In this Episode of The Go For Growth Show, I interview Rob Nixon the Founder of Panalitix. Rob shares his story about growing a highly profitable services business, and then pivoting into software development and entering multiple geographic markets at once. Rob shares his insights into what works when selling into Australia, USA, UK and Scandinavia. Also the author of 3 best selling books, Rob explains the way he approaches writing and the benefits of publishing. If you are interested in converting your services business into something scalable and saleable, entering a new market or writing a book then watch this now.
Rob Nixon, Panalitix
Mark Engelmann: Hello everyone, welcome to this episode of the Go For Growth Show. My name's Mark Engelmann, and I will be your host today. I'm very excited to have Rob Nixon, the founder of Panalitix, with us. Welcome to the show, Rob.
Rob Nixon: Great to be here, Mark. Happy to contribute.
Mark Engelmann: Great. So, we'll get straight into things, Rob. Presently you're the founder of Panalitix, which started as the Proactive Accountants Network ... Proactive Accountants Network has been operating since 2005, and that business is predominantly a service business, or was predominantly a service business. Can you tell me about your journey with Proactive Accountants Network and how it's sort of transitioned into Panalitix?
Rob Nixon: Yeah, sure. So, the services business was going great ... very profitable, but we found a problem with it, and that was it wasn't scalable. In 2013, we had an offer to be acquired, and anyways that fell in a heap, and what we realised was that the services business that we had, the style that we had, A. Was not scalable and B. Was not saleable. And so, we had a bit of technology, and we decided in late 2013 to finish it out and see will the market buy it, around the world. So, 2014 we launched our first app, and then late '14 we rebranded the whole company for private accounts, The word 'Panalitix' meaning Predictive Analytics also the greek word for "All" being Pan all-analytics and that's how it came to be. So the last three years, we've transformed a services business into an online business and now we've got clients, and our clients are accounting firms in 11 countries consuming content and technology rather than just having one country is consuming our services
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, fantastic and I you know I followed up sort of a little bit removed, but I followed sort of the journey of Panalitix and from an outsider’s point of view and certainly my point of view it's appeared like you've tried to or you've entered multiple geographical markets almost all at the same time. One thing that I sort of find really interesting is how did you go about that and how did you decide which markets you should enter, which ones you should stay away from, which ones you do now, which ones you'll leave for later. How do you sort of work that out as a...
Rob Nixon: Well so our first market was Australia, New Zealand and that's where we've been for many, many years and we've always had our eye on America though and America because of the way they operate with Australia as far as our clients go, the size and scale of course and also the UK and by chance are we now also in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland and about to be Norway. So this has all happened very quickly, 18 months ago we just launched in the USA and we basically simultaneously launched in the UK as well and then this time, sorry, six months ago we launched in Sweden and next week in fact we launch in Finland and very soon after Norway and so yeah there's a simultaneous things going on all over the place. It is interesting to say the least, we've got a back-office team in the Philippines, we've got a team in Brisbane and we've got a team in San Diego and sole one person in the UK at the moment and a team of three in Sweden and about to have a team of two in Finland starting on Monday I believe.
So yeah, it's been an interesting journey and along the way we've raised capital you know to build a sort of company so we've raised a lot of capital with a lot of shareholders and many of our clients shareholders in fact 112 of our clients have put in a lot of money to help us go to business so that's pretty cool support from our client base and they dragged along 50 of their clients as well so we've got a very unique shareholder base as well as client base, but all the clients are accounting firms and we help them build their businesses, we help them grow and develop and a run a really competitive business, so that's the quick summary there Mark.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah great and have you found that out from the sales and marketing point of view, have you found the same tactics work in different geographical markets?
Rob Nixon: So far yes.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah okay.
Rob Nixon: So far, yeah. Lead with content marketing and build brand with content, relevant webinars and seminars and dial for dollars, you know run performance reviews and to see if it fits, build presentation, close the deal. So that's been ... that's basically the way we've done it.
Mark Engelmann: Yep.
Rob Nixon: You know in the countries that we are.
Mark Engelmann: So, have you found any, are there any sort of marked differences between say working in the Australian market compared to the US market for example.
Rob Nixon: Absolutely as to, accountants because that's brand.
Mark Engelmann: Yep
Rob Nixon: The attitude in the USA is a vastly different attitude to Australia this success can do attitude over there is fantastic and you know they want you to succeed they want to succeed themselves there is not the tall poppy syndrome that we see in Australia and New Zealand that I've seen so far is in the USA and in still in the UK, But definitely not in the USA, they're enthusiastic and they see what we've got we've got is unique and different, they've never seen it before and they embrace it and they get stuck into it and so it's an attitudinal thing is that I've noticed in the USA and, and there are a delight to do business with.
