Lynette Van Nieuwenhuizen joined Austral Accounting in 1997, and has helped develop the firm into a technology-forward centre of innovation.
Who is Austral Accounting?
Austral Accounting started in 1991, and we’ve just celebrated our 30th birthday. I joined the firm in 1997, so I feel like I’m actually old furniture. We service the SMME and greater Durban area.
The change within our practice really came with all of the technology that’s been developed over the last couple of years. With these amazing tools that we’ve got access to, it sort of opened up the spark again and gave me a bit of a lust for business. I’m very proud of the journey.
What makes your business successful?
Accountants are entrepreneurs, as well. Yes, we have technical knowledge — but at heart, you have to be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to run your own business and actually get involved in your clients’ business, helping them where they don’t have expertise. It’s just mind boggling the things that an entrepreneur is supposed to know, today.
How do you onboard new clients?
Getting new clients used to be mainly through word-of-mouth, but my whole thought process around that has changed. With the technology that we’ve been getting access to — lead generation, social media, our website — all of those things are now funneling people to get to know us, and that is helping us to get more clients and help us with understanding the business. We never just take on a client. It really is a process.
Are you offering different things to your clients than your competitors?
We have started looking at doing more succession planning, for example. But I wouldn’t really be able to tell you if we do anything really special or amazing, more or better than anybody else. The world has become so much smaller, so we have to be more competitive, and I think our technology use may set us apart. Because if you’re still doing things like we did 20 years ago, you won’t have a business five years from now.
How do you see accounting services changing in the next one to three years?
I think accounting is going to be turned on its head. I don’t think we’ll have bookkeepers/data capturers anymore. And that’s an integral part of an accounting function, so I’m not saying that process will disappear. But those people will have to reskill and upskill.
How is your business planning for the changes that you see coming?
By nature, accountants are planners, and we’re deadline driven. So I suppose those two personality traits are helping me to change my business.
At the beginning of 2019, I decided to really implement technology to the benefit of the practice. And it really has been quite difficult: you still have to run your business while you’re trying to change your business. You can’t stop, go change and then come back. It’s an ongoing revolution. It’s a lot of thinking on your feet, a lot of planning, and being like a dog with a bone.
How do you balance attempts to change with regular work?
I think a big part of that juggling is the fact that you need to get everybody’s buy in. You need your team, your executives, and your customers, to buy into the bigger vision that you want to create. You could stand and shout change from the top of the roof. But unless we’re not all singing from that same sheet, it’s not going to happen.
How do you get buy-in from your customers?
By having such long relationships with our clients. We know each other very well. They know I’m quite strong, opinionated, and I can be quite loud — they know me, this is me. And they’ve also seen all the stages of my business.
Everything has been in consultation with our clients. The days of phoning people 20 times to remind him to drop off a box of slips have come and gone. So now we look at each one of them and we go, ‘How can we help you do that easier, quicker without us following up and nagging you?’ We want to make your life easier, and I think when they understand that they buy into the changes.
What do you see as the biggest innovation in accounting today?
I think AI is the biggest innovation in the field today – we’ve got some fabulous software and pieces of tech being developed, but generally the whole finance industry is facing major changes with AI being implemented within the business processes.
I firmly believe that accountants work way too much. Most accountants that I know are at the crack of dawn, and still working late at night, and know life and just chasing deadline after deadline. So why would AI not actually help us lead better lives? Why do we think it’s amazing to work like robots? Makes no sense. We also need a life. And I think that that’s the deciding factor, whether or not you’re going to use technology or not, so that you can actually have more of a life and not less.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in transforming your business? What’s that?
It never goes to plan, never, ever, ever, ever. You can plan it as well as you want, you can put resources in, thank your lucky stars, do anything, but nothing goes to plan. So just get into it — a lot of time planning keeps us from actually doing. Sometimes you actually just say, ‘I’m going to do it’, and you have to go and do it and see it through. Planning is great, and knowing what you want to do is great, but you actually have to go and do it.
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