Building a multi-disciplinary professional services business | John Knight
Building a multi-disciplinary professional services business | John Knight
‘Mongolia was about me taking myself out of my comfort zone. That was about me stretching myself to think differently. That was about having a bit of a breather, and climbing a mountain in Mongolia is one way to get a bit of a different perspective on the world. It took me out of my comfort zone probably more than anything from the human relations perspective. Because I knew one person who was the organiser of the trip that went to Mongolia. I didn’t know anybody else from there. Although I’m probably a fairly strong extrovert when you look at the personality types, put me in a social setting, a lot of people, I don’t know, and I go back into my shell somewhat. It was really important for me to take myself out of this bubble that I’d created for myself, I suppose, and just throw myself in the deep end with a group of people, with activities, with challenges that I would have never otherwise done. That was an amazing trigger for getting rid of the burnout. Coming back from Mongolia, people said that I had my Mongolian glow, where I was on top of the world, and I was somewhat more zen, I suppose.’ – John Knight Founder and MD of businessDepot
Today I’m speaking with John Knight, Founder and MD of businessDepot
In this episode, we talk about . . .
The importance of taking the human approach to business
A Collective referrals network
The growth in micro and sole practitioners and how businessDepot is positioning itself to support them
Correcting Entrepreneurs burnout and The Mongolian Glow
Caring for Clients through Collaboration, Co-operation, Conversations, a Collective initiative, and Community
The importance of Branding and the Marketing Washing machine
What’s one thing that many of our accounting and bookkeepers who are listening in won’t know about you?
John Knight: It’s a good question, Heather. Something that people don’t know about me? Probably one thing is that I grew up in a very small country town, a little town called Millmerran in Western Queensland. And I’ve been reflecting on that a fair bit lately, because I’ve been reflecting on why I care about small to medium enterprises, and family businesses so much, but in a little country town and your dad’s the local sparky, you literally are brought up in a family business. That might be something that people don’t know about me.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Those little country towns are a microcosm of what we actually grow into, and for those listening in, John and I both live in Brisbane, and I call it a big country town, as do many people, even though it probably technically is a city. Because we do try and support one another in this country town of ours. We probably all know a bit too much about each other, because of it as well.
Can you share with our listeners a bit about your background, John?
John Knight: Yeah, well I mean if I go right back, Heather, and as I said, growing up in a little country town, I literally was born in the local hospital and brought home to the home which was also the business. I never, as a kid, lived in a house that wasn’t also a business. I remember waking up to the, in those days, the fax machine rolling out the orders for the day, or the tradies rocking up in their utes in the morning.
John Knight: By way of background, I suppose that sort of gave me a foundation of caring about families’ businesses in essence. Coming out of that little country town, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I’m one of those accountants that fit in that category of I became an accountant because I didn’t know what else to do. I just went down that path, I suppose, and ended up a full equity partner in a great firm where I was working.
John Knight: Before I suppose the light bulb moment, or I suppose I had the light bulb moment earlier, but the idea of businessDEPOT, which is my current business, sort of got put into action.
Did your parents talk to you about business?
John Knight: No, not really. It’s an interesting sort of concept. It was almost like an observation I was making as a kid, reflecting on it in hindsight. I mean, obviously we heard the discussions around what’s going on in business and being the son of an electrician, I was made to climb in roofs and under houses and all those types of things during school holidays, or dig trenches. The boss’ son always got the best jobs. And so I think I just observed more than anything else, before I started to apply some of my own skills within their business, even. In the very early days.
Heather Smith: Just a natural, organic growth.
Can you briefly describe the journey to starting businessDEPOT in 2013 and its evolution to today?
John Knight: Yeah. I mean, as I said before, I was a full equity partner in a firm that I loved working in. I was surrounded by amazing people. They gave me lots of freedom to control their marketing and to have a bit of creative flair. But the story I tell is I went through a bit of a phase where I reckon it was about six months where I found myself sitting around the boardroom table, and no longer contributing my ideas. Something had happened and I can’t say it’s anything about anybody else, it’s probably more about me, but something had happened to stop me contributing my ideas.
