ROBERT GERRISH: (00:25) Today I’m delighted to be speaking with Muhtab Shakil, who joins us from Sydney. Hello Muhtab. Thank you so much for joining us.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (00:32) Hi Robert. How are you?
ROBERT GERRISH: (00:33) Look, I’m very well and it’s a lovely to have you here. Now. Perhaps we might get started by just getting an idea of where you’re based. So you’re in Sydney, but you’re in the outer reaches. Where exactly are you?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (00:47) Well, I’m basically in the Hills district area. In Dural in the northwest of Sydney and that’s where I live as well. Yeah.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:00) Okay, good. So, and how long have you been running your business for?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (01:05) Well, it’s just been a under a year. Uh, since last year we started, around I think it was June and yeah, we’ve been running since then.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:15) Okay. So you’re actually you’re close to your first year anniversary and what does the first year look like?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (01:24) It looks very interesting. You know, you learn a lot of things in your life and you learn a lot of things through business and I guess the early stages are always, crucial stages of anything. And yeah, we’ve had some, we’ve had some good successes. We’ve had some not so good ones. We’ve had a lot of learnings and yeah a lot of interesting things we’ve learned as well.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:48) Oh, I always think it’s a pretty good response if I ask somebody, you know, has your first year in business, “interesting” was your response and that’s not a bad one. So we’ll delve into kind of what got you here shortly, but perhaps just while it’s fresh in your mind, you know, you mentioned there that, some things have gone better than you thought, some things have been challenges. Why don’t we start with the challenges? What hasn’t been, you know, what’s been trickier than you thought in your first 12 months?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (02:21) Certainly I guess when starting off businesses, we don’t realise how much work is actually required especially in the early stages. So there’s been a lot of running around, a lot of speaking to people, getting ideas, a lot of networking and just seeing how the market is and how in general people, in terms of their running their business do that. So we’ve had some, you know, some interesting clients that we’ve dealt with. Some funny clients and some and some very good clients say they are very, very open about their business and they look at growing their business using AI technologies and you know, all the cloud integrations that we can give them.
ROBERT GERRISH: (03:10) So I’m going to come back to a couple of points you made in a second. So your mention there of AI, you know, Artificial Intelligence and cloud base use. You immediately strike me as someone who’s kind of got his head around the technical side of things. Is that a passion of yours?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (03:29) Exactly yeah. I enjoy it. Like when, when I started this business, I didn’t realise how much, you know, AI or, you know, programming and all that kind of stuff is related to finance and accounting. And once I started attending conferences and events in the accounting and bookkeeping circles, I got really intrigued, especially with people from Practice Ignition and all these other service providers that help bookkeepers and First Class Accounts.
ROBERT GERRISH: (04:01) Hmm. That’s interesting. Isn’t it? So, so when you came across all that, it sounds, you know, listening to you that you embraced it and indeed sounds like you’re a little bit excited about it.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (04:15) Yeah, it is. I’m really passionate about at the moment about digital marketing. I try to do as much as digital marketing as I can for my own business. And I tried to help my clients as well with that and wherever way I can find places where they don’t need to keep a, you know, a staff member looking after their books or wherever there’s some sort of software or tools that are available, I can assist with, you know, always give that recommendation to my clients.
ROBERT GERRISH: (04:45) That’s brilliant. Okay. So it’s interesting isn’t it because if you think of or a lot of people would think of bookkeeping and think of, you know, well I don’t know maybe this is just me, but when I do I still, you know, my sort the image of somebody poring over books, not literally these days obviously, but it’s still very much that sort of work. But you know, hearing you and I guess that’s one of the joys of the way that you can choose to build your business with First Class Accounts because you can be a fairly, let’s call it sort of ‘standard’ approach to bookkeeping or you can go the way you are, where you’re absolutely, you know, forging ahead with new technologies. And it sounds to me like you’re kind of looking for opportunity to use these tech side of things.
ROBERT GERRISH: (05:38) So it’s interesting. Now I’m just going to go back a little bit too where you mentioned, you know, ‘a lot of work to do’, I think was the phrase you used when you started and it is, you know, there’s no doubt it’s a small business and even with the all the great support that you get with a franchise, there is a lot of work, isn’t there? So yeah, a year in are you feeling settled and what, what’s been your experience of this kind of support you’ve been getting from other franchisees and from the franchise themselves during this busy period?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (06:12) I think it’s been quite overwhelming. Like I’ve worked in previous franchise type of businesses and the support I guess that I’ve received, even from like day one when we started training, when we started meeting with all the different people from Head Office, there was a real sense of sincereness and honesty and they seemed like very humble people where they would you know, talk to you, they’ll assist you in a way that a friend would help you.
