ROBERT GERRISH: (00:34) Now today I’m delighted to be talking with Louise Keir.
Hello Louise, thanks so much for joining us.
LOUISE KEIR: (00:40) Thank you, Robert.
ROBERT GERRISH: (00:41) Well look it’s good to have you here. Now I know we’ve bumped into each other a few times, Louise, as you had a wonderful little segment on TV that I’m sure the First Class people will put a little link to that and now here we are speaking on the phone. So perhaps we could start off, Louise, by you just letting us know where your First Class Accounts business is based and just give me a just a little snapshot of the area.
LOUISE KEIR: (01:08) I actually work from home to begin with and my area is the lower North Shore.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:21) Okay. Lower North Shore of Sydney.
LOUISE KEIR: (01:22) Yeah. Lower North Shore of Sydney, primarily North Sydney, Neutral Bay around that small business hub. I guess you could say it’s almost an extension of the city.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:34) Yeah, it is. What a great area to have your business. I mean you’re surrounded by businesses there.
LOUISE KEIR: (01:40) That’s right. I am fortunate.
ROBERT GERRISH: (01:42) Now look, what I should say before we get any further, let’s advise listeners that you work from a home office and you share your space with two youngish, boisterous individuals called Jazz and Spencer and they’re Jack Russell terriers and they may make an appearance. That will be fair to say, wouldn’t it?
LOUISE KEIR: (02:05) Yeah. It’s very hard for them not to make an appearance, Robert.
ROBERT GERRISH: (02:09) Yeah, particularly when you’re away from them. I’ll bet that’s when they want you the most. That’s the way it is, isn’t it.
LOUISE KEIR: (02:13) Yeah. It’s a little scratch on the door. Yes.
ROBERT GERRISH: (02:15) I always remember, there was someone telling me once that the reason you see so many Jack Russell’s in movies is because they are so incredibly intelligent, so if they do interrupt us we can only imagine that they’re probably saying something very useful even though we might not fully understand it.
Anyway, we’ll keep going. Shall we?
LOUISE KEIR: (02:34) Exactly.
ROBERT GERRISH: (02:35) Okay. Alright. So your area then as you said lower North Shore as you say almost like an overspill to the sort of North Sydney area, so great catchment in terms of the number of businesses. Now you are very much a newbie. How long have you actually had your franchise for?
LOUISE KEIR: (02:54) I actually signed my franchise agreement on the third of July last year.
ROBERT GERRISH: (02:59) Okay.
LOUISE KEIR: (03:03) And after the training because First Class Accounts do put you through pretty rigorous training to ensure that you know what you need and so I’ve been operating or allowed to trade, I guess you could say, from the fifth of September last year.
ROBERT GERRISH: (03:19) Oh okay. Alright, so very new, very new. Alright and so we’ll sort of delve into that, but what I’m particularly interested in and I’m sure some of the people listening will be too is what’s been your path to starting this business? What’s your background? Where do you come from? What did you do before you decided to start your own business like this?
LOUISE KEIR: (03:43) I had a… I still have a career, but I came out of IT. I started off as a bookkeeper and then after about 10 years of doing that and having my own business, I decided to move into IT where I initially started to transfer people from menu based systems into automated accounting systems and then from that point on it grew and I became more and more ambitious. So I’ve… mainly my background is corporate and government and the previous 12 years I’ve been doing freelance project management.
ROBERT GERRISH: (04:30) Right.
LOUISE KEIR: (04:31) Where I did look after… well I had a number of corporate and government clients and what I was doing was different types of projects, but there was always a commonality and there was always a financial requirement which I was able to leverage off my bookkeeping experience.
ROBERT GERRISH: (04:51) Yeah.
LOUISE KEIR: (05:02) And also I have led development teams in software development for developing accounting systems and have had projects where I’ve done it for implementation into corporate.
ROBERT GERRISH: (05:06) Wow! So you’ve actually… I suppose we could say you’re kind of completing the circle then. You started out with your own bookkeeping business. Grew that then moved into corporate and you worked your way around corporate now back into your own bookkeeping business. How does that feel?
LOUISE KEIR: (05:23) You could say that.
ROBERT GERRISH: (05:24) Yeah. Does it feel like a… I mean did you always kind of have your business in your back pocket if you like? Were you always thinking one day or is it something that’s kind of grown gradually more recently? What’s the process of kind of leaving and getting into your own business?
LOUISE KEIR: (05:40) First of all I wanted to find something that I could do and because I wanted to get out of corporate or the corporate world as such and move into something that I could be in control of and be my own boss. What I wanted to be able to do is… I had looked at bookkeeping and I saw a friend set up her own business. So she does it independently and she is an accountant. She’s done very well and I thought… and I was familiar with the type of work that she was doing because I had previously done it…
ROBERT GERRISH: (06:21) Right.
