Episode 14: Improve yourself, improve your business


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Hosted by Jeanne-Vida Douglas and Rob Stone

Most small business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have the time to step back from work and assess their goals and their lifestyle, much less take a holiday. So what would your business look like if you also made time for yourself?

In this episode of Xero In, hosts Rob Stone and Jeanne-Vida Douglas chat to Brett Kelly, senior client director at Kelly + Partners, about why taking time out and reflecting on your personal goals is as important as working on your business. Brett also shares his thoughts on how to set a positive example and why he takes 16 weeks of leave every year, at the same time as running a thriving business.

“If you’re not energetic you’ll attract people that aren’t energetic,” he said. “Your employees are a read out on who you are. So, if you don’t treat people well, you’ll attract people that don’t treat you well.”

Small business resources:

Universal Wisdom – by Brett Kelly

How much should you pay yourself? – Xero Small Business Guide

Episode transcript

Hosts: Jeanne-Vida Douglas [JVD] and Rob Stone [RS]
Guest: Brett Kelly [BK]

RS: Welcome back to Xero In. We're joined again by Brett Kelly, the founding partner of private business accounting firm, Kelly Partners.

JV: He was so good last time we had to get him back on.

RS: I mean he was sharing some fascinating insights in the world of accounting and what makes a good accountant.

JVD: Also I think this time round, what's going to be really interesting in finding out some of those big picture ideas and where he got the inspiration from other extremely successful people through his life by actually going out and talking to them and what he captured from that process.

RS: That's right and transposing those big picture ideas onto how small businesses can be successful and how you can be the best manager and then leader so you can get on with it.

JVD: He is a really inspiring guy to talk to, I've got to say.

RS: Yeah. You can't help but come away and feel the passion.

JVD: Absolutely. It makes me want to go for a run too because he combines all of that healthy body, healthy mind energy. Yeah. He's just a really positive person to have around. So, let’s hear from Brett.

RS: Brett, it's a pleasure to have you here again. Could you kick off by telling our listeners what is it that drives you? What drives your business and how does your personal philosophy translate across what is now effectively a national firm?

BK: We have this saying that at Kelly Partners we look after private business owners who want to go somewhere. We say that most accountants aren't going anywhere. They're go nowhere people. They run go nowhere businesses and so they can't help you go somewhere. So you've got to be quite clear. Do I want to go somewhere? Or not? Can I get there with this person who's not going anywhere? And finally the bottom line is it's very difficult to become a wealthy, financially independent, fit, healthy, engaged, happy person dealing with the lowest common denominator. So it's really difficult to make money taking advice from somebody who doesn't know how to make money. I'm big into private businesses are run by actual people.

You know, at Kelly Partners we specialise in private business owners. Okay we don't do government. We don't do listed companies. We won't do anything for anyone. We just do that. Now why? If you do a lot of something you get good at it. You've got a huge amount of power if you will go deep in your business before you try to go tall. So you don't ever need to become a big business but I do believe you need to become a deep person, you need to become a deep business. You need to deeply understand why you're doing what you're doing and the difference that you can make.

JVD: So, if you could just go over again, what is it that makes a good accountant? You know, The last time we spoke you mentioned that too many people try to choose their accountant based on who they know, who their mates are.

BK: Now to that I say if you're desperate for a mate buy a dog, they're much cuter. If your mate's costing you 500,000 bucks a year that's a lot of money. Or you might just want to lift your standards about the type of friends you have because at the end of the day you will end up the average of the seven people you spend the most time with you plus six others. So you'll end up the average health of those people, you'll end up the average wealth of those people and in your business one of those people and one of the primary people is going to be your accountant. So you really have to play the man or play the woman. You've got to look at them as a person and say are they fit, healthy, engaged in their own life, excited about breathing and doing what they do? Can they make a difference in my business in the way that they've made a difference in their own business?

RS: And willing to ask those tough questions.

