Nichework BRW Fast Starters 2009

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NICHE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Doing other people’s dirty work has become a sure way to make a buck for these Fast Starters newcomers.
Report: Gina McColl

…”Books Onsite founder Tim Johnston is
almost an accidental entrepreneur. The
former financial controller for a big listed
engineering company quit the corporate
world seven years ago. “I got sick of
working until 3am,” he says. So he hung
out his shingle as a certified practising
accountant and did the usual run-of-the-mill tax jobs with a bit of bookkeeping
advice.
Gradually, he noticed a considerable
niche that wasn’t being serviced: the
myriad small businesses with bookkeeping needs that were not big or
sophisticated enough to require hiring a
full—tirme accountant, and which needed
regular onsite help to manage their cash
flow and accounts. The big firms weren’t
interested, and there were plenty of small
traders, but no one doing it really
professionally, Johnston says.

Books Onsite was founded in 2006
with three staff. New customers would get their books and systems reviewed by
Johnston, a CPA, then one of two
bookkeepers would maintain the business
after that. The company payroll has since
grown to 45 staff.
The biggest challenge, Johnston says,
has been controlling the growth and
maintaining quality – and the key to that
has been good staff. “A lot of people say
the client comes first, but for me it’s staff
first and clients second.” Clients may not
like to hear this but they should, Johnston
says, because good staff lead to great
service, which leads to happy customers.
Johnston has so far resisted franchising the business, unlike competitors including Ledgers
Bookkeeping and Express Bookkeeping
“It’s great for rapid growth, but whether
you can retain quality, I’m not sure,” he
says.
   The economic downturn has, paradoxically, been a help to Books Onsite.
Outsourced services are more in demand than ever and great staff are much easier to attract and retain, Johnston says. “We are able to offer staff the flexibility of what days and geographical areas they prefer to work, which they can’t achieve by working directly for one client- this flexibility means our staff retention levels are very high.” B
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