Yes, you can have work-life balance and business success – with the right accountant
Three years ago, Natalie Firth and Ainsley Johnstone kick-started Think Talent, a recruitment company with flexibility at its core. Finding a talented accountant who understood their aims was top of the to-do list.
Natalie Firth and Ainsley Johnstone set out to make Think Talent a flexible workplace and found an accountant in the exact same headspace. They’ve built a booming HR consultancy together.
Who are Think Talent?
Natalie Firth and Ainsley Johnstone had just returned to their HR careers after maternity leave. They were discussing work-life balance over a glass of wine, with their babies sleeping next to them, and thinking how good it would be if employees were measured by performance rather than by hours worked.
“I suggested to Ainsley that she should start her own recruitment business,” says Natalie. “And she said ‘Why don’t you start one with me?’”
And so Think Talent was started. For the first 12 months it was just the two of them. Now they have a team of 10. Work-life balance still plays a big part in the business.
Natalie and Ainsley have put into practice the idea that people should be measured for their output, and not by the number of hours they work. That’s great for family-focused staff, but flexible working isn’t always about kids.
“Kids are a common reason people need flexibility,” says Natalie. “But we have a few people in our team who are really into health and fitness and they take a few hours off each day to exercise or meditate. That’s fine with us.”
Being transparent with clients about how they juggle work-life balance gives Think Talent an open and honest culture. Natalie explains that everyone is in the same situation, trying to balance their career and personal life, so everyone is understanding.
“Family has been a really important part of our story,” says Natalie. “It’s the reason we started the business and we’ve carried that through to the way we do business. It’s a point of difference, and quite often it’s why people feel like they’ve been able to connect with us.”
How did Think Talent find their accountant?
“The first time I tried to do bookkeeping, I realised in about five minutes that it was not my strength,” says Natalie.
Think Talent hadn’t been going for long before Natalie and Ainsley decided that investing in an accountant was essential. They chose Karen Stecki. Finding her was easy.
“She’s my husband’s cousin,” says Natalie. “I was a bit nervous about using someone in the family, so I really put the decision in Ainsley’s court. And it’s been fantastic.”
As well as being part of the family, Karen was a great fit in terms of her situation. She was a senior partner in an accounting firm, had taken time off to have kids, and wanted to get back to work.
“I knew Karen had been thinking about starting her own business,” says Natalie. “So I rang her and asked if she’d be interested in doing a bit of bookkeeping for us.”
Having a client that she already knew and trusted helped Karen kickstart her accounting business. And Think Talent has since referred a lot of business to her.
“The best thing we ever did was hire someone who actually knows what they’re doing when it comes to finances,” says Natalie. “We really see Karen as another member of the team.”
“You have to trust your accountant when it comes to running and growing a business. You need to know that your accountant’s got your back and your cash flow is protected.”
– Natalie Firth, Think Talent
How did a small business accountant help?
Like most young businesses, Think Talent was worried about keeping money in the bank. They also wanted to know how their management decisions would affect the financial outlook of the business. Karen was able to:
get invoices paid
Each Think Talent client had a different invoicing process and Natalie and Ainsley were struggling to get paid. Karen drove a new approach. “We now have clear conversations with clients before the work starts, rather than when the invoice is 30 days overdue. We’re happy to be flexible, but it goes both ways,” Natalie says.
keep the bank balance in the black
Karen has come up with a plan to make sure there’s always money in the bank. She tracks and reports on cash flow every week so Natalie and Ainsley know what they can afford to spend.
help them negotiate better deals with clients
Like most client businesses, Think Talent gets asked to reduce its fees. Karen suggested they reduce payment terms when cutting a deal like that. “We may shave a little off our margin, but we know we’ll be paid within seven days of invoicing,” Natalie explains.
improve their decision-making processes
Karen has built a financial model to help predict how the business will perform under different scenarios. “If we’re going to hire someone at $100K we run it through a financial model to see how it’s going to impact us,” Natalie says.
Working with an accountant who would speak up and voice their opinions was a core requirement for Think Talent.
“Ultimately, it’s our business, but we want someone who’s not afraid to push back, and Karen does that really well,” Natalie says.
Advice for new businesses
Having survived Think Talent’s growing pains, Natalie has advice for other businesses getting started.
- Listen to your customers.
It allows you to evolve into something better, and keeps you from stagnating.
- If you’re in a partnership, keep talking about the future.
“Being aligned on our vision and values has been key to our success. It’s helped to avoid friction when making big business decisions,” Natalie says. They've also agreed on what will happen if one of them needs to leave the business.
- Invest in advisors – both for accounting and strategy.
“Having an independent sounding board when you’re making a big decision is important,” she notes. “And invest in a great accountant, particularly if finance is not your strength. Preferably find one who can do your bookkeeping as well.”
Tips for finding a Melbourne accountant
Think Talent know a thing or two about recruitment. So how do they recommend you find the right accountant? Here are their tips:
- Make sure there's trust.
“You have to trust your accountant when it comes to running and growing a business,” says Natalie. “You need to know that your accountant’s got your back and your cash flow is protected."
- Find someone who really knows what they’re doing.
It seems obvious, but Natalie reiterates the importance of being confident in your accountant’s abilities. “The best thing we ever did was investing in someone who actually knows what they’re doing when it comes to finances.”
- Find someone who helps you grow
Working with an accountant who understands how you should manage and grow your business in a practical and sustainable way is key. “It’s really important to make sure we’re protecting our personal situation as well as the business,” says Natalie. “It’s been nice to know that Karen’s got our back and really protects us in that regard.”
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