John Knight: Now, I don’t know whether that was because of the structure of the more classic sort of practice or partnership sort of arrangement, and everyone’s got to have a say on every decision, bit of that old school structural decision making process. But once I realised I was at that point and it was about six months, I’m the type of person who can’t sit on my hands too long. I did something about it and I started the discussion to talk about, “Well, where are we going, guys? What are we doing here? What does the future really look like for us?” That’s when after going through different discussions, I realised I had to put in action the idea that I had, which was businessDEPOT, which I’d originally talked to my wife in 2001 about businessDEPOT on the beach in Positano.
John Knight: It had been something that had been brewing for quite some time, and in essence, the idea was yes, the accounting relationships, the trusted advisor relationships are so, so important, but we were XYZ Chartered Accounts, trying to be proactive, trying to be innovative, trying to do all these new things, but we still had XYZ Chartered Accountants written on the front, on the wall in the front reception. The idea of businessDEPOT was let’s not put ourselves out there as just accountants. Let’s create a place for people to go to, irrespective of what problem they’re having in their business, or for the people behind the business, hence the name depot, and guide them, direct them accordingly to find the solutions for those issues that they’re coming up against.
You describe your firm as a multidisciplinary professional service offerings. Can you elaborate a bit more about what you mean by that?
John Knight: Yeah. The core of the business is still very much the accounting and business advisory piece. I don’t think that will change because of the solid trusted advisor relationships that we have. All accountants have, all business advisors have with their clients. What we’ve done, though, is we’ve added in other service offerings internally, including legal. We do marketing services, we do what we call people and culture which starts to get into some HR type of things. We have an office down in Sydney and Rebecca down there specialises in the tech advisory space, especially the Xero ecosystem.
John Knight: The idea is that we’ve added more and more services internally but there’s also then this other layer which we call the collective, and the collective is about, well, if we’ve got our name on the front door saying that we are the depot for pretty much everything in business, we therefore need this layer which is essentially a referral community that we can refer to for all those other things that people need within their life.
John Knight: So, that’s become one of our brand promises, I suppose, and then irrespective of what’s going on, if we can’t solve the problem for you ourselves, we’ll connect you to someone who will.
Heather Smith: Yeah. That’s a really big responsibility to take on.
John Knight: Absolutely it is. Absolutely it is. Don’t worry, I’ve aged over the last almost seven years of businessDEPOT, as well. There’s a lot more grey in the beard and there’s a lot less hair on the top, and all those types of things. But in the essence, one of the core things about what we need to do is we need to care. One of our value statements we call them, now that’s depot statements, is give a shit. We actually need to give a shit about our clients. We need to give a shit about our team members. We need to give a shit about each other.
John Knight: That is probably the ultimate core of what I want businessDEPOT to start with. By caring, we’re not just going to get those inquiries and saying, “Nah, we can’t do that.” What we’ll do is we’ll direct them to others as appropriate.
Leading on from that businessDEPOT has scaled rapidly in a short period of time. What impact did that have on you? Did you experience burnout? What have you learned from scaling so rapidly in a short period of time?
John Knight: Yeah. Well, maybe if I go back a little bit to answer that question, Heather, and share a little bit more about the story. When I decided to set up businessDEPOT, my plan was to take my team, which was about 13 people, and go and get started. We had a number of offerings we could do ourselves. But I describe it as a couple of the other days basically saying, “Hang on, John. Don’t leave us here. We’re coming with you.” And so we probably started bigger than we had originally planned. We started with about 24 people, I think it was. Excuse me. It was a lot bigger than we’d originally planned.
John Knight: That had its own stresses about it, let alone get out of the previous place. The early days, there was so much adrenalin and there was so much excitement and there was so much just momentum that we just kept going. When we launched in December, 2013, one of the next milestones was probably when we won Accounting Partner of the Year with Xero. Excuse me. Which was in 2017. But I absolutely have gone through cycles of experiencing burnout. In recent times, I’ve absolutely been burned out and I think I’ve probably corrected that cycle somewhat more recently.
John Knight: But there has definitely been waves, and I often talk to people about the waves in business. The early days, the waves were really short. They were like three month waves. We focused on the next three months. We said, “What’s the most important this three months?” As we got a little bit older and a bit more mature, the waves probably got six months. And maybe even 12 months to some extent. What I find, when we get stressed, when we start to get burned out, when we start to not have enough time to get everything done, we need to go back to shorter timeframes. I know that’s what we’ve done more recently, as well.