They are very contract bound though. They know when their contract date is up for renewal, where typically the Australian is a bit more relaxed and basic about that, and so there's little differences there, they're prepared to pay, which Australians do, as well and I've noticed is the Americans work massive hours, they work crazy, crazy hours. You know Australians work good hours, you know we're hard workers. But the length of hours that the Americans, do in their corporate life and business life is insane you know, just insane like I am talking 30, 40, 50% more than a standard Australian
Mark Engelmann: Yeah wow. Is that for better or for worse do you think?
Rob Nixon: Well we get in there and say look you are working too hard and you're making enough money we'll show you how to work less and make more money and they like that pitch, they grind it out and it's not uncommon to see our clients contribute ask questions on our Facebook boards, our number one brand value is ‘Outlaw’; so our ‘Outlaws’ page and they're on there on the weekends, constantly on there on the weekends like why are you in the office? why are you thinking about work? And then you go to somewhere like Sweden in which we spent a lot of time with in the last eight months or so and very, very 35-hour week and very, you know take the time off, take the month off and you know if you want, completely different again so there’s a couple of changes that you just have to get used to.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. And how do you find selling to the Scandinavians?
Rob Nixon: So, interesting I was given a book on my first week in Sweden, my first full week of doing business over there ... and the book basically I read it on the way home, I wish I was given the book at the start and, and the book was how to do business with Swedes and basically, very beautiful culture, very lovely people but They don't like saying yes, alright so an American would say a black or white yes or no, right? and Australia will as well, a British person I found out will it be nice but you know just not make a decision. But just getting a decision out of this Swedes, has been very ... they just don't want to offend because they're such nice people and, so you know yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, will do it, okay so here's a form or charge kind of thing sign it or fill in details and they just stop.
So that's been hard to come to terms with, just give me an answer are you in? Yes, well where's your credit card? Sign the document fill in the details, away we go. So yeah, it's been interesting, but they have embraced it which is cool.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah great and you've just outlined 1,2 ... 5 different regions of the world that are kind of similar but not, what tips do you have for anyone and any of our listeners that might be looking at different geographical markets, what tips would you have for them?
Rob Nixon: Yes, so first of all the USA and the UK and were direct markets for us, set up shop and we made an acquisition in the US, A small acquisition that had a client base that we could leverage off and grow, that has been a very successful acquisition.
And that gave us a jumpstart in the US and that gave us a very small monthly .... you know we're a subscription base so bought a subscription business and in the US, that gave us and some database as well and then we tried to grind that out and that's been great and in the UK we went direct and I didn't have anyone to piggyback off so that's been a bit of a grind.
Now when we got to the Nordic countries, and that's actually a joint-venture with another company that sell to the same market they sell different things but own the markets you know, very large software company that owns the market in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, so you know we're piggybacking off their customer base and getting their people to work with us.
So, tips just do it, find a partner if you can, a partner is always good. You know one thing before we entered the USA, we shot some bullets rather than cannonballs Jim Collins would say and ran a lot of Webinars, I had some people help us to fill those webinars so what's the mood here.
Mark Engelmann: Yep
Rob Nixon: Then when we officially launched, with that small acquisition and we attended some trade shows, got the chance to speak at a number of trade shows and then organised our own events as well. Grabbed ourselves a database, virtual database with some content, cleaned that database up and then just got on with it ... you realise how small Australia is when you get to the USA and start doing business you see how big and vast that is. Been stuck in Australia for 20 years and now it's a big wide world, let's not discount Australia but realising that our growth particularly for my business in the USA specifically.
Mark Engelmann: Yep, yep so Australia is probably a good testing ground for new ideas and before you launch in the States
Rob Nixon: Yeah, yeah, look in my space, Australian accounting firms are definitely faster off the bat and with the technology especially with different methods but the Americans are catching up you know.
In a lot of cases very traditional, quite Conservative sometimes I so you've got a work around that and different states in the USA. Different operating different beliefs and you know, different values, different speeds you know big difference in between East, West and Central and you've just gotta get used to that
Mark Engelmann: Yep, yeah cool, so talk to me about software development that's pretty complicated, difficult, you know really frustrating thing sometimes how did you pivot from like Business strategy that was focused on delivering a service and delivering coaching to one that delivers the software platform? How did you sort of approach is that with Panalitix and what were the challenges?
