How this small-town CA moved to Dubai, took up a job on profit sharing basis and later built a successful accounting firm
- Hi, my name is Riyas Parat a Chartered Accountant based in Dubai.
- I come from a small town (Chittariparamba, Kannur, Kerala) in India and in 2013 I moved to Dubai for better opportunities.
- My journey as an entrepreneur started in 2016 in Dubai when I started 'Alchemist Accounting' and currently, we have offices in Bahrain, Qatar and India.
- I stand testimony to the fact that even after multiple attempts in clearing CA exams and several challenges you can do well in life...if you are ready to work hard to equip yourself!
- Here is my story of how a small-town boy who struggled quite a bit to clear CA is now running a successful Accounting firm in Dubai with offices in 3 countries.
An average student can become a Chartered Accountant too!
After class 10, I decided to take the commerce stream just because I did not like science!
With absolute zero guidance and no career plans, I was totally clueless as to what I was going to do in my life. In a way, this allowed me to choose what I wanted to do with a lot of freedom. Yeah, when seeing many parents pressurizing their kids to do what they want them to do, I should say that I was lucky enough not to have anything imposed upon me.
When I was 21, after my graduation, along with 2 of my friends Afsal & Shybinth, I decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy from ICAI, India.
But why CA? Out of all the finance qualifications in India CA was the most valued and affordable option!
When I planned to register for CA, I had absolutely no idea what a Chartered Accountant does. In fact, I met a Chartered Accountant for the first time when I started attending classes at Bangalore...and then I realised that I was on the right track!
Was it an easy journey? I will be a liar if I say that my CA journey was very easy and smooth! Every day was jampacked with classes, studies, articles training. Living away from family was another challenge that I had to face. I did take multiple attempts to clear my CA exams. Yes, you read it right!
The course was tough and I felt I was being molded as a complete person to manage multiple things at a time withstanding pressure from different angles.
My story is an apt example that will show you that academic excellence alone does not bring success in life...it takes much more than that!
Starting my career in the UAE and opting for a 'profit-sharing' based job
Once I became a Chartered Accountant, I wanted to make it big. With that intention, I applied for a visit visa and came job hunting to Dubai in the year, 2013.
I chose Dubai for two reasons. Firstly, I have a few family members and friends in Dubai. My second and important reason was that the UAE is a place where people from more than 150 countries work & live. You can enjoy working with different nationalities with different cultures.
I attended several interviews. Then, one day I met a person who offered me to join him on a license sharing basis! It meant that I would earn a commission based on my work...there was no fixed income.
Dubai is anyways a very expensive city and taking a job with no fixed income was a risk. But I was young and hungry to grow and learn so I felt that this would be the right time to explore!
In hindsight, I always wanted to have a practice of my own and I felt that this would be a good opportunity to try my hand at practice without the hassle of finding clients! So, without any hesitation, I took up the offer!
Of course, I confided my good friend Noufal (he is now COO & Partner of Alchemist) who helped me to make my decision faster.
Working in Dubai without a fixed income was a challenge. I would earn roughly 2,000 Dirhams per month which was enough for my survival! In my head, this was just an extension of my article life...so I did not have any expectations! The only difference was: there is no exam pressure. Whew! What a relief it was.
Launching my own firm in Dubai - Alchemist Accounting
After almost 2 years on the commission-based consulting job, I was ready to venture out on my own.
As much I was confident about starting my own firm, I knew that I could always look for a job if my entrepreneurship attempt failed to take off!
I also knew that if I opted for employment, I would get complacent and it would be even more difficult to come out of the comfort zone later and take the risk of starting my own practice. So it was more of a now or never kind of situation.
Keeping all this in mind, in Dec 2015 I started Alchemist Accounting.
When I decided to start my own, the very first thing I did was to write down the answer to the question, “Where will we fit in the market?”
Since hiring an external auditor / professional in UAE is not required by law except for a few circumstances, our role was optional in most of the companies! So, unless our work brings real value addition to the company, we become redundant. I knew that from day one, it was very important to make a positive impact on every single client.
I listed all the functional areas where we could contribute as a consultant and help the client to grow. This helped me focus on my strengths and articulate the same instead of beating around the bush while meeting a prospective client.
And that's how we started.
Timeline and growth curve of Alchemist Accounting
- I started marketing myself among the circle of acquaintances and friends 3 months before I even obtained the license.
- I spent the fee I collected from the jobs I executed during this period for the incorporation expenses.
Renting an office on a shared basis
- I rented an office on a shared basis in a prime location of Dubai.
- I have observed that having an office in a good location speaks for itself when you meet new clients!
- The initial assignments I got were through referrals from friends. I made sure that I got at least one reference from each client I served.
- Once you make the client happy, he will happily refer another person to you. There is no better brand ambassador than a happy client. And there is no better advertisement than the word of mouth reference.
- I used to attend a lot of events such as seminars, conferences and exhibitions. It helped me to expand my networking circle.