Heather Smith: Yeah. That’s really interesting, especially with what everyone is going through at the moment and people are saying, “Look, what is your forward plan?” My forward plan is like two hours ahead at the moment. It’s like and I’m really happy, but I’m just here in the actual absolute current.
John Knight: Well, it brings focus, doesn’t it, Heather? Short term brings focus, even though you still need long term perspective. We still need to have an idea of where we’re going, but we’ve brought back our next four month plan to two things. And we’re just limiting it to that, so the team have absolute focus.
Heather Smith: Yeah. I’m very focused on the present, but that’s what I’m absolutely focused on the smells around me and everything happening around me with that. So, I’m going to ask you quite a controversial question, John.
John Knight: Uh-oh. I’m worried.
Would the John who left that company that you were with, would that John like working for this John?
John Knight: I think so. I think so. Undoubtedly things change or … Change may be a bit harsh a word. Undoubtedly things get different flavours or the edges change around things. In many ways, we’ve far exceeded our expectations as to what we created, but in other ways, I’m also the guy who’s always going to stretch myself and always going to stretch the people around them to be the best that they can be. In the original days, I probably didn’t have a vision of having an office in every … Or having heaps of offices around the country or overseas, all those types of things.
John Knight: But now that is undoubtedly something that is on my radar, that I think will enable us to live more of our mission, which is to help all of these small to medium enterprises make whatever their dreams happen.
Heather Smith: One of the things that you said earlier is it sounded like your … There was like a bottleneck in actually making decisions, that you were unable to make decisions. One of the things that’s always struck me about businessDEPOT is that you very much surface a lot of the team players in your company to actually have their own personality and identity. Now, of course, that aligns with businessDEPOT but we’ve always been able to name numerous people. You mentioned Rebecca before, I know there’s other people. I won’t mention them because they might like, “Oh, I didn’t get mentioned,” but you’ve done a really good job of that. I imagine that you’ve enabled them to unplug the bottleneck and make their own decisions in some respect, or have a deeper responsibility.
John Knight: Yeah. I mean, that probably gets back to I suppose my personal mission. Obviously a business that I’ve founded is going to have traits or elements of my personal values and my personal visions and so forth. But my personal mission is to help other people to be the best version of themselves that they can be. I do strive, I suppose, to help others achieve their goals, actively strive to help others achieve their goals.
You went to Mongolia a few years ago. What were your takeaways from that experience?
John Knight: Well, that probably links back to your question before about burnout, in that I knew I was burned out at that point in time. I just knew I needed a circuit breaker. I just needed to do something different. This opportunity to go to Mongolia with a group of entrepreneurs and people connected to the entrepreneurial community where I live, came up. It literally popped up in my inbox one day and I thought, “Oh, that looks interesting.” It popped up a week later and my PA said, “I’ve purposely left something in your inbox, because I think it might be good for you, instead of deleting it.” And about a month later I was in Mongolia talking to Mongolians and riding on horses and different things like that.
John Knight: What that was about, that was about me as an individual. There was benefits for the business, but that was about me taking myself out of my comfort zone. That was about me stretching myself to I suppose just think differently. That was about having a bit of a breather, and climbing a mountain in Mongolia is one way to get a bit of a different perspective on the world, and it took me out of my comfort zone probably more than anything from the human relationship perspective. Because I knew one person who was the organiser of the trip that went to Mongolia. I didn’t know anybody else from there.
John Knight: Although I’m probably a fairly strong extrovert when you look at the personality types, put me in a social setting, a lot of people I don’t know, and I go back into my shell somewhat. It was really important for me to take myself out of this bubble that I’d created for myself, I suppose, and just throw myself in the deep end with a group of people, with activities, with challenges that I would have never otherwise done. That was an amazing trigger for getting rid of the burnout. Excuse me. Coming back from Mongolia, people said that I had my Mongolian glow, where I was on top of the world and I was somewhat more zen, I suppose.
