Maryia Lemiaza's article on "Pro Business"

Thursday, 12 March 2020

 

— I have always studied a lot and keep studing despite being a teacher at the University. I am a member of the International Assosiation of Outsourcing Professionals ( IAOP) , a member of the expect counsil of the Chamber of Tax Advisers of Belarus,I have a certificate in accordance with IFRS DipIFR (Rus) -list everything just doesn't make sense. The main thing is that I use all these skills in my work.

 

«SMAR Outsourcing Solutions provides a full range of outsourcing services, takes a responsibility of accounting record-keeping, taxing and managment accounting, payroll accounting for other companies in Belarus and abroad. We work with Russia, Lithuania, the USA, China, Latvia, Sweden and the UK.

 

Frankly speaking, I adore what I do. It gives me great satisfaction and I do everything with great pleasure. Actually, there are some difficulties when you think it is time to give up. But interest in employees, staff, customers, projects, tasks help you to overcome such unpleasant moments. One of the most difficult period for the company and my team was my pregnancy and the fisrt time afterwards.

 

Everybody was worried that I could not be able to take part in all projects fully. And I am happy, at this particulat moment our team has shown itself as a reliable one. During this difficult time we managed not to lose our position in the market and even we showed a significant development and made it stronger. I really appreciate for support and doing the great part of my job my partner Olga Kosmina.

 

Speaking about the idea of setting up such unusual company and creating such a strong team I will tell in order.

 

A teacher threatened me about flunking the subject so I got an idea

 

In my opinion I got into financial world by chance. I studied at the architectural and art class, I was going to be an architect and was getting ready to pass exams at the BSTU (a drawing, composition and sketching - I was really good at it.). Suddenly, my sketching master started to give me bad grades. She told me that I would not be able to pass my exams. Definitely, I was terrified and I made up my mind to have Plan B. As a result my plan was English language. I was good at it as well.

 

Due to all these facts I got into Economy sphere. After graduating from the University I was working in Norway for some time and was about to settle down there, but to some family circumstancies I had to be back. At this point, knowing several languages I started to look for a job in the international company. In 2013 I started working in the international auditing company. They have already had an idea of developing outsource as a service.

 

An idea to set up my own business in this sphere came to my mind while I was taking part in writing the book about outsource in 2017. At that moments I obtained enough experience and managed as a company partner and co-founder.

 

At some moments I started to have disagreements with my current partners about providing services and developing the company in general.

 

It was going on by the beginning 2018 unless I finally decided : "It's enough for me. It is time to stop losing energy, knowledge, experience in vain. It is better to establish your own business." Definitely, it was needed to overcome fears such as " What if it doesn't work out". But I realised if I didn't overcome it I would not have been able to move forward. My idea was supported by my partner Olga, we had already worked with her. We took a risk.

 

Nobody invested in us: start-up

 

Of the main difficulties at the start, the decree “On Tax Consulting” just came into force in Belarus in 2018, according to which newly registered companies are not allowed to provide tax accounting and tax returns without having an employee with certificate of tax consultant. And tax accounting was one of our main services.

 

Therefore, after registering the company, Olga and I urgently filed applications for passing the exam. The percentage of passing this exam at that time was quite low.

 

Emotional experience, excitement and pressure that were at that moment are hard to describe! In fact, we could even be left without our project.

 

But we got through. At the present moment we are an audit company, and the rules of the decree no longer apply to us at all.

 

In the first two or three months of working, the amount of investments in the business was about $ 20-30 thousand. First of all, we were obliged to ensure the security of our customers' data and provide services using licensed software - it was the main object of expenditure.

 

Right here I would liken to a startup, which at the very initial stage of an idea can attract investment from 3 ° F (family, friends and fools). Nobody invested in us - I financed the project myself. But the first client was my family (my sibling has entrusted his small business to us), friends and we were recommended by our customers to others. So, at the beginning , we needed the money to:

 

  1. Purchase of licensed software (Microsoft Office, CRM, etc.)
  2. Creation of all necessary IT infrastructure (cloud server, system administrator services, etc.)
  3. Office rental
  4. Hiring employees (5 people at first)
  5. Purchase of equipment
  6. Logo design, corporate identity
  7. Connection of legal information resources
  8. Implementation of internal control (as a rule, we engage an independent auditor for these purposes)
  9. Services of lawyers in preparation of contract templates for working with clients
  10. Services on preparation of documents for company registration
  11. Insurance expenses (all our activities are insured)
  12. Marketing (more on this below).

