The Business of Bookkeeping – Podcast 8

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:33) Now my guest today is Darren Butterick. So Darren, where are you joining us from and can you give us a little snapshot of your area.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (00:43) Morning Robert. How are you?

ROBERT GERRISH: (00:44) I’m very well thank you. Thanks for joining us.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (00:47) No worries at all. So I’m in Adelaide based in Glenelg which is, I guess, a beachside suburb of Glenelg, fairly well-known from people that do come over. It’s probably 20 minutes out of the city, but you can get there by tram and it’s probably the biggest built up area really around the city, outside the city, with highrise buildings an that. It’s a big strip of… A lot of shopping malls down there on Main Street.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:22) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (01:23) And then obviously the beach is there and all the activities that go with that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:27) Very nice. It’s very much a sort of a beach suburb. I’ve been to Glenelg, but I confess it was a number of years ago. So a lot of retail there, I’m guessing?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (01:39) Yeah, retail and restaurants, cafés, all that kind of stuff.

ROBERT GERRISH: (01:42) Very nice too. Well I’m glad we dragged you away from all of that to come and talk with us. Now have you been living there, have you been based there for a while? Were you there before you started your First Class business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (01:57) Yeah. I live not too far from there and always have within, that area.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:02) Okay. So you’re very familiar with the patch.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (02:04) Yeah. Absolutely. Yup.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:05) Okay. How long have you run your First Class Accounts business for?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (02:11) Just about coming up on six years now. So yeah, did my training in 2012 and gone from there.

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:18) Great. Okay. Let’s have a quick look, if we can, what made you choose that business and kind of what’s your background? What were you doing before you got into this business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (02:32) Yes. I was in the public service basically straight out of school and I did a wide variety of roles, but mainly in the finance and human resources payroll kind of field and I’d been there well over 20 years and getting a bit disgruntled with a few thing and…

ROBERT GERRISH: (02:52) Right. So 20 years pretty well in not the same job, but certainly with the same employer.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (02:58) Yes, I suppose. Yup.

ROBERT GERRISH: (03:00) I guess anyone after 20 years these days would be thinking, “About time I did something else.” But what sort of got you to the point where you thought, “Right…” You know, it’s quite a big step after 20 years of working with pretty well the same employer, to then break out and start your own business. Had you been hatching the plan for a while?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (03:20) Oh look, as I said, I was getting a bit disgruntled and I was getting a bit frustrated with the endless issues that were coming up. It probably took about a six month process where I just… I think that initially I saw the TV ad for First Class Accounts and that got me thinking and I spoke to head office a number of times and just got bits and pieces of information and as I said it was a six month process before I actually made the decision to do it.

Yeah, it was just about gathering a bit more information until I felt really confident with First Class Accounts. So that kind of made it a bit easier to make that decision.

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:04) I guess, you know, after 20 years say pretty well in the same line of work, you would have some caution and clearly you were cautious. So you were going sort of to and fro a fair bit really kind of dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s before you made the decision. Is that kind of what it was like?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (04:23) Yeah. Absolutely, because there was a lot to give up with the leave you’d accrued and…

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:29) Of course.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (04:29) Yeah. Obviously the regularity of a wage coming through. You’re not guaranteed when you first start out, so yeah, at the end of the day it was kind of, “I can’t see myself doing that for another 20 years,” because I was getting as I said a bit sick of it all, so…

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:47) Yeah.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (04:49) Yeah. It was, as I said, I made lots of calls to head office and didn’t feel any pressure or anything. They just kept feeding me the information and replying to my queries.

ROBERT GERRISH: (04:58) Right.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (04:59) And just rolled along over a period of time and then eventually …

ROBERT GERRISH: (05:03) You signed. You signed on the dotted line.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (05:06) Yup.

ROBERT GERRISH: (05:06) Yeah. Okay. Presumably at the same time you were… again to make the step from employment to your own business is quite a big one. Did you see yourself as a business owner? Was that something that had been brewing for a while or was it that were you just looking around for the next thing to do and then you stumbled across the notion of a business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (05:35) I really didn’t start out to become a business owner, but certainly talking to First Class franchisees and just other people who I knew who were in business and… Yeah, as I said it just kind of grew over time and I felt more and more likely thtat that’s what I wanted to do. Yeah, here we are kind of thing.

