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Productivity / Professional development

My solo business led to a NYC dream come true

When Flying Solo columnist Heather Smith delighted us all with her selfie after a speaking event in New York City, we obviously needed to know ALL the details. We sat down to find out how she grabbed the opportunity of a lifetime, her favourite bits about the city that never sleeps, and why she'd do it all over again.

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Can you please give a bit of background on how you snapped up this incredible speaking opportunity? 

Much to my surprise and delight, I was invited to participate in an exclusive intimate Accounting Salon in New Orleans. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t say no to, but perhaps because I’m an accountant, I needed to ensure I maximised my return on investment of visiting the USA on business. I had a standing invitation to stay with my orangilicious friend in Manhattan, and my practice fits in my handbag,  so it was an easy decision to add a week in New York to my itinerary. I could workcation there – work a little, and vacation a little.

With time in New York secured – I then wondered what opportunities I could cultivate.  

I searched for business events happening in New York during my stay, on sites like MeetUp.com, and I asked around various Digital Nomad and New York business groups on Social Media.  

I shared an iconic black and white image of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s across various social media platforms with the caption “I’m in New York 9 – 17th May. Please reach out if you’d like to catch up while I’m there.”

Within a few days, I had client inquiries from New York! Ha! This was not what I was trying to attract – but proves the power of social media, and yes, the unexpected client is in good hands.  

Fortunately, the amazeballs Kelly Gonsalves of Totally Booked responded with a two-word tweet ‘Coffee Date?’ We started talking and realised we were similar spirits, active in our local community. She kindly invited me to speak at her Accounting Technology MeetUp in New York. It was the perfect tribe and event for me to speak at, and I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

The Accounting Technology MeetUp group describes itself as an environment for the curious number/data cruncher/technophile who wants to explore the intersections between accounting, technology and entrepreneurship. It’s similar to the MeetUp group I’ve facilitated in Brisbane for the last six years, so it felt like being at home, in New York.

How did you prepare for the event (both in terms of your presentation and also, mentally and physically?) 

I reached out to the host and asked if there was anything I could do to support the event.

Recognising New York accountants and bookkeepers may face challenges and nuances that I was not aware of, I also reached out to attendees and asked if there was anything they’d specifically like me to cover. One attendee responded with a plethora of questions. What a gift! I made a complete slide deck from them. I also brought along two other presentations; one focusing on the difference between Australian and the US accounting landscape and one focused on technology tools that accountants and bookkeepers can use to provide advisory services to their clients. Don’t worry – it was not death by PowerPoint. I knew all presentations well and was able to fluidly move through them stopping to facilitate energetic discussions, to take questions on some slides and to skip other slides that may not have benefited the audience.

Leading up to the event, I promoted it on social media and contacted the few people I knew in New York to encourage a full turnout. My goal was to speak in New York if only one person turned up, I’d be happy. Fortunately, we had a full and engaged turnout.

What did you think just as you stepped on stage to present?

The event was held in a futuristic co-working space. Due to traffic, the host was late, so I had the chance to speak with many of the people attending the session. Kelly arrived with her entourage, and the largest New York pepperoni pizza’s imaginable. We ran around and helped set up the room space and presentation technology.  I hardly had the time to think of anything other than let’s get people in and comfortable and then I started.

What was your best new contact/connection made over there? 

I met diverse people from diverse backgrounds, and I learnt something from all of them. From cutting edge discussions about the possibilities of blockchain through to talking with the mother of a newborn and explaining how utilising technology gave me the flexibility to work and enjoy time at home with my kids.

An unexpected treat was that the team from the construction cloud solution Knowify were unable to attend and invited me to their offices on Wall Street for a lunch of New York bagels and coffee brewed by a guy called Vinny. Does it get better than that? Great conversation, great food, great connections.

Favourite thing about NYC? 

New York people turned out to be a lot friendlier than I’d expected. In a big fast city, many people were happy to have a chat or explain something when I looked a bit lost. Like Brisbane, the locals seemed to appreciate their city.

What’s next on your business bucket list?

I’m appreciative of the opportunities that unfolded from the trip. I was recently appointed the Chartered Accountants ANZ Ambassador for Innovation and am running a series of workshops across Australia and New Zealand which will be my first time presenting in New Zealand. I’ll keep creating educational content to help the accounting industry embrace technology solutions while enjoying a digital nomad lifestyle.

Heather Smith

is a Chartered Certified Accountant & Xero Accounting Advisor specialising in moving businesses to the cloud, improving productivity and profits. She's written six books including Xero for Dummies & Learn Small Business Start-Up in 7 Days.

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