BK: And ask the questions, and say to themselves, you know, do I want to change my situation? Or do I want to be a moaner? We all know it's true. But we also do all know that in every industry there are people getting different results. And if you won't do it for your financial outcomes which is fine at least do it for your kids because, you know, at night when you go home your kids have to look at you. And you're their primary teacher by example and what are you teaching them? That life's hard. That everyone's busy. That everything's miserable and that you're going to end up fat and miserable like your father or your mother. You know, it's a horrible example and it isn't actually true.

So what's great is we've got a great client base – and they're inspiring people. They're getting up. They're making a difference. They're doing things. And so it's very self-reinforcing if you are clear about what your business is trying to do, you're trying to help people who are trying to help people and you're actually hanging around the sorts of people doing things and then it's quite easy to keep your energy up which I think's really important.

JVD: So what are the warning signs? Like you've spoken a little bit about the extent to which people have these toxic relationships with their accountants and they're with them because they're their mates. What are the warning signs?

BK: The warning signs are really simple. We - we typically say do you know how you get bills at random times. You never know what the bill's for. Let alone what it delivered. That's a great warning sign. And you've never been asked up - you know, upfront, you know, how much you want to spend. What we do at Kelly Partners is put it in writing. So it's a fixed fee. It is agreed upfront always.

JVD: So these are bills from the accountant?

BK: Yeah. And if you can't understand the bills and you don't know when the bills are coming and how much they're going to be for them. What it is and the value it's adding you've by definition got a problem. That's normally a reflection of a business that's unorganised. So here's an accountant who can't clearly or won't clearly communicate what their value proposition is, the difference that they're actually making in your business and what it will cost honestly, transparently, upfront so that you can consider whether that makes a difference, whether you can afford it at the moment or whether you want to afford it at the moment and whether it's a good deal with you. So if they are running their business like that you have to think about your own business. If I did that in my own business - imagine running a coffee shop. I run a coffee shop. Somebody comes in and says "I'd like a coffee." "Cool man, just have a seat, I'll send it to you at some point." "How much is that going to be?" "Can't really tell you until I've made the coffee and you've actually drunk it and then I'll give you a bill."

But I thought it was going to be four bucks but it came and it turned out it was eight. That's bad business practice and so...

JVD: Yes.

BK: If somebody runs their business that way probably can't help you run your business anyway. I would look physically at that person. I do it when I employ people. The person that isn't physically fit is going to struggle with the level of energy required to compete in a modern economy. And so I would look at that person and ask myself okay mm what level of energy am I going to get from this person? If I put into this relationship can they put into this relationship?

RS: That's an interesting one, and a consistent passion for small business.

BK: Absolutely. I would go the fourth thing, you know, are they specialists in the type of business that we are? Now not an industry specialist. Hopefully you develop systems that help you help your clients more. I think that specialisation in - in terms of knowing the mindset of a private business owner, having a system to help them understand where they are and where they want to get to is really important. We also see things like the quality of the actual advice. The client can't check the quality but when we do a review we can sort of show the quality of the actual advice. Often it is pretty - pretty average. Look at the physical premises of the actual accountant. You know, if this accountant has sat in the same place with piles of paper around them, it looks like a pigsty. But when you talk about private businesses I like to say that I don't think a private business owner can outperform the level of performance of its owner.

So often a private business owner will say to me "you know, it's hard to find good people." I say "not really." They say "what do you mean?" I say "it's very important to be a good person and if you want to find good people be a good person. How well are you going at that?" "Oh well I'm busy." "Okay. You're going to attract what you are." So if you don't treat people well you'll attract people that don't treat you well. If you're not energetic you'll attract people that aren't energetic. Your employees are a read out on who you are. You might not like that and so are your children. So be honest with yourself and say, you know, if I want my people to learn... We've learnt that we should expect that they would do 10 per cent of what we do.

JVD: Yes.

BK: So if we are – if we read 10 business books a year we'd expect them to read one. So if you're a business owner you go to one day's training a year outside your business you could expect your people off their own bat to go to about one hour. If you re - read 10 business books you can expect them to read one.

JVD: is there room in the small business community also for businesses that aren't focused on growth for growth's sake?

BK: Absolutely.

