Date posted: 11/07/2019 5 min read

A win for women and mid-career mentoring

When Michelle Ashton CA was setting up her own female-focused practice, Amanda Gascoigne FCA was a welcome sounding board.

In Brief

  • While she was establishing her own practice, mid-career accountant Michelle Ashton CA was mentored by Amanda Gascoigne FCA.
  • Gascoigne had set up her own practice in 1999 and Ashton found her advice immensely helpful.
  • Applications for the 2019 Mentor Exchange program are open from July to mid-August. The program starts in October.

As told to Susan Muldowney

Photo Andrew Monger

Amanda Gascoigne FCA, business coach, Amanda Gascoigne Consulting

Michelle Ashton CA and Amanda Gascoigne FCA.Michelle Ashton CA and Amanda Gascoigne FCA.

I started my own practice back in 1999. I’d been working at a medium-sized firm and I was managing their private and individual division. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a maternity leave policy. Looking back, it’s hard to believe something we take for granted now wasn’t always available back then.

They told me that they were happy to come up with a maternity leave policy for me, but I just felt that I would be the guinea pig. So I decided to back myself and start my own firm from home.

There are many practice owners doing this now, but working from home running a CA accounting practice wasn’t that common when I started out. For many of my clients, it was something new as they’d only ever visited an accountant in a commercial office space.

Nine months later, I had my first son, and then 14 months after that I had my second son. It was great to be able to build my practice while also being there for my children.

Within a few years, I moved to a commercial office and then later into a bigger premises. I welcomed my youngest brother as a business partner in 2014. In 2017, I sold the business and handed the reins to him, and established my coaching and mentoring business with a focus on small-to-medium sized practice owners.

When I saw an email from CA ANZ about the Mentor Exchange program, I immediately wanted to get involved so I could share my knowledge and offer support to a fellow CA starting their own practice. If memory serves me correctly, I responded straight away answering the questions from my car as I was travelling to Sydney [from Newcastle] for the weekend.

I really connected with Michelle during our first phone call in November last year. She has a daughter a similar age to my youngest son and we are around the same age as each other. Before the phone call, we’d introduced ourselves to each other via email and I knew we were perfectly matched.

She made mention that she has a very supportive husband, as do I.

She also mentioned that she fosters children for weekend respite and has a menagerie of animals. I just thought she sounded like a caring and empathetic person and, to me, that is one of the key factors in operating a successful accounting practice.

I invited Michelle to come with me to a Hayes Knight professional development afternoon just before Christmas, and that’s when we met for the first time face-to-face.

One of the first things I asked Michelle was what she wanted to get out of the mentor/mentee relationship and she said, “I want to pick your brain”. She had a pretty good idea of what she wanted her practice to become, but she wanted to run her ideas by someone.

That suited me, because I don’t like to tell anyone how to do things; I prefer to share with them how I approached particular situations or challenges. They don’t need to do the same thing [I did], and I really encourage them to add their own flavour.

I believe that I helped Michelle to really uncover the vision that she had for her practice. I’d ask her questions about her short- and long-term goals and helped her to nut out who her ideal clients would be and the services that she would offer.

I also helped her with technology choices and recommended some networking groups that she could align herself with.

I really admire Michelle’s passion for the industry. I love that she’s wanting to start something new and that she wants to make a difference. Michelle has so much to offer her clients and I know she is going to have a successful, proactive and professional CA practice.

Mentoring Michelle has been such a pleasure and it’s also been a bit like a walk down memory lane. It’s easy to forget what it was like when I was starting my own practice and the challenges that I overcame. I truly have enjoyed the experience and would highly recommend other CAs joining the program in the future.

“It’s easy to forget what it was like when I was starting my own practice…”
Amanda Gascoigne FCA

Michelle Ashton CA, principal at Collaborate Business Advisors

I started out in commercial accounting before working for a number of small firms over the past 12 years. I started to feel frustrated in my role and I knew that I had enough experience to forge out on my own.

I wanted to focus on female business owners. In all the places I’ve worked, the focus has always been on males and their relationship to a business. I want to help female small business owners to achieve their goals.

When I saw the email about the Mentor Exchange, my first thought was that I was probably too old for it! I didn’t realise that this stream of the program was specifically for mid-career professionals.

I’d heard of Amanda before I met her. The boss at a firm I’d worked at spoke highly of her, so when I was matched with her, I was extremely excited.

I started my business in December 2018. I specialise in standard compliance work – I’m not intending to be everything to all people, so I’m just trying to focus on my target clients and then refer people to others if I can’t help them. For example, I don’t do financial planning.

There’s a lot that goes into starting a business – you need to get a practice certificate, tax agent registration for your company and all sorts of other things. In hindsight, perhaps I should have got a part-time job and then set the business up on the side.

Amanda was so helpful in the early days. And now, when I hit a roadblock, I know I could just reach out to her. We speak at scheduled times, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone if I needed her advice.

She always provides a variety of things to consider. She’s also great with software and has recommended some really useful packages.

Amanda has also introduced me to a lot of people. Yesterday I had a question about something and I reached out to another sole practitioner who I’d met on one of her Facebook groups.

Being teamed with someone who has already done what I’m setting out to do has been amazing. It’s not just all about the theory. This lady has actually built a successful practice and knows what it’s all about.

“Being teamed up with someone who has already done what I’m setting out to do has been amazing.”
Michelle Ashton CA

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CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program

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