Local business success story, MJA Business Solutions has reached the ripe old age of ten. With more than 60% of Australian small businesses failing within three years, it defies the odds for a company just to last this long. MJA has not only endured, it has moved from strength to strength. We spoke to founder and owner, Mel Zander, about the secrets to her business success.
How did the business get started?
Like so many small business owners, I started out from my home. I had a desk, a computer, a telephone and the idea that clients needed something different from their accountant.
I’d been a practicing accountant for over a decade by that time, and I had noticed that accountants had a habit of talking to their clients using all this accounting terminology. Basically, it was a language that clients didn’t understand, and it made them feel uncomfortable.
I set out to be a straight talking accountant. I wanted to help clients to understand their own business finances, so they could make better decisions.
The business grew quite quickly. How did you make that happen?
A lot of door knocking. Getting any sort of consultancy type business going requires plenty of face-to-face time with potential clients. A business owner’s relationship with their accountant is a very personal one. They need to trust you. So I spent a lot of time networking, door knocking, having coffees … just generally getting myself in front of people and demonstrating that I could help them.
Is it difficult moving from a one-woman band to a larger team?
There’s no doubt that building a team has its challenges, but I have loved the whole process. Luckily, I’m not someone who needs to be in control of every detail of my business, and I recognise that I’m not strong in every aspect. So I’ve been able to surround myself with people who have complimentary skills, and collectively we have made the business so much stronger.
We aim to be an employer of choice. But I don’t want to make out like we’re always perfect.
We’ve had to struggle with finding the right structure and the best processes, just like any other business.
What have been the biggest challenges for you personally in growing the business?
It’s tough trying to be a business leader and a mother of two growing boys. Sometimes I’ve got my priorities a little bit wrong.
I used to do a lot more in the community in the early days of my business, but I’ve had to pull back on that a little bit in order to have more time with my family. It’s a juggling act and sometimes it’s hard, because you want to do everything … And you just can’t.
You’ve won quite a few Sunny’s Awards over the past few years. Has that made any difference to your success?
The Sunny’s have actually been really helpful in getting my business known. I remember my first award, which was Business Woman of the Year. I was really excited to win and then amazed at how the publicity started the phone ringing. It was probably my first exposure to the power of publicity and marketing.
Last year you changed your business name from MJ Accountants to MJA Business Solutions. Why?
I had started out as an accounting firm. But as the business grew, it became much more. We responded to the needs of our many small business clients and established a business coaching service. So now as well as providing tax compliance and financial advice, we were able to help business owners to prepare business plans, make critical strategic decisions and hold them accountable.
Most of our clients are building their businesses to create a financially secure future for themselves and their families. So, we recognised that they also needed help managing their personal wealth, and last year we began offering financial advice services.
By now we’ve become a one-stop shop for business owners, offering compliance, business guidance and wealth management. The name MJ Accounting just didn’t fit anymore; hence the move to MJA Business Solutions.
This year you entered into a partnership with Brendan Hoy to form MJA Financial Services. What prompted that move?
Well, we established a separate company, because the guidelines around financial planning services meant that we had to. And I brought Brendan into the business, because he is a very skilled financial planner. As I said before, I like to surround myself with people with complimentary skills, and Brendan is the best.
The MJA Financial Services business strengthens the one-stop shop for business owners and also offers financial planning advice to individuals who are trying to manage their financial risks and build their wealth.
What advice do you have for business owners just starting out? What’s the secret to your longevity?
I think the success of MJA has a lot to do with focusing on the customer. We know the sort of customer that we really love working for, and we’ve set out to create a business that appeals to that type of customer. We know we want to work with business owners who care about their business and who are eager to learn and grow. So, we’ve made sure we have services that really meet the needs of those customers.
We love our clients … And I think that helps too!