The Business of Bookkeeping – Podcast 4

June 21, 2018

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:32) Now I’m delighted to be speaking with John Dyke who joined us from Townsville. Hello, John.

JOHN DYKE: (00:37) How are you going, Robert?

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:39) I’m going very well, thank you very much. So John, I’m really looking forward to speaking with you and I want to ask if we could start off by you just… for people that don’t know, give us a little snapshot of the area in which you work, Townsville.

JOHN DYKE: (00:52) Okay. Townsville is a regional city. It is a city. It’s the second largest city in Queensland, besides Brisbane, that’s got a population of about 20,000 people. It’s in a dry, tropic area which unlike some areas in North Queensland is probably a perfect climate. We have about two weeks of sweltering weather a year and then the rest is just sunshine.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:18) Beautiful.

JOHN DYKE: (01:18) It’s comprised of government services, defence, mining, agriculture. There’s a major export port here. There’s a big education hub, small tourism, professional services seeing it’s servicing such a big area and a health and university and it’s a major transport hub for North Queensland.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:44) Wow. And you’ve got it all going on by the sounds of it.

JOHN DYKE: (01:47) Yeah. It is a big advantage in being so diverse that it can ride out trough’s a little bit better than some of the other areas I suppose.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:56) Yeah. Okay. And how long have you been based up there, John?

JOHN DYKE: (01:58) We moved here in 2005 and that’s basically when we took up the First Class Accounts franchise.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:06) Okay. So you’ve been running for quite a while and as for those… the nature of different sort of industry and businesses out there, where do you slot in? Where is your sort of sweet spot when it comes to the customers that you serve?

JOHN DYKE: (02:21) I guess we look more on the size of a business. So we go for small to medium sized businesses. So we have a broad cross section, I guess, reflecting Townsville itself. But having said that, the largest industries are the service industry and the building and construction industry. So that’s where the majority of our clients come from.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:44) Okay. And so you’ve been going for 12 or 13 years and what actually got you into the business? Why did you decide, “Okay. I’m going to move to Townsville. I’m going to do this.” You know, what’s your history? How did you end up here?

JOHN DYKE: (03:00) I guess that’s a bit of a reflection. Like a lot of franchisees… a lot of our strength really is our diversity. So a lot of us have been involved in a whole range of careers leading up to First Class Accounts. We’re not just say, an accountant or a bookkeeper. You know, we’ve had other careers before and that diversity gives us strength in dealing with our clients. So like I started out in the mining industry in environmental rehabilitation work and a lot of that was research and development. So I’ve got a strong analytical bent and then we moved into running our own wool producing properties in Southern Queensland.

ROBERT GERRISH: (03:43) Okay.

JOHN DYKE: (03:43) And while we’re doing that we just looked around our neighbours and they weren’t really good at running the business side. Like that had booms and busts when they burn and spend all their money and then not live frugally in a bust. So we were going to start up an agribusiness consulting business. When we started doing that I went back to university part time to refresh my skills. I’ve got a degree in applied science in agriculture. And then as part of that the agricultural college system in Queensland, someone there heard about me and he asked if I wanted to teach young people agribusiness while I was doing my university. So I went into the agribusiness centers initially at Emerald and then I moved up to the college at Clare which is just outside Townsville and then we decided well it’s time to get back on track and start our own consultancy firm and we thought about… we tried going by ourselves and that’s a scary prospect going out and starting something by yourself. So we looked around the franchise systems and we came across First Class Accounts and it was offering basically what we wanted.

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:58) But it’s so interesting that when you started looking you weren’t necessarily thinking of going specifically into finance and bookkeeping, but obviously as you kind of had a little bit of exposure to starting a consulting business on your own… starting you know, a business in that sort of area, I guess all your ducks kind of lined up and you thought, “Hang on a minute, this franchise will actually do everything we want.” Is that sort of more or less how the decision-making process ran?