ROBERT GERRISH: (05:59) Yeah. So before we get into… I’d like to have a little look at the business that you’ve built. How does it feel after 20 years with being employed to now, here we are six years into being your own boss? How does that feel?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (06:20) It’s pretty good, to be honest. I really have gotten my enjoyment back for working and it’s great having a balance, you know, work-life balance in that, you know, with the kids at school and stuff. If they’ve got a footy game or whatever, I can go and watch that and it just means I’ve got to do a bit of work at night or on the weekend. I don’t really care because I’ve got the opportunity to see them play and that kind of thing and I’m not spending hours driving in and out of the city to get to work or catching a bus.

ROBERT GERRISH: (06:52) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (06:53) That kind of thing. I know it’s Adelaide, but we do have some traffic. It’s just that waste of time that you get back.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:01) Yes.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (07:03) You know, a couple of days a week, you don’t have to go anywhere. You get to work from home and then the other days I’m generally out at clients, which is a nice balance.

ROBERT GERRISH: (07:10) Okay. So it does sound like it’s giving you sort of freedom and flexibility. So that’s got to be good, isn’t it? That’s a pretty great state to be in. So let’s have a look at… You know, here we are the first six years and no business experience. Suddenly, there you are kind of day one you’re in business. Do you remember what that was like and the kind of process of getting your first couple of clients? How was that for you?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (07:39) I think the training that we got was fantastic and certainly for me, obviously not having that business background, they didn’t just teach you how to be a bookkeeper. It was how to run a business and the marketing and all the things that you need to set up and that kind of stuff. So I went into it obviously apprehensive, but still confident that I had had that training and I had the steps and I had the process in front of me. It was just a matter of getting down and doing that and yeah, I kind of… I just made a decision the first year I’m just going to do everything that head office had suggested. Some things worked, some things didn’t, but to me it was just a learning year and I started off fairly slowly. I might have picked up a client a month the first six months.

ROBERT GERRISH: (08:33) Okay. So you kind of kept your goals quite realistic. You weren’t charging ahead. Your expectations, by the sounds of it, you kept a check on those as well. You basically just sort of got started, but as you say there, you kind of did everything that it was suggested that you do. Some things worked, some things didn’t.

When you went through your training, presumably you were doing it with other people, other new franchisees, how was that? Have you maintained contact with those people? Is that an important sort of aspect of the business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (09:13) Yeah. Absolutely. They were certainly great to learn from even within training because they had different backgrounds and different experiences and we were lucky we were just in a small group of three.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:27) Right.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (09:28) I think we learned a little bit from each other as well as going through the training and then catch up with them every year at national conference, which is great.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:37) Yeah. Okay. So these are another couple of franchisees that are in different parts of the country.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (09:43) Yes. One in Perth and one in the Gold Coast.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09::46) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (09:47) And we certainly catch up from time to time and even outside of conference if there’s an issue or whatever, we tend to exchange calls or emails and just try and help each other out. Yeah. It’s great.

ROBERT GERRISH: (09:59) Isn’t that lovely.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (10:00) Yeah. Absolutely.

ROBERT GERRISH: (10:00) That’s a great sort of bonus isn’t it, that you’ve got that network.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (10:02) Yeah, for sure. Yeah.

ROBERT GERRISH: (10:03) Yeah, and I’ve seen you at conference a few times now and it’s… Those are pretty wonderful events, aren’t they, for just sitting around and building those relationships with other franchisees, as you say, from all walks of life. Dotted all over the place. It’s pretty special.

So let’s have a look at the sort of businesses, six years on, that you’re now working with. Can you give us a picture of roughly how many clients you work with and whether there’s any similarity in the nature of an ideal client for you?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (10:37) Yup. Look I have a wide variety of clients. I don’t have clients in a specific industry or anything. You know, all sorts of children’s sports and all sorts of different industries, so it’s not a… I’m not particularly focused on one and that just kind of grown over time. I’ve been lucky enough that a couple of clients have moved interstate and now have stayed with me. I’ve even got referrals from them to other people where they’re all ready to stay and they’re referring me to someone else there.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:07) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (11:08) And now I’ve got a couple clients I’ve never met.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:10) Right. That’s interesting.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (11:11) Yeah. We speak over the phone or by email and… It’s a very wide range of industries.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:20) And do you like that variety? Do you like the fact that it’s very broad?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (11:25) Yeah. Yeah. There’s always something differen that they’re doing that there can be a different issue that I’m facing and I need to, you know, a problem that we need to sort out. So yeah, it’s quite varied, but it provides a fair bit of variety.

