Each month we take the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful women and ask them questions on life, fashion, their careers and what inspires them. A moment to listen and learn, over an aperitif, and an occasional boujee fry...
This month we met with one of the most stylish accountants we've ever shared an aperitif with, Nicole Hague of Nicole Hague + Associates...when it comes to changing things up and learning what works best for you and your business, we think she's right on the money...
Location: Foundation Café, Tūranga
We drank: Single shot coconut latte and hot chocolate
NOT NEW: You have come from a background of bricks and mortar accountancy and are now running a tech focused and ‘geography as no barrier’ model – why this shift and how has it been adopted by clients?
Oh you’ve done your research!
Back in the old days I ran a traditional accounting firm – Balance Accounting - bricks and mortar. We very much had a focus on a set of accounts and tax returns, it was more like a production machine, there wasn’t much time to do any of the value-added work because we had so many clients.
I could see even back then, especially with Xero coming in, the role of the accountant was changing significantly and a lot of that boring compliance stuff, (GST returns) could become more straightforward for individuals to do themselves, and we really wanted to do more of the fun stuff anyway and technology was leading the way and was allowing us to be able to do that.
I very much believe in investing in yourself, to keep learning and educating, keeping up with the play, effectively and so keeping an eye on technology and what this could mean for the future of accounting was really important and integral to moving forward.
With Balance Accounting I had a team of seven. We then merged with a larger practice, one of the main reasons being that staffing had become an issue, it was becoming hard to get good accountants in Christchurch, especially after the earthquakes, a lot of the good people had left, so it was a really good way to tap into their resources.
Then, my husband, had a serious head injury accident. We were told by the Specialists it would be a three-year recovery process. So I retired out of Public Practice and went and worked in his company to keep that going for three years, in between specialist appointments and looking after our girls who were quite young at the time.
His recovery time was pretty much bang on three years and he was back to his normal self, so we were very fortunate. Then after that time I thought well I can start back up again and now have a blank canvas and I can do this the way that I had foreseen. Everything had become so much more reliable with technology and working from home was a really viable option and alternative, especially after the last three years, I wanted to do things differently.
The girls were still at an age that they needed me to be around and I always remember someone saying to me, you think you need to be around when they are young but it’s actually when they are at high school you need to be there, even if you’re just in the background, and it’s so true!
One of the first things I noticed when I stated working with my husband and subsequently from home was the fact that when the girls walked through the door after school, I knew exactly what type of day they’d had. Previously I was working till late, we had the Nanny till 7pm each night so by the time I got home whatever had happened during the day had been dealt with and I really just had no idea. So, to be able to be there and know what was going on, what their emotions were, what had happened during their day, I hadn’t realised how valuable that was, until I was physically there.
And then as they got older, because we live so close to school, we always had lots of girls over after school and I could get them afternoon tea and then go back in to the office but still hear what was going on - they still had their independence and were able to do their own thing, but I was there. So it worked really well.
So, with technology and working from home, we could have zoom meetings and automate a lot of systems and we started to outsource, using the India model. We have a back office in India and then decided to bring on a Virtual Assistant too, based in the Philippines. Staffing has always been an issue, to be able to get good quality candidates, as a lot had gone overseas but this way, you know geography is no barrier, anyone can be anywhere and you can still get the work done with the technology and the way it is all set up. So in answer to the questions, how do the clients find it, we are now able to spend more time with our clients, doing more fun, value added work, helping them with education, helping them to understand what a set of accounts mean and what story the numbers tell, so they have the business acumen to begin to make some of these decisions on their own. So I think it is empowering a lot more people.
NOT NEW: You have a great Instagram and online presence. How important has this been for growing your business?
Back at Balance Accounting, I didn’t do any marketing at all, not even in Yellow Pages, which is what it was, back in the day. Nothing, it was all just word of mouth and I had a lot of referrals from another Chartered Accounting firm that I was working closely with. This time around starting from scratch, I have had to learn how to ‘market’ and I am still learning, I still don’t know very much at all, as it’s all new to me and I am just having to go through some trial and error!
Social media has been interesting because I absolutely thought that a business owner would never make contact through social media for an accountant, if it was a fashion designer or interior designer who had pretty pictures then I would think, yeah, absolutely. My following is slow but I have had some good quality leads from it and people have contacted me directly (DM), which is interesting. I now have started working with a marketing specialist who has started social media advertising. So, it will be interesting to see how that goes as in the last month alone I have had three potential new leads. I think I was dubious to start however knew I needed to get out there, more for brand awareness and build the know, like and trust factor, and have been pleasantly surprised with how it’s going so far!
NOT NEW: We appreciate that you have education and experience in accountancy, but you seek to work more holistically with clients in developing their business & business practices - how and where did you learn the most to develop this part of your service?
I think it’s really important to invest in yourself to keep growing and learning because nothing stands still, everything keeps evolving, especially technology. If you consider the iPhone came out in 2007 and how far we've come in that short space of time has been significant. To quote Warren Buffet “The most important investment you can make is in yourself”. I invest heavily in myself, regularly learning new skills, I read a lot of business and growth mindset books. I listen to a lot of podcasts and just depending on what my mood is whether I listen to a marketing, finance or other inspiring business owners.
When I learn something new, it then enables me to pass it on to the client. I just think you pick up something from everyone regardless of who or what it is.
NOT NEW: What would you say is your unique selling point from a client’s perspective?
Firstly, my ideal clients would be female business entrepreneurs, between the ages of 24 to 54, they’ve gone in to a business because they are good at what they do and then all of a sudden they find that they’ve got this other string that they have to add to their bow and really most of them have no interest in it (accounting), don’t want to know about it, bury their head in the sand and just hope for the best.