ROBERT GERRISH: (06:48) Isn’t that lovely? I mean, because when you said it’s been overwhelming, a little part of me got concerns, ‘oh dear, what’s overwhelming?’ but in fact what you’re saying is, it’s the support that’s overwhelming. So how nice is that?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (06:59) Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And they, they, like tell us, you know, ‘call us, we want to talk to, you know, send us, you know, questions and queries, we want to know, we want to help you guys, you know’. So in terms of support it’s, you know, it’s up there as anything that I’ve experienced in my life in terms of business.
ROBERT GERRISH: (07:22) Well that’s so good to hear. So talking, you mentioned there, ‘as good as anything you’ve experienced in your life’, so let’s have a little dive into Muhtab’s life. So wherever you come from to get here. So I can first seed, can I get a sense of your age? How old are you?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (07:40) I’m in my late twenties at the moment.
ROBERT GERRISH: (07:47) Gosh, you’re a young man. Okay, so all right, I hope that was okay asking you that because I’ve asked you now. So where did you, where did you come from to get into this business and, you know, what were your decision-making processes? Let’s have a little look at that.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (08:01) It is like a journey I guess and when you go through life you go through different changes, you know, you go from your schooling, your university and so for me it was more of a business kind of mentality. Since the day I was born I was basically selling Mars Bars at my dad’s Convenience Store and when I was in my nappies to be honest. So, you know, talking to people, customer service,that kind of stuff just came naturally to me. So when I finished, well working at my dad’s store I was in high school, so most of my high school life I was working part-time, studying full time at school and then when I got into University, this opportunity, a business opportunity came up and uh, yeah, I took it on board. It was a family kind of business, like you know we had family involved in the retail business. And yeah, we started that, we did that for awhile. It was good.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:14) What sector, what industry was that in?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (09:17) That was in the fuel industry. So, we’re looking at Service Stations, myself and my brother, we had had a few Service Stations. And yeah, we did that for a while, but then it just came to an end where we were like, you know, this is not gonna work kind of thing.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:39) And tell me, it was part of that, you know listening to you and it’s so, so good to hear this story, and there you are, I know you’ve told me this originally, you, your family, your parents came from Pakistan, so here you are as a young child in Australia in a retail setting already. Whether you know it or not, you know, starting to understand the customer process giving, you know, it’s just, it’s, I think it’s wonderful when you speak to somebody who’s the child of a small business owner, you just, you know – and I’m, I’m hoping my son is picking up some of what you’ve picked up – but there you are, you’ve gone into that. Then you’ve gone into, you know, fuel service stations. Now thinking about the kind of man I’m talking to, was a little part of you wanting to move from that thinking, ‘well hang on a minute, Service Stations aren’t going to exist maybe in a few years’. Was that part, of your thinking you know, given the electric car?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (10:36) Exactly. It was, it was more of, I’m actually, when I was doing my degree, I just wanted to get out of the degree because I’m like, first I was like, okay, I’m going to be doing this business for the rest of my life, and then when I finished my degree and I was doing these businesses, I’m like, am I going to be able to do this in the next 10 years? Or how long am I going to do this for? And then slowly but surely, you know, circumstances changed and yeah, I guess my life kind of changed you could say. And yeah, I took different steps and and I bumped into First Class Accounts.
ROBERT GERRISH: (11:16) Part of your life change I happen to know is that you had a little girl.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (11:27) Yes, that was a big change. I think in life, that life actually starts when you have kids.
ROBERT GERRISH: (11:30) I wouldn’t disagree with that.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (11:33) So, you know, you think you have it all figured out, you think you know what you’re doing and then you know, you get married and you go through that honeymoon period and you’re like, you know, life’s amazing and everything. Then you had this l little girl come to you and, you know, hug you with everything and then your life changes completely and you’re on another planet basically.
ROBERT GERRISH: (11:34) And tell me, what’s her role in your business?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (12:03) Rolling in to disturb me. So I have to make sure I’m my office locked up!
