Few businesses succeed without expert financial advice, but finding a trusted advisor is not always easy – and rarely comes cheap.
With revenue growth across Australia’s mid-tier accounting firms sluggish at best, William Buck chairman Nikolas Hatzistergos steered his firm to an unprecedented annualised 15 percent growth in 2016.
For more than 25 years Hatzistergos has provided strategic advice to a huge range of business owners.
Here he discusses some of the key issues that confront business owners.
I have a great idea for a startup, but which part of the market should I target?
NICKOLAS HATZISTERGOS: One of the biggest challenges now is the breadth of knowledge needed to cover a broad range of customer needs. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, become known as expert in one segment.
Keep an eye on how the market changes, and expand capabilities and services to go on a journey with customers. As they grow, so do we; recruiting people along the way with a skillset to match that vision.
What’s the best way to attract and keep customers?
Providing superb service turns customers into advocates.
Remember that everything you do for a customer matters to that customer. In our case, even a graduate doing a simple tax return impacts a client, which in turn affects our reputation.
Put the best the company has to offer in front of the client at all times, because they always have a choice.
Am I investing too much or too little?
To even get to a firm our size costs a lot of money. If you don’t invest to grow the business, your assets are going to be sitting somewhere else.
Down the line, if you’re looking at an IPO or trade sale you will get your ROI, but you need to have good financial management in place.
If my idea really takes off, what then?
You will never be where you want to be and that’s a good thing.
Starting out, we wanted to be a $10 million firm. Then at $7 million we wanted to be a $20 million business. At $15 million we wanted to be $30 million, and now we want to be a $50 million business.
Always strive to reach the next goal.
What if I make some poor decisions?
You can’t avoid mistakes but you can deal with them quickly. It could be a bad hire or a move into a service line that is out of your depth.
Don’t waste unnecessary time on things that just don’t work, but do try to avoid offering services that are not part of your core and probably never will be. Filter the services [or products] you provide against the needs of your clients and stay focused on that.
Cash flow is a problem – what should I do?
Providing great service, having great people and a good marketing strategy isn’t enough. You’re in business and need to pay attention to infrastructure. There’s no point being busy if you never send out a bill, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to collect payment.
If you struggle with cash flow, poor management problems or governance, then what do you present to clients?
Turn the mirror. Value the importance of building a back office that will free you to do more client work, because that’s where the magic is. If you’re constantly dealing with internal matters, you’re not focusing on clients.
I can’t afford top-dollar for top talent. How can I recruit the best people?
Never look for cogs in a wheel. Don’t recruit to fit a job description.
We find the best people by believing we can mould a job to suit them. It requires large amounts of creativity and vision to grow and expand. Therefore, you need people who subscribe to your vision, without worrying where they fit in. It can all be worked out as you go along, and that is a key to building a great company.
What’s your top tip?
Keep a level head and, above all, stay calm. [Hatzistergos saves his emotion for Rugby League, and never misses a game when his team’s playing.]