Running an award-winning landscape studio in Sydney with a team of just four, Julia Levitt and Fiona Ericsson's star rose fast, but their trajectory was not without a few learning curves. Now using WorkflowMax and Xero, the day-to-day admin of their business is no longer a distraction and they are finally back doing what they love most.
Whether it’s taking group trips to nurseries, or ‘nerding out’ over the latest plant discovery, there is one unspoken prerequisite that you must meet if you want to work at Sticks & Stones – you’ve got to love plants.
It was this exact passion that originally brought Julia and Fiona together 5 years ago when they first started the company. In fact, it’s the girl's passion and relationship that has helped them cut through the noise in the market and has put them on the fast track to becoming one of the most in-demand landscape design companies in Sydney.
“We're very, very passionate and I think the clients can really feel that,” says Fiona. “We have built an incredible business where we've been able to work on our individual strengths. Julia has a very strong knowledge of plants. Mine's more around structural design. So together we can create incredible designs and gardens.”
“I think the clients also love the fact that we are on the project together,” says Julia. “You've always got either Fiona and/or myself on a project, so you're getting our personalised attention from that initial meeting all the way through concept, implementation, planting and even maintenance. We're able to then make sure that there's continuity throughout the project.”
“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."Julia Levitt, Sticks and Stones
Things haven’t always been easy sailing for Sticks & Stones. 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 at that point, so I used to put everything we worked on into a spreadsheet.”
As most come to discover, spreadsheet functionality and ease of use is somewhat limiting. It didn’t take long for the team to realise that they needed something a little more sophisticated. Thankfully the girls were put onto 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.
When I come out for our regular sessions with Sticks & Stones, the girls make the comment ‘every time you see us we make more money!"Clinton Cowin, TradiePad
“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!”
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 spend time on the things we’re good at and invest in a bookkeeper to manage the day to day accounts,” says Fiona.
“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 she 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.
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.
“I connected with the girls and we did a scoping session and went through what the requirements were,” he says. “We found that WorkflowMax was absolutely perfect for what they needed. We implemented WorkflowMax for the girls to manage the various construction projects they have running at any given time.”
“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!”
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. And because it’s so easy to use, we can all speak the same language. “Everybody's on board,” says Fiona.
“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 or three years,” says Julia. “So the ability 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.”
“Just do it - it’s been incredible for our business”
With Xero and Worfklowmax now working in perfect harmony for Sticks & Stones, the team have the time to get back to doing what they were passionate about in the first place – designing gardens.
If you’re in the construction or design industries (or any service industry that tracks time in fact) and are finding that you are facing the same challenges that Sticks & Stones did, why not trial WorkflowMax? With a free 14 day trail, you’ve got nothing to lose. Who knows, you may be setting yourself on the fast track to getting back to what you love most about your business too.
Whether you’re implementing new software like WorkflowMax or using data from that software to optimise systems and processes within your business, a few considerations can help you to optimise your results.
“We couldn’t recommend the use of an implementation partner more. Getting sorted on WorkflowMax couldn’t have been easier thanks to Clinton. Despite our unique needs, Clinton spent the time to understand our business and adapted WorkflowMax’s features to best suit us.” – Julia
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