JOHN DYKE: (05:30) Yeah. That’s pretty really the case. Like our main focus at that stage was obviously agriculture and farmers. We know farmers. We love the lifestyle. We were farmers. But then when we started looking around, we realized well, small business owners… farmers are small business owners, small to medium. And when we looked around the farmers really… and started talking to people, farmers are really no different to anyone in the building and construction, builders, plumbers, subcontractors are all the same in their mentality. Like they’re running a business and their partner is usually doing the book side of business and trying to stop and spend all the money sort of thing. So they’ve got the same mindset and the same aspirations and goals. So we went with that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (06:18) Yeah. Okay. So it does sound as well like, you know, you have this experience in a kind of consulting capacity and you have this, you know, as you say you clearly take your professional development very seriously. You went back to uni. You’re starting to re-study. So where does the line kind of stop? Are you a bookkeeper? Are you an advisor? Are you a consultant? I mean it must… I’m guessing that your having to bite your lip on some occasions because aren’t you trying… don’t you want to get sort of really involved in the businesses or indeed are you?

JOHN DYKE: (06:55) We took the line from the very beginning that we wanted to help businesses develop and manage their business. So bookkeeping really is a means to an end. You can only manage a business properly if got a really good set of data to work with. So the way we manage their clients, yes, we do. We are bookkeepers. We do all the data entry. We manage their administration including paying bills and everything else.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:22) Yeah.

JOHN DYKE: (07:22) But the main purpose of that is to give them good information and information we can use to advise and help them on running and developing and growing their businesses.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:31) Fantastic. So okay, now you mentioned the “we” word a few times. So clearly you’re not in this by yourself. So if we can have a snapshot of your business, who works in your business? What are their roles? What business have you built?

JOHN DYKE: (07:49) So when we started off First Class Accounts you could only be… you had to be the bookkeeper… the franchisee, you had to be the bookkeeper.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:57) Right.

JOHN DYKE: (07:58) But during that time my wife just basically ran the administration, saw it for me. But then after a couple of years we’re allowed to employ people and we wanted that model where we could employ people and I could gradually get to the stage where I’m dealing with the clients on a management basis and then eventually with time I could step back a bit as I got older and older and, you know, supposedly work on the business rather than in the business and follow that ethos. So now we’ve built up our staff. We’ve got three staff, two full time staff and one part time staff working with us. The model we work is I meet the clients. I develop initial relationship and then one of our bookkeepers is allocated to them and they stay with that client. So it’s important that they build a relationship too. So they do the bookkeeping work and then I do the management side with the clients.

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:55) Fantastic. And do your staff all work from one premises? They all come in to you or do they work remotely? Because there’s quite a big geographic area that you’re covering. So how does that side of things work?

JOHN DYKE: Yeah. We’ve always had… well we haven’t always had… majority of the time we’ve had an office at Aitkenvale and that’s geographically… that’s the center of Townsville.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:18) Right.

JOHN DYKE: (09:19) So yeah. They come in to an office which has got a work area. We’ve got all their phones and computers and the systems we need and most of our… well all of our files and everything and all their software are online now so even though they work here… We employ women with young families and so at times they need to work at home because of family issues.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:49) And so you have flexibility.

JOHN DYKE: (09:50) We’ve got that flexibility and we offer their family flexibility.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:53) Okay. It’s interesting. So speaking with someone who is, you know, been running their business for as long as you have, tell me… what’s kind of surprised you about your business? Is there anything that’s kind of gone in a direction that you weren’t expecting, that’s been, you know, hopefully a pleasant surprise for you?

JOHN DYKE: (10:15) We… I guess everything has run a lot more smoothly than we thought and that’s really part of being in the franchise model. Like the strength that we always went with in the franchise model is they’ve got really good training. They’ve got really good systems and really good support in their quality assurance system. Well that gives us a strong sense of security. So we’ve never been caught out. We’ve got on game professional development with them. So I guess nothing really surprised us. It’s just their expectations would have been fully met by being within First Class Accounts more than anything. We knew we were going to enjoy our relationships with clients. Like in the early days you take on anyone and there are some horror clients there but as you develop you sort of get rid of them and you develop a really strong client base that you have a lot of fun and good times with. So we, both myself and my staff get on really well with our clients and yeah, I guess our expectations have been filled more than surprised.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:18) Yeah, well look… Hey that’s pretty good. I think that’s fantastic. You mentioned a few moments ago that, you know, the model that you’re building is very much that is one way you can set back a little as you get a little older and that you can work on the business rather than in the business. So how does that side of things go? Are you… has that worked in the way that you’ve wanted? I mean… and what do you see for the future?

