A beancounter at heart
Andy McGuire, the brains behind beancounter bookkeeping software for small charities, started as a volunteer at Voluntary Action Lewisham two years ago. We interview him about how it came about, what makes him tick and what makes beancounter so effective.
What’s your background?
I used to be a tour manager in the live music industry for various bands. I actually got into tour managing purely by accident. One day I received a call from my brother, Steve McGuire who had been working in the music industry for a number of years and had a hit record in the ‘80s, with Spirit in the sky, by Doctor and the Medics. He urgently needed someone to take a band to Paris and Amsterdam. I offered to help and enjoyed the experience so much, I left my job as a distribution manager to take the big step of becoming a self employed tour manager.
What was it that you loved about the job?
The best part of tour managing for me was that it was easy to identify outcomes and see what you’d achieved. If I completed a 60 date tour of UK and Europe without losing any equipment, band members or crew, caught all the flights, arrived in time for the live shows and brought the tour in or under budget … that was a great feeling! I’ve never actually lost a band or crew member. The odd bit of equipment was delayed by the airlines, but never lost!
I think I got the first indication that I might like accounting while tour managing. Quite often I’d be sat on a tour bus at 3am working on the accounts. To me, there was nothing more satisfying than going to bed knowing my accounts were balanced!
So, how did you end up volunteering at VAL?
I stopped tour managing a while ago. I had some fantastic experiences. I travelled around Europe and America. But as you get older, it’s not the kind of life you can keep up. The hours are very long and it’s very demanding. I was once on the road for almost 12 months. This put a strain on my relationship with my wife, Penny, so it was time to stop.
When I thought of another career, I remembered how I enjoyed doing the tour accounts. It was suggested that I try volunteering to see whether accounting was the direction I would like to go in. I popped along to Volunteer Centre Lewisham and they put me in contact with Christine (Wykes Driver), who offered me a volunteering role.
What inspired you to create beancounter bookkeeping software?
It was out of frustration really. While assisting Christine with the year-end accounts for various small charities I discovered they used Excel for their accounts. It was extremely difficult to quickly and easily extract data, and I couldn’t imagine how charities could find it useful. I’d used QuickBooks software on tour and for my own business, which great for projects and keeping track of receipts and expenses linked to each project. I kept wondering, ‘Why aren’t people using QuickBooks?’ Unfortunately, it does have quite a steep learning curve, which is probably prohibitive for smaller groups. I would often say to Christine that there had to be a simpler way!
Although I’d used Excel for over 20 years, I didn’t really know its capabilities. Whilst surfing the internet trying to find a solution, I stumbled across an Excel file by another Community Accounting Service, which allowed charities to group categories. It started me off on a journey with Excel, and with some study and research I discovered what it could do. With each new idea, I soon found a solution and eventually beancounter was created!
What are the benefits of beancounter?
First and foremost, it’s easy to use. Even someone with limited knowledge of Excel will find it simple. Due to its graphical main page and web page styling, it’s intuitive to navigate your way around.
It’s also dynamic and keeps updating the report screens each time you enter data in the receipts and payments sheets. You quickly gain an overview of how your charity is doing. At glance you can see your receipts and payments by month, grant and year to date.
My favourite aspect is the budget screen, and once charities start to see the power of this and what it tells them, I can see this being an important part of the Beancounter experience!
What are your plans for the future?
I developed beancounter between April and August 2014. We piloted the software and support in September, and the next stage is to promote Beancounter and make charities aware of its existence! I’ve been really encouraged with the positive feedback received so far.
On a personal note, I’ve realised that accountancy is the career I want to pursue. I’ve started an AAT Level 3 course (passed my first module!) and volunteering at The Albany in Deptford, so I can learn more about Sage Accounting Software.