JVD: Now a lot of people move into small business, move into their own business, for – for lifestyle reasons essentially and for – for passion reasons yeah?

BK: Yeah.

JVD: And they're not necessarily going to be the biggest, the greatest, the fastest growing company. So there are other goals as well. How do you help people really identify what those goals are and match their plan to that outlook that – that is not perhaps growth related but is personal growth related?

BK: It's exactly what we do in a flight plan. We sit them down and we ask them what are their hopes, dreams and aspirations for their families. Then we write their personal goals down. Your financial goals are only one part of your life and the biggest problem in a modern society, western society, is that people are utterly consumed and look at all of life through a financial prison.

When what they need to do is step back and say well what is the point of my life? In my view the point of their life is to grow in wisdom and deep understanding. But they can come up with whatever answer they like and then to match their own goals and behaviours, allocation of their time and money to achieving that life that they want. So that takes a little bit of thought. Not much. It takes about five minutes to do that because most people have that in their heart. They might be a little scared to tell anyone but they actually know what they're kind of on about and often they haven't found a way to actually get that down clearly and then match that economic piece which is, you know what, you don't have to grow for its own sake.

What we do is specialise in working with private business owners who want to go somewhere and we specifically say in our strategy map that we give to our - our people that we don't look at our clients and segment them by size of business. We don't look at them by - by size of profits. We don't care about that bit. What we care about first is who are these people as people and what are they trying to achieve? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? What do you want your life to look like? How do you want it to feel? It's certainly not something people haven't thought about. But it is something that almost no one we meet has an actionable plan to make happen.

RS: Brett, how should our listeners go about actioning this advice because you've got some really good ideas here, but it's probably a bit overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin?

BK: You just need to sit down and go who can I help today? Right who are my customers? Well your first customer is your husband or your wife. You second customer is your children. Your third customer is your internal people and your fourth customer is your external people. Your fifth customer is your suppliers. Now what is it that you could do that could make those people genuinely better off? So you go into your business, you work out, you know, I've got these employees, they've got hopes and dreams and aspirations. It costs nothing. It's actually very cheap and just 20 minutes per person at the end of every month. Now if you don't have 20 minutes a month for your key people and in our game every single one of our people then you don't have time to be in business and you certainly have no right to employ those people. So as a strategy then to get great people all I have to do is say well look my guys will sit down and talk to you about yourself for 20 minutes each month, how's that sound?

RS: I completely and wholeheartedly agree and I'm a bit of an optimist and I would love to see one day that all small business owners have that level of consciousness and understand their own principles and are living their own principles in the right way. Do you think we'll get there?

BK: It's not hard. It's really not hard. Think genuinely about what is going on with these people in their actual lives?

RS: It'd be pretty powerful if you had 2.1 million small business owners in Australia all thinking along these same lines.

BK: Look at the end of the day the small businesses that are doing well no matter how you define that are doing that. They are genuinely interested in the people that they're trying to serve. The great luxury brands of the world are specialists at building these little excellent things into what they do and it's really those 100 little extra things which to me often are quite basic. I don't think it's beyond anything.

RS: Can I just before we finish up I'd love to rewind. So when you left the investment bank and you were in a vacuum a lot of people often reflect on those times where they're in a vacuum. Everything I've been hearing today is you've got a deep rooted sense of curiosity which is awesome. But what - at that moment like what gave you the impetus and the catalyst to...

JVD: … To actually turn that into something?

RS: Yeah, the younger Brett Kelly.

BK: So don't get angry, get even. You know, don't hate the world, hate yourself. If you want to change the world change yourself. That's Ghandi. That's obvious. So try working on that for an idea. You know, hold yourself to a higher standard, be the person you said you would be when you grew up. You know, look yourself in the mirror, say am I the person I said I would be when I grew up? You know, was my aim to be how I am and am I going to spend my whole life blaming someone else for it? And then sit down with a pen and write down what you're going to do about it and then actually be the person you said you'd be when you grew up. You know, I dealt with a 70 year old this week who's worst behaved than my three year old.