JOHN DYKE: (11:44) Well, you know, we… I guess it’s interesting. It’s the same with any business. Like you put everything in your clients and you forget about yourself and your own business. You don’t necessarily follow your own advice half the time and I think most people in First Class Accounts seem like I said dedicated to their clients, but we’re coming up to sign another franchise agreement, which is a five year term so our next five years are going to be focused on that initial goal we had which was our business has reached a level of maturity, so when this agreement comes up we could make a decision to leave, sell the business, stay where we are or, you know, re-jig the growth so that we can achieve our life goals. So we’ve taken the decision of reaching the growth and try and put in place a succession plan with some of our staff members where we step back a little bit more and work on the business more than in it and, you know, spend more time doing other things.

ROBERT GERRISH: (12:57) Yeah sure. Okay. And how does the prospect of that feel to you? Is that an exciting prospect and do you… can you kind of see it? Can you… do you think you can make that happen the way you want?

JOHN DYKE: (13:09) Very much so and that’s why in the recent years I’ve taken up more traveling with our camping, Camper travel and like just to get out and away. Like we’ll take long weekends. We’ve got good staff now. We put a lot of professional development not only into myself but into our staff. So at least once a month we have a professional development day. And we’ve got staff that are interested in growing with the business. So the bookkeeping industry itself is changing to meet that. Like it’s going away from data entry and we’re moving up as an industry up the food chain. So we do have to be more managers of administration and business systems and developing and giving advice to clients on day-to-day management issues whether it’s software or administration systems and our staff really want to do that. They’re excited by that and we’re excited by that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:10) That’s fantastic. And so you mentioned you’re, you know, getting older. Do you mind me asking what age are you?

JOHN DYKE: (14:18) They tell me I’m 64 this year, but I don’t feel I’ve aged since I was 28 so that’s about where I’m sitting.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:24) Okay. Sure, okay. And so look… I mean that sounds really clear that you know what you’re doing. It’s wonderful that you’ve got staff that are also clearly excited by the kind of the business that you’ve built that they want to stay involved within it, you know, which is a terrific thing. You’ve got a clear picture if your own future with your family and how you want to spend your time. So, you know, again that’s just so refreshing to hear. Can I ask you… you mentioned your wife. Forgive me. I don’t know your wife’s name.

JOHN DYKE: (14:56) Lorelle.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:57) Lorelle. Okay. So Lorelle’s in the business with you. How has that worked? You know, have you worked together in business before? Do you have a clear sort of delineation of roles? Do you manage to switch off okay in the evenings and weekends? I mean there are a few questions for you there.

JOHN DYKE: (15:13) Lorelle’s been my life partner since we met. So, you know, everything we do is always for a purpose. We’ve always had a goal in mind right from when we took up a sheep property down in Southeast Queensland. So she was involved with me in running the sheep property and she… you know, when we came into this business it was only natural for her to be involved in it too even though I’m the franchisee. She’s always been heavily involved in the decision-making and training and everything else that goes with it. One of the main things… one of the main reasons we got an office early on was to try and get that separation from the home life and the business life. So we very rarely discuss work at home. You know, home is meant for other things, for family and our own other interests. We have a system in place in the office where we have regular meetings and we work around that to discuss business. Like there’s no real conflict between us. We work well together and things just sort of happen. I guess Lorelle helps to keep me on track more on the… You know, with my focus on clients I tend to forget our business a bit. So she’ll pull m back.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:39) She’ll pull you back.

