From the ground up
Armed with an eye for detail and a penchant for process, IPA member Simon Allsop has managed to turn a small start-up into a business eyeing national growth. By Jack Derwin
When Mr Allsop landed a job at KPMG after graduating from university, one imagines he had found a good fit for his analytical mind.
Starting off at one of the big four gave Mr Allsop an insight into bookkeeping, and the eagle eye for detail required for auditing.
However, after emerging himself in the industry, he identified a sizable gap in the market for small businesses, and offers a fairly unapologetic appraisal of his observations.
“Anyone looking for part-time work was calling themselves a bookkeeper and having a hack at putting information into a system. That meant that they had out-of-date information, wrong information, or both,” he recalls.
With that in mind, he departed his position to found MyAccounts in 2007, where he could fully apply his meticulous eye to the world of SMEs.
In starting the business Mr Allsop wanted to move away from the shortfalls he had witnessed in the accounting realm and in doing so keep at the forefront of the industry.
“Initially MyAccounts went out as a virtual CFO style business for SMEs to ultimately help them get a clear idea of the numbers inside their business,” he says.
“I convinced a mate who had been a couple of years younger at university to do come and do some of the book work, because he understood the language of credits and debits, balance sheet and PNL. That was really the beginnings of what we have today,” he laughs.
But what began as a humble operation has grown into something with significantly larger reach and industry presence. Since then the business has swollen, encompassing two offices in Sydney and Melbourne, with plans to be a national offering.
“We still have exactly the same mission today as we did back then which is to empower small businesses with giving them clear and accurate information on how they’re performing so they can make the right decisions for their business.”
With the core of the MyAccounts being small business, Mr Allsop says the IPA was the natural choice when looking for an industry body to be a part of.
“I think of the three industry bodies, the IPA is the most in touch with small business. Even the membership itself feels more like a little family than a large organisation.”
“A lot of the training programs they put on are very relevant to small businesses and the skills needed to service small business. It’s a real drawcard,” he says.
Having steered his own start up, he recognises the importance of good leadership and saw that in the IPA.
“I’ve met Andrew Conway at a number of different conferences and events over the years and I have a lot of respect for what he is doing and the changes he is making.”
Sticking to your strengths
Recognising early on that it was better to ply his own strengths and build a team around his weaknesses has been one of the biggest factors behind the success of the business.
“Make sure you’re a master of what you do, rather than trying to be a jack of all trades,” Mr Allsop advises.
“If you were doing it on your own, it would be very tough to do it all. It’s important to do what your strengths are.”
Accordingly he realised his domain lay with constructing a process-based accounts system that would come to characterise the business’ service, while other aspects would be better handled by his team.
“People are not my greatest skill. I’m a very analytical style person,” he admits.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have been working closely with Noel Turfino, who started in the early days of the business. He started off on the books, moved into a general manager role and he is now a director and shareholder within the business.
“I think part of our success with the business has been having complimentary skill sets with the two of us running it. I have the analytical, system, and the technical side of things covered in accounting, whereas he covers the sales and HR side of things.”
By extension, Mr Allsop says it’s vital that accountants remain realistic about what is and isn’t within their expertise.
“One of the things we learnt on the way is to do what you do really well and find what you might call your ‘A team’ in other services and refer the work to them,” he says.
“One of the things is that if you refer work out, it comes back to you. We get a lot of work from referrals. If we tried to be a one-stop shop, we’d close the door to a lot of opportunities,” he adds.
By understanding your place in the market, you not only hone your strengths but also identity your client base.
A stringent system appeals in particular to those who demand clarity and thoroughness, and in offering one MyAccounts has found a particular edge in the not-for-profit niche.
“Not-for-profits have got a need, almost greater than anyone else, to make sure their financials are correct. The corporate governance to protect the board of directors, they need to know the organisation is solvent at any point in time,” Mr Allsop explains.
“As a director for a not-for-profit they’re personally liable for the solvency of that entity. So they want to be sure the numbers they’re reviewing are correct.”
Sticking to your guns
When Mr Allsop speaks of the business, it’s clear that he’s a stickler for planning. When asked about how the business has developed, he breaks its history into stages without skipping a beat.
“You can say the business has gone through three significant eras. When things started off, we were very much in the data-entry era, back in the days of MYOB, before there was APIs, bank feeds and all that sort of stuff,” he says.
“With the rise of cloud-based programs with bank feeds we moved into the reconciliation era where we no longer had to do all the typing to get all the information in there. It was more interesting role because it meant that we could hire a higher calibre person to be on the team to use their intellect to ensure things were allocated properly.
“Maybe about two years ago we moved into the reporting era where we’re focusing on management reports, we’re focussing on the clear visualisation of what’s happening inside a small business, so that they have a clear picture of where their business is at, we can then help them set budgets and cash flow forecasts and other forecasts in order to know where the future lies for them.”
It is obviously in this phase that the business really started to hit its stride.
“For businesses to reach their goals they need to set their budgets to get there,” Mr Allsop says.
An advocate for cloud-based accounting, Mr Allsop recognises that it’s not enough to just be across these technologies, those in accounting must be able to offer something more to differentiate themselves.
“Anyone can go out there and say they can use Xero and get the advantage of bank feeds, but I think the reason that we still have such a strong growth curve is that we have a consistent watertight process that all clients that come on board follow. So it’s a process-based , not person-based system that means no one falls through the cracks,” he explains.
Moreover, cloud based technology means that firms can effectively work across a variety of industry-specific software without hassle.
“Whether it’s a law firm or an online retailer, it all gets pumped into the cloud software. Having that and not a manual system just gives you better transparency and efficiency,” he says.
While MyAccounts has come a long way from its origin as a two-man team, Mr Allsop understands the responsibility to not compromise service quality for customer quantity.
“I think you’ve got to understand where your sustainable growth rate is and be right on the cusp of that at any point in time,” he says.
“We grow at the rate of about 15 new clients a month which is a significant growth rate, but at the moment the goal is to maintain the growth while maintaining a high level of quality through our own internal systems, processes, and checklists then everyone is happy. We don’t want to grow so fast that we don’t know what’s happening with the next client that gets signed on.”
Focussing on creating a uniform process system means that nothing gets lost in the cracks.
“Even though people are a very key part of this business and we’re very aware of keeping people with the right culture on board, the experience of the client shouldn’t be determined by the quality of the person, it should be determined by the quality of the process behind it,” Mr Allsop advocates.
Part and parcel of providing quality service is in pricing it in a transparent way, something MyAccounts prides itself on.
“One of the things we wanted to do with this business was that we tried to avoid all the pet hates people have with accountants, which were that you never knew what their bill was going to be. So what we do is fixed pricing upfront,” he explains.
“It means we can guarantee an outcome for a set sum. With most of our clients we try and get them on a monthly retainer. As long as you deliver on time and believe in your service, the clients love it. It’s how you develop working long-term relationships, and it’s those relationships that are vital.”