I'm an accountant who's looking for some extra work. Note I didn't say job. I'm open to anything, but I enjoy what I'm doing and would prefer if it fitted in with that.
I began in public practice in 1998. Most of the early years were spent working in Paraparaumu. My partner bought me out after a stroke in 2007 which was the first sign of a previously undiagnosed health issue. Last year my wife (Lynette) gave me a kidney – which has restored me to reasonable health, hence now I seek more work.
While I was recovering from the stroke NZ also had a stroke (GFC) and getting new clients was next to impossible. Most of the clients I work with have been with me from my early days in Lower Hutt and Paraparaumu. As I was considering giving up my professional life completely, I had a brainwave – I'd become an internet accountant. It fits well with my earlier work as a systems accountant.
When our children have moved out of the home, we took over their rooms as offices, and now serve clients over the internet. It's meant changes – no more "hand-holding" services, with clients dropping by for a chat - but works quite well. And my transplant means my immune system is suppressed so not being exposed to clients all day long reduces my risk of infection.
So all's well with the world. My wife works with me, publishing accounts, looking after tax and doing our own accounts. The challenge we have is how difficult it is to market our services as an internet accountant. Everyone thinks of an accountant as having a public office. Even internet directories require us to have a regional base. We're working on the challenge – but can handle more work thanks to improved health – and it's not coming in quickly enough to sustain us.
In 2014 when NZICA merged with Australia, I looked at the two options and decided CPA offered marginally more for the small practice. So with some hesitation and sadness, I left the Institute and joined CPA. There's less difference between them than the old NZICA liked to think. Hopefully, it doesn't put my colleagues off – but I should disclose this up front.
We have two companies – Academy Certified Accountants Ltd and Academy of Business Excellence Ltd. The latter we had in Paraparaumu to separate out business development services, and today we do any work for clients who don't require us to act as tax agent through this. Looking after clients as tax agent is always our priority, but our passion lies in helping businesses enhance the lives of their owners.
We could seek work in an existing firm or opening another office, but we like what we currently do and heath continues to throw up challenges. So we are wondering if we could use those skills for other accountants.
When we were in a "normal" practice, we always hated it when clients would say there wasn't much for us to do – it was all in XYZ package. A shudder ran down my spine just thinking about it. The mess was often enough for us to redo the work in our system. So when we decided to become an internet accountant, we decided to work differently.
First, off we charge clients a fixed fee. In the first year or two, this usually results in a loss. In time, things settle down. If they don't, we ask the clients to change to a system like BankLink, so we can manage the work for them. And if they don't agree then they need to find another accountant. That's only ever happened once – and they accepted the BankLink proposal. They then got lower fees than had been the case – and we no longer had an issue with large write-offs. While this obviously doesn't apply where we're contracting through a client's own accountant, we still prefer to negotiate a fixed fee for a known service.
Second, we spend time getting their systems right from the start. (Interesting to note IRD's finally identified that as important.) That often requires extra time educating and training them, but from their point of view, they didn't know accounting so why should they pay extra. That may not be the way most professionals would see it – but we accepted that.
Thirdly we need the tools to handle this work. Fortunately today it is not an issue – except possibly in areas where broadband is limited. With tools like Skype, DropBox and TeamViewer (and not forgetting basic email) we can work with clients remotely and effectively. If you want to try it's easy to show you how this works.
Fourthly we need to make sure that the client's systems are updated to match year-end entries we make, including depreciation, interest, accruals, salaries, tax and whatever else may be the case. By ensuring clients ledgers reflect these changes and agree with the accounts returned to IRD, we don't have issues with opening balances the following year.
And last we need expertise in systems. I used to be a systems accountant at one stage, and my wife was a programmer in her former life (before children), so we have a reasonable background for this. In the early days, clients had a choice between MYOB 8 and QuickBooks 5. It's a bit more complex these days, with each of these having three product lines, and Xero and MoneyWorks also on the scene.
Of course, clients could always use a cash-book – although we've never seen the point of these. If clients want their own system, a "proper" accounting system is a small extra investment and ties in with their accounts. We have in the past helped clients with these systems, but today focus on the major packages.
So what packages do we support? MYOB, Reckon (formerly QuickBooks) and Xero are the major systems in use today – even that is more complex. Both MYOB and Reckon have their traditional packages and online versions of the same. They have taken quite different approaches to implement their online systems.
They also have newer on-line products only – mini-Xeros if you like. While there are always adjustments to the traditional products, these newer products are developing even faster. Mind you they need to - even market-leading Xero lacks features of the traditional programs.
As a business partner of these firms, I have access to their online world. For Xero that's free – but for both MYOB and Reckon there's an annual fee for this.
Then there's MoneyWorks – something which has grown on me while I've been working with a client. He uses Apple Macs so has little real choice, but the program is also available for Windows (just as well since I don't use or even like Macs).
I have also had clients who use Sage – but one is no longer in business and I've recently fired the other (not over his choice of package). Having had this client I have to say I didn't believe he could make such a mess in another package – but his use of Xero for one of his companies has shown me how wrong I was. So while I have some limited familiarity with Sage, I'm hesitant to commit to working with this system.
I have at times used other packages, but these have been the bread and butter since returning to practice.
In order to expand our fee base, we are would love to find partners who might like to be able to offer accounting package support through us – either as a general service or for a particular client. By dealing through our second company and by referring all non-package issues to their accountant, we limit our work so we don't start eating into the accountant's role.
In offering our services supporting users of accounting packages to fellow accountants, we believe we can fill a need – especially for smaller practices without the time and familiarity with all packages to support their own users. We also provide a service to those who have chosen to base their services around a particular product, but who would like to service clients who choose an alternative package. Why should someone change packages when it's easier to find a new accountant? Some do - but if you support only one package, we can discuss helping your other clients for you.
We're aware that some may see this as risky. What's to stop us from poaching your clients? Apart from our morals (sadly we don't expect trust to be enough these days), we like what we do, without the hassles of tax administration, etc. We're prepared to sign pretty much whatever makes you happier on this front – e.g. we won't take over clients we've worked with for at least say three years.
A second option
My wife (Lynette) is also looking for extra activity – preferably out of the home with a little more social interaction than just me. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it must be stuck at home with a boring accountant for her only company. Her aims aren't limited to accounting practices. It may be that you have clients who need training in or assistance with the basics of running an office, including perhaps basic bookkeeping. Or it could be totally outside the world of accounts (apparently there is life outside of accounting). One job entailed scanning of decades of technical papers for a firm which was relocating to smaller premises.
We would be happy to discuss such situations or anything else that comes to mind. Call or email us and we can see if we can do business together.