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‘Chase the vision, not the money’: How I help empower accountants

From running a successful accounting practice to coaching and mentoring fellow accounting practice owners, Fellow Chartered Accountant Amanda Gascoigne shows how she transformed her career.

My Story Reporter 31 July 2019
— 7 minute read

Where did you start your working life and where are you at now?

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I landed my first casual job at 13. Being the eldest of seven children, the experience that I had amassed, even at such a young age, had put me in good stead to be a babysitter of demand. If I look back on that, it was probably also my first foray into the business world, too — who I said yes to, my rates, my diary management and additional services I would offer as part of babysitting (ironing, tidying, cooking, cleaning), not to mention balancing my time being a teenager, studying and earning money. I always gave 110 per cent, was loyal, and that loyalty was reciprocated by the families that entrusted their children to me (even as young as six weeks old). Many friendships have continued, and I recently attended the wedding in Hawaii of one of the children I babysat while at school and university.

My first accounting career role was working for the professor of accounting. Initially, this was as a research assistant in my final year of university, and then upon graduation, I continued on in this role in addition to tutoring first-year accounting. If I have to be honest, teaching was when the “accounting” penny actually dropped for me. A good memory and rote learning got me by in exams, but winging it in classroom situation wasn’t an option. I had to come up with different ways of explaining lecture and textbook content for students struggling to understand accounting basics. The ability to explain tax, business and accounting concepts in an easy-to-understand and engaging way proved to be one of my differentiation points as a practice owner and adviser.

A couple of years after, I took a position as a graduate accountant at Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). The rest is history and I remained in chartered accounting for 23 years, 18 years in my own practice.

These days I have pivoted somewhat but remain in the industry that I love and the industry that has been so good to myself and my family. I now coach and mentor small and solo accounting practice owners wanting to embrace contemporary practice ways that yield them financially and emotionally.

What personal wins and struggles have impacted your career?

The defining winning moment in my career was when I backed myself and started my chartered accounting practice at 28. The year was 1999. My vision was to be in control of my own destiny so that I could achieve my goal of combining two important roles — that of a mother and that of a career woman. That brave and bold move was born from a challenge I was faced with. I was working in a role that I absolutely loved, one that I was hoping was going to lead to more career success; however, there was no formal maternity leave on offer and I wasn’t too keen on being the guinea pig and test case. 

I’m so proud of nurturing and growing a practice that financially supported our family for 18 years and one that allowed me to make such a positive impact and influence on the lives and business of so many.

Being awarded Hunter Region Business Woman of the Year in 2014 and Business Service Business of the Year in 2014 was certainly a highlight, as was most recently being advanced as a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

It wasn’t all a walk in the park.

Creating a healthy balance was probably the biggest struggle that I have endured over the years, and it’s the biggest motivation of why I’m doing the work that I’m now doing.

Being an accounting practice owner can be extremely demanding. The commitment we show to our practices and clients is often at the expense of our own family and loved ones, and often at the expense of our own health and wellbeing.

There was a time in my career that something was about to break if I didn’t put things into perspective, regain control over the situation and start making conscious decisions that would allow me to create balance and honour the things that were really important to me.

I found my practice “sweet spot”, continued to have a highly profitable practice and got my life back!

Were your salary expectations realistic when you started out?

I can’t recall being disappointed about my starting salary in accounting. However, I did take a pay drop when moving from the university into chartered accounting. I accepted that knowing that it would only be for the short term as I worked my way up the corporate ladder. And this most certainly happened.

One of my favourite quotes I use in my presentations and my courses is from Tony Hsieh from Zappos: “Chase the vision, not the money. The money will end up following you”.

Up until being asked this question, I usually recall how that quote pretty much summed up my business philosophy throughout my practice journey and even what I do today with my coaching, mentoring and advocacy work. It appears that it has gone back a little further than that. 

What advice would you give your graduate self?

Stay true to yourself, your own morals and your belief system.

I worked for two highly respected, professional and honest firms, and fortunately didn’t encounter such a situation, but I have heard of other accountants that do.

There were, however, times in my practice that my belief systems were tested and I refused to cave in to pressure. I can honestly say that I always went to bed at night knowing that I had given the right advice even if it wasn’t the advice that a client wanted to hear. I was always willing to sacrifice fees and clients for the sake of my integrity and the professional code of conduct of CA ANZ and TPB.

If something doesn’t sit right with you, don’t be hasty in your response or action. Give yourself time to further evaluate the situation, of what has been asked of you, to ensure that you have no regrets and your integrity remains intact. A trusted mentor could also help you in this situation, and I’m fortunate to have had a few of these over the years.

Always enjoy what you are doing. Life is too short to be stuck in a position or a practice that is not supportive or rewarding.

If you have ambitions or aspirations, follow them, stepping out of your comfort zone and seizing opportunities along the way. You will grow as a person and a leader, you will have fun and you can look back on your professional and personal life having no regrets. 

If you could change one thing about the accounting profession, what would it be?

There are two things that I would change in the accounting industry.

From a community’s perspective, I would like to help change people’s perception of accountants. Accountants are not boring. Accountants don’t just sit behind their desks and computer screens and play with numbers. Accountants can help business owners with so much more than a tax return and a set of annual accounts. Widespread use of accounting software has mistakenly shifted the value and respect for accountants — sure, there’s less mundane data entry and bookkeeping tasks; however, there certainly hasn’t been a decrease in the volume of ever-changing business legislation that needs to be interpreted and applied! 

From an accounting practice owner’s perspective, I would like to see the hard-working and generous practitioners who are great at their craft, are great advisers and have put a lot on the line to back themselves and set up their practices, believing in themselves more, valuing themselves more and valuing the work that they do more. They deserve to be well remunerated. They deserve to have highly profitable and successful practices. They deserve to have a fabulous life outside of their practice, too!

Is your job fun?

I love my job and I believe it shows. I’m always having people come up and say to me that they hope they still have the same passion as have when they have been in business for 20 years.

There’s so much variety in what I do and no two days ever seem the same.

I have wonderful coaching clients that I love working with, helping them have better practices and better lives.

I’m constantly creating new content to share on my blogs, on my social media or in courses that I run. I love hearing how my advice and inspiration has made a difference and has had a positive impact.

I’m also involved in a number of projects with some great organisations and companies. Many of these commitments are scheduled in advance, however, some just pop up. I feel so very blessed that I have the flexibility and agility to say yes and make things happen very quickly on projects that are aligned with my vision and my values.

I’m equally passionate about all elements of my job as they all energise me and my help make my life fun and rewarding.

Does your job look like what you expected it to?

Absolutely not.

When I started my practice, I never imagined how much it would grow — the number of clients I would have the pleasure of advising and guiding on their business journey, the number of staff I would have the pleasure of training and be on the journey with me. Two of them now have their own practices.

I wish I had prepared a business plan before I started as it would be incredible to go back to that document and reflect 20 years on.

What is your favourite part of your work?

The favourite part of my work would have to be the people I meet, work with and work for, and of course, the variety of work that comes with that.

I’m a people person and I love the power of connection.

When I started my practice, this connection was geographically limited but not now.

Another favourite has been the flexibility of self-employment which meant my husband and I were able to take time out during the day to attend school sport activities, special award assemblies, liturgies and masses for our two sons, the youngest who is about to finish high school this year.

I’m also loving the ability that, with technology these days, I can also work from anywhere, which is another form of flexibility.

‘Chase the vision, not the money’: How I help empower accountants
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