ROBERT GERRISH: (11:40) Yeah. Okay. So you’ve got a few clients there that, as you say, a couple that you’ve never even met. Clearly you’re not driving around going into everybody’s office. Roughly what’s the mix of, you know, kind of percentage wise in terms of those that you do go in and visit and those that you work remotely?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (12:00) I’d say probably a quarter I visit monthly.

ROBERT GERRISH: (12:04) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (12:06) And that can be anything from just a quick catch up to collect some documents to working on site for half a day kind of thing. It just depends, but the others we use a lot of technology to get the documents through and there’s not the necessity to visit or to be on site like they used to be with bookkeeping.

ROBERT GERRISH: (12:31) Tell me, to some extent, is that kind of your choice? If you were the kind of bookkeeper that actually really valued going out and being face-to-face. If you wanted to kind of turn up the volume on that, could you do it?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (12:49) Could I be face-to-face in all of them?

ROBERT GERRISH: (12:51) Yeah, if you wanted. If you wanted to be more face-to-face like if it was… I’m just thinking if part of your sort of ideal week was indeed to go out and visit other businesses, could you kind of ramp that up if you wanted to?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (13:04) Potentially with a few of the clients, yes. I guess to do it all would be difficult because of the timing getting around and that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (13:14) Sure. Yeah. But I guess the point is that it sounds like you do within your practice, you’ve got that flexibility. So if it’s like, “Right. Okay. I need to get out and see people a bit more because it’s going to kind of feed my desire for connection,” let’s say. If you wanted to do that, you could do that, but the reality is obviously you’ve designed your business in a way that it works pretty well for you that you don’t have to spend much time traveling and it sounds like you spent 20 years working like that. So I can see why you’d want to change.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (13:46) Yeah, that’s right and I feel like I got a nice balance where there’s at least two days a week with clients now.

ROBERT GERRISH: (13:52) Yeah.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (13:53) Sometimes three, but I’ve still got that day or two at home and you can do quite a bit on those days across a number of clients. So yeah, for me it works out really well.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:05) Perfect. Okay. So you run your business from a home office. Is that right?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (14:10) Yes.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:10) Yeah. Okay. And how many people in your business? What does the sort of structure of your business look like?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (14:17) So look, I started out obviously as a sole trader and that probably was the first couple of years and then over time I added one and then a second part-time employee.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:31) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (14:32) They were doing variable hours depending on the work load and that worked very well for a good period of time and that’s when my business kind of really grew over those years.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:45) And what years… how far into your life cycle is that?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (14:52) I think it was probably from year three to five.

ROBERT GERRISH: (14:54) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (14:56) It was… There was this one particularly big client that… They had a lot of entities and that kind of grew and grew.

ROBERT GERRISH: (15:05) Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (15:06) Grew and grew and grew and with that came a lot more work…

ROBERT GERRISH: (15:10) Okay so you kind of geared up to suit that particular client.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (15:14) Yeah. Absolutely.

ROBERT GERRISH: (15:15) Yeah. Okay. And then I know because you’ve told me prior to us hitting ‘record’ that that client took a lot of that work in-house, which does happen with a growing business. Did you then sort of contract? Do you still have those people working with you or are you working on your own now? How does that look?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (15:34) Yes. So just over the last few months that’s happened and we probably were fortunate that they took their work back in stages.

ROBERT GERRISH: (15:43) Yeah. Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (15:43) It did decline over a period of a few months and so yeah, back to just working for myself now. One of those employees got a full time job, which was great and that just kind of happened at the right time for everybody and then the other one, her hours at her other employment increased as well, so it kind of worked out pretty well for everybody. Yeah. So it’s pretty much back to full time sole operator.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:15) Okay. And so that sort of fluctuation, it does… I know from speaking to a number of First Class Accounts franchisees that that can happen. Did you find… Hearing you speak there it doesn’t sound like it’s a concern to you. It was a gradual thing. Is that just part of the flow of business do you think? Does it give you any concern?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (16:41) No. I felt like I had the support from head office to better manage that process and yeah, as you say, it’s almost the flow of business and since then, I’ve picked up a couple of other clients, so I kind of feel like it’s going back up again.

ROBERT GERRISH: (16:58) Yeah. Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (16:59) But, you know, it’s not a flat line. Things do go up and down as businesses move. In the past I’ve had a couple of other business owners sell their business. They’re going through their life cycle and obviously it has an impact on me, but… Yeah, like I’ve never felt any pressure and certainly head office are fantastic whether you want to run a small, three day a week business or you want to run a big business with 20 staff, head office will support you in whichever way.