LOUISE KEIR: (06:22) … in different shapes and forms. So I started looking at it and as I continued on down the path I thought, “I think need to make the leap and just go for it,” which is what I’ve done.
ROBERT GERRISH: (06:40) How exciting. So with the corporate side then, did you just sort of feel that you’d done as much as you wanted to do there, that you got as far as you wanted to go? What precipitated that move?
LOUISE KEIR: (06:54) I thought that I had gone as far as what I could go. I’ve gone from permanent employee to a contractor.
ROBERT GERRISH: (07:07) Right.
LOUISE KEIR: (07:09) And then I… But I still felt that I wasn’t in control of my destiny.
ROBERT GERRISH: (07:15) Okay.
LOUISE KEIR: (07:16) So that’s why I did make that change and decided to be in charge and do my own thing. I suppose… I just wanted to be able to be in charge of my own destiny and know where I was going and that was the real drive for it.
ROBERT GERRISH: (07:35) Yeah. Okay. And I think… When we speak to people that are starting a business whether it’s bookkeeping or whatever when they’re starting a small business, it is that sort of reason, that desire to do things your way that is by far the biggest driver and without us getting into talking about ages or anything, we have met… and we are of a similar generation. We remember the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie and others. So , you know, we are of a similar… and I guess when we get to this sort of age, we kind of do want to be as you say, as you so beautifully put it, in control of our own destiny, don’t we? So how does that feel for you now? I know it’s still the year one and I know that there are… inevitably there are pressures of building a business, but how does it feel generally? You wake up in the morning with your own business. Is it exciting? Is it scary? Is it a mix of both?
LOUISE KEIR: (08:32) Look, it’s a combination of all things because like I like to get in and develop business. I’ve had some roles in the past that has allowed me to take away that shyness, so to speak, and you just get in and go after it. It’s a combination… like we do a lot of… I enjoy doing networking and getting there. The challenge is, and I think for any small business, is finding enough customers.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:09) Yes. Yes.
LOUISE KEIR: (09:12) Because you want to be able to do is know that you can pay the bills and all of that type of thing.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:14) Yes, of course.
LOUISE KEIR: (09:09) So I’m driven like that. But it is scary because all of a sudden you’ve gone from a corporate position where you can go anywhere in the organisation to get something done.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:30) Yes.
LOUISE KEIR: (09:31) All of a sudden you’re in a small business. You have multiple hats to wear because nobody else is going to do it for you.
ROBERT GERRISH: (09:40) Yeah.
LOUISE KEIR: (09:42) So you’re doing the admin. You’re doing the business development. You’re in the operational work which is what you’re selling, as in bookkeeping and all of a sudden you have all of those responsibilities rolled into one and you’ve got that pressure of getting more clients.
ROBERT GERRISH: (10:04) Yes, of course. And so we’ll go into a few of those little things. I totally get that and you’re right. That is the stuff of small business and I think it’s very true that sometimes people get into small business without necessarily thinking about all that. I mean you certainly, I guess because of your previous experience you have an idea what was coming and also you made the decision to buy a franchise. What was the decision making process there? Why did you decide to do that versus just sort of putting up your sign and working on your own?
LOUISE KEIR: (10:45) I think the First Class Accounts brand is renowned like people do know it. As soon as you mentioned First Class Accounts at a networking group people just immediately know the brand and that’s what I wanted. I wanted something, a brand that people would recognize. I knew that… If I had have done it myself it would have taken me a lot longer and I might be one of those businesses that are just done and operating any further.
ROBERT GERRISH: (11:23) Yes.
LOUISE KEIR: (11:25) Falling into perhaps financial problems and so on. But with First Class Accounts you’ve got the brand recognition. You have extensive training that they provide you and you’ve got support processes that are in place. You have a helpdesk that is there to help, to guide you through the process and as everybody… All bookkeepers become BAS agents. Well the majority of them do. Some have the preference not to. And so you’ve got First Class Accounts offering those supervised services so that you can lodge your clients BAS for them. So yeah.
ROBERT GERRISH: (12:12) Yes. So it’s all there, isn’t it?
LOUISE KEIR: (12:13) There’s a lot of support in place. It’s all there and if you’re thinking about wearing all of those hats when we start off in small business, the fact that that’s in place and you’ve got it there rather than creating it from scratch yourself, it makes a big difference.
ROBERT GERRISH: (12:34) Yes. And so you mentioned the helpline there and I’m just dying to know. Have you had cause to ring it? And if so what’s been your experience? Do you have any particular scenario that springs to mind where you made use of that facility?
