While the pandemic might be (predominantly) behind us, its impacts on the world of work remain. The rise of the hybrid model, growth in popularity of virtual versus in-person meetings, and, of course, the Great Resignation have all changed employee and employer expectations.
This has prompted more Australians to go out on their own. ABS data revealed a 12,160 increase in the number of businesses in the December quarter of 2021 alone.
While company ownership can bring with it many benefits – such as the opportunity to choose whom you want to work with, and when – there are several factors to consider when launching and operating a business in this space, to ensure ongoing growth and success, both professionally and personally.
Don’t bypass the business plan
Even though accountants and bookkeepers are known for being quite methodical and process-driven, during my 20-plus years in the industry I’ve found that we don’t tend to do business plans. However, this is an essential step to take before launching (although you can still create one if you’re already operating), and there are some key components it should contain.
I’ll run through these below – and know that the business plan doesn’t need to be set in stone. You can update it as your company, and the world around us, evolves.
Identify – and understand – your niche
Consider your ideal client: will you focus on a particular industry, type or size of business, or service everyone? Our market can be crowded, so I recommend homing in on a specific niche, developing personas for those you wish to work with, and taking the time to understand their wants, needs and challenges when it comes to navigating numbers, as this will inform everything else.
Create a mutually beneficial model
When ideating your business model, aim to find the sweet spot between launching and running a profitable business that brings you joy, and reflects what your personas seek.
This relates to how you operate. For example, will you be mostly home-based, hire office space, or work completely remotely? If you plan on hiring staff, think about what they might seek here too. According to the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey from the University of Melbourne’s – Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, 89 per cent of Australians would like to continue working in line with a hybrid model.
From an offering perspective, think about whether you will provide a full suite of accounting and bookkeeping services or choose to specialise in those that you enjoy doing most, which you’ve also found your prospects have a genuine need for.
Pricing plays a big part here too. If you’re seeking to support SMEs, for example, they will have less to invest than larger private companies, so you will need to ensure fees are affordable, and look at creating tiered packages to suit their varying requirements.
Develop a consistent marketing strategy
Once you’ve confirmed whom you will service and how, devise a complementary marketing strategy, as it will help ensure your business resonates with the right people.
It should account for your branding, messaging and tone of voice, and it’s worth seeking the support of an expert here so you’re equipped with the tools to succeed. While the initial investment might be a little daunting, if you find the right partner who understands your values, this will be a one-off or infrequent expense (every few years if you feel the need to refresh your branding, for example).
Consistency is key when it comes to building brand awareness, so look to roll this out across platforms such as your website, social media channels, and online business profiles in a uniform way. It will help you build a USP for the business and attract the right customers.
Build brand awareness on a budget
The ongoing marketing of your business doesn’t need to cost a lot, either. Some tactics I’ve found effective are asking happy customers to leave a review on the company’s Google Business Profile. It’s completely free to create and manage your own profile, and can drastically improve your website’s ranking in search.
The same goes for social media. There are no charges associated with creating business accounts on these platforms, or posting content there. The biggest thing here would be to post consistently – even if that means once a week or month. If you research which hashtags your clients and prospects follow or engage with, and add value with your content, you’ll find you start to reach them organically, and even receive new leads this way.
Another good one is email marketing. Platforms such as Mailchimp offer a free plan option (and can be integrated with your website so visitors can easily subscribe), and help keep your company front of mind. This channel can be used to share interesting and relevant information, and potentially even discounts, freebies or special offers during quiet times, or around key events throughout the year that matter to your clients (like EOFY, BAS, and the festive season).
Tech tools to consider for remote and online businesses
With my business I opted for a remote model, partly because I launched at the height of the pandemic in 2020 but also because it’s what I found my target audience sought.
A remote model can also be a cost-effective way to launch your business, as there isn’t the need to rent office space, plus you can work with people no matter where in the country they are based. This means technology will be your best friend, and it’s wise to invest in the right tools.
We all know the value of accounting and bookkeeping software when it comes to keeping on top of financials, invoicing and STP, so I won’t delve into those.
However, others to consider are project management tools – providers include Karbon, ClickUp and Monday – to help you stay on top of tasks (and those of your team), as well as track time and charge accordingly. Some of these also offer reminder functionalities, so you can automate emails requesting clients send their monthly bank statements, sign key documents and more, so you don’t need to chase them.
Creating proposals, questionnaires and contracts can prove very time-consuming, especially when it’s just you or you have a small team. There is where platforms including Dubsado and PandaDoc can add value, as they have template creation features that allow you to produce branded documents that can be personalised for each client.
Having personally tried and failed to launch two businesses in the past, with MicroChilli I took the learnings from these experiences on to build a successful operation the third time around. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you achieve your goals both in business and in life in the first instance!
Sharon Crombie is chief executive and founder of MicroChilli, a bookkeeping and advisory services firm.