Debra Anderson: Resilience, consistency yields long-term results
For Debra Anderson, growing a career across the spectrum of bookkeeping and accounting took fortitude, grit and a dash of luck.
Having spent ten years dreaming of winning a major industry award from MYOB, Debra Anderson was last year rewarded with the Certified Consultant of the Year Award alongside Leanne Berry of Love Your Numbers.
Perhaps the fact that it took a decade to reach her goal shouldn’t have come as a surprise to this business consultant and member of the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB), who’s spent her entire career building towards one success before moving on to another. Looking back, the founder of Anderson Tax & Consulting now sees her journey as one marked by defying adversity as well as a lot of determination and a touch of good fortune.
With MYOB Partner Connect 2019 and a new year of award recipients waiting just around the corner, we sat down with Anderson at MYOB’s Cremorne offices to chat about how it all came to pass, and what she’s learned along the way.
Avoid being limited by others’ expectations
Anderson’s career defies any simple explanation as much as her current role. She’s worked as a secretary, an accountant, a bookkeeper and can even claim experience as both a tax and BAS agent.
So it’s no surprise that she struggles to sum it all up when asked for an elevator pitch.
“The fact is I’m a little bit of all those things,” said Anderson.
“I started my life in the corporate world as an accountant which is completely different to the work of a tax agent, which is very different again from being a BAS agent.
“It’s like the difference between a horse and a donkey – they each look similar but they’re so different in terms of what they’re used for.
As you might expect, there aren’t many people that can claim the full range of accounting and bookkeeping specialty skills that Anderson does, and that’s directly related to the unique and colourful career she’s developed.
And in many ways Anderson owes it all to being incredibly unlucky at the very early stages of her working life.
“My career came about as a reaction to adversity.
“I was married at 19 and working as a secretary when I found myself in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage,” Anderson explained.
Anyone who has spoken with Anderson would know she’s almost always exuding humour and energy in spades, but with this candid admission she was suddenly very serious.
“I was lucky to get out alive – many other women aren’t so fortunate.
“My husband of the time was constantly criticising my weight and my intelligence.
“I only weighed around 45 kilograms back then, so I decided I’d prove my intelligence instead.”
It was at that point, at around the age of 20 or 21, that Anderson enrolled in a TAFE accounting course, shortly thereafter she divorced her first husband and later took on her second training challenge: an MBA.
“At that time, around 1996, I was doing my MBA via correspondence, and it was the only one you could get into without an undergraduate degree.”
Towards the end of her MBA, things had turned a corner for Anderson. She was married for a second time and had her first child. Studying for the MBA part time while working for a corporate was a perfect combination – until she was made redundant.
“I found myself three months pregnant with my second child and out of work, and it was impossible to find anyone who was willing to hire a pregnant woman.
“Eventually I saw an ad in one of the local papers advertising a two-hour-a-week bookkeeping role. It didn’t sound like much but it turned out to be the beginning of a journey that has intimately led me to where I am today. I’m so grateful for that seemingly small opportunity.
“That two hours ramped up to being pretty much full time very quickly.”
At that time there wasn’t the legislation around the qualification of bookkeepers that there is today, so Anderson found it relatively simple to transfer her accounting and general business acumen into the bookkeeping sphere.
“In 2009, the Tax Agent Services Act came in, and after 2011 it became much harder to simply jump into doing tax or BAS work,” Anderson explained. “I definitely got lucky when it came to timing.”
Back yourself to get the best result
Having built up a broad understanding of technology, tax compliance, accounting and bookkeeping over the course of a decade, Anderson decided to strike out on her own in 2006.
“I wanted to start my own business because I only wanted to work when I wanted to work said Anderson.
“That didn’t work out of course because what I didn’t realise was how much more there is to do when you’re running your own business.
“When you become a small business owner you have to become an IT expert, a marketing expert and a sales expert to name just a few.”
Some people would be naturally inclined to outsource at least one or two of these elements of her new business. Not so for Anderson, who professes a deep love of learning and an even deeper belief in authenticity.
“Take my website for example – it’s been written 100 percent by me.
“The grammar is probably dreadful, punctuation – it’s got none of that, but people feel it.
“People respond to authenticity and passion.”
It’s this attitude that Anderson brings into her working relationships that her clients and partners love, even if it means she’s sometimes underestimated.
“People often meet me and say things like, ‘Oh, you’re so not the accountant type!’
“But that’s just fine, because all of my clients tell me they wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Moreover, Anderson believes that the way technology is evolving towards subscription-based cloud solutions is creating even greater opportunities for those willing to take a hands-on approach.
“Fewer bookkeepers or accountants are going out to meet clients on site anymore.
“The rarer it becomes, the more value clients see in it, and that’s when you can charge a premium for it.
“But for me, it’s nice just to get out and meet people.”
Recognition only comes from going the distance
As part of the prize for winning Certified Consultant of the Year Award, Anderson had received a trip for two to Melbourne. She was visibly excited by the prospect of getting out on the town with her current partner.
But the benefits of winning the award pale in comparison to winning the award itself, said Anderson.
“The award was interesting because I’d been wanting for it for years,” she said.
“Ever since Rob Marshall won it a few years ago I said to myself that I wanted to win it.”
Even more interesting was the fact that, by the time Anderson received the award, she’d already given up on already receiving it.
“I’d put in so much work in previous years, while last year I feel like I almost didn’t deserve it.
“But the way the awards are judged had changed by that time – it was less of a popularity contest and the judges were clearly looking more closely at the work each CC had done with MYOB over multiple years.”
In her 20 or so years using MYOB, Anderson has worked on the ground level of product testing. Hers was the first file to be uploaded to the cloud, while her relationship with the online accounting software company also saw her securing television appearances with the likes of Sky Business News and even a meeting with Scott Morrison and Tim Reed – which she considers a definitive career highlight.
Still, Anderson said she could have done more to make the most of her award from a marketing perspective.
“It’s nice that MYOB offer up a prize and badges to go on your website and so on, but it’s really up to the individual to shout it from the rooftops.
“I won five accounting and bookkeeping industry awards last year after 10 years of nothing.
“Looking back, I could have worked harder to get the word out on social media, emails and even with some Google Adwords spend perhaps.”
In considering what advice she might offer the next winners of the Certified Consultant of the Year Awards, I thought to ask Anderson what advice she would give an even younger person thinking of entering the accounting or bookkeeper space.
“If I had my time again, but in today’s market, I’d suggest new entrants take the traditional route and get the foundations right – go to uni, work at a Big Four, get your CA or CPA and then strike out on your own by age 30-35.
“But when you look at what’s happening with cyber crime and cyber security, if you have any aptitude in computing, then forensic accounting is probably where the money’s at and it’s definitely where the future’s at.
“I know I keep thinking to myself, ‘I’m only 49, maybe I could still move into forensic accounting? It’s an interesting space’.”
We may soon see Anderson has added yet another string to her bow.
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