LOUISE KEIR: (12:51) Yes, I have. Sometimes it could be around software like… because we do get trained on numerous accounting software and there can be something operational that you just can’t see. For example, when I was using Xero the other day and I was wanting to… I needed to update an activity statement as such because I was going back and doing some rescue work which was going back a few months. So it means that I would need to lodge a new BAS for that client. But it had… down the bottom it had finalised and there was nothing that I could do to remove that, at least I thought.
ROBERT GERRISH: (13:47) So just to recap. You’re saying that something had kind of happened there within that software and what you were trying to find out is, “Yikes! How can I kind of wind it back a little?” Is that sort of what the problem was?
LOUISE KEIR: (13:59) That’s right. Yeah. I was trying to get past a certain point so I could wind it back and I could not for the life of me think of what I had to do and I rang the support desk and straight away they knew exactly what the problem was and it’s something that I’ll never ever forget again, but there are other scenarios where you may check about how you set up your chartered account or you know. Another issue that did crop up. One of my clients has litigation capital finance and I needed to understand how…
ROBERT GERRISH: (14:35) How that works.
LOUISE KEIR: (14:39) I should treat that. So yeah. There are all of these different situations…
ROBERT GERRISH: (14:44) Situations. Yeah.
LOUISE KEIR: (14:50) … that do crop up during the day that you just need to get that additional support and sometimes there’s… Where the Internet is very good to research this stuff and you normally do. I normally try to go there first to find it out.
ROBERT GERRISH: (15:00) Yeah.
LOUISE KEIR: (15:02) But sometimes you can waste a lot of time.
ROBERT GERRISH: (15:05) Yes, certainly.
LOUISE KEIR: (15:06) And it’s best that you contact the experts.
ROBERT GERRISH: (15:11) Yeah. So brilliant to have that. I wish I had a similar sort of service myself and I remember hearing a little while ago that a new Bentley they were making a few years ago. I think it was selling for $350,000 and it had a big red button on the dashboard – so legend has it. Anyway and you press the big red button and it goes straight through to somebody who will answer any question that you’ve got. That’s what it… It sounded like something out of Batman. But it sounds like you have a similar service working for you which is great to hear.
So let’s have a look at customers. Now I know that… you’ve already said that you really kind of started in September, so incredibly early days because November, December, January, even February it’s hard to get conversation with people and I know this is a path that you’re very much sort of on at the moment, but what have you been doing so far? I believe you’ve joined some networking groups. I wonder just if you can take us through your own sort of thinking there with your marketing.
LOUISE KEIR: (16:08) Yes. As far as bookkeeping is concerned, it tends to be word of mouth particularly when it gets down to that small business end because a lot of small businesses don’t have an exhaustive advertising budget…
ROBERT GERRISH: (16:24) No. No.
LOUISE KEIR: (16:27) … that they can call on, so it’s very much word of mouth. So what I’ve been doing is I’ve joined three networking groups and I usually attend three different sessions. Some I might do once a week, three times a week or…
ROBERT GERRISH: (16:42) Wow!
LOUISE KEIR: (16:47) It depends on how they actually, how often they’re running. Whereas others may only have breakfast once a week, so I would just… I’ll do it once a week every week like as in BNI does. I have a weekly breakfast whereas the other groups that I’ve joined, Bx Networking, it’s once every fortnight.
ROBERT GERRISH: (17:12) Right. Okay.
LOUISE KEIR: (17:15) So you can make it work yourself, but you do need to make that contact with other people because they can also become your sales force.
ROBERT GERRISH: (17:26) Yes, your advocates.
LOUISE KEIR: (17:29) As far as… for extending beyond yourself to somebody that gets to know your business because that’s what it’s all about and then you can take it from there and they’ll be referring to you whatever and vice versa because they’d like to get that… referrals themselves.
ROBERT GERRISH: (17:44) So it’s so good to hear that you sort of embraced networking so fully because it’s not always the case. You know, I speak to people who are much more hesitant. Do you remember the very first time you walked into a networking group, possibly with your First Class Accounts sort of blouse on. What was that like? Do you remember that?
LOUISE KEIR: (18:08) It was a bit strange because really you don’t know exactly what the process is. One of the things that is really good is that if you are a visitor to any of these meetings they do make you welcome and people want to learn about your business and people introduce you as soon as you come in because they’re looking for people to join their chapters as such and for me, like I thought, “What do I say?” I was listening to the different pitches that people were giving and I have not, had never ever really done any pitch or anything like that in the past.
ROBERT GERRISH: (18:55) Oh okay. So what did you say when it got around to you?
LOUISE KEIR: (18:59) So it was amusing as well. I copied basically what they said.
ROBERT GERRISH: (19:01) That’s fine.