Rob Nixon: It was very painful, and we made a fundamental mistake and, and we didn't hire a serious software geek who knew what he or she was doing. So, consequently our first effort where we had a BPO in India with 56 developers and not knowing what we were doing, and we invested learned experience, millions of dollars, You know 100 grand a month was not uncommon type of thing.
And, really all that project that was trashed so that's gone. The turning point for us was when we hired a lead technology person because I myself and my business partner Cullen we are not techos you know and, so we have wasted, invested, whatever you want to call it, a lot of money and by not having the right head of development, you know and understanding that.
So, if anyone is going to do it and you're not a techo find someone who is and in my experience and they can hire the team and give very, very crystal-clear instructions on what they're doing we're still building you know ...
Mark Engelmann: Yeah.
Rob Nixon: The technology's expensive. Service companies easy get them started on a credit card and nothing basically you're a business. Technology companies, vastly different animal, they're capital intensive, labor-intensive and often you've got to spend a lot of money before you get a big return so yeah, it's a painful experience it was but it's worked out okay.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, I think getting that sort of those requirements documented right up front in sort of a clear way so that the developers can start working with the plan and a pathway forward is really important isn't it?
Rob Nixon: Sure. Absolutely.
Mark Engelmann: Alright cool, so along with this really interesting pivot that you've done with Panalitix you've also written quite a few books and how many have you written so far Rob?
Rob Nixon: Three so far and never say never but I hopefully about three and that's it. First one came around in 2011 called "Accounting practises don't add up and why they don't know what to do about it". Second one came out in 2015 called "Remaining Relevant: A future of the Accounting Profession". Third one came out a couple of months back called "The Perfect Firm". And this thing is like a thesis, it's like a textbook, a manual, a playbook, whatever you want to call it's 387 pages a kilogramme of. It's like a weapon this thing so yeah.
I actually wrote the last one as a legacy book and everything I've learned about working at accounting firms is in there and, and you know it's number one all over the world which is pretty cool. Categories first month so the books are a marketing tool and don't expect to make any money out of the books.
The books are a credibility building tool as well are big credibility building so I friend of mine taught me how to write a book. Banged out three and I'm a slow. Man, I'm a slow typer like 20 words a minute. And each book takes me about eighty to a hundred hours of typing time.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah right and so what's the process you go through when I when you decide you make the decision right now I'm gonna write a book and I'm going to write about this what do you do then?
Rob Nixon: Yeah sure so first of all writing books, if you are attempting to be a brand of some sort if your subject matter expert writing books really puts a stamp on that and there's a lot of good reasons to write a book. It's not as hard as everyone thinks it is. It is definitely time consuming and but it's not that hard.
So first of all, a fatal mistake, and I've had done this three times in a row on all three books, is to lock out time in the diary. Like two or three-hour blocks and knowing how long it's going to take. A book might be 50,000 words and how long is it going to take you to type 50,000 words and you know and so with research time if you need it?
It you know so for me the latest one was close to 100,000 words and but most around 50,000. So, the first thing is to lock out time in your diary sacrificing time, writing time and you are right there to punch out words right. Two or three hours of a block. I am not a Mac user and I'm a PC, so my battery life is not as great and the way I would do it is to take my laptop and my PC to a cafe. And and when the battery went flat, and I was done so so that was my little start.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah.
Rob Nixon: And so, first thing is to block out time. Second thing is to do the outline. Think of a book as chapters, 10 chapters let's say, and you may have a title in mind for the overall book in but that changes as well. I know mine changed extremely in this last one and write the chapters.
So, you want to design the architects of the book first. You don't start writing first at all. You design your chapters and you say okay first chapter one, you call this chapter 2, this chapter 3, and this etc.
Then with in the chapter you design four to five sub chapters. Four to Five sub chapters that lead into the total chapter. You know particularly writing a business book where is it doesn't really have to flow chapter to chapter. Every chapter on its own could be a standalone.
So, 10 or 12 chapters, 4 to 5 key points per chapter so literally do the skeleton first and then you write an article per point, per sub point. So, and the article could be 1000 to 1200 words.
So, you'll write an article about that particular piece, and you write another one, and you write, another one and you write another, and pretty quickly if you've got you know 12 chapters and four points each that's 48 articles, 1000 words each that's 1200 and you've got 50,000 words. You have a 200-page book right there. So, and if you work it out okay, how long's it take to write an article of a 1,000 to 1,200 thousand words, you might crunch that out in you know maybe an hour and a half or for me a little bit slower, two okay and you can chunk it right down like that.