 

We have decided that the best would be to establish a fixed monthly payment for our services, depending on the volume of functions and the team’s hours of work. The rate consists of a constant and a variable part, where the variable part is the number of employees of the customer, if, for example, we calculate their salary.

 

Almost immediately, we began to practice the use of KPI, for example, if we conduct an early closing of the period and the end of the year and pass the audit qualitatively, customers pay a bonus. If the projects are “large” (such as supporting accounting and tax accounting during the construction of a plant), then the monthly cost is calculated as cost + margin.

 

An example here would be the provision of accounting and tax accounting services for non-residents who act as the general contractor for the construction of an object. We also have very large facilities - and our employees work in the customer’s office (right at the construction site), but this is not outstaffing, because we exercise full control and organize the work. Here, in this case, labor costs, taxes, depreciation of equipment, IT support, insurance are direct costs, margin is added to them and the cost of services is obtained. Such projects are beneficial for us - they are usually signed for 3-5 years and the payment is in foreign currency.

 

We got profitability at the end of the second year. At the current moments we are in charge of 50 projects. About 80 % of net profit we distributed into company development and charity (e.g. last year we supported the project You Can). For instance, what we did for the company last year:

 

  • Got ISO 9001 Certificate. This document is given to companies after passing compliance verification procedure in accordance to international standart successfully.
  • Became a member of international chain of auditing companies.
  • Got a partner of Global Payroll Outsourcing Company (we spent a big ammount of money for Due Diligence) and we needed investments for getting accreditation in the USA (The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board).

 

Trying to be seen: marketing

 

We spent a lot of efforts on creating the site - we were able to launch it for the third month of the company’s work. We tried to fill it with content as quickly as possible: to describe our services in such way as to arouse interest. Having published interesting interviews, cases from our practice, collect customer reviews. We tried to distribute this work: we did something with Olga ourselves, and gave something to contractors. For example, designing a website that fits in with our logo, corporate identity, etc.

 

Along with the creation of content, we optimized it for search engines. For example, at the very beginning we tested different variations of ads targeted to different regions. Nothing revolutionary - they just took popular queries on our topic, added them to the text and threw several different options on the site so that Google showed both of them. And then they simply monitored the results and removed irrelevant queries from the texts, turned off those ads that showed low CTR (clickthrough rate).

 

Now, so that the company is always in sight, we constantly publish interviews with our representatives and cases of our experts in large online publications, regularly replenish the site with fresh articles.

 

We use social media for promotion as well. Social media pages started at about the same time as the site. We post useful articles there, share news about our company, employees and their success, talk about planned events that we are conducting.

 

For marketing, we are planning up to 5% of annual revenue, i.e. about $ 20−25 thousand per year. But we are not actively engaged in direct advertising.

 

We focus on holding free events, writing professional articles, and speaking at conferences. This year we are planning to partner with the second edition of the outsourcing textbook. The book cover will be branded with our logo - we will give such books to customers, partners, friends.

 

We also try to take part in social initiatives - every year we run the Minsk half marathon, support youth projects and start-ups, and participate as a sponsor and mentor in various charity events.

 

There is a lot of negativity in the market: workflow

 

When we started the business, we well understood that outsourcing is primarily a long-term partnership based on trust. And to earn trust is not an easy task. There is no single algorithm that you can follow to get it. For example, they tell me that my professional obsession is visible and gives rise to trust in me as a service provider.

 

One of the problem that we constantly have to face is that, in my opinion, our culture of using outsourcing is still not sufficiently developed. A lot of negativity, high expectations and misunderstandings around this service. Company executives do not know how to organize the process.

 

The general idea of outsourcing is: “I outsourced some process and forgot.” But no! It still needs to be managed.

 

As in any other projects, you need to set clear objectives for service providers and set deadlines, make key decisions. To communicate with outsourcers, a manager should be allocated who will adjust his work. And the softer and more qualitatively the outsourcing will be integrated into the processes of the company-customer of the services, the more precisely the process of changes will be spelled out in the contract (and changes are inevitable), the more comfortable it will work and the better the result.

 

As an example, I can cite the negative experience, just related to the fact that the client did not understand that his problems could not be solved simply by concluding an agreement with an outsourcing company. And he had a problem with the timely write-off of materials (we are talking about a construction project), but in order to write them off, it is necessary to obtain data from financially responsible persons about how much actually materials and on which objects were used. And these data were either provided late or were not provided at all. Therefore, sometimes it may be necessary to first establish internal processes in the company, and then solve the problem of writing off materials on outsourcing.