So my concept is to take that person, we’ll call her ‘Jane’, take Jane and be able to provide her with the tools and some education and free content - we've got quite a lot on our website, blogs, guides, knowledge centre with ‘how to’ videos.
NOT NEW: What part of your business do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy the value-added part of the business - working with the clients on a regular basis. In fact, when I first started Nicole Hague + Associates, I initially didn’t want to do the compliance accounting, which is the annual accounts and tax returns. I had said to clients, well you stick with your existing accountant to do all of that and we can work with you on a regular basis and work in with your existing accountant but they turned around and said, no we want you to do the whole lot! So I have setup that side of the business but will often recommend other accountants if a potential client is solely wanting compliance work. This allows us to focus on working with clients on their annual business plan, look at their goals for the next 12 months, create a cash flow and a budget for the year and then meet monthly or quarterly to see how their actual trading meets with what we have predicted and budgeted for. Then discuss why some variances may have occurred, and solutions to remedy this going forward. Or “yay” it’s gone better than we projected!
NOT NEW: As your business evolves how has that changed your role within it?
I really do think the marketing side of the business is the biggest change. Even though I have a VA (virtual assistant) who schedules all the social content, I still need to set aside time every Sunday to sit and write up content for the week ahead. Although now I have changed this to writing content for the whole month ahead, so I only have to do it one Sunday in a month!
We have just taken on another senior accountant and so I am trying to delegate – delegating is one of the hardest parts, I find, when you’re growing your business. I use a matrix to look at my tasks for delegation, then looking at and reviewing your tasks in quarters, what you’re good at and love doing and what you’re not good at and love doing, what you don’t like doing but good at and what you don’t like doing and not good at- then pulling it apart and thinking, well who could I get to do these other bits of the business that I am not enjoying and not good at.
NOT NEW: Looking at your insta & socials you’re putting out a beautiful strong and feminine vibe – do you work mainly with women in business?
Yes mainly. Previously it was a very male dominated business and because I have specialist skills in the property development and construction area, I would be often dealing with male business owners. So this time around I wanted to target young female entrepreneurs that as I have said, got in to business because they love what they do. It’s so relatable too and these are the clients that have ended up coming through, which is great.
NOT NEW: What key tips do you have for women starting out in their business development?
Initially I think what everyone feels is that cash flow is tight, and they can’t afford to have somebody come in and help get them up and running. I always say to clients you need to see us as an investment and that we are adding value and helping you to grow your business, and if at any point you don’t see that and think of us as a cost, then we cut it. I make that very clear from the start and I say it to every client, because I think it’s really important that it needs to be seen as an investment. I also think it is really important that new businesses get the structure right, that they have the right processes in place, Xero for instance is amazing and so intuitive. Thing is, if you get it wrong, the cost of getting it wrong, is a lot more than engaging with someone to begin with to get you up and running correctly.
And I think it is really important that you have an understanding of how to use something that you outsource and as I said before, if there are things you don’t enjoy doing, then look again at outsourcing it. Invest in the beginning.
NOT NEW: You juggle a lot with work and family commitments with teenage girls and Freddy the dog – how to you prioritise and create balance in your life?
Well that is something that I have to learn as it was so out of balance when I had ‘Balance Accounting’ and the reason it was called Balance Accounting was so that I had balance in life but I so did not have balance right, I got it quite wrong. I worked long hours, over committed myself to clients, wouldn’t let anyone down so you know sometimes I would work to midnight or 3am and then get up at 6am and do it all again. However, the only good thing I did back then was every Thursday night my husband and I would have date night and we have never stopped our date night…as the girls got older they would make their own dinner on a Thursday night but as soon as the eldest when off to university, I felt I couldn’t leave my youngest on her own so she has started coming to date night with us! A family date!
I actually have activities blocked out in my calendar, because if it’s not in there, it gets pushed aside. I do yoga, pilates and tennis each week and Fridays I have off, which is my business development day, plus can book in hair appointments, lunches etc. I make them appointments and like I said, block it out in the diary so you are never too busy!
Freddy the dog knows the importance of a healthy well-being!
NOT NEW: How would you describe your style?
Ah let’s see, is this me answering this or my daughter – haha! My youngest daughter, Paris, has always been interested in fashion, even as a three year old she would pick out clothes for me to wear when we were out shopping and then when at primary school comment on what I would wear and if I was acceptably dressed to drop her off to school! Even now she will say “I like ya fit!” My husband actually takes her out with him shopping now for the advice!
I would describe it as modern, clean cut + conservative, I do really love jeans, and a blazer. Nice and well fitted clothes make you feel good.
I have always had my work wardrobe and my weekend wardrobe and I don’t really like to mix them. But maybe because I was in a corporate environment I would always wear suits, now we are very much more relaxed in our dress. I don’t think I own any suits now really. Plus back then was all high heels too and I haven’t worn a pair in ages. So yes, I do keep them very separate and have, work, weekend and going out clothes for the evening.
I am also trying to make an effort to move away from black clothes and bring in some more colour. But I do like black, I find it more flattering, and it’s, safe.
NOT NEW: Tell us the story of your favourite piece of clothing.
When I came back from London, so this was twenty years ago, I was starting a job in Chartered Accountants firm. Before my start date, Mum and I flew to Sydney for a girl’s weekend shopping trip. I bought some really lovely pieces, suit style and so beautifully tailored. They are just too good to get rid of and classics, so I think they would have to be some of my favourite pieces and the memory of that whole trip too. Treasures that tell a story, and have history.
You can follow Nicole's journey at @nhplusassociates
To get in touch and find out how Nicole could support your business growth, visit: https://www.nh-a.co.nz/