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‘New School’ rules

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Sue Pak

Oct 20, 2021

Simon Sinek, leadership expert and author of Start With Why and The Infinite Game, talks about starting with ‘WHY’. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – yet I continually encounter business owners who can’t clearly articulate their purpose.

My career has mainly been in accountancy, driven by a strong desire to make a difference to Kiwi businesses. I wanted to be an inventor when I was young. I was always thinking of different ways of doing things and how something could be more efficient.

So as I prepared sets of accounts for thousands of businesses, I was continually frustrated to see that business owners often didn’t have good systems in place. I wanted to do more to help with SMB operational processes that were inefficient and at times non-existent.

Finding my ‘WHY’ 

In early 2007, I took the plunge, leaving my accountancy job to start my own business. As daunting as that decision was, my passion was fuelled by my purpose. I set out to relieve operational stress for business owners by standardising and streamlining their processes. 

I really enjoyed the challenge that the following year brought, meeting people from various businesses, looking at their business with a different lens and working to improve the day-to-day business operations. Every step of progress I made visibly relieved the owner’s stress levels. The use of outdated technology and manual systems meant that business owners didn’t feel in control but just accepted that as part of running a business. They often tried to ignore it or procrastinate so they didn’t have to tackle change. Much of what I did involved educating small teams, helping them to adopt new technology, and bringing their systems up to date.

We hear a lot about digitisation, but research shows that even the word ‘digitisation’ can be scary. As a business owner, you need to be a jack of all trades, but you don’t need to know everything. In the current climate with the global pandemic, many businesses, including accounting firms, are re-shaping their service offering and their delivery methods. Those who accept that they need help with technology, systems, software, security and so on, are making significant changes for the better.

The journey – past and present

After a year of running my own business, I realised that I had an unscalable business model. I was struggling to find other people with similar experiences and this meant that I couldn’t grow the business. The demand for my services was increasing but I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. I was working longer hours and was starting to feel burnt out. I also felt lonely – I had no one to bounce ideas off, or rely on when I was feeling unmotivated. In hindsight it’s a bit like the pandemic effect – I was struggling to work from home day after day without interaction and languishing with the ‘groundhog day’ blues. Looking back, I knew I had to make a change, to look after my wellbeing. I needed to find a dynamic workplace where I could feed off the energy of others.

It was at this time I received a call from Liz Beale, Senior Account Manager at Xero, who asked if I’d be interested in a job. Already knowing that the vision of Xero was aligned to my Why, it piqued my interest. That was 2008, 13 years ago, and my time since then at Xero has been an amazing ride.

While plenty of people work for tech companies, not many can say they have participated in the journey of a high growth tech company. When I started at Xero, there were just 33 of us in the entire Xero team, and only 3 were based in Auckland. Since then, Xero has experienced year on year growth of roughly 30%.That significant rate of growth is not sustainable for most companies after a few years, however, the momentum has continued over time as Xero has expanded and grown. 

Onwards and upwards 

To say it’s been full on, is probably an understatement. During the first five years, I worked six days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day. I’ve experienced times of huge pressure and multitudes of challenges but I’ve also experienced great satisfaction, an enduring sense of accomplishment and countless learnings. I was, and still am, passionate about the purpose, “To make life better for people in small business, their advisors and communities around the world,” and I treated my work much like my own business. In fact, Rod Drury, Xero’s founder, regularly asked us to treat this ‘startup’ like our own business and most of the team did just that. 

I’ve also met incredible people, internally and externally and had loads of fun.  It’s been a privilege to meet so many fellow Xero’s who go above and beyond, demonstrating #human values and wanting to do the best work of their lives.

Every week I have watched Xero make a difference for small business owners and their advisors. Cashflow has always been key but today with so much uncertainty in the world, every business deserves to benefit from advances in technology and expert advice. I recommend every business owner find an advisor experienced in your industry who can help with strategic and financial decisions.

It’s great to be able to make a difference. However, it’s also increasingly important to make sure we look after ourselves. With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a six month break from work to relax and recharge. I’m grateful to my Xero whanau for allowing me the opportunity to do so.

Maintaining a healthy balance 

As I look back over the past 18 months, it’s been busier than normal with the added pressure of checking in on people because we aren’t passing each other in the office. Working in the cloud means work doesn’t stop when you’re in lockdown and can’t get into the office. At Xero, as a global company from day one, online meetings have been the norm for me but without face to face interaction it’s easy to sit at a computer without moving all day. I have been actively trying to take breaks, go for walks and rest my brain, but have not achieved that every day. 

There’s never been a more important time for businesses to look after the wellbeing of themselves and of their people. The Xero Assistance Programme (XAP) free and confidential wellbeing support to small businesses across New Zealand. These services are provided by Xero’s own provider, Benestar, and available to Xero Starter, Standard and Premium subscribers, their employees, and their families.

Xero’s new Why We’re In It hub also offers a range of tools and resources to help you and your employees. So whether you are stressed about money, find yourself working too much, or are worried about your team, this handy hub has a range of information at your disposal, and is a great resource to help reconnect you to your ‘why’.

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