Then you just get busy. You whine through it. Now, fatal mistake, which I've done three times in a row, is not keeping the momentum going. Locking out the time in the diary did all that. Then I get started, and I did this three times in a row and I've stopped.
The stop might be for two, three, four or five weeks. Then it's so, for me, so hard to pick it up again, right if you gonna commit to it and you knock it out over period of time it could be three months two or three months and you might put in every second day 2 or 3 hours or whatever it is and pretty quickly if you need 100 hours you need 50 blocks of two if you’re a quicker typer you might do 60 hours and that's 20 blocks of three for example and just hunk it out.
First of all, you do the skeleton just like building a building you do the drawing first.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah.
Rob Nixon: And what I found in a lot of budding authors is they start writing first right. No, no, no, no, no, I was taught by a guy that's already written 56 books you do the skeleton first and then you start filling in the blanks. You can also jump around it doesn't mean you have to do chapter one and chapter two you could go chapter one, chapter six, and then come back to three.
Mark Engelmann: Yep and so what's been the benefit to you now that you've got three books what's ...
Rob Nixon: It's a like a massive business card.
Mark Engelmann: Yep.
Rob Nixon: I've got speaking engagements. I've got a lot of speaking engagements on the back of books. Speaking engagements lead to other opportunities. You know, clients and other speaking engagements and people buy the books which is great but there is no money in books unless you're a, you know world famous author and you sell a half million of them.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah. Yep. Sure.
Rob Nixon: Business books if you sell 5 or 10,000 then great but it's what the credibility it builds that it brings you. You know so, it's a credibility builder, a brand builder and you know the thing you get from it is that speaking engagements help you promote your business.
Mark Engelmann: Yes great. Alright well thanks Robert we're almost nearing the end of the interview. Second to last question. What’s your number one tip for business owners and entrepreneurs looking to grow their business?
Rob Nixon: Number one? Only one?
Mark Engelmann: You can give me your top three if you like.
Rob Nixon: Growth it's an interesting ...
Mark Engelmann: That means different things to everyone.
Rob Nixon: Yeah top line, bottom line, whatever geographic or whatever. I think there's three things to consider for growth for business, for those who are watching.
Number one is, what is the brand all about? You know, what do you stand for? How do you curate that brand? Number two is understanding your target market and database. Who are you going for? Be very, very specific, like we have a niche market we only work with accounting firms. There are 1.27 million accounting firms in the world. We're a global expert in and about them. That's our brand of helping them.
Number three is activity. You know, do lots of activity, direct response activity, marketing webinars, emails, seminars, you know whatever is appropriate to get to your target market.
I find a lot of people are not crystal clear about target market. You can do all the wheel spinning all the promotion under the sun, but not really crystal-clear targeting niche markets, demographics, psychographics of understanding who it is you're actually targeting. Because all the marketing growth sales activities under the sun will be far more fruitful if you know exactly who it is you're after.
So yeah, brand database and activity.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah. Great advice couldn't agree more. So last question. Have you used any new technology apps or services recently that have really assisted you in saving time within your business?
Rob Nixon: We've been 100% cloud since 2010 or 2011.
Mark Engelmann: Yep.
Rob Nixon: So, always in different apps for clouds integrates. Love zoom that you’re using here Mark, use it every day. Zoom is amazing. You can run zoom on a 3G connection, basically free.
Rob Nixon: World class video conferencing, you know, zoom is great. You know, I don't have to do phone calls anymore it's always a zoom call. I’m outside with my ipad right now, as an example.
Zoom. Zoom's great and just looking at, gotta be cloud of course, you know the way, tools that will help you go faster. What is gonna help you, your business, your people go faster, more efficiency and get the job done. We have 50 or 60 apps that we use all the time.
They're all connected through one single sign on portal. We're mobile. We've got people all over the world. People travelling all the time, so we've got to have tech that makes us mobile.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah.
Rob Nixon: There's not one piece that I think. It's more so just looking at technology that makes you more efficient. More efficiency means less people to hire. Less people to hire means less cost. More efficiency means speed. Speed is the name of the game.
So many businesses out there, their technology is disrupting them so why not be the disruptor and use technology to help you.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah. No, great advice, great advice. Alright Rob, well thank you for your time, that's all the questions I have for you.
Rob Nixon: Thank you.
Mark Engelmann: Thank you and I’ll talk soon.
Rob Nixon: All the best, thanks Mark.