ROBERT GERRISH: (12:10) So that’s a great incentive. That’s lovely. So let’s have a look a deeper look at your business. But what’s your daughter’s name? I need to know that before I go further.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (12:10) Her name is Sofia.
ROBERT GERRISH: (12:21) Sofia, what a lovely name. Okay. So you have a business partner and was that from the get-go? Did you decide right, I’m going to do this with someone and if so, how did you find that someone?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (12:34) It was actually through my previous business, he was one of my store managers, funnily enough. So he used to work for me and the thing was we were running multiple sites, we always had a lot of bookkeeping to do, so I just pushed it over to him and had him do the data entry.
ROBERT GERRISH: (12:34) That’s called, delegating. Delegating (laughs).
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (12:59) Yeah. Surely. And funnily enough, I got along with him really well. He was a really honest and open person and you know, when we were making that transition and I was like, you know, this guy knows his stuff and it’s something for him as well for his future, you know. And then yeah, we went in together and we did the training together and yeah, now we’re here now.
ROBERT GERRISH: (13:19) Okay. Fantastic. And so what’s his background? Where does, where does he hail from? Is he sort of fairly local to you also?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (13:30) Yeah. Yeah. Manbir, he’s originally from India. He started to study accounting here in Australia and yeah, he lives close to the hills district as well and yeah, we work together or remotely, on our customers.
ROBERT GERRISH: (13:49) So do you come together in an office or are you saying you sometimes do, but sometimes you work from your own offices?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (13:56) So we always have meetings each week, discuss with each other, you know, what work needs to be done and where we’re up to, etc. But we’re speaking to each other on a daily basis, and either, you know, just keeping on track of things as well as they’re going through.
ROBERT GERRISH: (14:13) Lovely. And, and so would you say your, I’m just interested in partnerships, you know, particularly, you know, newish partnerships. so you consider, you do, do you socialise as well, you friends or are you kind of business colleagues? How do you have any delineation?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (14:32) Yeah, it’s a good question. I think, I think with my relationship I’m usually in an open and honest person whether I’m at business or when I’m at work. So both places when, when I’m at work or at home I’m the same person. So with the Manir my relationship is he’s like as a brother, as a friend kind of thing. So we do, we do, I guess mostly talk about work things, but we do socialise as well.
ROBERT GERRISH: (15:05) Okay that’s lovely. Great. And so, and I gather, I saw from your profile, I think on the, on the First Class Accounts website that between the two of you have four or more languages. Is that correct?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (15:16) Well, I did do French in year seven. My wife thinks I’m I know a lot of French, so I’ll class that as a, a language, but yeah, we speak, I guess being in the sub continent there are different dialects from different areas of the place. So yeah, we, we speak… I think we bonded really well because we originally India and Pakistan used to be one country and so that I guess village of where both of our ancestors came from. They spoke the same dialect.
ROBERT GERRISH: (15:55) Oh really? So very close and near the border. Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So looking at your business now and accepting that, you know, we’re in early days, we’re at that sort of one year mark. Where are your customers coming from? What sort of customers are you working with and do you have a particular sort of view or target for the kind of people that you work with?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (16:19) Yeah, I’ve got a few customers at the moment and they are quite different I guess. Some of them are service based, some of them are into I guess retail and this is very similar to my background and it’s very good to have that because it’s something that I want to further pursue because I have had that experience in retail and I think I can provide that value for my clients as well in that industry. Yeah.
ROBERT GERRISH: (16:51) Okay. So does, is that, I mean, do you feel that you’ve, you’re likely to develop a particular niche or for the time being, are you happy just to kind of get experience and work with whoever kind of comes your way?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (17:07) I think it’s good to get that experience, especially at the beginning. I think when you, when you start off, you need to look at all sections of the area. So it’s good to get the experience, but I think once I’ve settled in, it would be probably the best to do in there and get my clients that are in the retail area or clients that I, you know, I feel comfortable with, you know, that they’re on the same kind of board as me.
ROBERT GERRISH: (17:38) So it sounds like it’s developing, but it doesn’t, I don’t get any sense that any of this is a concern for you. You’re just allowing it to develop it. You’re starting to clearly to think about, well, maybe I can go a little bit more in this direction. So yeah, that’s natural, isn’t it?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (17:54) I have a picture in my mind as the ideal client that I want to have, but I do know, you know, it doesn’t come, you know, no one gives it to you on a plate kind of thing. So you, you need to, yeah, I guess work with that client and you know, be on the same base with them and then talk to them about, you know, how things should be, uh, you know, with you in order to streamline everything.