John Knight: It wasn’t a total hippie sort of trip or anything like that, but I think it’s so, so important that as the leaders of these businesses that we have, we wear so much pressure. We take on so much stress of everybody else, usually because we care about everybody else so much, that we absolutely have to give ourselves permission to put our own air mask on first. Because if we don’t look after ourselves, how the bloody hell are we going to lead our teams through different challenges as they come up?
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Completely agree with that, and that is something that is certainly coming out quite prevalently these days.
The pandemic has stress tested our businesses to the absolute max, and during this time you along with the businessDEPOT have demonstrated empathetic leadership and solidarity with the industry being very present, and running a number of activities, among them being the Calm COVID Conversations. How did you have the energy and capacity to pull all of this together while everything was going on? What has been the impact of them?
John Knight: Yeah, well the Calm COVID Convos started from a place of support. They started from a place of we had X number of clients and we needed to get our message to them in so many different ways, on so many different things. That actually started as a way to have a leveraged conversation. Yes, I was reading legislation on a Friday night after it was released, yes, I was working on the blogs that day or that night, so they could be one of the first in the inbox the next morning. But the convos, or the webinars started from a place of having a broad conversation which meant when the clients were ringing up and saying, “How does this apply to me?” Many, many of them had already listened to us on a webinar and they go, “Oh, John said this on the webinar the other day. Is that how it now applies to me?”
John Knight: It meant those conversations were so much shorter. I absolutely do not know what we would have done if we had not had that format to have a leveraged conversation with people. Because you still had this personal and trusted relationship. They’re still going to call up, which is a great thing, but we had to make those conversations shorter. Now, we’ve done 19 of the Calm COVID Convos now, as well as another day that we did which was focused more on the rebound.
John Knight: But if we just focus on the Calm COVID Convos, we have got brand awareness as part of that. Probably more nationally than we did previously. We have got marketing benefit. We have had so many people reach out to us and ask us about questions we’ve raised on there, or even how we went about doing it. Although it started as a supporting of our clients, it has got this flow-on brand and marketing benefit, even though that wasn’t the initial intention. As for the energy question around it, I’m very energised to do that stuff. I mean, that’s the stuff that I love doing, and I was energised to do that type of thing, because I love talking to people. I love solving people’s problems, and I love helping them survive through pandemics or whatever it is that they’re going through.
John Knight: Look, I can’t deny, I was somewhat the energy driving that, but whenever I dragged another team member, or I invited a guest in or something like that, everyone else was energised as well. It’s just that we put the process in place to make it happen as easy we possibly could.
Overview of events businessDEPOT ran as a response to COVID19 (presented during TOAGlobal event)
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that and to that question about bringing people in and the human side of it,
Why do you think it’s important to take such a human approach to business? Should we be more focused on EQ over IQ? What human skills should accountants and bookkeepers be focusing on developing? That’s what I’m interested in talking about, which I think’s something that you do very well. Why is this important? Which I think you emphasised. What do our accounting and bookkeeping community need to focus on developing?
John Knight: Yeah. One of our value statements is keep it real. That is around we’re all humans, I want you to be yourself. I want people to be authentic. I want there to be transparency. I want people, if they’ve got a question, to ask a question. I know a lot of firms say we’ve got open door policy. Well, I think we’ve got one office with one door on it here. We absolutely have that so-called open door policy. But when trust is such a critical component of our proposition to our customers, I can’t draw a line between trust and humans. They are one and the same.
John Knight: I just think our industry, yes, we can have technology to automate processes, to help us have better relationships, more efficient relationships, but the point of difference of most of us is actually the humans. Instead of trying to I suppose turn away from that because it hasn’t got this machine mentality to it, we tried to embrace the human element of it, so that that supports us from a delivering of trust, that supports us from a brand proposition to the market, and it also supports us from a team perspective, as well.
John Knight: And I think if anything, I call it the human centricity that we focus on, and EQ is a massive part of that. But by being familiar with the humans, not just team centricity or customer centricity, but just caring about the overall humans is I think something that will never be taken away from businessDEPOT, no matter how big we get, or how many layers of different services we have.
Heather Smith: Yeah. So, talking to that, and talking to the multidisciplinary nature of your business, maybe circling back to with what you’re offering, were your clients that you …
How receptive have your clients been to you offering services beyond tax compliance? Because I know that from listening to the industry, a lot of accounting and bookkeeping practices seem to find that extremely difficult. Yet, you look like you’re doing it with ease.