- This year, I hired only one team member and served 50+ clients.
Growing the team
- Our team expanded to five people including me.
- It is no easy task to get skilled team members at the initial stage. It is quite natural that the talented people will consider the growth perspective, team strength, the lifeline of the company etc. So new firms are not an attractive option for them.
- To overcome this challenge, I preferred people from my known circle. Every member of my team came forth for my sake, rather than my company.
Investing in various tools/ technology
- This was our growing stage and we started investing in more tools for team management, time planning and communication.
- In 2018, we opened branches in Qatar and Bahrain.
- The team strength had grown to 12 by the year-end.
- We took the decision to open the office in Qatar due to a call from one of our clients in Dubai. They were planning to open a branch in Qatar and they wanted us to manage the accounting of the same. We submitted the proposal and it got approved. We started our incorporation process after our first job in hand. Woohoo!
- We started our support office in Bangalore and by the end of the year, the total team strength became 18.
Questions I get asked most often.
"Challenges I faced as a founder and how I overcame them?"
The best thing in Dubai is that ‘your work speaks for you’...your qualification, age, nationality, and experience are secondary to the quality of work. However, I did face my share of challenges!
- My first challenge in getting new clients was my age. I was 29 when I started. People expect to see a person with grey hair when they are looking for a finance professional. To overcome this, whenever I had a prospective client, I would push for meetings instead of sending a profile/introduction mail. I was confident that once they meet me, they will realise I have the ability to deliver. It would also give me an opportunity to convince them!
- The second challenge (I believe this is where most of the first-time entrepreneurs fail) was to manage business development and execution of the current assignments. Managing both together is really tough, take it from me.
"How to build a team for your business."
We are constantly learning and evolving as new team members come in. So it is essential to recruit the right person who will fit in.
We try to adopt different methodologies in shortlisting, and we monitor the outcome of the same.
I think every company may take around 3 – 5 years in shaping a standard process and ranking matrix for adding a new team member.
"Lessons learnt when building a business."
1. Study the client first.
- The first lesson I learned is to 'understand the client before understanding the proposed job'.
- Some clients may have the intention to outsource their accounting work and will ask us to come once in a week to manage that. However, the real situation would require two accountants to manage the work smoothly! So, at times, the client might underestimate the requirement of the job. Caution should be taken while proposing and defining the scope of work.
2. Learn to Delegate
- Say, you have a commitment to deliver a job today afternoon and at the same time you have 2 meetings with prospective clients, scheduled for the day. Which one would you prioritize? This is where delegation comes in. From the very beginning, I started delegating the job and controlled my temptation to get involved in every aspect of the job.
- Define the objective and delegate the job, then discuss the fulfillment of the objectives. It helped me to develop the skill of macro-management.
"Tips to market your Accounting & Consulting firm."
- The first meeting with the prospective client is very important as it is similar to the trailer of a movie. Unless you are able to instill confidence in the client, you cannot take it to the next level.
- Critical questions can be expected in the first meeting...so it is better to choose your opening batsman wisely!
- Since we are finance professionals, we tend to use a lot of financial jargon with our clients! This is fine if the other person is from the finance background...but not all business owners/directors are from the finance background!
- They don’t care whether the cash flow statement is prepared using a direct method or indirect method, all they care about is the impact of cash flow! So, in the first meeting convey your message using simple terms!
"Rejections can happen mainly due to 3 reasons."
- Proposed Fee: If the prospective client says that the proposed fee is much higher than they expected, we try to address the concern by revising the scope of work or sharing the workload with the client team member. If the client is not convinced still, we accept the rejection.
- Company profile: Prospect may be expecting to hire a company with a different profile than us. In this situation, there is no option other than to accept the rejection.
- Team capability: If the rejection happens due to the non-availability of a certain skill set with our team members, we take note of it and try to get it developed and we make sure that we don’t lose similar assignments in the future.
"Should you quit your job to start your own?"
Frankly speaking, I cannot recommend either option – job or practice.
I remember people telling me that 'they want to start their own as their current job has a lot of work pressure!' In my opinion, this is not a strong reason to start your own!
Coming out of a comfortable job and 'starting from Zero' is difficult. When you start your own journey, you are the salesman, office boy, manager, junior accountant and even the receptionist. So the work pressure is going to be even and now you are responsible to pay your staff as well!
My advice to those who would like to start practicing is this:
- Improve your marketing skills. By marketing skills, I don’t mean ‘the advertisement skills.’
- Learn how to present yourself, how to win a client successfully,
- How to negotiate
- And at last, how to retain the existing clients.
If you know how to play by the rules, it does not matter where you start a business, in your home country or abroad...you will succeed!
Riyas Parat is a Chartered Accountant from ICAI, India, and the founder of Alchemist Accounting. He is known for helping companies in building an effective and efficient 'Accounting & Finance' Division, Leading business entities in their journey from 'small to big' by identifying KPI and tracking the roads and tools to achieve the goal.