By Heike Northey, Owner, All Things Sorted, Queensland
Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.
Business-keeper Heike Northey always dreamed of starting her own practice. Three years ago, she decided it was time to get out there and do something about it by opening All Things Sorted. During her time working for others, she often found herself creating systems for organising their back office admin efficiently and effectively. All of that has become the foundation of her firm.
Now, business owners hire Heike to get things sorted so that they can focus on what they’re good at. And while starting out was by no means easy, Heike is ready to share what she’s learned along the way.
Every business starts in the same way: with an idea. Throughout my career, I’ve always had a passion for simplifying processes and solving complex problems with the help of technology (what can I say, I’m a German who likes things to be precise). I call myself a business-keeper because I look after both bookkeeping and business organisation, working behind the scenes to ensure everything runs efficiently. So, when I decided to go out on my own, I knew exactly what my core purpose would be: helping small businesses get things sorted.
But, as with most things in life, it wasn’t quite so simple.
Many of us dream of starting our own practice. We envisage a carefree life without a big boss telling us what to do, where we can set our office up exactly the way we like (naturally, this is important) and work with our choice of innovative tools and systems. On top of that, we want the freedom to come and go as we please – all the while sitting back and watching the money flow in. So, is this really how it goes once you open the door?
In my case, the reality looked a little more like this: the ‘boss’ at home (whether that be a partner, child, pet – or all of them) starts complaining that you’re never around. The truth is, you start early and finish late, doing quotes after hours while everyone else is fast asleep. On top of that, the office is always a mess and you can never find what you’re looking for, while learning to master those new tools is nothing short of overwhelming. And the money? What money? Where did it go?
Mastering the basics of business planning
Luckily, there is a solution. Many of the roadblocks that new practices (and new businesses of any kind) encounter can be predicted and catered for. The answer, I’ve discovered, all comes down to careful planning. These are the insights that I’ve developed while catering for my clients, and have become the foundation of all that I do at All Things Sorted:
- The vision: Without a concrete vision for your business, your progress is likely to stall. In a crowded industry, the key to success lies in finding your niche and perfecting your knowledge.
- The goals: Record your business goals along with timeframes and targets and make sure you review them on a regular basis. These goals can include things such as number of calls or meetings you’ll need each month to bring in new clients.
- The strategy: Keep things manageable by breaking each goal down into bite-sized chunks and determining the steps you’ll need to get there. Be sure to review your strategy regularly until each of your goals are achieved.
Since discovering the importance of planning first-hand, I’ve created a livelihood out of supporting small business owners along their own journeys. And by following the strategies I’ve developed, I’m always home for dinner and even have time to go for a swim in the pool.
Learning the tools of the trade
Once I had the planning side covered, it was time to master the tools. I knew that cloud technology was crucial to the success of my business. But, first, I needed to discover how to fully embrace its potential. So I set about learning the ropes. Then, I learned some more. Keeping up with the latest advances can be overwhelming at times, which is why I have a motto that I live by: If it’s not simply clear, keep it clearly simple.
Rather than trying to take on everything at once, narrow down and find your niche. As something of a methodical character (in case you hadn’t noticed). For me, this meant studying the basics until I became a consummate Xero user and trainer. With my love for streamlining processes, it wasn’t long before I was looking to Hubdoc, Stripe and GoCardless to maximise time, boost client savings and, of course, simplify.
The next step was calling my local Xero account manager for tips on how to attract clients. She too kept it simple, saying, “Do it the old-fashioned way: talk to people”. So, I reached out to small businesses in my local area and listened to their challenges and goals. Then, I offered to help them find the answers. So much of what we do as business-keepers is about forging genuine connections with people. Through word of mouth, my business has grown from strength to strength.
Helping business owners get their lives back
Drawing from my own experiences as a business owner, I’ve learned how streamlining processes can impact the value you get out of life. One of my clients was still doing payroll longhand, the old-fashioned way. Every Wednesday at 5pm, she’d sit down with her employee timesheets and figure out how much to pay them. Which meant that every Wednesday she’d miss family dinner. Until she contacted All Things Sorted.
This year, with the arrival of Single Touch Payroll, she asked me for help. I said, “We’re going to simplify this process, and you won’t miss a Wednesday night dinner again, I promise.” I set up her payroll in Xero, enabling the team to fill their timesheets in on their phones. All my client needs to do now is check, authorise and process payroll.
After a month had passed, she called with a happy voice, “Heike, guess what? I’ve done it: I’m sitting down having dinner with my family. Thank you!”
When I look back on what I’ve achieved over the past few years, these are the stories that count. Because while you can plan for the more predictable roadblocks in business (and in life), it’s the personal relationships you form that will help you through the unpredictable.
As my business continues to grow, each year, I make the time to review my goals and strategies and take note of what’s working and what needs to be worked on. Before I move on to the next one, I am always grateful for what I have learned along the way.
My tips on building a successful practice:
- Draw a roadmap: Where do you want your business to be in one, three and five years’ time? Start creating a picture of what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there – this is the foundation of your business plan.
- Set your goals: Once you’ve defined your vision, it’s time to start setting goals. Write them down and share them with team members, family, and friends. You never know, some of those people might even become your clients in the process.
- Build your knowledge: Record the tools and systems that will help you to reach your objectives. Acknowledge the time and money that it will take. But most of all, acknowledge your journey as a lifelong learner.
- Learn from your mistakes: Take the time to reflect on the lessons you learn along the way. They clarify what you want to do more of and what you need to change.
- Know your clients: Listening is key. Pick up the phone, connect and listen to your client’s needs. Then you can decide on how to get them sorted in the most effective and cost-efficient way.
- Be kind: It’s very simple, be kind to yourself and you’ll be kinder to others. While technology may be the tool, ours is a thoroughly human industry and it’s the relationships you form that cement your success.
A Xero expert says:
If you were to start a brand new firm tomorrow, now would be the ideal time to ensure that your technology systems and apps integrate with each other seamlessly. Beyond automating documents and collecting information, you want connected tools that proactively provide client insights. This way, you remove the admin (and headaches) and create all the more time to build success.
Patrick Frigo, Practice App Specialist, Xero Australia