BK: I meet 18 year olds who are better behaved than 70 year olds and it's ultimately about personal standards. You know, if they're stuck in the hole tomorrow and, you know, everyone got around and said, you know, this person was a, behaved like, - it's literally the question I love to ask people was well who do you - you know, who do you want to be when you grow up and what's stopping you growing up? "you know, breathe in anger, exhale love" which is literally sit down and say right I'm going to take what is a negative situation on the surface and take the energy that I could expend on blaming other people, circumstances, the industry, the economy, the market, my mother, my father, my education and my lack of this, my blah, blah, blah. And all the crap you hear from people which, you know, let's call it out, it is crap and say no rather than spending the time that I do have - we all have the same amount of time on that - I'm actually going to take what is energy, you can take very negative emotion, very negative energy and you can take it inside and do something positive with it. I do see small businesses who are battered by very often unfair situations, unhelpful regulation, burdensome government BS and other drama, all of the stuff that happens in life that is a burden and you can either take - let that take your energy and sort of dissipate your efforts or you can basically grab that and go right I'm going to make a serious dent on something.

You know, and when I'm working with a small business owner I say "mate against Apple's business or against Google's business or against any business you think is great what is shit in your business?" "Oh everything's pretty" - "no, no, no, hang on. When we compare ourselves to Apple we are shit. They are great. So what's one area? Is it your strategy? Is it why you're in business? Is it your structure, your people, your process, your clients, your financial, your reputation, your growth succession? What is it? Let's just pick one thing." "Oh people. No, we're not - we're not as good at doing all these 25 things that Google do for their people." Right. Let's just pick one. One thing we could do for them and implement it. Great, we'll make a folder, make a list of seven things, we're going to meet with them every month. Right, let's do that for three months and in seeing that you uncover this power. When people see it with their own eyes and they feel it and they go I can make a difference in my own life any moment. I can make a change.

RS: Well, I think we'd better say thank you, Brett, for sharing so much inspiration and speaking in a way that's thoroughly empowering for our listeners.

JVD: Brett Kelly, thanks very much for joining us on Xero In.

BK: Anytime.

JVD: Cheers.

RS: Thanks Brett.


VO: If you’d like to try Xero, head to Xero.com, there’s a 30 day no obligation free trial, so go ahead and check it out.


JVD: Every time Brett comes into the studio and has these amazing conversations with us I just feel so empowered and ready to, I don't know, go out, achieve, do stuff.

RS: Yeah. Exactly right. I want to create and build something and he ignites that desire in you. The other thing that is really interesting is the holistic approach that he takes to business in saying that business is nothing more than an extension of yourself.

JVD: He's brought that into his own firm in a really intriguing way in that traditional accountancy firms will help you out with your bookkeeping, but he's actually, effectively helping you out with your life because if you as the business owner or the entrepreneur aren't going well, then the business obviously isn't going to go well.

RS: That's right. He's really more of a mentor than just a business coach.

JVD: He's managed to actually systematise that in a way that's been so effective which is great. I mean it's effectively sharing what's worked in his life with his customers.

RS: Yeah. You come away feeling like we can do this ourselves. There's nothing holding us back from getting on and changing it. That's a big thing throughout the whole of the discussion that we had was him making us be conscious and question what we're actually doing on a day-to-day basis.

JVD: And particularly, I guess that focus on people, not profit, I found really intriguing because I mean you just expect again your accountant to be focusing on the bottom line the whole time, but he has this more complex bottom line that says your people have to be happy and engaged and functional. Of course, when he says it, it's so obvious, but that's not what you expect to hear.

RS: I love that. The other one I really love is you are the sum of the sum of people closest to you so make sure you surround yourself by really positive people.

JVD: Absolutely. It makes a big difference.

RS: That's a great call to action. Why don't we ask all our listeners today to go and pick one thing that they're going to improve on their business and maybe even experiment about biting off more than they can chew?

JVD: Absolutely. If nothing else, go for a run.

RS: Yeah.

JVD: Thanks for listening.

RS: Thank you.

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