JOHN DYKE: (16:40) To focus a bit more on the business and she really is the driving force for us to get more of a balance where I should be working outside a bit more on the business rather than on the coalface so much.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:54) Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, she sounds like a very very good person to have in your life and your business. But it’s interesting there then that you’ve… so you’ve clearly had a lot of experience working together.

JOHN DYKE: (17:04) Yes.

ROBERT GERRISH: (17:05) I love the way that you talk about, you know, that cut off between work and home which is not something that everybody manages. But I guess again through the way you set the business up and indeed the sort of structures that you have with the franchise model is that you can kind of close the door and go home and you’ve clearly got procedures and policies set up with your staff and you mentioned there training and professional development for you and your staff. You know, that’s… it’s so interesting isn’t it when you consider this whole topic of systems and procedures. So many businesses I still find consider those things to be sort of boring and tedious and restraining whereas in fact they’re the opposite. They give you the freedom.

JOHN DYKE: (17:51) That’s right. And that was a strong focus in the beginning from our advisor within our support person within First Class Accounts is that before we got too big it was critical that we set up, you know, procedures and things. So one to manage the workload, but also to manage your life. And she still harps on that at every training session we have about that and like it’s proved in our case and most businesses we see that we deal with it has proved important to have that. You can never fly by the seat of your pants anymore.

ROBERT GERRISH: (18:34) No. No.

JOHN DYKE: (18:34) Every little decision might only mean a few dollars, but nowadays in business it’s all those little decisions that work out to make a big profit in the end.

ROBERT GERRISH: (18:44) Yeah. So true. Now look, it’s been so good talking with you. I’m going to throw you a sort of a closing question which is: for someone listening who is yet to start their business, and I haven’t prepared you for this, but I’m sure knowing you you’ll have something to say. What’s the kind of the one tip that you’d say to somebody who is thinking of getting started just not kind of sure. What’s the one tip you’d tip you’d give them?

JOHN DYKE: (19:13) To me that’s pretty simple, is get a really good bookkeeper. I mean I’m now biased in that direction but we have so many instances where people come to us after the fact and they’re in awful trouble and there’s a big mess to clean up. Bookkeepers are an unlimited source of information on how to develop and get yourself going and that will help set up the policies and procedures and get you moving in the right direction so that you can focus on running the business properly. So all the experience I have, you might say I’m not a bookkeeper but you need some advisor there who has been through developing businesses or running businesses themselves. Like in Townsville there’s a network of old retired businessmen who mentor businesses around the place. So, you know, if you don’t want a bookkeeper get someone who has had experience there so you’re not going to repeat mistakes that someone else has made.

ROBERT GERRISH: (20:16) Yeah. Okay. That’s a great response, but let me ask you also, let’s imagine that the person listening actually wants to become a bookkeeper but is sitting there, maybe listening to you and is a little bit concerned perhaps and haven’t quite got the kind of consulting knowledge and the consulting business confidence that you have. What would you say to them?

JOHN DYKE: (20:40) Do your research what a bookkeeper is about, what it involves. You don’t… like within our system, you don’t have to be a consultant or you don’t have to be in management level. You do what you feel you achieved. So look at your own strength and weaknesses and see what level of service you want to provide and whether you’re comfortable with that and then get together information on franchises or systems that suit you. It’s very difficult starting, going out in this sort of industry by yourself. It’s really good to have a strong support network behind you. So you really need to pick a system that has a strong training mentality, a support system and they have systems they can offer you because to try and start on your own, it’s tough. It’s like if you’ve got a known brand like First Class Accounts, is a strong brand or Coca Cola or anything, any strong brand, that brand alone gives you a strong sense of security and prospects of success in your business are a lot better.

ROBERT GERRISH: (21:51) Yeah, that’s great. Look, that’s a wonderful note to close on. So John Dyke thank you very much for joining us. When is your next trip?

JOHN DYKE: (21:58) Lorelle is working it out for mid May somewhere I think so… We’re heading up to Tully.

ROBERT GERRISH: (22:03) Good. Very nice too. Well look John thank you so much for joining us.

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