ROBERT GERRISH: (18:20) And, I’m dying to know how many family members are on your client list.
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (18:30) There are a few, you know, good uncles around who always call me for advice. I haven’t gone to, yeah, I haven’t got around to invoicing them yet. But hopefully you know, it’s all part of you know, the system and you learn from them as well. I guess they’ve been, they’ve been doing business all their lives since they’ve came here. So, it’s good to get their perspective.
ROBERT GERRISH: (18:55 ) Yeah, of course it is a bit tricky too. Uncle’s got his arm around your shoulder for you to bring up this topic of invoicing with him anyway. Okay. So now again, listening to you speaking it strikes me that when you mentioned marketing a little earlier and it’s clear that you have an interest and experience in that, you talk about AI, artificial intelligence, so it sounds very much like you are really building a position as an advisor to business. Is that how you view it? Is that how it feels?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (19:30) I think with my experience, I think that works quite well together because bookkeeping at the moment is all about advising at the end of the day because you’re really close with the business owner and you’re seeing what’s happening in their business. Sometimes you know, you’re physically present, so when you’re there and you have thIs knowledge as well as their financial knowledge of how the business is going I think it’s silly not to give this kind of advice, you know, if you have that knowledge. So for example, if you look at the different thought leaders that are in the accounting and bookkeeping industry, they are all pushing towards this sector. There are a lot of new companies that are coming in, are doing advisory kind of, you know, advice or advisory. So you can get that knowledge really, really easily from the industry.
ROBERT GERRISH: (20:27) So good to hear, you mentioned Practice Ignition in the early stages and you know, we know the guys there clearly sort of pioneers in the business that they’re building and that obviously excites you. So it’s, it’s so good to hear, you know, to be speaking to someone as young as you are with the experience that you have, but you’re looking forward with excitement to this industry that you’re going in. I mean, what a great position to be in. Okay. So, we’ve looked at your customers, we sort of know your area, we’ve heard from you that, you know, some of the early stages is quite intensive, but you’ve obviously got a lot of kind of good support there. When you, as you kind of look forwards, what kind of excites you most about the future? When you sit there and you think, okay, this is the business I’ve got, I’ve got my partner, you know, what is it that excites you the most looking forward?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (21:25) I think it’s just the variety of roles a bookkeeper can have in any type of business going further ahead in the future. It’s basically you’re like a business manager in terms of, you know, you tell the person ‘go do what you’re good at’, you know, ‘go run your business’, you know, ‘make those sales’, ‘do the work’ and you like as a bookkeeper myself, I can look after everything else for your business, you know, I can look after paying your staff, I can look after looking at your bills, invoicing, doing your budgeting, doing your KPIs, you know, doing all the analysis for you. So it’s really, a privilege to be in this position where, you know, there’s so many different avenues you can, you can help people to create their business.
ROBERT GERRISH: (22:15) Oh fantastic. And to anybody listening. I think, gosh, I wish I lived up in that part of Sydney because for anybody listening, it sounds like you’re the kind of guy that a lot of small businesses really want because you’re saying give me all your stuff. You know, I’ll let you do what you do best. You know, and having been both sides of the counter so to speak, you know, with your retail experience, that’s just so powerful, isn’t it, that you’re saying, ‘hey, I can plug in the kind of support you need so that you can be at the counter selling’, you know, whether that’s real or metaphorical. Okay. All right. Well look, I think it’s been terrific to speak with you. I’d love to think we might get you back in a couple of years and get an update from you. Thank you very much for spending your time with us and I hope Sofia enjoys her what will doubtless be an increasing role. Is she already down at the shop selling Mars Bars as well?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (22:15) Er, I think her mother probably has a law career for her.
ROBERT GERRISH: (23:23) Oh, is that right?
MUHTAB SHAKIL: (23:25) You name it, planning all this kind of stuff. But definitely you know, there’s retail in my blood so I’m sure she’ll pop up somewhere.
ROBERT GERRISH: (23:35) Okay. Well, again, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for spending your time with time with the First Class Accounts community today. Thank you.