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Running a business

Growing & digitising your business: Tips from a small business owner & accountant

For Jimmy Nguyen, starting a small business was an opportunity to tap into his years of accounting expertise and build a financially robust operation from the ground up. 

In fact, his deep understanding of the drivers of scalable business performance was what led him to start If & When, a boutique social media agency that works with clients to bring their brand to life through compelling visual content, engaging copy and effective strategy. 

“I've been in accounting for a long time,” Jimmy says. “Accounting firms have rigorous workflows and what we give our clients is very output-driven. I noticed that in the creative industry, by comparison, there’s a lot of subjectivity and a lack of process-driven workflows.”  

“So when I created If & When, I thought to myself - how do I give the artistic world and clients seeking creative services the same level of expectation, satisfaction and consistency as the work that would ordinarily be done in accounting? 

“My goal has always been to blend those two worlds – looking at the numbers from a performance marketing perspective and building an ecosystem where all that information is digestible for the client.”

Tackling the inevitable challenges

Despite being an expert in accounting, Jimmy found that starting a small business from scratch was a whole different beast, with a whole new set of challenges. 

“From the get-go, I had to focus on everything from the core business concept to legal, workflow, staffing and accounting, and that is very difficult because sometimes you feel like you're giving attention to something that isn’t pivotal,” Jimmy explains.

“I had to learn quickly how to wear multiple hats even though some hats felt like they were more important than others. But if you don't pay attention to all the facets of a growing business, you're likely to fail one way or another.”

When it comes to overcoming challenges and growing a profitable and scalable business, Jimmy shares four key pieces of advice.

Grow Your Business with QuickBooks

1. Stick it out

Feeling overwhelmed is all too common for new business owners facing competing priorities and a challenging market. Jimmy explains perseverance is key to weathering the storm and coming out on top.

“In the beginning, you're absolutely panicking, then you enter this sort of transition stage where you're chipping away at it brick by brick, and things start to feel a little more easy and tolerable,” he says.

“The mountains are still there, but you're making progress. Eventually, you get to the point where you reach a new normal. My journey in small business ownership has been a constant battle of succeeding and failing.”

2. Continually reassess your business

In a fast-evolving market, the ability to pivot and adapt to a changing environment is crucial to staying ahead of the competition – particularly for small businesses that are up against established companies with more resources and bigger budgets. 

“If you're a small business owner, it can be very difficult to compete in the same landscape as larger companies that are venture-backed or have been around for a while. It’s just the reality of the world,” he says.

Jimmy’s approach to business success is building something that continually creates value.  

“Sometimes markets change, and you have to reassess your product over and over again. Is it still creating an abundance of value?”

“If you look at your peers or key leaders in your industry, you’ll see that every business owner, big or small, faces this problem. Macroeconomic factors affect every industry. Constantly assessing your business will allow you to see when the service, product or location needs to change, or you need to pivot industries.”

3. Go grassroots with your marketing

Savvy marketing strategies are essential to growing awareness of your brand and bringing in new customers. But for small businesses with limited cash flow, Jimmy says it’s best to focus on growing a local following from the ground up rather than stretching your budget on global marketing channels.

“Using paid advertising on social media is not meant for those who are just starting out,” he says. “It will just eat you alive, because it's way too expensive.”

“Instead of trying to use a global platform to market your product or service, focus on personal, face-to-face sales and marketing. Find local communities and place yourself within those small hubs so you can leverage them. Look at local subscriptions and magazines. Go back to that, and you'll find a lot more success.”

4. Crunch the numbers and lean on the experts

Financial statements are one of the best ways to understand how your business is truly performing, even if the picture they paint isn’t as positive as you’d like. So, regular monitoring of your cash flow, balance sheet and other key accounting information can help you identify red flags early and adjust your approach accordingly.

“Accounting information is often the thing that makes me the most anxious because it’s an unbiased reality,” Jimmy says. 

“If your cash flow is poor, your balance statements don’t look good or you’re borrowing too much, you know you’re not doing well. But accounting is absolutely vital, because it lets you understand how each fiscal and monetary decision you make flows on to the rest of your business. From there, you know how to allocate resources and where to invest.”

“Look to the people who can help you interpret this accounting information – whether it be a consultant, an advisor, a business specialist or coach. The silver lining from the harsh realities is that you can use them to improve your business.”

Jimmy’s top 5 digital business tools

When it comes to running an efficient small business, Jimmy relies on technology to ensure effective communication and boost productivity within his team. He shares his top five digital business tools:

1. Slack: “Slack is a given because it's fantastic. You can have multiple conversations in multiple silos with as many people as you want, and create a system where no information is lost.”

2. “Puts the power of development into the hands of the user. The level of automation allows you to connect with different APIs as well as to create interlinking systems like triggering emails, notifying staff about projects and keeping workflows in sync.”

3. Ignition: “Ignition makes it easier to engage clients and run your business with things like online proposals, automated engagement letters and payments.”

4. Mailchimp: “An easy-to-use all-in-one marketing, automation and email marketing platform.”

5. Canva: “A free design platform for creating professional social media posts, presentations, posters, videos and logos.”

Managing small business finances in the digital age

As an accountant and small business owner, Jimmy relies on QuickBooks cloud-based accounting software to get a complete, up-to-date picture of business performance, from anywhere in the world.

“QuickBooks allows you to see the true benefit or the true costs of your monetary decisions. Because of that, you get a truer outlook on your overall performance,” he says. “It has a great integration system and the API is open enough that a lot of other industries can connect with it. As an accountant, I love it. The sophistication is great. At the same time, for small business owners, it’s easy, simple and user-friendly.”

Also certified as a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and a member of QuickBooks Training Writer Network (TWN), Jimmy helps small businesses make sense of all things financial accounting, tax legislative research and accounting systems. 

If you need help anywhere along the way, consulting a ProAdvisor can help you plan ahead and guide you in sustainably growing your business. Find an advisor near you.

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