The Business of Bookkeeping – Podcast 5

June 25, 2018

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:33) Now today I’m delighted to be speaking with Mark Treloar who joins us from Cashmere in the Moreton Bay area of Queensland, northwest of Brisbane. So let me bring Mark on.

Hello Mark. Thank you for joining us.

MARK TRELOAR: (00:46) Good morning, Robert. Great to be with you

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:49) Good. Thank you. So look Cashmere sounds gorgeous. Moreton Bay area, Queensland, wow. I mean it just sounds beautiful. So can you tell us a little bit about the area where your business is based?

MARK TRELOAR: (00:59) Yes. Cashmere is about 30 kilometers north and a little west of the city among bushland fringes. A lovely bit of bushland opposite my office window that I look out at.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:13) Beautiful.

MARK TRELOAR: (01:14) It’s a very relaxing place to be. A nice quiet place and I really love living in this part of Brisbane.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:20) Very nice. And what’s the sort of… what kind of businesses are around you. Is it an area that’s known for any particular nature of business or industry?

MARK TRELOAR: (01:30) We have an industrial area, light industrial about 10 minutes away and other than that there is a smattering of small businesses that are… I don’t actually have very many local businesses as part of my stable.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:47) Is that right?

MARK TRELOAR: (01:47) I’m not very far from Brisbane.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:49) Okay. Interesting. We’ll get there in a second. So can I ask you, Mark, how long have you been based in the… how long have you been living in the area that you’re in and how long have you been running your First Class Accounts business?

MARK TRELOAR: (02:02) Yes. I’ve lived in this area for seven years although we’re just from a bit further south in Brisbane. Before that I’d lived in Brisbane for about 25 years now and prior to that I lived in Perth for five years, in Canberra for about a dozen years and so I come from South Australia originally, so I’ve been all over.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:25) Yes. Sounds like you’re a man on the run. But you’ve settled now.

MARK TRELOAR: (02:28) Yes, well and truly.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:31) Okay. Well that’s great. Well look… So let’s start off perhaps by having a look at what kind of got you into this business. So forgive me. How long have you run your business for?

MARK TRELOAR: (02:41) It’s just coming up to four years in a couple of weeks time.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:44) Four years. Okay. What were you doing prior to this? What got you into this business?

MARK TRELOAR: (02:50) I came from a completely unrelated background. I have qualifications in archaeology and anthropology and post grad in linguistics.

ROBERT GERRISH: (03:02) Gosh!

MARK TRELOAR: (03:03) So I worked about 25 years with indigenous organisations from within a Government context. I started in heritage clearance issues. So investigating situations where archaeological sites were endangered by big business developments. Investigating and reporting to the relevant minister so he or she could make a decision about whether to protect that area or demolish it or try to retrieve cultural materials before they do any of those other things that they were intending to do.

ROBERT GERRISH: (03:39) Yeah. So… I mean… gosh! From archaeology and anthropology and linguistics to a bookkeeping business. That’s something of a shift. So what was the decision-making process? How did that kind of play out?

MARK TRELOAR: (03:53) It’s a bit of a long story I suppose and I was always studying in those other areas I mentioned. I lived in Canberra in my late teens and like all, pretty much all campus students, in my last year at school I set public service tests and I got a job offer about the same time as I entered uni and I thought, “This sounds pretty good. I can work full time and study part time and essentially pay for my studies.” And it seemed like quite an attractive option as opposed to just spending my whole time studying. So within the public service I ended up lobbing into a financial type area there and within six months I made my way into an internal audit field within Government.

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:41) Wow.

