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Outsourcing for Accounting Firms: What We Learned in TOA Global’s First 10 Years

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ToaGlobal 10 Years Blog

Accounting businesses can apply and profit from the lessons that TOA Global learned in our first decade of outsourcing for accounting firms.

These will help you address a challenge that has stayed constant, even as accounting continues to evolve. Firms of all sizes are challenged to find the experienced yet teachable accountants and bookkeepers they all need.

“The biggest lesson I learned is, if you focus on the right things, the outcomes will come,” TOA Global Founder and CEO Nick Sinclair says.  
 
The proven and practical tips you’ll find here are drawn from a presentation Nick made before participants of TOAcon 2023, our annual client conference.  
 
These are anchored on 10 years of helping accounting business owners find the accounting talent they needed, as well as Nick’s experiences before that when he led an accounting and financial planning practice in Australia.

Tip 1: Structure helps you win

In the first four years of TOA Global, Nick flew to the Philippines every second weekend. He dealt with the demands of leading a business that operated in two countries, as well as the many complex challenges of parenting and family life.  
 
Putting a structure in place included blocking off time in his calendar for every important family or life event, including family holidays, months before these happened.  

In the business, structure includes clear business planning and meeting rhythms. It also includes clarity about what needs to be done, who will do it, by when, and what standards the work will be measured against.  
 
“Everything in business is ultimately a game of structure.”

Tip 2: Get your family on board. This is critical.

How do you reconcile your ambitions for your business with your need for a joyful and supportive family life?  
 
The key is to reframe work/life balance as work/life integration.  

In a story for the Society of Human Resource Management, the career counsellor Arlene Hirsch defines work/life integration as “a holistic approach that seeks to blend personal and professional needs. Rather than treating work and life as separate entities or creating a conflict between them, the goal of work/life integration is to find areas of compromise and synergy.” 

“Have you ever spoken to your family about the life you live, the hours you work, and why you do it? Do they understand what you do?” Nick asks. “If you want them to be supportive, you need to take them on the journey with you.”

Tip 3: The only way to win is to outwork your competition

The key part of outworking the competition, though, is doing only the 20% that matters.  
 
Author and The Strategic Coach Founder Dan Sullivan has two recommendations to help entrepreneurs set aside plenty of time and energy for important work, instead of getting caught in the trap of busywork. 
 
First, he recommends focusing on your unique ability. Avoid projects and tasks that drain your energy without raising your profits or empowering you to be truly productive. Do what you love that helps your clients succeed more.  

Figure out what you can stop doing, what you can delegate to someone you trust, and what you can outsource. 

Second, Dan recommends cultivating psychological flexibility. In his book 10x is Easier than 2x: How World-Class Entrepreneurs Achieve More by Doing Less (2023), he defines this as “the ability to respond to obstacles successfully and in a way that is congruent with personal standards. Essentially, psychological flexibility is moving toward chosen goals even when it’s emotionally difficult.” 
 
“If you’re just working in your unique ability, which is Dan Sullivan’s whole philosophy, then you’re going to add significant value all the time as opposed to being busy,” Nick says.  
 
“So, imagine you’re outworking the competition but you’re working on the parts that make a difference, versus just working long hours because that’s what you need to do.”  

Tip 4: Build a strong leadership team if you want to take your business to another level.

As entrepreneurs, we can get so invested in our business that we may be tempted to think no one else can do the things we need to be done as well as we can. That’s Superman syndrome. Unless it’s checked, it can delay important decisions and slow your business down.  

“A leader’s job is not to do the job,” Nick points out. “It’s to lead. It’s to set the strategy, build culture, and make the Kool-Aid cool so that people will want to work for us. It’s to make our community feel good.” 
 
“If you can’t find someone better than you, you haven’t looked hard enough.”  
 
Author Jim Collins compared this to getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. This advice rings true for us, as TOA Global is a business dedicated to helping accounting firms find the right (meaning, experienced and highly skilled) accountants and bookkeepers they need to grow their capacity and profits and give business owners their time back.  
 
Recruit people who are passionate about what they do and who can contribute in a way that your firm will value. 

Tip 5: Work with a coach or mentor.

Like elite athletes, the best business leaders work with a coach who can help them overcome their blind spots and find growth opportunities.  
 
“I challenge you to find a successful businessperson, athlete or anyone who’s successful in any area of their life who does not have a coach,” Nick says. 
 
At our annual client conference, TOAcon, world-class speakers talk about proven strategies and tactics so that accounting business leaders can improve themselves and by extension change the businesses they lead.  

At TOAcon 2023, when the theme was transformation, participants gave glowing reviews about the presentations, which included how to nurture a growth mindset, motivation, and mental toughness.

Tip 6: Surround yourself with the right peer group.

Leading a business can be tough and lonely. It’s a wise idea to surround yourself with people who will challenge you and help you succeed, including those who have already done what you’re trying to accomplish. 
 
