Leanne Berry: How a passion for networking fuels success
Much more than a business consultant, Leanne Berry exemplifies the tireless spirit at the heart of all Australian and New Zealand bookkeeping and accounting firms. This is her story.
Last year, MYOB named Leanne Berry co-winner of the annual Certified Consultant of the Year Award, alongside Debra Anderson of Anderson Tax & Consulting.
For this business consultant and owner of bookkeeping and business advisory services firm Love Your Numbers, a national industry award couldn’t do much to raise her profile higher than it already is. But the recognition is proof-positive that passion, empathy and hard-work go a long way in this field – traits that Leanne has in spades.
In the lead up to Partner Connect 2019 and this year’s awards, we sat down with Leanne at MYOB’s Cremorne offices to discuss her journey, her passion and the attitude that has gotten her through over two decades of business development.
The road to Lithgow
From the outset, I could tell she’d told this story dozens of times, as the immediate response to the question, “So how did you get into this business?” was prompt and matter-of-fact.
“Accidentally,” Leanne said. “I fell into it.”
It’s this direct-to-the-point manner that Leanne uses to instill confidence in her colleagues and clients alike, and it’s unclear whether she’s never been one to mince words, or if this is something she’s learnt through decades of dealing.
“I started off working within the Business Enterprise Centre network when it was really large in Australia.
“It was here that I had the opportunity to work in a government-funded initiative that was at least 10 years ahead of its time.”
Founded in 1997, the government created the first virtual incubator for startups, which was dubbed the Western Region Business Innovation Centre, Leanne explained.
“We received three years of government funding with which we supported between 35 and 50 clients at any given time, providing a mixture of secretarial services, phone answering, mail collection and bookkeeping,” she said.
“We were taking the grunt work out of their business so they could use that time to succeed – and it was all done in the late 90s when email was still a new concept for many small businesses.”
It was at this point that Leanne became an advocate for MYOB, setting her clients up on the system so that she could streamline the total bookkeeping load of the incubator.
“Bookkeeping has come a long way since those early days,” Leanne said. “It used to be a very organic career pathway; something that women could do as way of getting back into the workforce, developing from the flexibility of doing their husbands’ books before building out into full-fledged bookkeeping services.
“It’s really only been the past 10 years that it’s become very professional and very career-oriented, and I hope the trend continues in this direction.”
Unlike the bookkeeping industry overall, the virtual incubator wouldn’t have such a bright future ahead of it – once government funding finished, Leanne had to consider her options.
“Services had been delivered up to that point at a highly subsidised cost,” Leanne explained.
“I had 30-plus clients and four staff when the funding ended, but it was no longer a sustainable model.”
Leanne made the decision to ask her clients to start absorbing the full cost of her services, creating a value-based pricing model and streamlining her operations around the core business proposition: bookkeeping and advisory. It was the year 2002.
“It was very stressful, but you don’t often get the opportunity to start a business with a client base that’s willing to fund your launch and I felt that we owed it to them to keep going.”
Developing a platform for success
Leanne ended up running her business from Lithgow, regional NSW, and accepting the challenges that come with the tyranny of distance, running training and support services that they would have otherwise had to travel to Sydney to receive.
She soon realised she’d need to learn everything about running a regional business so that she could support her clients in their success doing the same.
“I taught myself how to build computers,” Leanne said. “I reached out to Microsoft so I could receive training in IT systems; I taught small business bookkeeping and leadership classes at TAFE and community college.
“Those skills helped me deliver better services and offer better advice – you can become a trusted advisor pretty quickly like that.”
But it wasn’t just what she learned that helped her grow her business, Leanne also invested inordinate amounts of time networking – a habit she continues today.
“I was on the Lithgow Chamber of Commerce for six years, I continued to have a role with the Business Enterprise Centre in regional development and these are all things I remain passionate about,” she said.
Over the years, Leanne has also sat on the board of various community organisations, offering pro-bono services where it can have the most impact. In doing so, she’s been able to leverage her networks and the word-of-mouth referrals that would come with it.
“Word-of-mouth marketing has been my biggest source of business growth over the past 20-plus years,” she affirmed.
“I became the name that people would give whenever someone wanted to know how to get set up on MYOB – but I’ve also given my fair share of marriage advice over the years as well.”
But Leanne stops short of saying that her passion for networking has a causal relationship with her business success. Instead, she says it’s very much a case of networking for networking’s sake.
“There’s nothing I love more than bringing together two people who were previously unknown to one another, and watching them use their complementary skills and assets to create something new.
“I don’t need to take any more reward from that than the satisfaction of knowing that I was integral to the success of that venture – it really is a thing of beauty.”
The secret to successful relationships
‘Think not of what your network can do for you, but what you can do for your network,’ is the kind of thing that comes to mind when considering Leanne’s approach to business.
Not only is this the way she deals with her peers and her clients, it’s also the way she’s approached her work with MYOB – a relationship that runs very deeply throughout her career.
Leanne was an inaugural member of the MYOB Partner Advisory Group, which ran for a decade or more, and she continues to work closely with product development teams, taking part in beta testing and providing feedback every step of the way.
“So many people become an MYOB Partner and immediately want to see immediate benefits, but that’s not the way these relationships work.
“Yes, there are benefits for all Partners, but if you want to maximise your returns, you have to be willing to do the work.”
As a self-professed ‘tech geek’, Leanne’s natural curiousity was the initial motivation for getting in behind the scenes with her software suppliers, but she quickly came to realise her business stood to gain a lot more from this activity.
“Taking part in testing new products has given me the ability to strategise ahead of new releases, so it adds a lot of value to my clients and therefore to my business.
“It adds another string to my bow and allows me to advise on when and how to implement new systems and processes with a greater level of confidence, because I’ve already implemented those things in my own operations.”
And after more than 20 years in the game (she’s now based in Bathurst, but otherwise her offering has the same laser focus on supporting regional business), Leanne shows no sign of slowing down.
In fact, when asked how she manages her downtime, Leanne almost scoffed at the idea.
“When my husband Ian died, I would’ve been lost without this business and all the love and support I received from my colleagues and clients – even getting out of bed in the morning was driven by this industry and my friendships I have within it.
“But it’s not like I’m sitting at a desk all day,” she said.
In fact, following a tour of the country delivering Single Touch Payroll seminars as part of an engagement with the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers,
Leanne plans to spend 10 days in Phuket, Thailand. She also has a trip planned to see the Northern Lights and Norway in 2020.
“My passion is travel, so what I’m doing now is using my business to fuel my passion,” she said.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m taking time off in any way – the benefit of modern information technologies is that I can continue managing my clients from anywhere in the world, and that’s what I plan to continue doing.”
This year’s Partner Connect will bring together hundreds of advisors, business consultants, accountants and bookkeepers from all over Australia and New Zealand for two days of learning, inspiration and networking.
Hurry! Early bird tickets to Partner Connect are only available until 30 June – and don’t forget to nominate and be nominated in the MYOB Partner Awards for your chance to be recognised industry-wide, just like Leanne Berry.