This month, owner and operator of First Class Accounts Vermont, Carol Girvan, talks us through the highs and lows of running a bookkeeping firm while travelling the country.
Having worked in financial services for 30 years, Carol Girvan has witnessed plenty of change in her time.
Starting out in a payroll software company, where she worked for over a 15-year timespan, Girvan eventually decided to buy into the First Class Accounts franchise in 2003. She opened the doors to her Vermont, Victoria-based firm the following year. Fast-forward to today, and Girvan is into the fifth year of enjoying a nomadic lifestyle, managing her business as she travels the country at leisure.
With a wealth of knowledge across payroll and bookkeeping at her disposal, we were excited to hear from Girvan regarding her opinions on business management and the industry at large.
What do you see as the big pros and cons of your job?
The positives of working in my own business are many: the opportunity to work with like-minded people, both clients and other franchisees; the opportunity to strike my own work-life balance (well, nearly!); the ability to work from wherever I am at the time.
To give you an indication of the flexibility I’ve enjoyed, four years ago my husband and I left Melbourne with our caravan and have travelled the highways and byways of Australia. What could be a greater ‘positive’ than that?
And the downsides? I’m really hard-pushed to find any. EOFY is currently at the forefront of my mind, so I guess I would have to comment that the quarterly BAS times and EOFY can be somewhat stressful. But a look out of the window of the van at a beautiful Australian landscape or seascape and stress levels immediately diminish.
How would you describe your job in a Tweet (as in, 140 characters)?
A job for those who enjoy people, life, laughter, choices, travelling and a challenge.
What does an average day look like?
Due to the distractions available on a daily basis when we’re travelling, I have to be self-disciplined in regard to maintaining a ‘to do’ list and keeping to it.
When organising where we’re going to head next, access to the internet is imperative and at the busy times, we tend to stay longer in one spot.
In short, to define an ‘average day’ is not an easy task. Most days offer something new, and no two are the same.
Tell us something surprising about your job that people may not know about?
The majority of people imagine that a bookkeeper sits in an office and works with figures all day. This is so far from the truth. With the advent of ‘cloud’ software the traditional office has, for me, become a thing of the past and has allowed me the freedom to live my dream.
Has your client base decreased, increased or remained steady over the past 12 months?
When we decided to leave Melbourne, I was concerned about maintaining my client base.
Apart from natural attrition (businesses closing and so on) all the clients I had when I left are still with me. I had my caravan sign-written and, although this has not attracted many new clients, it can be a source of conversation when we’re not on the move.
New clients have been referred to me through existing relationships, but overall my client base has remained steady.
Does your business provide advisory, and if so, do you have any learnings?
This is a side of my business I would love to develop and expand.
On client visits, it’s always front of mind and, as all my clients are small business owners, it’s an area sadly lacking in the world of many of them.
I try to make a visit to each of my clients a couple of times a year where discussing their management reports, budgeting and cash flow forecasting has become an integral part of those visits.
What new technologies is your business using and trialing to stay efficient, client-focused and relevant?
What a great era we work and live in! The introduction of apps to capture receipts, accounting software making payments by card so easy, the lodgement and payment of superannuation streamlined and it’s little wonder efficiency in business is growing exponentially.
To assist clients in staying up to date, compliant and informed, First Class Accounts send franchisees a monthly newsletter template that we’re able to email to our clients. The judicious use of Facebook pages and LinkedIn are also recommended.
Are there any finance or accounting memberships that really add value for you?
I have been a member of the Australian Bookkeepers Network (ABN) since 2004 and have found them to be a highly valuable source of information and support. The resources available on their members’ website are second to none.
What prompted you to join the MYOB Partner Program?
As far as I was concerned it was a ‘no-brainer’. I’ve always used MYOB in my business and also my husband’s business. When I joined First Class Accounts, membership of the Partner Program was included in my purchase price. From there, a love affair developed between MYOB and I, and some years later I made the decision to become a Certified Consultant – what a great move that was!
What advice do you have for new members on how they can maximise their membership value?
My advice would be to take advantage of everything their membership has to offer. The webinars, the online training, the partner seminars available in each State and, of course, Partner Connect.
How do you stay abreast of legislative and technological changes within the industry?
Every three months, First Class Accounts hold a one-day Regional Training day in each State. This is where new software and any legislative changes are introduced. \
Each September, we also have a three-day conference where, again, the latest information is presented as well as consolidation of the ‘old favourites’.
ABN run a series of ‘Bookkeeper Radio’ programmes – usually monthly. These sessions are also very informative.
Finally, MYOB present webinars and online training, which assists in maintaining up-to-date knowledge.
What are some of the opportunities and threats facing your industry?
The greatest opportunity at the moment is to assist in the implementation and provision of Single Touch Payroll (STP). Many small business owners need help in the STP arena – both in understanding the legislation and learning to use software.
The major threat would have to be the resistance of many business owners to change. In this ever-changing world, it’s essential that we educate our clients in regard to the multitude of changes occurring and expose them to the benefits which will become available through acceptance.
Is there anything you’ve learned that you wish someone had told you 10 years ago?
Listen to your heart as well as your head. Whether it’s about the software to use or where you choose to work and live. Let go of the restrictions placed on you by social norms and conventions.
The adage “Live your dream” is usually relevant.
What does success look like to you?
One of the most ‘successful’ moments in my business life was to be inducted into the First Class Accounts’ ‘Hall of Fame’. To be acknowledged by your peers is hugely rewarding.
In my personal life, the most recent highlight was reaching our 50th wedding anniversary.
What’s one industry buzzword you’re sick of hearing?
One buzzword? What gets to me more than anything is the ever-present use of acronyms!
Unfortunately, many people using acronyms forget that half the world doesn’t know the meaning of the abbreviation and neglect to give an explanation. ATO? STP? TPAR? It never ends!
Do you have a secret talent?
I make a great lemon meringue pie.
If you could have a special power what would it be?
To teach people that a mobile phone isn’t for texting or Googling when they’re dining out in restaurants!
Got any good bookkeeper jokes?
Don’t know that it’s good but:
A bookkeeper is having a hard time sleeping and goes to see his doctor.
“Doctor, I just can’t get to sleep at night,” he says.
“Have you tried counting sheep?” the doctor asks.
“But that’s just the problem,” the bookkeeper cries. “I make just one mistake and then spend three hours trying to find it!”