Mentoring for change
IPA Member of the Year 2017, Jamie Johns, tells Jotham Lian of his early struggles in trying to scale his business, and how he now aims to give back to the industry by mentoring fellow accountants.
Sky Accountants chief executive Jamie Johns has his hands full running a practice, but believes it is hard to rival the satisfaction you get from mentoring someone.
It has been a case of paying it forward for Mr Johns, who was inspired by his early mentors during his struggles in growing his business.
Working in a salaried role in public practice from 1996 to 2002, Mr Johns then decided to strike out on his own, believing that the “grass was greener on the other side”.
“I come from a family and generations of people being their own boss so I always thought the grass was greener on the other side in being your own boss, and I found out that’s not always the case. It’s actually very hard trying to grow and run a business and keep everything together, including your personal life at the same time, and that was the biggest challenge I faced,” says Mr Johns.
"I got to about $550,000 to $600,000 turnover and hit a real barrier to growth and I talked to a lot of accountants and went to different seminars and everyone seemed to have the same problem and really couldn’t scale further than that.
“I realised you could make $200,000 a year but you were often a slave to your business and it wasn’t why I went into business in the first place — I went into it obviously to have good finances but I didn’t go into it to have no time and no personal life.”
Reaching out to different mentors, Mr Johns said he learnt how to overcome his initial barriers, allowing him to scale his practice, and taking back precious time to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
He now has offices in three locations, including Ballarat and Sunbury in Victoria, as well as a back office in the Philippines.
Having achieved this measure of success, Mr Johns, a “massive believer in mentorship”, now wants to help his fellow accountants overcome the exact same barriers he faced, believing that “it can help propel you faster than anything else if you get the right mentor”.
“It’s certainly not all beer and skittles running your own business; you ask any accountant and often we can be slaves to the business and when you see people doing that and not at home with their families or not looking after their health, you want to help them from a mentorship perspective,” says Mr Johns.
“Every week I probably speak to about two to three accountants and spend 10 to 15 minutes with them and I love giving back to the industry what I’ve learnt because it is really rewarding seeing people send you an email saying, ‘Geez Jamie, thanks for that tip mate, that really moved me forward’ — that’s really satisfying.
“I think any teacher or university lecturer would probably know that and it’s probably why they teach because they see their students move forward and flourish and it’s hard to describe the reward you get for that.”
His passion for mentoring has seen him develop it into his business strategy, launching an online mentoring resource aimed at accountants and bookkeepers, called Wise Mentoring.
Mr Johns is hoping Wise Mentoring will have a “profound impact” on his fellow accountants and bookkeepers, as he takes mentoring to a wider level.
Launching 1 July 2018, the online resource will feature a 77- step video series aimed at giving tips and tricks to accountants and bookkeepers to navigate their business issues.
“With traditional mentoring, there’s no scalability in it, when you’ve got to do it face-to-face you just can’t scale,” says Mr Johns.
“With the online aspect of it, we could be in touch with accountants and bookkeepers all over the world and if those guys learn how to scale their business, then they can pass on the gold nuggets to all their clients as well.
“That’s why we’re really excited, because that’s going to have a big impact from accountants to bookkeepers to small business people.”
According to Mr Johns, Wise Mentoring will be based around the ‘life score card’, a concept based on end-of-term school reports.
“You go to school and university and every term, every semester you’re measured on your result and I don’t know why it should stop once you’ve finished,” says Mr Johns.
“I think you should keep measuring your progress of your career and your life and this whole course is based on the life score card.”
Further, as an IPA member since 2001, Mr Johns believes there’s no better way for an accountant to look for help than from within his own member body.
“The IPA has a lot of technical training issues and provides the opportunity to network with other accountants to find out what their challenges are and stimulates the sharing of ideas,” says Mr Johns.
“A lot of the time it’s a great way to learn by teaching other people so it’s a bit of a cycle — learn, share and teach. That will give you a really holistic way to develop professionally.”
Going full throttle
A competitive short distance runner in the Victorian Athletic League, Mr Johns says claiming back his work/life balance has given him a new lease of life and has provided him with further opportunities to grow his business.
“I think you’re competitive by nature and I try to take the business the same level of intensity as I do with the running. I pretty much try to do it all at full throttle, both at work and on the track,” says Mr Johns.
“As soon as you free up your time, the opportunities that exist come into your face so much more,” he adds.
“Once you free yourself from the business, even more opportunities will come forward and it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.” But his biggest takeaway from his time in the business is just how vital it is to have good leadership skills.
“Everyone tends to go through a process where you’re grinding, then you’re minding, and then you’re finding but the skill set that you need to mind is leadership — it doesn’t matter how good you do a tax return, it’s your ability to manage people which will decide your success,” says Mr Johns.
“The biggest thing is developing yourself and your leadership qualities because the more your business grows, the more people you need, and the more leadership ability you need.”
Mr Johns believes the industry will see changes in “leaps and bounds” within the next five to 10 years and fears for accountants who are not prepared for the speed of change.
“People will have to pivot really fast, you really need to be right ahead of your game with change and the ones that don’t adopt the change will be left behind,” says Mr Johns.
“You’ll have the beginnings of blockchain and I believe blockchain will come in with the really large multinational and finance institutions because it will be a thousand times cheaper from a compliance and audit point of view than using auditors so it’s really going to be exciting in the next 10 years.
“It’s going to be the grinding that will disappear first like the reoccurring transactional nature of things but where the opportunities will ultimately arise are actually in the HR and leadership area because once people don’t have to spend all their resources on compliance and grinding, then there’ll be a refocus on that data and what to do with it.”
Not one to risk getting left behind or remain stagnant, Mr Johns already has big dreams for the future of his practice, aiming to grow it into a national firm in 20 years’ time.
“I have already drafted out a five-year plan and in May this year, we’re going to sit down with the leadership group and get the board to sign off on it,” he adds.
“I think it’s all about the passion — if you enjoy what you do, you don’t get sick of it, and it’s not work, is it?”