How many staff do you have?
I have one staff member, Stella Vockins. Stella is my office manager who's been working with me since day one on a range of accounting and business administration tasks - from preparing income tax returns and filing companies' annual returns to invoicing and managing our website.
While she had no prior public accounting practice experience in New Zealand, she's had a lot of experience working in the UK in office administration roles and when I took her on was very much up-to-date with accounting practices there.
What staff training needs do you have in your business?
There are always training needs for anyone working in a business administration or accounting role, whether in a conventional business or chartered accountant practice.
Along with keeping up to date with changing tax legislation, new policies, rates and so on, it's about improving accuracy, minimising the errors that are so costly for small businesses and, ultimately, boosting efficiency, confidence and productivity.
It's also important to demonstrate to our customers that we're at the top of our game, up-to-date with best-practice, efficient and able to answer their questions comprehensively. Having qualified employees builds trust and confidence and adds value to our brand reputation.
I also believe strongly in supporting staff growth for their sake as individuals - boosting confidence and commitment, and ensuring they remain engaged and interested.
What have you done as a business to meet those needs?
Stella wanted to grow her knowledge and achieve a formally recognised designation, so I supported her in attaining her Accounting Technician designation through the experience pathway - an assessment of competence via the Accounting Technician College of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA).
As part of the assessment, Stella needed to complete one paper in ethics, which involved studying in her own time and taking a couple of days off work to go to Wellington to sit the exams. She's now an Accounting Technician (AT), a member of NZICA and required to do 20 hours of professional development every year.
As an AT she can work across the conventional business sector in key accounting roles and on a path of continuing professional development.
What benefits have you seen for your business as a result?
From a client perspective, it's added huge value. It's very important for them to see that we're at the top of our game. They expect us to get it right and seeing that we're both qualified to do that, gives them extra confidence.
It's really boosted the value perception of our brand and means we're justified in lifting our fees.
Without a doubt it's added real value for Stella. She's more confident and knowledgeable, able to answer client questions more succinctly, is more accurate and efficient in her work and, as a new member of NZICA, is going to more workshops and events, and staying connected with what's happening.
And, ethically, we're now very much on the same page, so there's no compromise in terms of adherence to standards.
But as a small business, have there been any drawbacks associated with undertaking these training commitments?
Not at all. The process has been an investment and an extremely good value one at around $1300 a year to achieve a formally recognised status and become part of on an ongoing programme of training. Also, as a vocational training pathway, it's involved only two days off work for Stella and she was 100% committed to studying in her own time and continues to be with the ongoing professional development.
What advice would you have for other small business owners when it comes to staff training?
As a business owner you must set aside time and money to invest in training your staff.
Learning is continuous; especially when it comes to financial management and processes where laws are constantly changing, and keeping abreast of new technology is so crucial to staying competitive.
Don't see it as a cost, but as an investment. It's a real business advantage to grow the knowledge and skills of your staff, and your clients will notice that. And it's the most powerful way to retain staff. Even though you're helping build and advance their career prospects with the risk they may leave, they're actually far more likely to leave if you don't support their growth.
It also makes you a more attractive employer if candidates can see that you support their development. I'd definitely support another employee in the AT pathway. In fact, business has grown to the level where we're now ready to consider taking on a new part-time staff member.
Coming up in Small Business: Mentors can be a powerful source of wisdom and advice for small business owners. If you're a small business owner with a mentor who's made a big difference to your operation, please get in touch.