LOUISE KEIR: (19:07) Give your name, who you’re from, what you do and who invited you to attend and as we get further into it, once you join you need to talk more about your business and look at specifically who it is that you want or the types of businesses that you want to connect with.
ROBERT GERRISH: (19:22) Yeah. Look, I think the thing there… I mean and clearly it’s very brave. A number of people I have spoken with and not in the bookkeeping industry, but who are hesitant with networking is they just can’t face that kind of situation where they walk in a room and they don’t know people. But it’s very interesting what you said and I think it’s so true that in this day and age the majority of networking groups certainly professional networking groups and you mentioned BNI, you know, have been very well established for many many years all around Australia and they are a professional networking group. And the other thing I think with pretty well every networking group is they are populated by people like us, by other small businesses and this notion that you walk into somewhere and, you know, the piano stops playing and everybody goes quiet like in one of those cowboy movies. That’s kind of not what it’s like because people are welcoming and as you said, they welcomed you in. I’m sure they all understand what it’s like to be at that starting point and I’m so pleased to hear that you’re building your own confidence and building a picture of your ideal client. Because it takes time, doesn’t it, to get that piece of the jigsaw right.
LOUISE KEIR: (20:38) It does because when you’re out there selling yourself and selling the service as such you’re really do need to be able to communicate that clearly so that people understand if they’re going to be referring you, what type of client you’re after and that to me is quite key. So yeah, I totally agree.
ROBERT GERRISH: (21:02) Yeah. But are you sort of… are you comfortable with the discomfort because at this stage until you’ve worked that out it must feel a little uncomfortable for you, but are you getting a little bit sort of stronger and clearer as each week goes by?
LOUISE KEIR: (21:20) Yes, definitely. I have to say the last 12 months or probably since September, what I have learned and what I have got out of this – and I’m talking about me not about sitting down learning software – but what I’ve got out of it for me I think has been really valuable and I’ve learned a hell of a lot and what has happened is I have become more confident because it’s like I was very comfortable in the corporate land and working where I was working, but when I made that stick and that transition into something that is different again plus I’m the one that has to… I’m the one that is the business so to speak it was… it took me a while before I did feel confident and as I did more as far as networking and looking at my business and what I’ve learned and I have learned a lot from different coaches and I learned about LinkedIn and what is good to know is that when you go out and you have a look at… because there’s a lot of people out there that help small business. There are different things that you can attend and so on.
ROBERT GERRISH: (22:48) Yup.
LOUISE KEIR: (22:51) What was good is that I was not the only one. I felt at first…
ROBERT GERRISH: (22:59) That you were…
LOUISE KEIR: (23:00) …often uncomfortable because I thought I was, but everybody goes through it and you just have to push yourself.
ROBERT GERRISH: (23:04) Yeah. Okay. That’s delightfully said and I’m going to wrap this up by asking you three questions that I actually do use in my coaching sometimes. So I haven’t primed you for this so good luck, but don’t worry.
LOUISE KEIR: (23:16) Okay.
ROBERT GERRISH: (23:20) But I’ll ask you three questions. In your first year of running your own business, what are you happiest about?
LOUISE KEIR: (23:26) I have to say that I now have a clearer vision as to where I want to go and I know what I need to do to get there. There are some things that I need to work on, but I have a much clearer vision. I’m much happier and I can see that I can achieve it.
ROBERT GERRISH: (23:49) Fantastic. That’s a great response. Next one, what are you most excited about?
LOUISE KEIR: (23:56) Again I’m excited about the fact that I know that I will be able to grow this business and I will be able to have a business that I can actually say, “I’ve put this together. I did this myself through my own initiative.”
ROBERT GERRISH: (24:20) How brilliant. Alright. Now the last one is, what are you most proud of?
LOUISE KEIR: (24:27) That I stuck it out. Right. Look I tell you there were lots of moments where you think, “Oh my goodness what have I done?” But the fact is that I stuck it out. I stayed focused and you do have your off days and it doesn’t matter what you do if you’re a bookkeeper or a baker, you still have those off days.
ROBERT GERRISH: (24:51) Sure.
LOUISE KEIR: (24:58) But yeah, I’m pleased that I have stuck with it and I can see where it can go.
ROBERT GERRISH: (25:03) How fantastic. Well I’ve got to tell you we’re rather pleased that you stuck with it as well and I can’t wait to see where it all goes to next.
Louise Keir, thank you so much for spending your time with us. It’s been great to have a chat with you.
LOUISE KEIR: (25:22) Thank you, Robert. Thank you for inviting me.
ROBERT GERRISH: (25:24) Okay and also big shout out to Jazz and Spencer who have obviously sat there just riveted to this, listening to all of this and have decided not to interrupt. So I think that was great too.