of the Year nomination at Xerocon South. Having won Emerging in 2013 and App Partner of the Year in 2015 and 2016, we’re hoping to go one step further this year :)

XU: Following on from that, what extra value does Spotlight Reporting add to Xero Users?

RF: Xero of course is a great way to produce accounts, management reports and other core functionality. But in many cases - maybe 20% of a client base - the opportunity exists to really take the data and the conversation to the next level. Our action plans, KPI’s, cashflow waterfall page, consolidations and cashflow forecasts are just 5 examples of other avenues for insight, decision-making and great advisor/customer interactions. Xero unlocks the door; Spotlight kicks it open for the great work accountants, bookkeepers and CFO’s could and should be doing.

XU: Spotlight Reporting is helping Xero Users around the world. What challenges have you faced as an international company? How has your global reach helped Spotlight Reporting develop into the great tool that is it today?

RF: International companies mean a dispersed workforce, lots of travel, different market approaches and challenges and a lot of late nights! Having said that, you learn a lot from new territories, adapting to local needs and cultural differences and having team members in places such as Newcastle, Kettering, San Francisco, Christchurch, Brisbane and Perth. I would hate to be just locally focused - in this day and age you have to look global in my view.

XU: Congratulations on the release of your book this year. I know this has been a personal goal of yours for a little while now. The book is called “Transform”. Can you give us some insight into the book and how it might help Xero Users?

RF: I decided to create a short and snappy, but highly usable, ‘playbook’ that accountants could easily absorb, write notes on, highlight at the beach, share internally and adapt as needed. It was a first step to sharing my own advisory services experience from inside a big firm, from creating my own boutique firm and also holding a mirror up to some of the best Spotlight firms too. We’ve had a great response and will be re-printing and sharing more widely soon.

XU: Are there any new features or releases you can tell us about that Xero Users can expect over the next 12 months?

RF: Phew, we’re releasing every 6 weeks or so something pretty special. Lots of Forecasting updates, Report Covers has just shipped, Account Groupings is close, Multi is being beefed up for seriously large groups - and we have some other cool stuff a bit under wraps. Given how frequently we get copied, we can’t give those competitors a head start now!

What is great is the level of customer feedback we get that flows into our Product Roadmaps. Our own team as well have plenty of experience and ideas across all 4 of our products. We’ve got great software enhancements and extensions to keep us going for a long time - so watch this space or revisit us if you haven’t had a look for a while!

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