John Knight: Oh, look, I wouldn’t say we’re doing it with ease, Heather. But what I would say is because of our approach on the humans, we’re not very salesy about it at all. I think if we went in there and we had our checklist of services we now wanted to offer to them, we go, “Okay, we just did your tax return. Now you need to come over here and do your will. How about we review your mortgage on your home? And now let’s, oh look, your brand’s looking a bit out of date, let’s top that up.” We have never and we will never take that approach.
John Knight: The way I approach it is if we have clients that trust us, they are in our washing machine which is the marketing washing machine, and they go round and round and round, our job as they go around is to make sure that they are aware of the other offerings that we can provide. So when they have that need, they think of us and they hopefully choose us. Now, a prime example is even though we have legal in-house, we work with other lawyers. I have a client selling their business the other day, they had done some work with our legal team before, and I think they’d done some work around wills or something or other, and they were talking about … I said to them, I said, “Have you got lawyers chosen yet?” They said, “Yes, we’re going to use Joe Blow who’s a family connection down the road.”
John Knight: I didn’t even try and get my legal team in there anymore than them knowing that we have an offering. If they wanted to talk to them, they would talk to them. So, we are very, very softly on the sale, I suppose. The most important thing is that they’re in this washing machine and that that washing machine is all about trust. As soon as we get salesy on it, we get self-interest. If we have self-interest, clients will smell that from a mile away and they’ll run for miles.
John Knight: I think how we go about that’s really, really important. The other side of that is we absolutely have clients who go, “Oh John, can you just deal with that with your lawyers?” Or, “Can you just get your bookkeepers to do that?” Or, “Can you get your marketing guys to give me some ideas on how to go about that?” And that didn’t happen in the early days, but it is happening more and more these days.
Heather Smith: That’s interesting. Thank you for sharing that with us. You have talked quite a bit about this, but I’ll give you an open question to see if you have anything else to offer.
What are the challenges and opportunities you see of running your own business?
John Knight: Yeah, well I mean the challenges of running your own business I think depends on the size of the business, and I suppose the number of humans that you have in the business. I talk a lot about in the industry, where I see the industry going. I think in professional services, whether it be legal, accounting, or any of those, I describe it as the fragmentation of the industry. It is now so easy to have a one man show using cloud based applications, or maybe they’re what I call an uber niche. They’re really, really, really specialised on something.
John Knight: And I love those businesses, I love niche businesses, but all these little fragments down one end, and I can see us getting more and more of those down that one end, but then the other end I see bigger getting bigger. Both have their challenges. The ones I focus on a bit more are these fragments down the other end, and why I focus on those is because I find … Maybe it’s the seven year itch. It tends to be that sort of timing, where after seven years, potentially they get a bit exhausted, or potentially they start to tap out, or potentially the humans that lead that business start to need something else.
John Knight: Or maybe they want to start offering more services to clients and those types of things. I think we are going to get more fragmentation. I think one of the challenges is how do we have more collaboration and cooperation between those different fragments? Between you and me, Heather, I’d like to think depot has a role to play in that. I think we can be potentially that non-threatening depot for people to work with, depending on what they need to provide better and better service to their customers, and to look after themselves as the humans in those businesses, as well.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Look, and I absolutely agree that the smaller end of town, the micro businesses can run very effectively and for those listening in I’ll put a link in the show notes that ACCA’s and CA ANZ’s recently released a paper on new practices and the micro organisation and the sole practitioner organisation which ties very much into what John was saying. That conversation, they are doing okay but that extra … It’s where to find that extra support from when they actually need it.
John Knight: And Heather, that support might be just knowing who the best person is to speak to for a specialist tax advice, or having someone to lean on to do valuations, or having a lawyer that they trust and that they want to have an ongoing relationship where they can call upon to just ask questions. A lot of people go out on their own for control, for control over how their team are dealt with, control over how they communicate with customers, those types of things. Control is a great thing to have, but it also comes with a huge amount of responsibility. That’s where I think the burnout creeps in somewhat, if you can’t do it all themselves, and the customers are expecting more.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And to that, I’m interested to know … Now, you don’t need to name names specifically, but maybe generically name them.