MARK TRELOAR: (04:42) I spent about seven years there doing that while I was completing my studies because I studied part time, went on to my honours in archaeology. It took me seven years to complete it part time and in that period I developed this history of working in systems, development systems analysis and trying to work out how things worked best. I played a consultative role in that so I was going from one business unit to another to another and the system, it notes the efficiency and the systems that we were using. And I guess that’s part of the history of how I got to where I am now. The next step I suppose, after I worked in the archaeology area within Government assessing heritage sites and that sort of thing, I actually belong to an organisation called the Indigenous Land Corporation which was set up to buy land with indigenous organisations and to develop businesses all over Australia and they had a 1.3 billion dollar fund to buy land. And so I used to mix with my archaeology and anthropology skills, I suppose, to look at effective social structures to work in those businesses. But then I became more and more involved in the business side of it, I suppose.

ROBERT GERRISH: (06:01) Wow.

MARK TRELOAR: (06:01) And we really enjoyed backroom sort of role that you play there and I guess that’s part of, when you interweave those sorts of elements. When I decided to leave Government and looked for a business to go into, I thought bookkeeping actually sounds like one we can work as a trusted advisor. We taught them to improve their systems, help them to manage their finances and it was just a bit of an unusual transition, but it’s something that I found very satisfying in that sense.

ROBERT GERRISH: (06:35) Well it’s so interesting hearing you talk about it because actually as you went… tracked through your history there you can kind of… you can see it, can’t you? When you’re talking about systems and structures, you know, working with big budgets, interested in different business units, you know, it kind of makes sense there now. But so… were you kind of hatching your escape for a while? Did you have a burning sort of fire within you that I’m going to do my own business? Or you know, what precipitated the actual kind of the day you left and the day you started? Do you remember?

MARK TRELOAR: (07:10) Yeah. Sure. I had this desire to work in business in my soul for many years, but without ever having a tipping point because actually they loved the work that I was doing.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:22) Right.

MARK TRELOAR: (07:24) And so I worked increasingly with indigenous small businesses and really loved that. But then it came to a point when some downsizing events happening within the Government, with the change in Government that happened and also just a gradual freezing of budgets and there wasn’t as much to work with.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:46) Okay. So the signs were growing. Were they?

MARK TRELOAR: (07:49) Yeah. I was just becoming a bit frustrated with the ability to do what I could really see what needed to be done and I thought I’m going to explore other options. And then the opportunity came. I’d already made the decision to jump and to look for a business to buy. I was going to buy an entirely different business to the one I’m in now, but I’d made that decision in my office in downsizing options including people being able to leave.

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:15) Lovely.

MARK TRELOAR: (08:16) I hadn’t worked for a long time at that point with the Government the time that I left so it wasn’t like I got an enormous golden handshake or anything like that, but it was just…

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:26) Oh, okay.

MARK TRELOAR: (08:26) Just a little… I thought I’m ready to say I don’t want to stay in these jobs. I’m ready to jump. I leapt in…

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:34) It’s a little nudge at the right time by the sound of it.

MARK TRELOAR: (08:36) Yeah. Yeah. And so…

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:38) And so…

MARK TRELOAR: (08:39) I’m sorry.

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:40) Sorry. Continue. No you…

MARK TRELOAR: (08:42) And so I said I was in the process of buying another business and that fell over at a fairly late stage. But it was a franchise business as well and in the last week of negotiations about the acquisition of that business I went to a franchise expo and heard one of the First Class Accounts franchisees speak there and I instantly thought that’s actually the business for me not the one I’m going to buy. And we had a get out clause. We weren’t yet decided we would actually seal the deal.

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:18) That was a good timing, wasn’t it? That was a good timing. So in both of those instances and the business that you ended up with being First Class Accounts and the one part of that, they were both franchises. So what was it that appealed to you particularly about that? Why did you go… why were you thinking you were going that route?

MARK TRELOAR: (09:36) It was primarily… when I decided to go into bookkeeping as an option I thought coming in as a franchise model I didn’t have any expertise as such in the bookkeeping side of it and in the requirements that were now there for bookkeepers to be certified and I would have needed oversight to become a BAS agent and that sort of thing and I could only do that independently. Well I could but it would be much more difficult than within a franchise framework. I didn’t have the systems in place. I had good financial knowledge and skills, but no background whatsoever in bookkeeping so…

ROBERT GERRISH: (10:15) Yeah. Okay. Okay. So it’s basically the kind of the security of the systems and processes that appealed to you and clearly somebody who has spent up until then a lot of your working life, you know, working within the sort of confines and structure. So four years in how is it kind of running for you? How are you… to what extent are you enjoying your business?

