The transition from accounting into financial advice is a big step — but if you get it right, the benefits for your firm will speak for themselves. Here’s how Victorian firm Smart Business Solutions are making the most of their new opportunities in the advice space.
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While many accounting firms are still considering whether to branch into advisory services, others are diving in headfirst. Shannon Smit and Nadia Hughes, directors of Smart Business Solutions, recently took the plunge so they could offer a more comprehensive service to their clients — and now they’re reaping the rewards.
After gaining accounting and business experience at major accounting firms around the world, Shannon decided to strike out and start her own firm on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. She established Smart Business Solutions in 2005, and immediately started building up a loyal client base of SMEs and business owners.
“As the business grew, I began looking for a partner — someone who had similar values to me,” Shannon said. “It’s important to have a shared value system if a partnership is going to work long term.”
Shannon found what she was looking for in Nadia, and the two quickly established a strong working relationship that has driven Smart Business Solutions forward for the past three years. Their business philosophy is built on a desire to put their clients’ best interests at the centre of everything they do.
“It’s important to focus on the clients and make sure you constantly evolve with them,” said Nadia. “We develop services based on our clients’ needs, not what other firms are offering.”
Since Shannon and Nadia joined forces, the business has expanded to include 13 staff.
“We’ve grown a lot, not by focusing on our competitors but by focusing on our business plan,” Shannon added.
A supportive environment
The firm’s success is largely thanks to the nurturing environment that Nadia and Shannon have created. By supporting the professional development of their staff, each team member has the chance to thrive.
“We have a comprehensive training program that engages our younger staff in complex projects straight away,” Nadia explained. “We allow them to take risks, and this encourages them to step up very quickly.”
The firm’s professional reputation is also growing, and the team have already garnered a number of industry awards. In the Accountants Daily 2014 Australian Accounting Awards, Nadia won the Best New Accounting Firm Partner Award. Shannon then won the 2015 Partner of the Year Award (Less than $1b Revenue category) and just recently was announced as Partner of the Year (Boutique Firm category) for 2016.
The team hope to build on their success when this year’s Optus My Business Awards are announced in November. Smart Business Solutions has been named as a 2016 finalist for the Professional Services Firm of the Year and Workplace of the Year Awards, while Shannon is in the running for the Businesswoman of the Year Award.
“These kinds of awards help with local recognition, but more importantly with motivation,” said Shannon. “They allow our staff to realise the very high standards we have.”
The journey into advice
For Nadia and Shannon, the move into financial advice was the next logical step for their firm, and a key element of their strategy to offer a broader service to their clients. They initially opted for a limited licence, but soon found it kept them from meeting their clients’ more complex financial needs.
Shannon commented: “The more we looked into advice, the more we saw that every client actually needs a financial plan. So instead of dealing with external providers for things like insurance, we realised we should just do the whole lot ourselves.”
After being disappointed with the lack of support provided by their first licensee, Shannon and Nadia decided to join the Count Financial network instead — and they haven’t looked back. Since becoming Count Members in September this year, they’re now able to access all the tools and training they need to make the most of the opportunities that advice presents.
“Count are very experienced in working with accountants, so they understand the implications,” Nadia said. “It’s a very structured organisation; they have the procedures we need to integrate advice into our business.”
Looking to the future
With their committed team, strong systems and processes, and the support of their advice licensee, Smart Business Solutions are now well placed to take care of all their clients’ financial needs.
“We don’t necessarily want to grow in numbers, but in the number of services we offer,” Nadia said. “We want our clients to feel their entire financial health is under control from beginning to end. Our expansion into financial advice will close this circle.”
As their business evolves, Shannon and Nadia will continue to push the boundaries of what an accounting firm can be.
“We’ll keep coming up with new ideas for modifying our services and introducing our small business clients to more sophisticated tools that will help them grow,” Nadia added. “We also believe in looking not just at the client’s business cycle, but their own life cycle as well. We want our clients to feel in complete control of their financial situation so they can plan for the rest of their lives.”