Dressed in a black polo neck and combat trousers, Maria Cavallaro doesn’t look like your average accountant.
She describes her tradie-focused accounting practice – Tradie Troopers – as an “elite, specialist force” with a single mission: helping tradies be the best they can be by taking away their financial headaches.
Cavallaro launched her accounting practice in 1999 but transitioned to her tradie niche four years ago, sensing a bigger opportunity.
“More and more of my clients were tradies. They’ve got a tough gig. They’re on the road, on the tools, then they go home and they have to do their paperwork – the quoting, the finances. It’s hard for them,” she says.
It’s often said that knowing your customers is key to business success. For Cavallaro, this came easily. She lived with one.
“My former partner was a tradie so I saw day in and day out the pain he was in trying to manage the paperwork,” she says. “As a tradie, you learn your skill but no one ever teaches you about the other stuff. A lot of them get in trouble financially.”
Cavallaro is more passionate than ever about supporting tradies to run better businesses, without being held back by the potential pitfalls of poor cash flow and compliance issues.
“What really gets me going is seeing how I can help a client achieve a particular goal. A client called me the other day to let me know he’d won an auction for a house we’d been helping him save for. That inspires me to keep going,” she says.
Tradie Trooper’s military theme strikes a chord with tradies who are looking for discipline in how they manage their finances, says the entrepreneur. It also fits her personality.
“I’m very pedantic. In the office I have the nickname ‘Captain’. Our projects are ‘missions’,” says Cavallaro.
Tradie Troopers has really taken off in the past year. The company has expanded to a team of more than 20 accountants, bookkeepers and admin staff with aspirations to grow four or five times larger. Along the way, Tradie Troopers has managed its own growing pains.
“All small businesses have the same challenges, like cash flow. We’ve taken steps to make life easier, like using QuickBooks Online (QBO) and implementing direct debit for paying bills. Receipt Bank integrates every single transaction into QBO immediately,” she says.
Cavallaro says going digital has made her business more efficient, creating time to implement new systems and processes while boosting profitability: “Our teams can now look after a lot more clients than they used to.”
One of the first things she does with new clients who have yet to embrace digital accounting is clean up their books and set them up with QuickBooks Online. Most tradies aren’t using software to manage their books, Cavallaro says, and they often don’t have any business system at all. By moving them into an online package, Tradie Troopers helps to increase their efficiency, compliance and profitability.
“They can invoice on the go, whereas before they would often forget to invoice jobs because they had no record. Or they’d accumulate invoices until they had no money in the bank. A lot also had issues with being behind with business activity statements, wages and super contributions.”
A deeper relationship
Being able to see client accounts instantly via the software has drastically improved the relationship between her team and clients.
“Before we were spending too much time on manual entry and looking back. Now our services are totally different – we can spend more time advising them. We can now tell them what’s happening right away, by going into the system and taking a look. We can tell them what they need to do to make sure they’re still around in a year’s time,” she says.
This is why Cavallaro views the introduction of Single Touch Payroll (STP), the Australian Taxation Office’s initiative to overhaul how businesses report tax and super information, as a “huge opportunity” for all small businesses – especially tradies.
Due to take effect on 30 September 2019, the initiative requires that all small businesses use payroll or accounting software to keep track of their finances and report information to the ATO in real-time.
“For them it’s a chance to get organised with their paperwork. Once they get compliant for STP, everything will flow on from that in terms of the benefits for their business,” says Cavallaro. “For us, it’s a chance to help more clients. I like to say I’m the business partner they don’t have to share profits with.”
Intuit Australia’s integrated QuickBooks plus payroll solution, powered by KeyPay, includes STP compliance together with smarter cloud accounting solutions, offering employers benefits far beyond simply managing compliance.