Jason Cunningham loves being busy. As co-founder of financial services firm The Practice, as well as a media commentator on all things business and personal wealth, not to mention a proud dad of three boys, his bucket is almost always full. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It sure beats the alternative, which is not having enough work to do. I remember the first, formative years of our business, when we didn’t have any work.”
No work, of course, means no customers and no money. For Jason and founding partner and childhood friend Robert Hadded, this was their reality after launching in 1997. “We spent a lot of time marketing, a lot of time talking to people, whether it be at the local football club or the guys we went to school with. Up and down the local street, we spoke to local businesses. Any opportunity we had to open our mouths and talk to people and talk to them about them and how we can help them, we did that. Every now and then, someone liked what we had to say,” he says.
In the absence of a definitive area of expertise, Jason’s youth proved to be something of a barrier. “I was 24 and my peers in the industry were 34, 44 and 54 years old, with a lot more experience and grey hair and it was hard to compete,” he recalls. Then in 1999, a major development in Australia’s financial make-up presented Jason with an opportunity: “A wonderful, beautiful man by the name of John Howard changed the tax system and introduced the GST and I thought ‘you know what, I am going to learn this better than anybody else’, and I studied and studied and studied and became a GST expert.” A couple of successful books — Where’s My Money?: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Keep, Earn and Grow More Money and Have Your Cake And Sell It Too: The 7 Key Ingredients of Business Success — solidified Cunningham as a “key person, influencer and thought-leader” in the financial world and, before long, he started popping up on radio and television. He’s now a regular on Channel 10’s The Living Room and Triple M’s The Rush Hour.
Today, The Practice employs more than 60 people in Melbourne and Sydney, delivering a range of Business Advisory and Personal Wealth Advisory services across business consulting, accounting, tax, financial planning, mortgage broking, insurance and superannuation. The bedrock of the business revolves around one of Jason’s life passions: improving the level of financial literacy in Australia. Jason says The Practice’s ultimate goal is to set their clients up for success. “Most people don’t see their accountant until the end of the financial year, or six months after the financial year or even a year after the financial year. And then they start to talk about numbers that are 12, 18 months old. Where is the relevance in that? We help with record keeping so that you know on a daily, weekly and monthly basis how you are tracking.”
While he might be a renowned mentor, Jason says he’s only thrived through having strong connections. “I’ve had probably eight or nine different business coaches in 23 years,” he says. “I like to surround myself with like-minded business owners that are more successful than me, so that I can sponge from them, and for advice outside of the walls that we see the world in.” This, he says, is integral to recognising what is important and being grateful for that, and “not getting caught up in who you think you might be”.
Jason's Seven Tips to Run a Better Business
Learn the art of “timeblocking”
First coined in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one way Jason retains focus is through “time-blocking”. “Like everyone that has a job or have a business, we are all busy, and the only way you can create more time is to make more time. And so what we do, twice a year, is we timeblock. Where we take time out of our busy schedule; we book it out in advance, and leave the office, turn our phones off, and we go away somewhere, whether locally or interstate, and spend time ‘sharpening the sword’. We look at what we do well, we finetune various things, and build a strategic plan for the next 12 months.”
Make sure what gets measured gets managed
“Unfortunately, for most business owners, they don’t utilise the reporting tools that are available to them, and they don’t spend enough time reviewing their financials. We make sure our customers are all over their financials, and we make sure that they are accurate. We assist them with having correct data, because no data, no decisions.”
Understand your cash flow position
“The first thing is to understand their cash flow position and understand what’s impacting it, and typically it is not enough clients. Or clients aren’t paying on time. They might not be spending enough time focused on marketing or selling or bringing in new customers. What we do is we narrow it down, based on the data that we have available to us, and we put in place some strategies that enable them to increase their cash flow.”
Look through the lens of building a business that is ready for sale
“We challenge the business owner to look through the lens of building a business that is ready for sale. Not saying that you have to sell, but it would be wonderful to have the choice so that one day you can pass the business onto somebody else. To do that you need to understand that the business is not just about you; it’s about your people, processes and customers. And it is about continually working on improving those so that you can actually have your lifestyle liberated one day. This is the premise of Have Your Cake and Sell It Too…
Protection and space
“I used to think business ownership was about two things: leadership and growth. And then I realised those two are a given and it is actually two other very important components that I was remiss of and neglected for some time: protection and space. Protection against the downside is imperative. If you look at not just what could happen inside your business, but external threats, things like a Royal Commission into the Financial Services Industry, that’s hurt a number of businesses because they weren’t ready for it, and they didn’t protect the downside. And space — space in not always booking yourself back to back to back and having space in your diary so you’re able to do things as they pop up.”
Build a community
“Look to help others and they will help you. Get together with your peers and bounce ideas; look to help others and they will help you. Make sure you are reading, or listening to audio books by profound business leaders and get tips from them. Find yourself a mentor. I have always had a business coach or mentor or nonexecutive director that has guided me. I have had probably eight or nine different business coaches in 23 years.”
Always live for today
“Despite the fact that I am continually planning I think one bit of advice I would give is always live for today. To be present in the now, and it doesn’t matter how bad you think it is, or how great it might be in the future, it is important to recognise where you are today because... I lost my mum about a year ago and I miss her every day. Being present with who you are, with the team that you work with — the business partners, the customers — the psychology of being present is very important, and recognising that not everything is going to go according to plan. The fact of the matter is, we might not be as successful as we want, or have as much money as we want or whatever but, if you are healthy, you’ve got two arms and two legs, you’ve got a family — man, that is pretty cool.”
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