Peta Tomlinson, journalist

Four inspiring ACCA members recently talked of the challenges and learnings they encountered on their path to joining, starting and buying a practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Pictured (l-r): Heather Smith, Shaunie Huzzey, Jennifer Cooper, Eleanor Shakeshaft

Their stories, which included moving to another country and starting or purchasing a small practice, were shared at an ACCA Australia and New Zealand webinar hosted by Heather Smith FCCA.

Smith , who successfully launched her own business in 2007, sought out practitioners who had similarly leveraged their ACCA Qualification as collateral for exploring new opportunities.

‘As someone who runs a 100% remote lifestyle accounting practice, I was keen to showcase other ACCA members who were working in practice in Australia and New Zealand, and share how they had made it work for them,’ explains Brisbane-based Smith, the founder of Anise Consulting.

Buying a practice

After selling her own practice in the UK ahead of a family move to Australia, Eleanor Shakeshaft FCCA, now the director of Your Business Accountants, bought a small practice in Perth, Western Australia. Her ACCA Qualification stood Shakeshaft in good stead, although the transition wasn’t as seamless as she’d imagined. On her first day, she set about revising her business plan to reflect the needs of running a practice in Australia.

She also discovered that despite her professional qualification, a tax agent’s licence is also required to lodge returns with the Australian Taxation Office. Obtaining that required two years of supervision by the practice’s former director, whom she had to engage as a consultant well beyond the envisaged initial transition period. Overall, though, the experience has been positive.

‘It’s great to be able to work for myself, as that’s what I love doing,’ Shakeshaft says.

‘Running my own business gives me the opportunity to make changes when I want to, to build relationships with clients, and to show them that professional accountants are not here just to do their tax but are trusted advisers who can also help them to grow their business.’

‘Running my own business lets me show clients that professional accountants are not here just to do their tax but are trusted advisers who can also help them to grow their business’

Tips for success

  • Build your network. Forming connections for both professional support and referrals is key.
  • Be prepared. Research well before taking the leap, to be well equipped for what lies ahead.
  • Target your clientele. Look at the type of client base you’ll be servicing to ensure it’s a good fit.
  • Know what you want. This applies whether mapping out a business plan for your own practice, or a career path at a firm.
  • Make it work for you. Creating your own hours will enable a sustainable balance between personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Utilise cloud technology. This enables collaborative access to timely, clean data for informed-decision making that’s affordable to SME clients.
Create your opportunity

For Jennifer Cooper FCCA, the move from Manchester, England, to New Zealand in 2015 was spontaneous. ‘An opportunity came up to lease a farm. My partner is a Kiwi and we didn’t want to turn it down,’ she says.

The small town of Golden Bay, on New Zealand’s South Island, ‘wasn’t ripe with accounting opportunities’, so Cooper found herself ‘having to create my own opportunity’.

Establishing a new practice and building a client base from scratch proved to be ‘quite a journey, but a good one’, says the director of Cooper Lovell Accounting, who decided – in a successful strategy – to target farming businesses.

In order to become a practising member of CPA in New Zealand and obtain the required public practice certificate, Cooper completed New Zealand tax and law papers through distance learning. ‘I did find the New Zealand law and tax rules very similar to the UK, so it was really quite easy to transfer my knowledge over,’ she says.

Now with a young son, Cooper enjoys the flexibility of being a home-based sole practitioner. ‘I work like crazy on the days he’s in childcare and take it a bit easier on the other days. I can also manage my time to fit in with my other businesses: the sheep and beef farm and an Airbnb holiday house.’

Growth opportunity

By contrast, Shaunie Huzzey ACCA planned her relocation to Sydney, Australia, well in advance. Wanting to find a firm that ‘would give me the opportunity to grow, and also to travel internationally’, she joined Mazars in the UK as a graduate accountant in 2014.

‘I’d decided to forge my career with a firm, rather than start one of my own. I knew that building partnerships and my own networks would be key to that,’ she says.

Working as part of the national cloud team rolling out Xero across 17 UK offices led to a three-month secondment to Mazars Sydney.  Huzzey adds that the move was an important step in her career as Australia is considered a pioneer in accounting cloud technology. She was invited to stay on once her secondment ended, progressing to a newly created role as cloud accounting consultant.

ACCA’s focus on international standards made the transition easier but, to overcome the differences that did exist, she asked plenty of questions. ‘The benefit of working for a large firm is that there are people who have this knowledge whom I could lean on and learn from,’ she says.

Equipped to succeed

Smith says that, in a world filled with so much uncertainty, hearing these personal accounts shows that members who adopt a growth mindset are well equipped to succeed.

‘With modern cloud-based technology at our disposal, we’re well positioned, like never before, to produce timely clean data, and to unearth information for informed decision-making for our small business clients.’