In this episode, Brandon and Thomas are joined by Nick Sinclair, founder and President of TOA Global, a market leader in dedicated outsourced accounting solutions for accounting firms in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and across the globe.Why Start TOA Global?
Nick was a financial advisor for 12 years in Australia. For the last 5 or 6 years, he has been focused on TOA Global. He saw that many accounting firms were struggling with cost-effective and timely deliverables. To try and address this, Nick bought a small accounting firm. He quickly realized how difficult it was to manage, but the firm was 100% remote and was able to scale quickly.
A couple years later, Nick was in the Philippines with an entrepreneurship group. A connection there showed him the offices he had in the Philippines and described the success he had seen operating a remote firm with bookkeeping based out of the Philippines. Nick wanted to apply this to his business.
After considering the consequences and speaking with a business coach, Nick invested in office space in the Philippines. Shortly after, Nick had five different accounting firms asking him for office space. He had 30 desks for his employees and 20 extra desks. He sold 90 extra desks. Quickly, Nick was focused solely on growing that side of the business. He began adding office space in the same area.
Ultimately, he started the business as a means to produce the bookkeeping work that would free Nick up to provide the higher level advisory services. However, this bookkeeping office space business quickly became a business in and of itself.
Challenges in Adding Customers for TOA Global
The first wave was easy because Nick was speaking to other forward-thinking accounting firms and the entrepreneurship group meet up. At the beginning, the only marketing was Nick standing on a stage giving presentations. After, however, Nick realized he couldn't rely on that one spike. He brought in a sales and marketing engine. Outsourcing and offshoring was not common when Nick began. Now, in the Asia-Pacific market, this is commonplace. Now it's the US that's experiencing this revolution.
"I'm not a marketer, I was always a financial planner. That was my background. So to then have to pivot how to learn how to ultimately sell to accountants, who are typically introverts and very educated, this was something that I had to learn quick."
Nick hired a salesperson and he found that the biggest challenge was simply explaining the business model to potential clients. With this relatively new and growing concept, accounting firm owners were hesitant to bite and needed to understand how TOA Global functioned.
Overtime, Nick has seen his marketing efforts become more digitally-based. Producing digital content allows potential clients to read or listen and understand the mind of the business before even jumping on the first sales call.
Timeline of Team Building
In 2014, Nick went on the first road show. Since then, he has experienced close to 100% revenue growth and people growth every year. How do you build a team of 1600 people in 6 years?
With such large growth, there are stages to management. It's different to manage 50 people than it is 1500, and there are multiple stages between those numbers. With the smaller team, Nick was sending a leadership team to other countries once a month to teach, lead, and manage. He then established a management team in the Philippines as that area grew. It cost a lot upfront to put that in place, but it had to happen for Nick to have strong leaders that could help the company grow.
"We were growing quick. The biggest thing that we failed in was originally we didn't have the leaders that could scale as quick with us. They were very good at what they did, but they weren't great at scaling. The biggest challenge was that change was constant with us, and it still is now. Now, as part of our recruitment strategy, we ask if [potential hires] like change and how they experience change."
"That was one of the biggest lessons, just understand people's motivations and capabilities and then aligning that with the organization. Sometimes it just doesn't fit."
"I think the other part of it is that we have a very clear people plan. When we do the 1-page plan, we also say: "These are all the roles we're going to have for the next 1, 3, 5 years. These are open for anyone in our organization to aspire to and to drive to." We help build out a learning plan and training plan to get them there. In some cases, you will not get there fast enough. We may have to hire someone initially, but that's when we bring someone in to train you and bring you up... They can see all these roles above them."
"One of the challenges is, most business and accounting firms I talk to, they don't even have a people strategy for 3 months, let alone 1 year or 3 years. No one in the organization can aspire to anything because they don't really know what's there to aspire to. When you map out a really clear strategy for the business that's linked to the people, it all works."
Challenges with Technology While Scaling
Internally, TOA scaled so fast that tech infrastructure couldn't keep up. Nick just kept throwing people at the problem to manage more people. This leads to over-staffing in the support area, continuing to add managers instead of defining technology as the strategy.
As Nick grew and scale, he kept seeing the systems become redundant and outdated. The strategy for the last 12 months and next 12 months is figuring out how to digitize and automate as much as possible.
"You need understand that, as you grow, your technology stack needs to grow and evolve."
"I think the missing part with [many businesses] is they don't map the customers journey with the business first and then link the technology and process to that journey."
Earthquake in the Philippines
TOA Global offices that supported 70% of the staff in the Philippines were destroyed, only the walls and roofs remained. Nick was able to get all staff up and running again after 30 hours and another 2 weeks before offices were fully operational again.
For many business owners that experienced these natural disasters in areas such as the Philippines and California, this is a trigger point for a sale of the business and exit. In Nick's business, he experienced a great unity of leadership and team.
Nick finds it useful to look at the future plans of the business and really evaluate why he's doing it, even from the personal side, assessing the value that they bring. Now, with the Coronavirus crisis, TOA Global transitioned all employees to working remotely in 24 hours. Nick attributes this success to dealing with the disaster in the Philippines, preparing the emergency response plans and placing those crisis teams and communication channels in place.
Nick has always had a business coach. In a coach, Nick looks for the relatable experience.
"I've always picking someone that's been there and done that, not someone that's teaching you in theory. That's on thing that I hate, people that talk about things based on a textbook. I only listen to people that have gone through what I experience. I only share things from experience, I never tell people what to do. I only tell people based on what I've done, and what I've failed at, so they can learn from that... You've never experienced it, so don't try and tell me what I should do when you've never done it. Your theory is great, but practical experience is what counts at the end of the day."
Learn more about Nick and TOA Global: https://theoutsourcedaccountant.com/