By Sheree Willems, Owner, Cloud Kin, Western Australia
Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.
Since saying goodbye to the nine-to-five life, bookkeeper Sheree Willems has been doing things a little differently. Working and living aboard a boat docked in sunny Fremantle, she has created a thriving cloud-based practice that’s set to sail the seas – complete with a dedicated roster of clients, many of whom she carefully transitioned to join in her digital journey.
Whether your office is the beach, your backyard, or even the local cafe, there’s plenty to learn from Sheree’s take on making it work while working remotely.
I was searching for more flexibility for my family, both in an effort to shake up our everyday routine and to finally achieve that elusive work-life balance. Fast forward a few years and here we are, living and working from our boat. But first, let me provide a little background.
Opening up to new possibilities
During my 17 years in the industry, I’ve owned a number of bookkeeping practices. The one constant is the incredible value I get from working with small business owners. As an early Xero adopter, I was suddenly able to connect with clients across Australia and work far more autonomously. I was also able to put procedures in place that gave them back the time to do what they love. This opened up to a whole new world of possibilities to me. So we made the move from Perth to Busselton to live in a small town by the water.
I’d always been aware of the impact my day-to-day stress levels had on my business and family. My husband and I would sit on the jetty, watching the boats sail by, and say, “We’ve got the right skill set, now how do we make the transition to working remotely?” The dream itself had been there since we got married ten years ago, but embracing the cloud with Xero was something of a turning point. I decided it was time to start pursuing our ideal lifestyle.
Moving from dreamers to doers
It all started with a plan. The thing with plans is that they need to be flexible if they’re ever going to work out. As lovers of adventure, we decided to move on board a boat docked in Mandurah with our three children. But we didn’t just sail away into the sunset. In fact, we’d never actually sailed a boat before – but that wasn’t about to stop us.
We wrote our idea down and the steps it would take to arrive there: a year of initial planning, find the right boat, sell our home, make the move, take sailing lessons, master the transition to working and living on board, and build up to a bigger adventure. My top piece of advice for anyone considering a lifestyle change? Get that dream out of your head and onto a piece of paper. In our case, I made sure to involve the whole family so that it became a shared journey.
Next, whether you’re moving to a new country or a home office, break your goal down into bite-sized steps. For example, the first year – before the boat – I aimed to convert 10% of my income to online. Then, as part of a detailed five-year business plan, I steadily continued to transition to digital. As a bookkeeper with three desks, two filing cabinets and two cupboards, this was quite a process.
In the first year that I tried to run my office from the boat, I drove everyone crazy storing files all over the place. I had no choice but to learn smarter and more efficient ways of doing things. That’s where the seamless integration of the Xero apps ecosystem came to the rescue. Apps like Hubdoc and Receipt Bank have ensured that I run a streamlined operation, all the while still adding value for my clients.
Transitioning to a new way of working
At the time we were planning the move, I had 15 clients. As well as cutting down on manual processes, I needed to offer them an incentive to stay. To smooth the transition, I suggested that we trial our remote-working relationship. Then I encouraged them to consider the benefits of digital by explaining just how much time and money there was to be saved. While they took some convincing, I’m proud to say that each of my original clients is still on board today.
When working remotely, it’s vital to manage expectations. For this reason, we always agree the timeline that things need to be completed by. Clear parameters mean that I can fully embrace the freedom my lifestyle allows (after all, that’s the whole point).
Beyond nurturing my existing clients, I chose working remotely so that I could diversify. I’ve found that it pays to be selective; anyone with similar goals is a natural fit. I use LinkedIn to meet prospective clients, followed by a Zoom session so we can have that all-important face-to-face connection. I’ve managed to form a varied network of clients, collaborators and friends who are doing wonderful things across the country. Technology has been the ultimate enabler for my career.
Collaborating and making connections
There’s nothing more important than human connection. That’s why I always prioritise face time with my clients, whether online, or in person when the opportunity arises (sadly insurance means getting them on the boat is a bit of a no-go). It’s the little things that create a relationship, so I try and remember every detail – from children’s birthdays to just checking in and wishing them a good day.
In the same vein, creating a trusted professional support network has been key to my success. When you work remotely, things happen: boats break down, internet cuts out, flights get cancelled and kids get sick. So finding backup help is non-negotiable. I interviewed over 60 bookkeepers Australia-wide to find a core team. We’re all seeking balanced lives, and do everything we can to support each other. I truly couldn’t do it without them. It’s all about personal growth, and you’re only going to become better, stronger and wiser if you’re willing to collaborate with others.
Making the move to the boat was certainly a leap of faith – for my career, my clients and, most of all, for my family. The freedom that we’ve discovered in return has been life-changing, especially as we prepare for the final stage of our plan: setting sail around Australia (and of course, working along the way).
All proof that with plenty of preparation and the right mindset, anyone can pursue a whole new life while doing the work they love.
My tips on how to make it work while working remotely:
- Create a plan and stick to it: The key to change is having the patience to chip away at your long term goal/s.
- If there’s family involved, get them on board: It’s important that the journey becomes a shared one. We swapped photos and even created a family Pinterest board.
- Make time for face time: It always pays to connect with clients – consider video chat your new best friend!
- Find your support network: Find (or create) a group of like-minded remote-working professionals who’ll always be on call to help.
- Invest in training: Take advantage of your new-found freedom by investing in training and discovering skills you didn’t previously have time for.
- Embrace new technology: By mastering new technology you can provide better value for your clients and inspire confidence that this remote working thing actually works.