Future Accountant profile: Pamela

Pamela Phillips is the owner of de Jong Phillips, winner of the 2021 Accounting Excellence Small Firm of the Year award

Tell me about your business

I went into investment banking initially, but I decided to step away from that and work with small businesses, providing them with the finance expertise that big businesses have. Being online was key to that, because we can’t be everywhere. But if we’re online and our clients are online, we can really collaborate with them. In 2015, we set up de Jong Phillips, and specialised in working with agencies – creative agencies, market research agencies, anyone with skills that are useful to businesses, and we were fully digital. Since then we work just with Xero, and we do everything you’d expect an in-house finance team to do. 

How does your cloud functionality help clients?

It’s absolutely pivotal to everything we do – it helps us help our clients. We’ve access to their data, and so do they. And importantly we make sure that that data is up to date and meaningful. What that enables us to do is give advice when a client says, ‘I want to buy this property. I want to hire a new person’. We can just jump straight in and tell them if they can afford to do that with a cashflow forecast. 

How has your offering changed in the last year or two?

Our offering to our clients has broadened slightly. For example, we’ve been doing more transformation projects. This is working with established businesses who still want to grow, but who have hit a plateau. We’ll look across their whole business and map everything out, then help them set their goals and then usually actually implement some of the changes. We’re really well positioned to do that, with project management skills, being close to their business, and having accounting and systems knowledge. 

How do you handle potential clients who aren’t using technology?

We made a really clear decision that we would only work with clients that would embrace technology, because doing otherwise it just doesn’t work for us. If they’re not interested, they’re going to find it really frustrating working with us as we’ll be pushing them along a journey they don’t want to go on. In an initial inquiry meeting, if there were warning signs that they’re not willing to adopt the technology that we recommended, then that would allow us to think that maybe we’re not going to be the best fit for them. 

How are accounting services going to change in the next 1-3 years?

I think accounting firms will move into one of two camps. Technology is out there speeding up or simplifying much of the leg work that we traditionally had to do. So there’ll be firms out there that will specialise in streamlining their processes to the extent that they can make doing purely compliance work profitable. Those firms are going to need a lot of clients to succeed so I expect they’ll be consolidators, marketing aggressively and acquiring other practices to grow their client base.

And then there’ll be the ones that niche, which is what we’ve done, choosing to work with a specific type of client, solving a specific problem. I think those firms will look to expand their service offering to include things like HR, Marketing or Project Management support to their existing client niche. 

How will it benefit your business to offer more services?

The more we do for our clients, the embedded we become in their business. This is win win for us and them. We know their business intimately and can offer them the best advice. Often that advice leads to further work for us like strategic consultancy or system design and implementation.

How do you get clients to recognise your value as a project manager?

Trust – everything we do for them, we do well. We can start by asking questions that are more commercial, and that show our interest and understanding of their business specifically. And then we can shoot into the challenges. Every business has a challenge, a headache that they want to solve. So, tuning into that and listening and asking the right questions is the first step to positioning ourselves as a valuable project manager.

What lessons have you learned in developing your business?

It goes back to working with the right clients, because not every client is right for your business. It’s hard work, on both sides, being in a relationship with a client that just isn’t the right fit, everything is a struggle and the work is ultimately unrewarding. So picking who you work with is really important. 

And now, because we’ve niched, we’ve got that wealth of knowledge that gives us the confidence to say like we can do this, as demonstrated with numerous other clients, and I don’t think we’d have been able to do that if we were a general practice. 

What changes do you foresee in accounting?

I think the big one has happened and that’s been the advances in technology that we’ve seen in the last 10 years so I’m not expecting any seismic shift in tech that is out there or how it works. But the world of accountants is still catching up and embracing it and embedding it, and they are doing that quickly. So accounting firms can’t rely on being a digital accountant as a differentiator anymore, it’s just that’s the norm. 

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