WHEN it comes to bookkeeping and administration Sue Inkersell is a bit like the ambulance at the bottom of the accounting cliff.
The owner of Wellington business 3rd Arm Admin has clients that include owner/ operators, contractors, manufacturers, retailers, trusts, property rentals companies and larger corporates on her books, looking after everything from bookkeeping and payroll through to administration and newsletters.
And while she’s proud of the fact that most of her business is generated through word of mouth, potential clients don’t often call for help until their books are out of hand.
‘‘Most people by that stage have got themselves into a mess and it’s not until they’ve got into that mess they realise they need help, and we’re happy to answer their SOS,’’ Inkersell says.
‘‘Their need for help is varied as well, it could be to the point where there’s an owner/operator guy who works all day and does his accounts at night, who is bickering and arguing with his wife over something, so it’s almost a ‘save my marriage’ call.
‘‘Or it could be someone who has got themselves in a pickle and they’re about to have an IRD audit – there’s a huge range of what those pickles can be,’’ says the Otago-born mother of two teenage daughters.
‘‘Nine times out of 10 we can help them, and if we can’t, because our philosophy is to surround ourselves with people who are experts at the things we’re not experts at, one way or another we will get them out of that pickle.’’
Of all the 3rd Arm Admin’s clients, a large chunk are regulars, many of whom use the firm’s full suite of services.
‘‘There’s a large corporate where we’re classed as their HR manager, we run all their payroll and answer any payroll queries. There’s another company where I’ve done the books for 15 years now, as far as most of their customers are concerned we are their employees, they don’t see us as 3rd Arm Admin.
‘‘Another company going through some cuts had a fulltime person doing their payroll, now we run their payroll for them in less than 10 hours a week, and the staff say it’s far more efficient and there are fewer errors.’’
It’s been seven years since Inkersell officially set up 3rd Arm Admin, but it’s a profession she’s been in for more than 25 years, 16 of them working for herself.
‘‘I had my own clients and worked from home but the workload was so great that I decided I either needed to do this properly and set up an actual business and employ people, or go and get a real job.
‘‘Setting up 3rd Arm Admin made more sense,’’ says the selfconfessed organiser who also manages her daughters’ underwater hockey and netball teams.
In the last 12 months alone Inkersell’s business has gone from two staff and a part-timer working from an office in her home to five staff and an office in Grenada North.
Inkersell’s role is very hands-on – some days she’ll be on a customer site as their ‘‘accounts department’’ undertaking book-keeping work, or she may have a consultation with a potential new client, a staff training session or be running a payroll.
‘‘Today, for instance, I’ve been reviewing reports for a company, I’ve had a catch-up meetings with two staff members this morning, I’ve run salaries this afternoon, I’ve got a two-hour training slot with another staff member this afternoon, then I’m going to a Porirua Chamber of Commerce event this evening.
‘‘There’s no such thing as an 8am-5pm day, and it’s not unusual to have customers ring me at 9pm wanting stuff sorted out,’’ says the winner of the NZBAI Bookkeeping Practice of the Year 2014.
‘‘That’s just part of growing a business, and the nature of small businesses – often the client will work all day long then come home at night and sort out their accounts, so I’m always on-call.’’
Inkersell is armed with a wealth of knowledge she’s gained over the years, most of it self-taught.
‘‘Experience speaks volumes. For example, I’ve been using MYOB for 15-16 years now, it’s knowledge you gain over time and it’s all about processes and procedures really. I did start off doing an accounting degree by correspondence but after one paper I wondered what the point was, we have a good relationship with accountants, we do the day-to-day stuff and they do the big picture stuff, so I threw it in, I didn’t want to change what we were doing.’’
Technology though has forced changes, which Inkersell has embraced.
‘‘It used to be all manual, payroll many years ago was all done on a spreadsheet which you could safely say would take, for 50 people, a day at least, whereas nowadays with all these online accounting packages you can fire it through in a couple of hours.
‘‘And because you get emails to your phone, everybody has a smartphone these days, the expectation now is if somebody sends an email to you, they expect a response straight away, not tomorrow.
‘‘So it’s either keep up or get left behind.’’
Funnily enough Inkersell wanted to join the police when she left school but she developed exercise-induced asthma which in those days meant she was denied entry.
Instead she joined Customs and moved to Wellington to take up her role, starting out checking baggage and parcels and winding up stamping and signing off forms.
‘‘It was less than exciting. I got out of that after a year and worked as a secretary for employment agency Drake Personnel.
While at Drake a job came in for Fulton Hogan which she successfully applied for.
‘‘It was to help set up Fulton Hogan in Wellington. Because I was a South Island girl I knew exactly who Fulton Hogan was and that I wanted to work for them. I got the job and I loved it. I was their administration manager for many years, I set up their administration processes, payroll, I saw it grow from three of us to about 120 when I left after seven years.
‘‘I loved the company and I loved the culture, but it was an all-day, every-day role so when I had my oldest daughter it broke my heart to have to leave. It was a very familyfriendly company but not a familyfriendly job.’’
Inkersell jokes that she decided to become a kept woman after that, but after a few weeks she got bored.
‘‘I applied to do somebody’s accounts for five hours a week and it’s a company that’s still with me today. It was a new company then and as they grew so did my workload.’’
Pregnant with her second daughter, she handed in her notice but that company proposed she shift their office to her home and continue to work from there.
‘‘That’s kind of how 3rd Arm all started – I worked from home from the time my youngest was born, I kept taking on clients and it’s just evolved really.’’
What is hugely important to Inkersell is ensuring she never over-promises.
‘‘If I can’t do something, or if I don’t know something I’m not afraid to say it. But I’m not afraid to go and find out either.’’
Above all, it is important to have fun, she says.