 

We try not to repeat such and other similar situations - we try to convey to all those with whom we work, communicate the peculiarities of interaction and write down in details all the nuances in the contracts. At the very beginning of the work, I always say that I need to see the whole picture in order to properly organize the work. And the most difficult thing is to ask questions correctly in order to get the right answers. Because it happens that the leaders themselves do not quite understand what they want.

 

At the same time, we understand that taking into account internalization, globalization, and the emergence of new business processes (for example, just in time) - the need for faster answers is growing. For example, we began to use Telegram messenger for fast operational issues. We create groups for people who work on the project and correspond with them on current issues. We do not use it to send documentation - there are more reliable tools, for example, corporate mail, etc.

 

I see how the role of an accountant is changing now. He should focus on the future, take into account internal and external information about the company, even take part in strategic planning.

 

And in order to constantly be relevant, to keep abreast of all the events in the industry and make competent decisions, it is necessary to constantly engage in self-education.

 

In conditions of active growth: scaling

 

Today, difficulties arise with our active growth and scaling, because it is very important for us to maintain quality, and this is not always easy in conditions of active growth. And, of course, first of all we are talking about employees and delegation. Probably, we are not inventing anything new in this case, but decided to cope with it. We have employees who perform the roles of PM (project managers), and we gradually add new employees to the groups so that simpler operations can go to them, and PM focus on more complex things, communicating with clients including.

 

We do believe that communication with the client, the ability to be a good listener and correctly respond to requests is the key to success. And now we are able to “grow” PM from our employees, but I suppose that soon we will somehow face with the problem that PM will have to be taken from the outside. And here it will be necessary to build a process. But we will solve problems as they become available.

 

In addition, at the moment I am still unhappy with the current level of process automation. For example, we maximally automated the processes for calculating wages for our customers and for our large foreign partner.

 

But we still have not realized the ability to manage customer settlement accounts and make payments directly through the 1C program (the so-called directbank), when online, without leaving the 1C program, you can see the account balances, reflection of payments and receipt of payment. It would seem that this is a fairly simple thing, but it is technically very difficult to implement (specifically in our case, because we use licensed software from Human Systems). We hope that this will be realized by mid-2020. We also look towards RPA (Robotic Process Automation). That is, while we are at the stage of determining the processes that will first need to be robotized.

 

Important response to criticism and stress: team

 

At the beginning they were only 5 people in our team, for the last two years we got 20 employees, by the end of this year we are planning to double it.

 

While hiring people we pay attention the way people think. For example, for our employees we have a special training program, we constantly have internal seminars and workshops. But the main rule in our company: you are not allowed to come to a leader without any Solutions. An employee should offer different options, to evaluate risks, to assess issues from different angles. In such way we try to teach our employees to think just not to copy. By the way, this feature is very important, because the theory could be learnt easily, but to teach how to think is quite complicated and more over is impossible.

 

When we noticed that employees have over time, for us it is a sign that something goes wrong.

 

Monthly we analize work time in details in order to react fast. For example, automatically is grown only variable component (I have written about it above) but permanent part could be increased only if mutually agreed by the parties.

 

Most of our employees are people that we have already worked, we understand each other perfectly. On one hand it is good and on the another being a team player is quite difficult due to the fact that current employees expect from them the same quick response and multitasking that all we have now. It is a time-consuming process and all we need is patience, but sometimes you have lack of it but we are working on it.

 

For instance, to make it easier for employees to plan work and evaluate their strengths, we set goals for a week ahead. We collect feedbacks from employees at regular meetings. We do our best to help newcomers to adapt. Apart thinking, we have got a list of professional requirements to team leaders, project managers, partners about having an auditor certificate, certificate of tax adviser, certificates confirming knowledge of international reporting standards. Besides, it is very important human's values to us, how he reacts to stress and criticism.

 

In our plan is the reduction of manual labor

 

We have got a lot of plans. One of them is scaling and market - share gain. We will keep working on process automation. We have already pointed out 2 basic processes that we want to automate this year that will significantly reduce the cost of working time for at least five of our employees.

 

In addition, we keep working on motivation and personnel efficiency. We came up with an idea of introducing such a mechanism as the Competencies framework. This is a set of hard and soft skills that are necessary for a specific position in our company. In other words, this is the Board with colorful pictures of our employees. And next to them colorful stickers with their responsibilities and a list of knowledge /skills for every Department and position. So it is much an evidence what to work on. In general, pictures have been collected, skills and knowledge have been identified, the last point is to hang the Board.

 

In conclusion, I would like to say the most important thing for me as an entrepreneur and Mother is to be in harmony with myself. Making decisions based on your own values and principles, then they will be given easily and everything will be in order.

 

Source