A hot-pink passion
Debra Anderson FIPA has gone back to basics. After a period of self-reflection and an introspective analysis of her business
model, Debra has become a true champion for small business, flying the flag for Aussie success stories.
Tucked within the quaint confines of a Mosman shopping centre, Debra Anderson’s office is truly a sight to behold. Pink post-it notes and pink stationary cover the desk, while Debra herself is sporting an incredibly vibrant, hotpink shirt.
I clearly missed the memo regarding the dress code; my suit is not doing this office any justice. Over the course of an hour-long meeting, it becomes apparent that there could not be a more apt colour scheme for Debra’s office – she is vibrant, loud, and over-the-top, but most of all, she exudes passion; a passion for aiding Australian small businesses and establishing herself as their true “trusted adviser”. Hanging on the wall beside Debra’s desk is an extensive collection of photos, one that could easily be mistaken for candid and personal snaps of friends and family.
Upon closer inspection, and as Debra so proudly points out, it’s her clients who are on display in this office; they are the heartbeat behind her day-today interactions, and the pulse of her passion for the industry.
Debra’s own personal journey through the accounting industry has led her to these new surroundings, and after an introspective and life-changing period of reflection, she has adopted an all-new business model – one that she stresses gives her a unique and personal edge.
An accounting epiphany
Debra does things her own way, and that is very much by design. “I used to have a team of people that worked for me,” she
explains, “then I merged business with someone else and that was a disaster.” After ruing a less-thanideal business venture, Debra was left to mull over the future of her career, and the direction that she was to steer herself in.
“I thought to myself: well, what do I do? Do I build the business back up again? Or do I just stay as myself?”
After some soul searching, Debra was given a push in the right direction by MYOB CEO Tim Reed during a late-night phone call; a phone call that put things firmly into perspective.
“Tim said to me, ‘Deb, I know you think and feel that the industry is consolidating, but you don’t have to consolidate. There is always going to be a market for a really passionate specialist, someone who really gets it, someone who really gives a shit, and someone who does it really well.’ That, for me, was the epiphany.”
With her eyes opened to a new and fresh outlook on the industry, Debra came to a concrete conclusion – it was time to get back to the bare bones of the industry, and the roots of the profession.
Debra recounts how she approached the Mosman Professional Centre and requested their smallest possible office, so
that the temptation to take on additional staff members wasn’t a possibility.
“I said ‘That’s it!’ no more staff. From now on, my point of difference is that when I work on your business, I work on your
business from start to finish,” she says.
“I don’t offshore, so I can’t take advantage of cheaper rates, I don’t have a junior staff member, but I can tell you that I will know absolutely everything about your business, from start to finish. Every time you have a question, it’s me that you’re going to speak to.
“My model is quality over quantity.”
Debra began her journey with the IPA after completing her TAFE studies, and immediately knew that she had aligned herself with a body that stood for what she believed in – the ongoing support and nurturing of Australian small businesses.
“You can just tell that the IPA is focused on small business. I think that’s a massive point of differentiation.”
The accountant’s importance
Debra understands just how important a role that the accountant plays in assisting small business; a role that goes far beyond an affiliation with numbers.
“The thing about working with people [...] is that if you’re a small business person, you don’t talk to your mum about your cash flow problems, you don’t talk to your best mate about your cash flow problems, so who are you going to talk to?”
The answer is simple, according to Debra, and she is well aware that the small business community is collectively crying out for a helping hand.
“A lot of them can’t even talk to their partner, their husband, wife or girlfriend, because they’re just so busy trying to keep it all
together and act like everything’s fine. Most of them are really just going from week to week and trying to get through. They need that advice, they want advice, and they’re desperate for it.”
Debra turns the conversation back to her office, noting that most days she feels like a counsellor in her day-to-day business life, with a revolving door of clients spilling their rawest emotions and personal situations on that vibrant, hotpink desk.
“I have people in my office, and on the phone, constantly crying. It’s one of the most common things. I feel like I’m a counsellor; that I should go and do some kind of counselling degree, because when you’re dealing with small business, it’s not just a calculator. You are dealing with a person – their success, their failure, and their legacy.”
“I think that the majority of people go into business because they’re passionate about it,” Debra adds, “so the legacy part of it is
actually really important.”
Debra knows that her clients have their houses riding on their success, and working through a failed business venture never gets any easier. Debra tells a heartbreaking story of a client facing personal bankruptcy as her personal finances and prospects collapse.
“If she can’t pull this off, we are talking bankruptcy. She’s worried about the stigma that surrounds that. I actually believe that’s her only option. I’m counselling her. How do you tell someone that? That’s not what I signed up for.”
According to Debra, the industry sometimes forgets the important role that it plays, and that while many are swept up in talk of consolidation and commoditisation, the personal impact of the accountant has not wavered.
“People are forgetting that we are not business to business. We are person to person.”
It’s clear that Debra’s passion for aiding small business and celebrating a small business success story has not budged. She insists that her passion for the industry and her passion for the profession is firmly set within her bones. She tells a story about a recent hand-off of a client’s portfolio to a young, fresh faced accountant. Debra could sense her uncertainty.
“She looked at me and said, ‘How do you know that things are wrong with the numbers?’ And I told her that you just know; you just feel it.”
Big passion for smallbusiness
Debra is the first to admit that she struggles to switch her brain off when it comes to supporting small business. Client or not, Debra is the first to stress at the sign of a poor financial decision.
“We’ve just got this new little café downstairs, they opened in early December,” she says. “Great coffee, but I was really worried about them. They had a sign out the front of the store that says ‘cashonly’.”
“Did you know that 5.1 million people walk away from buying something every month because they can’t use a card of some sort? That’s 54percent of sales. That’s huge! You can’t ignore thosenumbers.”
Debra laughs as she recalls pulling the manager aside and telling him that an EFTPOS machine would be a smart business decision.
“This week I get there and the manager tells me that they’ve got EFTPOS now. I high- ved him and told him that now he can change the sign!” She adds: “It’s none of my business! I’m losing sleep about this bloody café, that isn’t a client of mine. I don’t
even know the guy’s name! I’ve had to learn that when I stop working on a client, that I have to stop the numbers, because the numbers clog up mybrain. ”
These days, Debra has established herself as a leading voice when it comes to championing the issues and input of small business. She now sits on a variety of ATO advisory boards, including the ATO TaxPractitioner Advisory Group, and the
BAS Agent Advisory Group. Debra has also served as a member of the Tax Of ce’s own small business ‘Fix-it Squad’, an initiative designed to simplify the BAS process for AustralianSMEs.
She is adamant that small business is the lifeblood of the Australian economy, and her new approachto business has further ignited herpassion for the Aussie battler, and a true success story. It is clearly more than just a numbers game for Debra, and she wouldn’t have it any otherway.