Listen to this episode here: Get Out of your Comfort Zone

Welcome to our podcast TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz, where Paul Jansz interviews stars from the accounting industry. In the last episode we had Kyelie Baxter, Managing Partner of IQ Accountants. Her firm won the “Partner of the Year (Boutique Firm)” award in both 2019 and 2020.  We condensed her secrets to success in this article.

How has lockdown been for you and the business?

Things have been pretty amazing, but we’ve worked so hard for them to be amazing. Our hearts have hurt for so many of our clients and some of my team have worked harder than we’ve ever worked before.

We closed our office for four and a half months. We saw each other every day through video link and during the actual lockdown, we were able to work really seamlessly because we’re a completely digital firm, totally paperless.

Our clients are really used to that as well, including liaising with us in a digital manner. It turns out we were ready for COVID without really even knowing it. Some of the industries and certainly our accounting industry that have gone to cloud-based and tech have been so important to us. We already had a meeting platform because we’ve got clients nationwide.

Could you share a bit about you and IQ Accountants?

I began my career in 2000. This awesome opportunity was offered to me by these wonderful two partners, who saw something in me and made me a partner of the firm at a pretty young age.

Over the next few years, I bought those partners out and moved to the Gold Coast, and that’s how IQ Accountants came to be. This year is my 20th year in the practice.

I have a really “work hard, play hard” attitude. I consistently joke that sleep is for the weak, but I think it’s because I really love of what I do. My business was my first baby before my two actual children came along. There’s just that genuine love and care factor for my clients and my team.

I know a lot of businesses use the term “family environment”, but we really are like a family. We don’t only celebrate the wins, but we’re also there for each other in sadness as well. I’m also a fiercely loyal person, I’ve got friends in my inner circle that go back more than 25 years and I think that is why a lot of my clients have been with us 10 years plus as well.

You were recently awarded Partner of the Year (Boutique Firm), how to you feel about it?

It’s a thrill to be recognised at a national level. This year’s ceremony was virtual; it was very bizarre.  I genuinely appreciate that award. Those awards really gave me an opportunity to open my eyes and see all these other amazing people in our industry. I felt really inspired by them.

Could you share some insights about your clientele?

We have moved so fast. Our industry has been one of the fastest changing of all. We are base in the Gold Coast, however, quite a minimal percentage of our clients are Gold Coast based. We push the fact that we’re completely digital, and all of our staff are trained in that manner. Plus, it’s not only that we work internally that way, but we also expect our clients to work with us that way as well.

We don’t allow our clients to provide us with any paper documentation.  It removes that barrier of people needing to visit us unless they specifically want to, or us needing to visit them unless we specifically want to. Clients can be located anywhere and receive exactly the same service. There’s nothing in our service packages that makes any difference from a geographical location point of view.

How do you set those expectations for the clients?

Lots of communication and education. We want clients to understand not only what they’re doing and what their business is doing, but also to understand the relationship that they’ve got with us and what they’re signing up for.

We do a lot of groundwork before we take on a client. If they don’t have any interest in understanding it, then that’s probably a good indication that they’re not a match for us.

How do you do this groundwork with a new client?

We will openly tell people we may not be the accountant for you. In the early days or when you’re trying to grow a firm, don’t just take on anyone to grow your client base, because what you’ll end up doing is different things for different clients.

What has worked for us is we’re really good at doing this and doing it this way. There are flexibilities in some manners, but not in everything. We set the bar and explain that same thing to clients before we take them on.

At the end of the day, it’s all relationship based. They have to trust us. Trust is one of the most important things in this advisor relationship.

Are your clients mostly referral-based?

Our new or potential clients come to us exceptionally well-vetted. People aren’t out there saying, “They did a great job with my tax return”. They are saying, “This is what they do for us,” or, “I had this problem, and this is how they worked with me”. That’s part of that relationship and getting to know the client.

People will be really open and honest about leaving their last accountant and my question will be, “Well, what support did you actually need?” It’s just a case of asking people what they need and want, and then putting together a service offering that suits those needs.

Absolutely. Let’s use the COVID situation as an example; when COVID hit, we reached out to all of our clients. Even though we’ve got wonderful relationships with our clients, we’re constantly in contact. We believe and will openly say to people, we will over communicate with you rather than under.

I offered every single one of our clients a free 10-minute consultation, because I didn’t want a fee or price to be a barrier. It was really important for me to get that touch point with the client. It was also to have an understanding about how they were feeling personally, where they thought their business was at, and where I could see their business was at.

After that, we then basically we grouped all of our clients because it was the easiest way for us to service all of those clients over the last five months.

The lockdown could go much longer and affect the economy.  How would that effect your practice management?

I knew that first of all, I could not train every single one of my staff to be able to roll out this new legislation when they were literally making it up. I needed to split the team and just make one or two people that touch points for that and everybody else had to be business as usual. When COVID hit, it was at our busiest time of the year. We had this horrendous workload, so it really had to be split up.

We also couldn’t deal with hundreds of clients sending us emails or telephoning us with the same questions. So, we had to find a really smart way to liaise with them after they got that one-on-one touch point. For many firms, that’s been such a major challenge for them and their people. I just didn’t want any of my clients to feel alone, so we needed to make sure that they all felt like there was help available.

What are some of the key numbers of your firm?

I’ll give you my top three numbers. First is our client base, I always track where we are at and what’s happening.

The next one is an interesting one. I’ll check the hours that our staff work. I’m really big on flexible work, remote work and having a work-life balance. We do have a really “work hard, play hard” attitude, but working hard does not mean working long and there’s a big difference. If I see staff working excessively, there has to be a discussion about why that is happening. Is it just an unusual time, or have they made promises to clients that they probably shouldn’t have? Maybe they need to have some efficiency training? Realistically, I am a big believer that nobody should really be working much more than 38 to 40 hours a week, unless we’re in a very big peak time or they’ve made a client promise because that’s the decision they’ve made.

The third is client satisfaction. Clients make the world go around and they’re what we do this for. We do this to help people. We definitely ask clients for feedback. I monitor the ad hoc feedback and compare the numbers of “positive feedback” or “room for improvement”.

Could you give a piece of advice to our audience? 

As advisors, we really need to get outside of our comfort zone and ask our clients what they want from us. You know clients see value in what we do, but it’s rarely tax or financial statement preparations. We tend to make assumptions about what clients want or we make generalised assumptions.  I think my best piece of advice is to simply ask clients the question, in the perfect world, ignoring costs: “What help do you want from us?”