Some accountants often seem more like an outpost for the tax office
IN an increasingly online world it is comforting to know that a bricks and mortar business can still make a fast start to business – even if it is someone else’s bricks and mortar.
Books Onsite started in 2006 and was the brainchild of a creative accountant, Tim Johnston, who suspects his entrepreneurial inclinations were bred “at sea”.
“My father was a ship’s captain who was always trying to find a way to make a living ashore by trying different ventures, including property development, a yacht hire business and inventing his own anti-dandruff shampoo,” he recalls. “But it stank of dettol”.
The company aims to deliver strength where many small businesses are weak. On the flipside, Johnston’s bookkeeping business, which is actually more than this, has come up smelling of roses after taking out a number of business awards, including being Named in BRW’s fast starters list.
“Although we market ourselves as bookkeeping services, we provide more of a management accounting role to our clients in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” he says.
“Most of our staff are either degree, chartered accountants or CPA qualified and we look after the bookkeeping side of things such as accounts payable and receivable management, bank and credit card reconciliations and payroll.”
It is apparent that Johnston has positioned the company to deliver strength where many small businesses are weak. But it is more than this. His business does not do tax returns, which can blindside accountants, meaning they fail to become advisers to their clients.
Business owners often complain that their accountants seem more like an outpost for the tax office rather than a partner in their business. Johnston has seen this and and learnt from this observation.
“In addition to traditional bookkeeping we look to add value as more of a management accountant by helping business owners measure and forecast performance through providing accurate and timely profit and loss accunts, actual versus budget comparisons and cashflow forecasts,” he says “We also manage compliance for superannuation, BAS's and ASIC returns.”
The strategy was decided on early in the piece that Books Onsite would specialise in onsite bookkeeping but not tax returns. But the point of
The company aims to deliver strength where many small businesses are weak
difference was to be that the business’s team, as they were a CPA practice in their own right, would be able to communicate effectively with the clients’ existing tax accountants.
It was smart stuff for the sole founder of the business to note three failings in the bookkeeping/accounting world. First, many bookkeepers are not well qualified and it means accontants often take issue with their entries and decision processes.
Second, accountants see the bookkeeping software often used by small business, as Johnston suggests, “beneath them”. Finally, some accountants are so busy with tax returns they don’t know their client’s business well enough to be good advisers.
And bookkeeping serves as a perfect “in” to establish a
relationship with a customer and then it’s only a matter of developing the relationship by adding value.
Bookkeeping is interrelated to cashflow and this is the main killer of businesses. Most businesses would love an in-house financial controller, debt chaser and cash monitor, so Books Onsite is a price-competitive alternative.
“We have a minimum service level of one full day per week,” Johnston says. “We normally lock in a regular day or days per week so that everyone knows which day to make any accounts-related inquiries.”
Johnston worked in various accounting roles in the private sector for 10 years, including a stint in PNG with ASX-listed company Downer Engineering Australia.
He jumped ship and gave in to the call of the entrepreneurial “wild” in 2001, starting up his own CPA practice, and that’s when he saw the hole in the market that needed to be filled.
“I recognised many clients were having difficulties finding quality bookkeepers,” he says. “It can be difficult for some business owners to assess the quality of their bookkeeper until the tax accountant reviews their accounts at year end.”
Johnston says the typical mistakes that result from second-rate bookkeeping are double payment of invoices, incorrect calculation of payroll, including leave and super entitlements, and incorrect coding for GST. And making matters worse, he argues, sometimes these errors cannot be rectified if not picked up immediately.
While Johnston has grown a face-to-face business, it doesn’t mean he is an anti-IT Luddite. “I have always had a passion for finding efficiencies in the ways things are done, so I make sure I am up to date with any new technologies that
This Business Life
Making the BRW Fast Starters list
BEST PIECE OF BUSINESS ADVICE YOU GOT
“The most powerful factors in the world
are clear ideas in the minds of energetic men of goodwill.” – Scottish naturalist J. Arthur Thomson
“Your’re spending too much money on
MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF DOING BUSINESS
Watching good clients struggle through
tough economic times.
Writing articles about bookkeeping and
distributing them through PR agencies.
BUSINESS LEADER YOU ADMIRE
Virgin boss Richard Branson
"I have always had a passion for finding efficiencies in the ways things are done, so I make sure I am up to date with any new technologies that can improve systems and hence save time and money for our clients.”
can improve systems and hence save time and money for our clients.”
That said, Books Onsite has used more traditional marketing methods to build the brand, with a bit of online.
Johnston says he uses press