I’m interested to know, who do you turn to in your very unique position in the market to get advice about what the next stage is in your business? And maybe to that question you can share with us some insights about an organisation I know that you’re a member of, the EO, the Entrepreneur’ Organisation.
John Knight: Yeah, sure. It’s an interesting question, Heather, because I’ve probably changed over time where I go to. I think that’s actually important that you don’t just have that one person that you go to all the time, and that you purposely go out there looking for new insights and new stories. Before I launched businessDEPOT I had a mentor by the name of Wayne Paterson, and Wayne was absolutely crucial for me to get my confidence and to also … To do what he called fishing. The idea of fishing was that there’s nothing wrong with throwing an idea out on a line. Put the bait on the hook and throw it out there and see what you get.
John Knight: Which sort of ties in a little bit that perfect can be the enemy to good. You’ve got to get out there and get some ideas. Over the years, I’ve seeked guidance, I’ve seeked insights from a whole different range of places. One of those is the Entrepreneur’ Organisation which I’m a member of, and I think I’ve been a member for about four years now of Entrepreneur’ Organisation. That just gives me a whole range of businesses and different people that I hear things from and get some inspiration from. But I also probably have in my head, I’ve got this board of people that I refer to at different points in time.
John Knight: There’s people that I just reach out to and just have a chat. We don’t have a formal mentoring relationship. They’re just people that I really, really respect and whenever I reach out to them and say, “Have you got time for a coffee?” Or, “Can I give you a call on Monday?” Or something or other. They are the type of people that always share and are open to give me their thoughts on different things. I did go through a phase where I probably didn’t have that board clear in my mind and it was probably lined up with a phase of burnout and I probably did feel a little bit lonely, I suppose, is probably the word.
John Knight: But I think it’s really critical, actually, that you’ve got a whole range of people to choose from. At one point when I was a bit, “Where are we going? What’s happening in the industry?” I shouted myself a week to go and do a bit of a research tour, and I talk myself out of the comfort zone, because I don’t tend to like my own company, Heather. I went away and forced myself to have a day or a night on my own, bit of that sort of stuff, and lined up a hell heap of meetings down in Melbourne and Adelaide and different things. I just toured around and reached out to people and said, “Have you got time for a catch up? I’d like to talk about things.”
John Knight: And most of the time people say yes. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say, “Nah, I don’t want to talk to you, John.” Most people are pretty sharing with their thoughts on the industry, or what’s going on, or how they go about things. Everyone says yes and you go and have a conversation, and you learn amazing things out of it.
Heather Smith: It sounds like almost you want, and correct me if I’m wrong, businessDEPOT to almost be that advisory board for the maybe sole practitioners or small practitioners out there, to look to for that sort of advice.
John Knight: Yeah, somewhat. I suppose the way we think about it is many of our clients are what we call entrepreneurial spirits. They probably founded a business or they bought a business, but they’ve just scrapped in themselves and just got things done. Because that’s what entrepreneurs do. But you get to a point where you grow a business that you’ve got to start to take something off your list. As they start taking things off their list, we want them to think of depot. And so it might be that the first thing they want to take off their list is they want some support with their marketing.
John Knight: Great, we’ll get our marketing guys to provide some support, or maybe it’s HR. Or maybe it’s bookkeeping. Whatever it is, we want them to think about depot when they start to take those things, so that they can almost have that virtual marketing officer, or virtual HR assistant, or virtual in-house legal sort of style resource available to them so that they can keep going with their plans. Because otherwise they come up against roadblocks and they burn out themselves, and are unable to keep going.
Heather Smith: Yeah. And sometimes if you do reach out, you can just get through things so much faster and get to that next stage. And you can always change it, but if you can get through faster on your journey, it can be definitely worth it.
What recommendations would you have for someone out there who’s listening in, who wants to start a modern, future focused, cloud … I was going to say practice, but let’s say multidisciplinary professional service offering. What recommendations would you have for them, who are at the stage that you were in 2013?
