Di Crawford-Errington started Ontrack Bookkeeping in 2003. Di was previously working 2 part time jobs, one of which was working as a bookkeeper for a plumbing business. Di recognised that there must be so many businesses out there in need of her help with wages, payroll, invoicing, and recording all the data. Looking for a way to work for herself at home and be there for her children, Di started Ontrack Bookkeeping. Fast forward 17 years, Di now has a growing team of 5 professionals and over 200 businesses on the books. Ontrack Bookkeeping also operates as a payroll bureau with 60 clients and between 800-900 employees paid per week. The largest is 125 permanent employees plus casuals in the hospital industry. Otherwise, her clients consist of quite a mix of industries.

We spoke with Di about her journey with starting her own business, the importance of payroll compliance, and what features to look out for in payroll software to make life easier.

Tell us about New Zealand payroll

Payroll in New Zealand isn’t simple. It’s quite a complicated beast. It always has been. Unfortunately a lot of the payroll software says ‘It’s easy, you just use our product and it does it all for you’. But in reality you actually can’t rely on software to do the calculations correctly. You should be checking every time you do any type of leave calculation to ensure they are correct, because quite often, they are not. And that’s all around interpretation of the Holidays Act. I’ve tried quite a few of the software companies. We don’t use one piece of software to do all our payrolls. We use a huge variety of software. I’ve had lots of debates and discussions with people and software companies over how the annual leave calculates or shows what it does because most of them just aren’t right. It’s an interesting conversation. 

What do you like about your payroll software?

The main payroll software I work with is easy to use, easy to see where the calculations come from and your leave is not kept in hours; it’s kept in days, which is still not completely correct but a lot easier to track. The only issue with that one is that it’s a desktop software. If they could pick it up and put it in the cloud then I’d have every one of my clients on it. 

The other we generally use actually tracks leave in weeks which is how it should be. I’m not sure of any other software company that actually does that off the top of my head. Software that stores annual leave in hours and days can cause issues.

What’s one of the biggest challenges with NZ payroll?

The Holidays Act. Is it the only challenge? No, but it’s a big one. Understanding the complexities of the legislation is the biggest problem. You need to be able to read the legislation or understanding what it’s telling you, but the end user often just follows the software and does what it says. One of my biggest frustrations is software companies saying ‘you need to check what you’ve done is right’, but they sell it as really easy and neglect the payroll profession. 

Most software companies I talk to argue black and blue that their compliance is correct. Let’s face it, it’s all about interpretation; but it’s about the standards around those interpretations and what’s gone through employment court. 

What do you look for in payroll software?

It’s around the ease of use for those using it; having a clear path from the end user perspective. One of the bonuses is if you can have your annual leave recorded in weeks, which equates to days, which then equates to hours. As long as that week never changes. So someone might normally work 40 hours a week, but they then change it to 30. In most payroll software you have to go and adjust those hours, and most people don’t know that. So the result is people either end up overpaying holiday pay dramatically, or if the situation is reversed, underpaying it. Employees then don't actually get the full week's pay. That stuff often just gets missed and that's why we've got all these holiday pay problems and audits going on.

How did you grow your business?

I just had to put myself out there. You have to go get it yourself and have a very strong work ethic. Nothing is free. What I did was join the Chamber of Commerce and I learned about their business awards and entered the professional services category. Part of that involved a mentor and he recommended I joined BNI (Business Networking International). I won that award and that was a boost to the business and got me known a bit. 

How do you stay connected with your peers?

When I started bookkeeping there weren’t that many communities. There has been lots of growth in the profession over the past 17 years. I joined ICNZB about 8 years ago when it was quite young. Prior to that I joined Attains Accountants and Tax Agents in NZ. I started attending Xero conferences too. I’ve been on the ICNZB board since 2013 and now I’m the President. I’m the voice or face of the association; I set the strategy, support the other executive members, support the relationships team with people like IRD, NB, Xero, MYOB who are the sponsors. It’s great; we’re a team.

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