MARK TRELOAR: (10:37) I’m very satisfied with it. It’s gone through a number of stages of evolution to get to where it is, but I’m very happy with the progress that’s been made. I started on quite a small level obviously. I came in with no clientele whatsoever and no background in this type of business and then a short time into that journey I had a significant health event that interrupted the first few months of our business and really made it quite slow at the start, but then…

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:10) Gosh.

MARK TRELOAR: (11:13) I guess in those early stages I was prepared to work with anybody who would work with me. And so I had a smattering of very small businesses, mostly trades based. Mostly fairly erratic in their needs for me and perhaps in their bookkeeping abilities as well in some senses, not reflect badly on those fine people but it was on a different scale that we are in today.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:41) Okay. So when you started then, it was very much, you know, anybody with a heartbeat and a credit card. Is that the sort of situation to get you started?

MARK TRELOAR: (11:50) Pretty much. Yes.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:51) Yeah. What was it… do you remember what it was like in your… like your first week even when you… you know, here you are going out fronting up as a bookkeeper. How did that feel? Do you remember that feeling? Was it exciting? Was it terrifying? Where did it sit?

MARK TRELOAR: (12:06) I was very excited about it but also felt in a sense, here I’ve got all this training behind me now because First Class Accounts trains you very well in the first few months before you’re even set loose on society at large. But I had no way to actually use those skills. It took me a couple of months to get my first client and it was a bit frustrating and a bit concerning in one sense but I was confident I had made the right choice and…

ROBERT GERRISH: (12:38) That’s okay. You just had to be patient and keep doing what you needed to do.

MARK TRELOAR: (12:42) There’s one other thing that I think transformed the way I did my business even before I started. During the training process one of the business coaches that played a part in the First Class presentations talked about the concept of network marketing and I wasn’t quire ready to market myself until that point, but I joined a BNI group on the second day of my business and that was instrumental in the direction that my business took from there.

ROBERT GERRISH: (13:17) Wow. Okay. So just to cover that for people listening. So that’s BNI and they run and have done for many many years I think over 50 years now all over Australia and indeed all over the world. They run networking events in, usually in a fairly large sort of conurbation. So you joined BNI? Are you still active with them?

MARK TRELOAR: (13:40) Yes, I am. It’s been an incredible part of my business development not only in terms of getting referrals, which are fantastic, but just tapping into the business expertise for free. You are encouraged to speak to other business owners as part of the process and that’s not saying that it’s… it’s not a cold call. It’s not a pressure based thing. You just get to know people. You get to build a relationship with them and I guess that’s how I always worked. My work through the Government history has always been about moving relationships with people and, you know, traveling often for many years with them in a process of developing their businesses.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:20) I think that… Yeah, it’s interesting when you talk about this sort of, this… You know, my experience with BNI and with other businesses that work with BNI… It’s one of those things it either suits you or it doesn’t. But I think the number… the people that where it does really suit them the great thing is you can… they usually go along and have a look and meet the kind of people that are there. When a networking event, you know, does work for you, gosh it can really work for you whether it’s BNI or, you know, a number of other sort of groups. So I’m just going to take you back to the sort of the beginning where you were earlier where you were talking about how when you started, you know, you kind of pretty well understandably worked with anybody. So these days who are your ideal clients? Who do you work with today?

MARK TRELOAR: (15:07) I’ve really reset my goals and I guess I did that about 18 months into the business. I worked through a process with Xero around a series called Growing Your Own Practice, and that caused me to really rethink the way I was in business and I really wanted to go back to the type of organisations I’ve been working with that I talked about earlier in our conversation. So groups that were running a business often larger in nature not at the small end of the scale, not the one or two people operations, but those about 10 to 20 in number.

