Accountant, author, speaker, husband, father and Director of Franchise & Business Services of BNR Partners Jason Bertalli believes that there's no such thing as work-life balance. Instead, it is more about integrating work into life better. He has learned to bring together his varying interests and enjoy them in their entirety throughout his entrepreneurial journey.
Jason grew up doing odd jobs. He sold cars and other products, drove trucks, worked for a dry cleaner and did several other roles. With little opportunity in his small town, he moved to Melbourne to study and work. Even when he went to university, he still worked full-time to earn some reasonably good cash to support him. Because of his love for money, he eventually decided to take up accounting.
Notwithstanding that he is obsessed with money, Jason also credits his father’s entrepreneurial background as an inspiration to him. “My father had several small businesses when I was growing up. He was self-employed as a contractor quite often and ran his own companies and bits and pieces. So, I think that had an influence as well.”
After he graduated accounting at the age of 30, Jason worked for a year and a half before he went about acquiring a business with three other business partners. Although it was more of an acquisition than a startup, he still found that the change from employee to entrepreneur was something that was not often discussed. “When I got into the process, I would either sink or swim. Working for a business is a lot different than growing a business,” he narrates as he cites the challenges they had during the early days.
As a business owner, he understood the need to work differently, whether in hours spent or in mindset. They had years wherein they worked silly hours trying to get ahead of the game. They did this as they started the next stage of growth with some side projects and startups. Jason emphasises that there are sacrifices to be made when running your own business, but the reward is unparallel.
Like most businesses, cash flow is a constant concern. “Probably, it’s the perceived business risk and the stress of not having a consistent paycheck every week. (The income) is usually great, but sometimes it can get tight. The business owner is the last person to get paid all the time,” Jason points out.
When they were starting out as business owners, they had little idea how to lead or manage staff. In Jason’s case, he had to grasp the reality that most people are not like him. He shares his realisation, “They aren't me. They're different. The hard part was accepting the differences in people and learning how to relate to them and manage them based on their personalities, not mine. For example, I used to have an absolute hatred of people who weren't early for meetings. So my approach then was very hard, whereas now I'd be chill about it. You've got to learn tolerance and learn that other people are different.”
Over the years and as he learned more, Jason made adjustments to the way he was doing things, including managing and motivating his team. “It took me a while to learn this. I've implemented a very flat management structure with my team. I involve my team in decision-making. It is not just me telling them what to do because I'm the boss. Actually, half the time, it is them telling me what to do because I'm the boss. It increases the buy-in and makes them very loyal to their posts.”
Jason admits that at the start, they tried to be everything to everybody. But things would get messy and would entail more hard work for them. Now, they are a little more open to taking expert advice if they need to. They no longer pretend to know everything.
In addition to those challenges, another major ordeal they had to hurdle in their business was decision-making. There’s a saying that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” With several heads sitting as business partners, it was difficult to arrive at a decision, since they were running the business like a council. It was then inevitable for the partnership to dissolve due to irreconcilable differences.
When the partnership dissolution took place in 2013, Jason and one of the business partners kept their partnership, moved to a new office and went to an entirely different area. They then renamed their company as BNR Partners. One of the good things that came out of this experience was EO Melbourne. “My business partner and I looked at each other and said, ‘We both think alike. We need someone who's gonna challenge us,’ so we went searching for that sort of environment,” he recounts.
They were choosing between EO Melbourne and another organisation but they found that EO was a better fit with their values and business culture. They joined in 2014 and found it as a rich source of support, inspiration and education, including the good social network within EO. In fact, if he would do things all over again, one of the things he would do is to develop his professional network and support network a lot faster. Jason sees the value in professional affiliates like accounting associations and EO because they provided lots of support to him, his company and his clients.
EO Melbourne, in particular, has given him a lot. “I would encourage people to join as early as they can. I think the whole methodology of sharing experiences and not opinions have actually changed the way I run my business in relation to my clients. I've now become more of a storyteller than a dictator to my clients. With my stories, they can associate with me while I build relationships with them.”
Focusing on their clients, they endeavour to provide good customer service by addressing their client’s pain points. The two common pain points are financial education and not being able to connect with a supplier. As part of their best practices, Jason and his team teach their clients about the financial aspect of the business, providing absolute transparency in what they do. Part of that transparency is not being scared to take a phone call or return a call. Jason personally meets with their bigger clients monthly or quarterly and helps them understand the financial side of the business.
Why Jason is so dedicated and committed to his clients is because his passion lies in helping people financially for them to make more money or protect their money. “I always had this obsession with money, whether it's mine or somebody else's. It makes me feel good to see other people get ahead.”
Jason’s clients have been with him for quite some time. Apart from the reality that clients for accounting firms are relatively sticky, Jason has also developed a friendship with them. He gets invited to their birthday parties and weddings. He knows their children and has seen them grow up.
Throughout his entrepreneurial voyage, Jason regards flexibility as a major advantage of being an entrepreneur. He gets to spend more time with his family, doing activities with his wife and their eight-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. Plus, he still runs a successful business at the same time. That’s how he injects work with life. “You work hard, but it's flexible. You do more hours and more work, but you can do it at times that suit you.”
Enjoying life as a whole meant being able to venture into several activities that matter most to Jason. He gets into running or he teaches his children basketball. Apart from work and family, he also loves motorbikes and scuba diving, which are the two ways he meditates, especially that both activities make him unreachable by phone. On top of all these, Jason also writes, he gives talks and he wears several hats as well.
How does the future hold for Jason? He sees himself in a semi-retirement life some years ahead. While he will move to sit on the board and less on the day-to-day management function, he still wants to retain the client relations role because most of his clients are also his friends.
Looking at his entire entrepreneurial journey from a bird’s eye-view, he cannot see himself doing anything else apart from running his own business. "I can't imagine myself to be different than what I do. I can probably be a surf bum on a beach especially when the sun's out," he jokes. Then he turns serious, "No, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. It feels like it's my natural spot."
So, here’s his piece of advice to those aspiring to be one someday: “Ensure that your business is enhancing your lifestyle or you lose the passion. I had ups and downs but I never lost the drive to be in business. I get major pressure points but they never last too long.”
Jason often goes on vacations and scuba trips but he still logs in remotely, answers emails and attends to emergencies. While these are some of the sacrifices he makes for being a business owner instead of an employee, he sees this as more of an integration of everything he loves doing. This is what life is all about and the wholeness of it is where his happiness lies.