John Knight: Yeah. I suppose I’d do my research. I’m not talking about research to get facts to make it a certainty that you’ll be a success, because you won’t get certainty. What research does is it gives you clarity and it gives you more insights, I suppose, of the barriers that you need to have in your plans so that you’ve got some guide rails to bounce off. If you imagine the 10 pin bowling alley when you put the bumpers up for the kids, you’re never going to get certainty that you’re going to hit the pins, but what you need is you need those bumpers up so that you know where the limits are to change your mind, as you go through things.
John Knight: Often people don’t back themselves. That would be the second thing I would say, in that you probably underestimate how much people will want to support you and how much success you will have in being able to do it. I was always going to start a business at some point in time. It was just in my DNA. Not everyone is wired that way, so if there’s something you’re worried about, why not collaborative or cooperate with somebody else, rather than doing the whole full scale thing on your own. A good example I suppose is Andrew Chamberlain, one of our guys who has a little office down in Geelong.
John Knight: He’s a one man show down in Geelong and he wanted to go out on his own, so he approached us and he said, “Well, why don’t I become businessDEPOT in Geelong?” And that’s what he’s done. They’re the type of people that I want to empower. As much as I want to empower the clients, I also want to empower these people that are feeling stuck, stuck in a role where they’re not moving forward, or they’re not getting the best out of themselves. How can we help them get out there and do what they want to do?
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. You’re all about the Cs. Caring, collaborating, cooperation, conversations, and collective.
John Knight: I might have to write that down. Might use that somewhere, Heather.
Heather Smith: Sounds like a next … Yeah. It’s just that’s what you keep pulling back to those as I’m writing down all my notes here.
John Knight: They’re actually all very human, those things that you’ve listed there, though, aren’t they? Communication, cooperation, collaboration, they’re all very human focused.
Heather Smith: Yeah. And I’ll throw in community. I’ll say community. You didn’t say that.
John Knight: Community. Yeah.
Heather Smith: Ties into that.
What’s next for you, John?
John Knight: Yeah, so last year we entered into some arrangements with a Sydney office, a Melbourne office, and a subsequently a very small office down in Geelong. Our focus at the moment is not on expansion. Our focus at the moment, like right now is on the customer, and on capacity. Obviously we don’t like to put a timestamp on these conversations, but having been through COVID now, what is it, five months or something or other of COVID? We had to strategically get really, really focused.
John Knight: But what I find when we get focused on especially customer, and our second one being capacity, is that the growth just happens. The growth opportunities just present themselves, and so our long term perspective or long term desire is to have a whole stack of businessDEPOTs around Australia or New Zealand, and I suppose we shouldn’t limit our view, but that’s the first focus. Because that will enable us to help more and more family businesses, more and more small business owners, to make their dreams happen.
John Knight: So, we see that happening through a cooperation and collaboration, rather than through acquisition. We don’t have a bucket load of cash sitting in a corner here to go and buy a heap of accounting businesses, to start a depot in Wagga Wagga or in Perth or something like that. Being just past 12 months that we’ve had Sydney, Melbourne, and now Geelong onboard, we’ve got our eyes wide open and we’d be very open to some arrangements to find other businessDEPOTs. Whether that be existing small accounting and advisory businesses that want to become businessDEPOT, or whether they’re people that are feeling stuck and want to go out and start on their own and they’d feel more comfortable starting with a brand that already has some presence with a system that’s already in place, with a machine that can help them be the best that they can be.
Heather Smith: Thank you for sharing that. We got in there COVID, customer, and capacity.
John Knight: Some more Cs.
Heather Smith: Maybe that’s what COVID has surfaced, customers, and all of our caring, et cetera for them. Is there anything else, John, that you’d like to share with our listeners, and how can they get in touch with you?
John Knight: I suppose the only other thing we haven’t really touched on too much, Heather, is my passion around brand and marketing. It is something that I’ve always had an energy for and I think within the accounting or professional services industries, I think there’s many of us that can do that so much better. I had very clear views of what I wanted our brand to be and what I wanted it to stand for, and I think everyone else out there has that as well. But maybe they struggle sometimes to communicate it through their websites or through their newsletters, or through their customer experiences.
John Knight: I suppose that’s probably that final sort of area of the industry that I think probably doesn’t get enough attention. I think it’s getting easier and easier to do that, but I don’t think we should shy away from being our authentic selves within the brand and just turbocharging how we get ourselves out there. Just giving it the tiniest of attention to produce massive results in the long term.