Outsourcing for accounting firms was not so well-known when Nick started My Cloud People in December 2013 to support his accounting and financial planning practice.  

It was thanks to the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO), on whose board he served, that he had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines. That’s where an EO colleague who was already outsourcing offshore told him how much it had changed his business. 
 
Helping accountants build professional networks is one reason we host TOAcon each year.  
“There are so many of you that have so many great ideas and yet there are very few ways that you can actually get together with like-minded firms that are the same size and on the same journey,” Nick says.

Tip 7: “Your team will help you achieve client success, so focus on them.”

The team you’ll build with TOA Global will be highly skilled, have university degrees, and at least 2 years of experience working with firms in the Philippines.  

They will also have access to courses provided by the Ab² Institute of Accounting, a registered training organisation in Australia that, like TOA Global, belongs to the Humanverse Group. 
 
Since 2018, Ab² has trained both onshore and offshore teams in Australian or U.S. accounting standards, taxation, accounting software, and leadership skills.  
 
“When we look at clients that are really successful, the ones that win are the ones that have the right person training the global team,” Nick points out.  
 
“Your best technician might be the smartest person in your office but they’re not necessarily the best person to train your overseas team. They may be too technical.” 
 
When you find the right people for your business, pay them well, train them, and set clear expectations. Show them the value that you want your business to add. Make sure they have clear process guides so they can complete tasks correctly. And spend some time listening to them, both about work and “stuff going on in their lives.”

Tip 8: Build a business, not a job.

The more your business grows, the less it should depend on your technical skills and your presence in day-to-day operations. Aside from building a strong leadership team, you can amplify your impact by documenting what you do, so you can teach others how to do it. 
 
It’s the difference between being a business owner and a business operator. Operators will find themselves stuck in the many decisions and details of their business, but smart business owners will build an operation that runs well without them. 
 
The latter will give you the freedom to take time off as often as you need it. It will also give you back the time, as author and serial entrepreneur David Jenyns puts it, “to rise above the noise, study the big picture, and spot the big breaks that are in your periphery.” 
 
David was one of our speakers at TOAcon 2023.  In his book SYSTEMology: Create Time, Reduce Errors, and Scale Your Profits with Proven Business Systems (2020), he advises business owners to give themselves ample time to recharge and to pay attention to how industries and economies are changing.  
 
“How many opportunities have already passed you by because you were too swamped with the heaving mass of work that your business throws at you every day?” 

Tip 9: Find out how you can add massive value.

Here’s something that both owners and the businesses they lead need to figure out: Where do you best add value? What’s the most important thing you can do that will create additional value for your clients?  
 
Nick recalls something that Craig Mansell liked to say: “We need to stop doing business with ourselves. We always need to think about how something affects the customer, our team members and our clients.” 
 
Craig was TOA Global’s CEO from 2018 up to October 2023 and continues to serve on our advisory board. His advice, given while the business implemented a massive digital transformation program, is a great reminder to make sure that processes and systems all work together to make success easier for our customers. 
 
“Have you ever thought about what you do and is it valuable for you to be doing that work?” Nick asks. “Should you be responding to emails? Or should you be working on strategy, culture, and connecting with your team?” 
 
“The reason you are in business is to help your clients succeed.” To take care of the details, like answering your correspondence and managing your calendar, find an elite executive assistant. Nick found one in Ethel in the Philippines 10 years ago, before he started TOA Global, and she continues to work with him today.

Tip 10: Play an infinite game.

Think long-term. Accomplishments and adversities eventually pass, but the longer you stay in business, the more you can make a difference in your team members’ lives, the economies where your business operates, and the communities where you belong.   
 
In his book The Infinite Game (1989), author Simon Sinek says: “In the infinite game of business, we have to stop thinking about who wins or who’s the best and start thinking about how to build organisations that are strong enough and healthy enough to stay in the game for many generations to come.” 
 
This includes developing new leaders in your business, adapting your business model as your clients’ needs and the available technology change, and setting an example of lifelong learning. This last one is critical.  
 
“Be passionate. The people you lead are watching how you turn up to work,” Nick advises. “It’s how everyone else acts and performs.”

A community of accounting business leaders

One of the most rewarding things we get to do at TOA Global is host TOAcon, where the best of the accounting industry gathers, for an event like no other.  
 
They include accounting practice leaders who have been outsourcing for a decade, as well as those who are building and leading a global team for the first time. There is no better place for you to get answers to the questions you may have about outsourcing for accountants.  
 
As one of our TOAcon 2023 participants, Jackie Kim of Nexia Sydney, puts it: “It was amazing. A common message is about caring and teamwork—you look after your team, and they look after you. Wayne Bennett, former Dolphins head coach, told us to strike for excellence, not perfection, and always look over our shoulder to make sure our team is still following.”