ROBERT GERRISH: (17:33) Yeah. Okay. So that’s perhaps a nice segue there to saying, “Well, what business does Darren Butterick want to run?” If you look to the future how do you see the kind of future of your business? Do you have any plans or particular goals?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (17:50) I think I just want to be flexible. I like working from home those two days a week. So to me I don’t want an onsite office anywhere that you’ve got to have someone there all the time.

ROBERT GERRISH: (18:03) Right.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (18:04) But if things grow and the work increases and I can re-engage an employee or two, I would do that and whether that meant maybe renting a service office or whether they can also do the work from their home, which is certainly possible. I just want to maintain that flexibility and just be adaptable. If things do take off again I’m ready for it and I can grow as I need to.

ROBERT GERRISH: (18:35) It’s lovely to hear you speak in the sense that you accept that there’s a variety of ways a business could evolve, but I don’t get any sense of concern from you, which is very lovely, very pleasant and must be very nice for you, is that you know if growth opportunity comes, you now know what you can do to grab it, but similarly if it’s you working by yourself that’s also quite acceptable to you, which is a pretty nice situation and I know… I believe you have a house full of… There’s lots of testosterone in your house, three boys.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (19:14) Yes.

ROBERT GERRISH: (19:15) How do you find that sort of ability to balance your life and work? How does that kind of present within your business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (19:27) It’s worked out really well. There’s obviously the occasional times that you need to separate yourself, but generally my wife and I like that one of us is home when they get home from school, so a couple of nights a week I’m home and a couple of afternoons when they come back and she’s home. We prefer that we’re around when they get home, not that we don’t trust them or anything. It’s just nice to be here and that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (19:53) Yes. Yup.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (19:55) And then as I said earlier you got the flexibility with their sport or they’ve got practice or whatever that one of us can take them and pick them up. That means I come back a bit later and do a bit of work in the evening or… You know, that’s fine.

ROBERT GERRISH: (20:11) Yeah. It’s nice, isn’t it, that you can. You can because so much of your work is not dependent on your client being around at the same time. If you want to do some work at ten o’clock at night when the house is quietening down you can, which is a pretty good place to be.

So tell me. I’m intrigued. Is there anything about the employed life that you miss six years into your own business?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (20:39) No. I’m struggling Robert! Look… You know, there’s certainly, you know, some of the leave and conditions and that.

ROBERT GERRISH: (20:50) Yeah. Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (20:51) You know, you don’t have… Then you got to balance that up with what you have now.

ROBERT GERRISH: (20:55) Yes.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (20:57) Yeah, I certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t want to go back. Yeah, not to say that employed life is horrible or anything but it just…

ROBERT GERRISH: (21:07) No.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (21:07) You know, once you’ve experienced what it’s like and…

ROBERT GERRISH: (21:15) Yeah. That’s fair enough. I can hear you saying you… I totally understand that you don’t… You’re not… You don’t want to be critical of the employed life that you had, but it’s interesting. Your first response is you can’t really think of anything. So that, again, that’s a pretty good situation.

Look, it’s been fantastic speaking with you and I love the way that you are able to absolutely handle and kind of embrace, to a large extent, where your business goes. If it gets busier, you know what to do. If it stays at a sort of steady level, you’re comfortable with that.

When it comes to… a final question here. When it comes to kind of working on your own, as you are at the moment, how near to sort of capacity are you? Would you like more clients at this stage or are you quite happy where you are?

DARREN BUTTERICK: (22:09) You know, you’d always like some more clients just because you don’t know what’s going to happen with your existing ones.

ROBERT GERRISH: (22:15) Right. Okay.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (22:16) And the last few months I’ve just been working with someone from head office just to kind of build that capacity in, that if something does come, I can react quickly. So we’ve just been setting up a few things there so that I’m ready for that and if it comes… You don’t know when it will come, but if it comes tomorrow or in a few months I’m ready for that and I can grow again as I need to. But that’s been the whole way through. The support from head office has just been fantastic.

ROBERT GERRISH: (22:47) That’s great.

ROBERT GERRISH: (22:49) Okay. So any small businesses that happen to be listening in the Glenelg area, Darren’s ready for you. That’s the message I’m getting.

DARREN BUTTERICK: (22:55) Yup.

ROBERT GERRISH: (22:56) Okay. Alright. Look Darren Butterick, thank you very much for spending your time with us today. Thank you.

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