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Boss Insights 2021: Growing season – Building a purpose-driven business during a pandemic

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Trent Innes

May 9, 2021

This article first featured in the Boss Insights 2021 report, Sole trader surge: small business in a post-COVID world

Despite the challenges that 2020 brought, our latest research shows Australia has yet again proven to be an overwhelmingly resilient nation. While many businesses had no choice but to shed staff or close their doors after the arrival of COVID-19, many Aussies were prompted to take the leap to self-employment over the past year. Prepared in partnership with Bernard Salt and his team at The Demographics Group, this report identifies key trends and patterns, and uncovers where opportunities lie for small businesses in a post-COVID world. 

Helping small businesses grow

Leaving a salaried role to start a new business is a bold risk to take, but one that’s paid off for Emily Ridley of Emerge Advisory, an accounting and bookkeeping practice dedicated to helping small business owners thrive in an all new world.

For Queensland-based small business advisor Emily Ridley, the first day of July 2020 represented much more than a new financial year. It was on this day that she took a leap of faith and began running her own business. 

Leaving behind a secure role in a multi-office accounting practice is a big step to take but, as for many others, the pandemic forced Emily to reassess what she wanted out of life and work. 

“Last year, I discovered it was more important for me to focus on caring for my clients by making those ‘Are you okay?’ calls than focus on billable work,” explains Emily. 

With her former employer’s support of her new business venture, Emily launched Emerge Advisory, a people-centred practice aimed at helping small businesses emerge from the pandemic stronger and better than before.

Seeding new growth

Launching a new business during a time of global instability requires courage, but also ingenuity. To find new clients Emily deployed a clever, low-cost marketing strategy. 

“Right before lockdown, my partner and I moved to a brand new suburb in Queensland. There are tradies everywhere and houses going up left, right and centre. There’s a ute parked in every second driveway, and every house has a new garden,” explains Emily.

With the pandemic driving people to leave Melbourne and Sydney, Emily identified newcomers to Queensland as potential clients, as well as busy tradies and other small business owners benefiting from eased restrictions driving more people into the state.

To capture their attention, Emily put her business branding on packets of plant seeds, along with pun-filled taglines such as ‘Lettuce help your business grow’ and ‘We offer sage business advice’.

“I did a mailbox drop of 650 seed packets around the housing estate. They’re cheesy, but they got people talking. I’ve got clients directly from those seeds and referrals from being tagged in Facebook posts,” says Emily.

Small business in bloom

Emily’s clients are a mix of sole traders and small business owners working in trades and services, many of them also inspired to set up their own business during the pandemic. 

“I’ve set up so many new company structures in the past year. COVID-19 has given us a different perspective on how the world can work. People are now more empowered to go out on their own. It’s been an amazing, heartbreaking, treacherous, horrible year, but it’s also been exciting to see so many people take that brave step of going out on their own,” she says. 

Starting off working from home during the lockdown, the business soon outgrew her home office. Moving into a co-working space in Scarborough has allowed Emily to grow the business, be more productive, and meet others within the local business community.

“I’ve picked up so many clients from being in that building. We’ve grown significantly faster than planned, so it’s essential to have a great team behind me because I can’t do it alone,” admits Emily, who now has four employees helping to run the business.

Wowed by the cloud 

As a 100% cloud-based firm, Emerge Advisory has introduced many clients to the world of online accounting. Emily explains that clients are often amazed at the difference Xero and integrated apps have made to their business. 

“One client previously used 17 different colour-coded spreadsheets to track and manage staff, invoicing, and job management. I’d never seen anything like it,” explains Emily. 

After trialling a few different methods, Emily found Xero Projects was the solution this business was looking for. 

“Within 24 hours of adopting Xero Projects, they’d stopped using the spreadsheets. It saved the team so much time and made coming to work more enjoyable. I got so many grateful phone calls from them,” shares Emily.

Finding purpose 

Despite her business going from strength to strength, Emily admits that imposter syndrome sometimes rears its head. 

“Some days, I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Can I really do this?’,” she says, before adding that sharing her concerns with other advisors helps her to gain some perspective when she’s feeling overwhelmed.

Despite the occasional doubts, Emily finds running her own business highly rewarding because it’s aligned with her purpose. 

“One of the best parts of my job is being able to listen and reassure clients that someone cares. Whether they’re worried about a tax debt or falling behind in superannuation payments, it feels good to know I can do something meaningful to help,” explains Emily. 

Emily’s tips for setting up your own practice:

Master your tasks

Whether you use Xero Projects or another online tool, task management is essential. Writing things down on paper just isn’t as efficient. 

Cultivate camaraderie

You’re not expected to know everything, especially when you’re starting out. If you’re struggling, reach out to other people in the industry for advice.

Share it around

Sharing expertise and referring business to others helps to build relationships within the industry and drives the best outcomes for your clients, especially if the work isn’t within your area of expertise. 

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