Wednesday 01 November 2017

Business owners and partners in small to mid-tier accounting and financial services firms across Australia have one personal goal in common, regardless of their age or gender: they want to be independent and feel in control of their own future.

According to Macquarie’s 2015/16 Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report, 64 per cent of respondents said that this was their key personal goal. But achieving this goal comes with its own unique set of challenges, not least of which is knowing where to focus your efforts to create the best outcomes.

Business owners all struggle to find enough time to spend on the things that matter most to them – working on their business, spending time with family, and having time for themselves.

“Knowing how to make the most of your time and how to best leverage resources to grow your business is the real challenge,” says Sherise Mercer, Head of Client Strategy for Macquarie Wealth Management.

The report revealed the most profitable firms were much less likely to see stress and fatigue as personal challenges, and were better able to leverage resources to help to free up their time.

“When you look at the age break down of respondents, we start to see a cycle when it comes to the challenges they face,” says Mercer.

“This tells us that the key areas advisers should focus on in order to realise the benefits of running their own businesses will depend on what stage they are at in their personal lives, as well as the maturity of their businesses.”

Under 45s – spend your time purposefully

“The under forty-five age group are focused on establishing themselves both personally and as leaders in their business, which leaves them with little or no personal time” says Mercer.

61 per cent of the respondents in this group felt their biggest business challenge was getting drowned in email, paperwork and compliance, while a third had problems with managing time effectively.

Not surprisingly then, the report revealed under 45s had difficulties finding time to spend with their family, and also struggled with stress and fatigue.

Mercer says one way to help to overcome these challenges is to take steps to improve your personal effectiveness. “It's about prioritising the activities that will add value both to your clients and the business, and automating or delegating tasks that don’t add value.

Using technology and the right systems to help drive efficiencies throughout the business are also powerful ways for business owners to free up time. The most profitable firms use technology as a key driver of business strategy, and outsource non-core services like IT and marketing.

“Finding the right technology solutions for your business and learning how to make them work for you will pay dividends. Speak to and learn from those around you about what they have done, the mistakes they’ve made and the benefits they’ve gained. It can help you really understand what’s going to work best for you,” says Mercer.

45-54 year olds – clearly articulate your value proposition

The 45-54 year old respondents were most challenged by growing their business: 34 per cent struggle with finding new clients and marketing their capabilities.

“The key here is having a really clear articulation of your value proposition; understanding what it is that you do that sets you apart from the competition. It will help you prioritise where you spend time, and guide strategic decision-making in terms of referrals, hiring new staff and new offerings to bring into your business,” says Mercer.

When it comes to finding new ways to grow the business, Mercer says building relationships and networking with peers can be a rich source of ideas. “It’s important to understand that you're not an island and that you can learn from other people. You can network to problem solve at a group level or learn from those that have faced similar issues in the past, and on a practical level, you can create referral relationships.”

Referrals from existing clients are also essential. 57 per cent of firms rely on referrals from existing clients as their main source of new client acquisitions, regardless of business size or model. “

Over 55s – know how you compare

“For those who are about 10 years away from retiring, the focus is much more about preparing their business for a future sale,” says Mercer.

“This group has already established their family, their kids have most likely left home, so they are very focused on maximising the last years of their working life in order to set themselves up to sustain their lifestyle into retirement,” says Mercer.

The report revealed the main business challenges for respondents aged 55+ included knowing how to value their services, planning for the future and maintaining profitability.

“This group needs to understand how they sit in comparison to the competition and the broader market so that they can identify what it is that they can focus on in order to increase value within the business,” says Mercer.

Speaking with industry peers and business development managers can be a good starting point. Benchmarking reports and industry research will also provide insights.

“This can help them to value their services when they're working with clients, but also serve as part of their preparation for whether they go on to sell their business or find equity partners. Whatever that future looks like, it's important to have an understanding of what it is they’ve built and what else they can focus on in the lead up to retirement.”

“Being independent and in control of your future and having the flexibility to run your business as you want can be incredibly rewarding, but to get there, you’ll likely need help,” says Mercer.

“That’s where trusted partners, relationships with peers and others in the industry and tapping in to their collective intelligence can play a role and help you make better, more informed decisions.”

The wrap

  • implement technology solutions that drive efficiencies in your business
  • reach out and connect with others and be open to learning from them and their experiences
  • use benchmarking and industry insights to help you focus on the areas you need to improve.

Make your voice heard

For more than 10 years, we’ve been conducting benchmarking surveys for small and medium-sized clients across a number of industries to help them identify, and make the most of, available opportunities. The 2017/18 Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Survey is now open. We’d like to invite you to participate and help build a quality report, like the one mentioned in this article, that's a true reflection of the industry and where it's heading. Take part now.

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Unless stated otherwise, this information has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 237502 and does not take into account your client’s objectives, financial situation or needs.

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