This article appeared in Issue 3#2 (January/February 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
What’s your background Mary-Anne?
Originally I am from Johannesburg in South Africa. My husband Ian and I decided that Australia offered our kids a better future, so we came here six years ago. Ian is an Electrical Engineer and we now have two boys aged 3 and 6.
When did you become a franchisee?
About three years after having arrived in Australia. I couldn’t work full time as I had to look after my family and that is one of the main reasons why I selected Award Bookkeeping as a suitable franchise for me. I wanted to get back into the workforce to earn some money and exercise my brain more, and the Award Bookkeeping system allowed me to build my business yet handle the full time mother role too. I took up the Ivanhoe franchise, although we don’t really operate strictly to territories and I live in Eltham, so that works well for me. All of my clients are relatively close to home but they don’t have to be.
What about time management?
You can imagine that is very important to me juggling the needs of my two children and servicing my clients. It means I have to be very well organised, and I often hit the books in the evenings once the kids are asleep. That is one of the beauties of this business, my clients don’t mind when I do the work as long as it gets done well and is delivered on time. At the moment Ian is away in Germany for three weeks so I find myself prioritising everything in order to keep my life on track.
In most weeks I put in about 30 hours a week but at BAS time it gets busier of course and I probably work 40 hours a week then. If I wished to do so, I could easily get more clients and work longer hours. I also have the option to grow my business by hiring staff and taking on more clients as several other franchisees have done.
What qualifications did you need?
I was 90% through a Business Commerce degree (which I don’t think I’ll ever finish now) and my experience in structuring property finance from my career in South Africa was very helpful. I didn’t need to be a qualified accountant or anything like that, and Award Bookkeeping have put me through various MYOB, QuickBooks, Quicken and Excel training so I can now do “fancy footwork” within these programmes. I am analytical by nature which helps of course, but establishing a good rapport with my clients is most important. They all know exactly when I am coming and I become very much part of the team. I don’t have to contact them prior as we are all in a routine now but keeping good communication open with the clients is very important in maintaining relationships. One client, an architectural firm in Fitzroy, even invited Ian and I to their Christmas parties they hold in July and December. That was very rewarding to think we were such a key component of their business, even though we were an outside contractor.
How do you grow your business; where do the new clients come from?
I don’t need a lot of clients, I operate mostly with 3 or 4 main ones, but the Award office sends me leads and I get a lot of referrals from satisfied clients. I think it is important to be proactive rather than reactive when seeking out new business and I have a number of potential clients in mind at any one time. It is also very important to remember that someone who is a small client today can grow into a very large one in the future, so it is best to treat every client with the respect they deserve and provide the quality workmanship they require.
What marketing or advertising do you do?
I don’t do much because of the referral flow but when I first started I joined Business Network International and whilst it cost me about $1,000 to join it for twelve months, it was very worthwhile. The downside was the hassle of attending weekly 7am breakfasts! It did introduce me to some good contacts to help my business get going. The franchisor also had a launch programme to introduce me to accountants and other people in my immediate area.
So what’s a typical day?
Well there isn’t one as all five days can be very different. I have a basic plan for the week that sees me with the architects in Fitzroy on Tuesdays, a mortgage broker in Hawthorn on Thursdays and an upholstery business on Fridays, with many other clients in between. Every client has different needs and some of the work can be mundane but at other times the work is very challenging and thought provoking. The Support Office at Award Bookkeeping is always there to help me if I need it.
What is the best part of the Award Bookkeeping system?
The support is very good, if ever I have a question I can get instant answers.
I also greatly value the socialising we do together as a team where our quarterly and annual meetings aren’t just fun but are great training grounds too.
It is also very good to be able to work from my home office base and at the hours I choose to. I do have to be disciplined about this and I am yet to teach the kids that if mummy is in the office they can’t come in!
Has your business developed as well as you expected?
It has actually been better than I expected, but I believe I cannot rely on the franchisor to do everything for me, I had to have get up and go.
Many of my clients are now very flexible and I am very conscious of the trust they place in me.
If you were to give a franchisee three hot tips what would they be?
Firstly, to be energetic and maintain the enthusiasm. Secondly, to follow every lead promptly and efficiently and follow up.
Lastly, it is important to be prepared to grow with your clients. Help them improve their systems and reporting and to become more efficient.
If you were the franchisor, what would you change in your system?
I guess every franchisee would say to reduce the fees, but what I found most daunting was the five year contract I had to sign. I would have preferred it if it was only three years, it would have been less scary for me.
Phil Blain is the Chairman of Franchise Alliance. 1300 72 55 77 will connect you to your Franchise Alliance state office.