The Australian food & beverage accountant?

Shaun Stubley is the author of this post, accountant, CEO and one of the Co-Founders of Air Accounting.

In the last month, I’ve been working towards shifting my company into a new niche and pursuing a new goal. This change helped me realise that I want to write from a more personal perspective. I want to share our intention and progress with you.

Our goal? To become the accountants for the Australian food & beverage industry.

 

I’m excited to share with you why we chose this goal and how we’re going to achieve it. But first I’d like to give some backstory so you understand who I am and why I care so much about this industry.

 


 

It all started with numbers and problem-solving

I haven't always known I wanted to be accountant, but I have loved solving problems and numbers from a young age.

My first memory of the accounting industry was early in my commerce degree.

My father introduced me to a partner in the largest accounting firm in the local district. I was immediately attracted to the senior partners and their client relationships. They were wise humans turned to for regular advice and guidance by people from all walks of life.

I started my apprenticeship in 2003. This was only three years after the Goods & Services Tax (GST) was introduced in Australia. At the time, I didn’t think a lot of it or the effects of its introduction on the accounting industry.

But the truth is, is it did change the industry and for the worse.

 

Instead of running your business, you were inundated with form-filling and admin... it was a business owner's worst nightmare.

GST was an administrative burden for business owners, but it created an enormous revenue stream for accountants.

Somewhere along the way, accountants forgot to engage with their client’s business problems. They followed the path to the easiest revenue.

The quarterly compliance work became the main strategy for revenue generation. They no longer visited their client’s businesses to help them grow.

 

These realisations called for a new direction

It was at this point I changed jobs to work for a single owner boutique firm who had the opposite mindset -

Charge the client as little as possible for the compliance work. Engage with them regularly to solve their problems and charge for adding value.

Although my job satisfaction increased immediately, I was still unsatisfied with the type of clients this new firm focused on.

I was serving Sydney’s wealthiest, most self-important people who did little to provide value to the community, and the problems they had were not business problems.

 

I love tax time as much as any accountant, but sifting through badly organised receipts is not my favourite.

Coming to me and saying you have a tax problem was rarely a real problem. It often meant you made a stack of money last year and you would like me to pretend you didn’t.

Truthfully, I grew tired of this.

 

Looking back now, there were inklings of what I’d realise is my calling as an accountant.

The few clients I enjoyed immensely were those in food manufacturing and agriculture. These were the businesses who had real problems to solve. If you could solve them, you’d make a profound impact on their business and lives.

Here are just a few issues that a food & beverage business owner has to deal with on an hourly basis -

  • Organising fresh food and the logistics of always having enough at the right time;
  • Rostering 50 casual staff simultaneously;
  • Pricing for new products in their category;
  • Knowing how much product they have available; on order and in production;
  • Understanding the timing of cash coming in versus going out.

Every time we solved their problems, the client was satisfied and just as important, the whole community benefited.

This is where I felt happiest and most excited about the work I do as an accountant. In my mind, there was only one problem...

 

Accountants still charge clients on an hourly basis

The firm continued to charge on an hourly basis, lead by the dreaded timesheet where you track every 6 minutes which client you are working on as if that is a valuable basis for determining your worth.

I’ve never understood why accountants charge based on their time spent.

If you are really good at something and finish in half the time of your peers, you charge the client 50% less. It makes no sense and worse, it promotes inefficiency and mediocrity.

 

Unfortunately, most accountants time-track, which makes them inefficient and not at all like a well oiled machine.

While this was happening, I was seeing the information era and technology boom happen right before my eyes.

Xero had now proven it’s place in the market and the early adopters saw how automating compliance work was valuable.

Within 12 months, the ability to operate an accounting business from the cloud was available and I quit my job almost immediately.

Starting a new business

From the beginning, my Co-Founder and I knew that we wanted to do business differently.

  • We didn’t want to charge clients based on how much time we spent on their business
  • We didn’t want to charge our client unless we solved their problem
  • We wanted to invest into our business and ourselves by using the best cloud-based technology.
  • We wanted to run Air Accounting like a business, not an accounting firm.

The best decision we made was to focus on solving real problems for real businesses.

How we chose our niche

I was beginning to explore the emerging craft beer scene through the inner west of Sydney while we started Air Accounting. On  too many Friday afternoons, you’d find me winding down at one of our local breweries.

 

Air Accounting taking in the atmosphere at Semi pro Brewing Facility

A lot of people don’t realise how complex a food & beverage business is.

We didn’t realise it ourselves until we went on a tour of the Batch Brewing facility in Marrickville. The complexities of the business were obvious.

As a brewery business owner, you must have:

  • Many casual staff with different skills
  • A scientific knowledge in fermentation
  • A funding strategy for large equipment
  • A distribution strategy between cans, bottles and kegs
  • A marketing strategy across various social media
  • A point of sale solution that is cloud-based and flexible
  • A detailed cash flow model to forecast the future
  • A complex excise regime to comply with

And somewhere in the middle, you need to brew beer.

Air Accounting taking in the atmosphere at Semi pro Brewing Facility

What struck me most on this tour was the brewery owners.

They were real humans, intelligent, hard-working and  business savvy. They needed advice more than any other business owner I’d met with. But they avoided their accountant like the plague because they feared being charged just to talk to them.

This ignited a spark in me about what my next steps were for our company

Doing some quality control for the Australian food & beverage industry... it's all part of the accounting job right?

So we started taking on more businesses and it wasn’t just breweries either. We met with wineries, catering businesses, bakeries, beverage manufacturers and free-range farmers too. They were doing business differently and needed an accountant doing the same.

That’s how we became food & beverage business accountants.

The Australian food & beverage industry needs an accountant

With the work we’ve done in this space for our clients, we have a  good idea about what most food & beverage businesses need from an accountant now:

  • Real-time information about what’s happening with their businesses finances
  • Constant cash flow forecasting so they can predict what money they have and when they need it at any given point
  • Bookkeepers with an understanding of the industry they’re in
  • Inventory solutions and analysis
  • Access to tax grants and schemes
  • Structuring against risk
  • Minimising tax so that funds can be reinvested into research and development
  • Completion of compliance and tax returns with minimal fuss and cost

And we do this with our four-tier service, designed to help Australia’s most innovative food & beverage businesses:

  • Air Accounts
  • Air Compliance
  • Air CFO
  • Air Advisory

So that’s who Air Accounting helps.

If that’s you and this post has given you a sense you’d like to work with us, please feel free to send me an email. I’d love to chat more with you about how we can help you grow your business.

Until the next post, we’ll be helping our clients launch their breweries with style.

Helping the Semi Pro Brewing Facility launch their new breweries