How did you go about finding your brand?
businessDEPOT core values – presented at TOA Global event
John Knight: Yeah, well I mean brand’s a big thing, isn’t it? Brand is not just the logo. It’s not just the website, it’s not just the webinars. It’s how do people feel when they walk up the stairs? When you walk up the stairs in this place, we purposely took walls out on either side of our kitchen so people walked straight into the kitchen. That’s to get a very transparent feel. That’s to get a very homely sort of feel, and some clients will go sit at the kitchen bench rather than on the reception stool.
John Knight: That’s part of our brand and you’ve got to remain consistent with your brand, don’t you? And across all our different services, one of our biggest long term goals that we’ve strategically got to focus on is consistency of customer experience across all our offices, and across all our different service offerings. So, finding our brand, I think was just … It’s probably an extension of me, somewhat. It was an extension of my persona and it was just that I put the guardrails around it. It was just that I was able to help people articulate what that was, and what was important to it, that helped us to get our brand perception out there within the market, so that people would associate feelings with businessDEPOT.
Heather Smith: I think if you identify evolve into a brand, it helps in the decision making process, because I know for me when someone approaches me about something, I’ll think, “Yes,” or, “No, that doesn’t align with my brand. I’m not comfortable in being involved in whatever that is, because it just doesn’t align with my brand” and will pull back.
John Knight: I think that’s a good point. The most powerful word is no, isn’t it, Heather?
Heather Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Knight: Look, I’ve made wrong decisions. I’ve said yes to stuff that I shouldn’t have said yes to. I’ve got one particular client in mind, a small ASX company that we’ve been looking after their last little while. Maybe my ego got in the way a little bit to say yes to that one. In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have taken that one on, but it’s good. We haven’t caused any harm to anybody, but it probably was outside our brand to take that on.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It is interesting, because in the industry, the people who … The accountants and bookkeepers who’ve identified a brand, they actually really stand out strongly. They don’t necessarily need to stand out for other accounts and bookkeepers, but I think that they stand out in their community, with that strong brand behind them. Even I’ll throw to in Brisbane, we have a collective who call themselves The Boring Accountants, and they do really well because they’re just like, “This is all we do, and we’re boring.” I think it can really streamline a lot of decisions if you understand your brand and marketing.
John Knight: It’s great to be known for something, isn’t it?
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
John Knight: Even if it says being a boring accountant, it means you can hang a bit of rubbish on yourself, sort of thing. Nothing wrong with that. This is where niching becomes a really cool thing, because you can be the eCommerce specialist accountant, or you can be the real estate specialist accountant, and your marketing and everything just becomes so much easier when you’ve got that.
Heather Smith: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And running a business is about making decisions and wherever you can streamline those decisions through identifying the brand, through implementing technology, through implementing processes, through engaging responsible staff that you trust, that can really streamline and reduce those decisions.
How can our listeners get in touch with you, John?
John Knight: Look, happy for people to reach out on LinkedIn, or my mobile number, my email address, all my contact details are available on our website at businessDEPOT.com.au. Email address, j.knight, K-N-I-G-H-T, @businessdepot.com.au. But also Twitter, however you want to talk to me, I’m happy to chat.
Heather Smith: But you spell your name differently on Twitter. It’s J-A-K. It always throws me, because I always think of Jack Attack from … There’s one of the Pixar movies, it has a little boy called Jack. The Jack Attack boy. I always think of The Invincibles.
John Knight: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got a whole group of people that call me Jack. I’ve got a whole group of people that call me Jackie, Johnny, Johno. Anything. Maybe shit head might be thrown in there. I don’t know. But yeah, on Twitter, J-A-K, _knight.
Heather Smith: Excellent. Thank you so much, John, for spending time with us today. I’m sure our listeners will really have benefited from hearing your insights about the industry and how you’ve grown your multidisciplinary firm, and I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
John Knight: Thanks for having me, Heather. I really enjoyed the conversation, so I really appreciate it.
The Accounting Apps newsletter showcases the best current blog posts from the Apps community and is a must-read for those who want to enhance their knowledge of the accounting industry ecosystem.
About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.