Small business onboarding

Reimagining the way small businesses get set up on Xero.

Product Designer


February 2020


Business accounting is a really complex topic. That’s why, traditionally, Xero was aimed at helping small business owners to work with their accountant or financial advisor. But that has meant that much of the onboarding and assistive content had been designed with a lot of assumed knowledge, leaving those trying to go it alone feeling confused and out of their depth.

Many different approaches had been tried over the past few years to bridge this gap and help small business owners to correctly set up and manage their own business finances, but none had yet hit the mark. To confuse matters further, each region (AU, NZ, US, UK, and ‘Global’) had its own quirks as laws, processes and terminology varied.

The conversion rate from trial to subscription for accounts without a linked financial advisor was woefully low, and this represented a huge area of opportunity for Xero.

My role was to pick up the outgoing design lead’s research efforts and push the designs from concept through to delivery.

Previous versions of onboarding asked for access to sensitive information too quickly, and bamboozled less experienced small business owners with accounting jargon (and outdated UI).


The design and research teams undertook several generative user studies, which then informed four rounds of concept testing. Research findings and data analysis were then distilled into nine key insights, which we constantly referred back to during final solution design and delivery.

I facilitated user testing sessions with participants from around the world, using high-fidelity prototypes created in Axure and Figma.

One of the most influential insights highlighted how diverse small business needs were; droves of users were abandoning the linear set-up flow at the first hurdle because they either didn’t understand the benefit of providing the data, or it simply wasn’t relevant for their business needs at all (“I just want to send professional invoices, why do you need access to my bank?”).

Our solution to this was to break set-up tasks into separate, clearly defined components which could be completed in any order, at any time – let’s help users get what they need from us, rather than dictating our needs to them. Detangling onboarding tasks had the added benefit of providing clearer analytics and faster iteration cycles as we continued to learn.

We crafted a simple, reusable pattern that focussed on user benefit and rewarded user success quickly

I worked closely with SMEs, product owners and designers in each feature area to break down the barriers to entry for new users, without sacrificing accounting integrity. Together we reimagined flows to simplify complex processes and demystify accounting terminology.

Behind the scenes workflows were intense, but we chose to take on complexity so our users don’t have to.


Once the solution design was tested and accepted by Product Owners across the business, I embedded with an agile delivery train of four development teams to deliver each onboarding component in line with Xero’s UI styleguide.

Final implementation in line with Xero UI styleguide, content style and key research insights.

As this was such a big change, we took a cautious approach to rolling out the new experience. New components were A/B tested at low percentages in each region to ensure subscription uplift before slowing ramping up to 100% over a period of several months.

The new experience is now proudly live across all Xero regions internationally.