Date posted: 23/05/2017 4 min read

The sticks and the city

An Australian start-up is matching accountants and clients online regardless of their location, bolstering regional businesses and cutting compliance costs.

In brief

  • SuitBid is a service that connects accountants to other professionals in the finance sector.
  • Tax compliance is the type of work that SuitBid primarily facilitates.
  • Brad Seeto and Nick Chiarelli are looking to expand SuitBid into the US and UK markets.

Brad Seeto CA used to attend conferences and seminars in Sydney, touting for new clients for his employer. But he found that most of the time, attendees weren’t actually looking for a new accountant.

“It was always a bit hit and miss, but they were our number one business development tools to get new clients.”  

It got him thinking there must be a better way. He also thought there must be an easy way for professionals based far from urban centres, and for people such as mums who wanted to work from home, to build a client base. And in turn, for clients to find these professionals.

So the concept for SuitBids was born. Seeto knew he wanted to do something online, “given the way technology is going”, and had observed the success of connector website Freelancer, which caters for a range of services including design and photography.

Tailored services for accountants

He decided to tailor his venture to professional services. He and SuitBids co-founder, former colleague and fellow CA Nick Chiarelli, were convinced the idea would work as there was nothing quite like it in the Australian marketplace.

SuitBids is a connector service for “suits” – accountants and other professionals including bookkeepers, financial planners, legal professionals – and clients requiring their services. Users can be based anywhere in Australia, and don’t need to meet up in person.

“This is a platform where you can effectively find your clients without having to leave the house,” Seeto says. “We came up with the idea of ‘ringfencing’ it to Australian suppliers only.

Our major idea was to redistribute the work. It’s more based on commoditised work such as compliance, tax returns, and bookkeeping work. So instead of engaging someone locally if you live on the Eastern seaboard, why can’t you get somebody in regional Australia, where the cost centres are a lot lower.  ”These professionals still have the necessary skills and experience, but charge a fraction of the price, he says.

“Our research, for example in Tasmania, shows that accountants charge about a third of the price of somebody on the Eastern seaboard."

He says charge-out rates in Sydney are A$200-A$250 per hour, whereas in Tasmania they’re A$70-A$80.

He says a lot of accountants actually prefer not to see clients in person any more for tax compliance work as it’s more efficient to get data by email or drop box.

SuitBids has been designed to be quick and easy to use.“If a client is looking for a professional service provider, for example an accountant, they go online and there’s a simple form to fill out – it takes two or three minutes.”

From accounting practice to professional services firm

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They submit the job which then goes out to everyone in SuitBids’ directory who is looking for that type of work. The professional service providers then have 24 hours to place a bid. Seeto says this differs from some other connector sites, whereby speed is the decider, and the first three quotes received get sent to the client.

Then Seeto and Chiarelli personally check every bid.As chartered accountants they have a good understanding of what is required for a job in terms of timing and cost. Checks include the suitability of the professional’s experience and the price being charged. They then select the top three bids and present those to the client.

The client can request further bids if they are unhappy with the results. Once a match is made, contact details are exchanged and SuitBids steps out of the process.

Compliance of professionals

SuitBids vets the professionals prior to them signing up, checking qualifications and registrations. But they also vet clients now, after receiving a number of fake bids from what Seeto calls “peripheral competitors” who focus on professional services.

Initially jobs were automatically posted when they were received, but now they go into a “quarantine process” whereby SuitBids confirm with a client whether the job is genuine.

The team has become good at identifying fake jobs, or people who are trying to undercut prices initially, to get client contact details or to re-quote at a higher price once the breadth of the job is known.

“We disregard the guy who’s going for the bottom of the barrel – the ‘we’ll do a tax return for $20’ sort of thing – because you know in reality the client’s not going to get a good job.”

"If we can validate the Australian market then it’s a simple case of just dropping that website overseas."
Brad Seeto, founder, SuitBids.

SuitBids says compliance work is their “low hanging fruit”, but the types of jobs have been varied – from simple tax returns to a school in regional Victoria looking for help with an audit.

Clients have also included start-ups needing advice around structures along with some bookkeeping work.“It comes back to being able to get a regional service provider to do a job without reducing any quality of service but at a much cheaper price."

Tax compliance work is ideal for this connector service, rather than business development work which needs face-to-face contact.

“Where you have a business and you need ongoing advice, we acknowledge that there’s probably still a great deal of benefit in having someone locally that you can touch base with and go and have a coffee with.”

Free service commercial product

Currently SuitBids is a free service while the business gets established.

“The initial phase is about collecting clients and seeing how we can optimise this and make it better before we actually turn on our payment system,” Seeto says.

He says they’re working towards establishing a commercial product people would be happy to pay for and he hopes it will be fully operational by the start of the next financial year.

While there is a pipeline of development they want to complete, the current offering is the “minimal viable product” to launch and get users on board, and get more funding, he says.

SuitBids is eyeing the US and UK markets.

“If we can validate the Australian market then it’s a simple case of just dropping that website overseas. So we’ve got the domain names for the US and the UK sorted out – we’ve had that from day one."

SuitBids hopes to be in those markets in two years.  Meanwhile, both men are still working fulltime elsewhere – Chiarelli is a CFO of a tech company and Seeto has his own chartered accountancy practice. This has allowed him flexibility to work on SuitBids and given him a safety net financially, helping mitigate the risk of start-up.

“I’ve found a way that I can pursue this [SuitBids] but also have enough income stream to pay the bills and feed the family.”

SuitBids is Seeto’s first real entrepreneurial endeavour.

“I wouldn’t say people who know me are too shocked I’m doing this. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit I guess – I’ve had a number of business ideas, but this is the first one I’ve pursued seriously.”

This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of Acuity magazine, which can be read in full online for free here.