Oliver Cooper runs Nimble Accounting, a Joburg-based accounting firm servicing UK companies operating in SA. Nimble is in the fortunate position of being able to turn clients away so as to be able to focus on its niche market. In this interview with Accounting Weekly, Oliver explains why Nimble sticks to its chosen niche rather than grab every client it can, and offers advice to others looking to expand their practices. Rather than simply taking care of basic compliance work, Oliver says clients want information to assist them in managing their businesses.
Q: Oliver, can you tell us a little about Nimble Accounting? Your clients are all foreign-based companies, yet you are operating out of Johannesburg. Can you explain why this is?
Oliver: We work exclusively with small, owner managed UK limited companies, but as you say, we have all our operations in Johannesburg.
Part of the reason this makes sense for us is the fact that we have lower costs in Johannesburg than we’d have if we were based in the UK. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re the cheapest accounting firm our clients could find; instead, we use our lower cost base to offer a much more in-depth level of service to our clients.
Specifically, this means giving our clients useful financial information that allows them to make the right decisions in their business, rather than just taking care of the basic compliance work.
Q: Nimble Accounting seems to be in the odd position of turning away nearly 50% of the clients that approach you. That might seem off to others who are desperately trying to grab every client they can. Why are you so selective about what clients you take on?
Oliver: We’re certain that if you take on lots of different types of clients, all with different fundamental needs, you’re going to end up offering a mediocre service to them.
By only taking on the types of clients that fit well with how we do things, we can be sure that those clients are receiving great service.
We’re in this for the long term, so ensuring our clients think we’re great is much more important than growing by an extra 10 clients per month.
Q: What advice can you give to those who want to grow their accounting practice? Developing a niche and sticking to it, or becoming a jack-of-all-trades?
Oliver: Definitely developing a niche. I can’t imagine running a firm that has all different types of clients, and therefore is forced to rely on myself or the team to remember to do certain things for our clients. It’s only a matter of time before a ball gets dropped, and I’d have too many sleepless nights worrying about that
Instead, by having a clear way of doing things that’s consistent across all clients, you can build systems and processes to ensure things work smoothly.
Then there’s also the marketing side – how can you hope to stand out in a crowded marketplace if there’s nothing about your firm that is different – If you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one!
Q: As a UK trained accountant, how do you rate the standard of accounting services in SA? Are we better at some things than others?
Oliver: That’s another great reason to be based in South Africa – the quality of accountants here is second to none.
I’m always amazed by how long and hard the training is to become a CA here in South Africa. Having trained in the UK, I often feel slightly second-rate!
Q: What software do you use and why?
Oliver: Because we work in a different continent to our clients, we work exclusively on cloud-based software.
We use QuickBooks Online as our core accounting and bookkeeping software, because in the UK, it’s undoubtedly the market leader.
We then use AutoEntry, which integrates into QBO and is an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, which means we don’t have to manually enter invoice data, so that saves us days and days of tedious work.
Q: How did you end up in SA? From your perspective, is it a good place to live and work? Give us some of the positives and negatives.
Oliver: My wife is from Joburg, and after having our son in Kenya, where neither of our families are, we decided we wanted to be closer to family, and we decided on SA.
We love living here – we’re exploring the country slowly but surely, and coming to realise how huge and diverse it really is.
I’d say the only downside for me is the traffic!
Contact Oliver Cooper at email@example.com.