ROBERT GERRISH: (15:47) Right.

MARK TRELOAR: (15:48) And ones that had a little bit of complexity to them so that I could actually work with the systems not only with the bookkeeping bread and butter and financial systems. And now I see myself as a ‘virtual CFO’ in some ways to my ideal clients. So I’m a big part of their business and they’re a big part of mine.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:11) Fantastic.

MARK TRELOAR: (16:11) So my ideal client… and I have three of these… are weekly customers. They have… being the number of staff, so they’re between the 10 and 20 range. We’ve got a lot of involvement with the business and they need a lot of help in all sorts of areas, not only their bookkeeping requirements, but cash flow analysis, budgeting, forecasting, all those sorts of… probably higher end sorts of analysis and working with profit centers that aren’t where they invest their activities and that sort of thing.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:48) So it sounds very much like you’re kind of… your clients are growing in the same way that you’re growing. You know, after four years now in your confidence and your role as you say much more as the kind of trusted advisor. The nature of your ideal client has grown in the same way that your business has grown, which again I think is fairly typical when I speak to a lot of First Class Accounts people is that, you know, that’s often the way the business develops. So when you look to the future, Mark, what do you see? Do you have any particular big hairy goals or plans for your business in the next sort of five years or so?

MARK TRELOAR: (17:29) They’re fairly modest in a sense I think, Robert. Myy wife is training to join the business as well. She’s working partly in the business in an admin role. She’s three quarters of the way actually in her certification and I have a daughter who is also interested in bookkeeping as well. So it’s possibly growing…

ROBERT GERRISH: (17:45) Oh Gosh.

MARK TRELOAR: (17:45) Around the business within the family sort of.

ROBERT GERRISH: (17:48) Right.

MARK TRELOAR: (17:49) So we’ll wait and see on that. My wife will certainly be joining. We just need to see how things grow for my daughter to absolutely be in the business at some point as well.

ROBERT GERRISH: (17:58) I mean what a lovely sort of sign I guess of acknowledgement that, you know, such is your confidence in the business that you have that you’re very happy to invite your family into it. I mean that doesn’t happen in every day. So that’s a great thing.

MARK TRELOAR: (18:17) And really it’s just partly a replication of what we’ve done. So it’s looking for those ideal clients who are very growth focused themselves, are financially literate generally speaking or willing to listen to sound advice about how they should manage their business. It’s really… I just know where the sweet spot is. It’s a matter of finding that person that has the right attitude for business. And a nice person on top of everything else, just the ones that we can work with.

ROBERT GERRISH: (18:50) Yeah. And I guess, you know, so much of it is… and I can hear it in the way that you’re talking is you’ve got some real clarity over who are your ideal clients and once you have that clarity, particularly if you’re connected into a sort of networking organisation as you are, it just becomes so easy to speak about those people and therefore to attract more of them. So, you know, clearly your benefitting from that. So tell me… my final question to you is, the kind of whole world of anthropology and linguistics… does it show up in your life anywhere these days?

MARK TRELOAR: (19:23) It normally shows up when I get to travel, which I really enjoy. It’s a large focus of any group that we take is to try to visit the archaeological sites or to look at areas of historical significance. I’m not traveling as much as I would like to but that is a long term aim and I see bookkeeping as a very portable business as well because I remember the premise that I hadn’t necessarily seen when I came into it, but I can see that it’s a very flexible cloud-based business that we started, so…

ROBERT GERRISH: (19:55) Yeah. Fantastic.

MARK TRELOAR: (19:55) You can try to always enjoy your life style and your other aspirations and interests and continue with your work.

ROBERT GERRISH: (20:04) That’s brilliant. Mark, thank you very much for joining us. I’m delighted to hear that archaeology, anthropology and linguistics are still alive and well and yeah, thank you for spending your time with us.

MARK TRELOAR: (20:15) Thank you very much, Robert. It was a pleasure.

[End of Transcription]

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