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Australian Bookkeepers Network hears from member and author Debra Anderson. This is the first installment in a four part series as Debra shares her journey in the industry.
Hello, I’m Debra Anderson. I live in Sydney, and I’m a single mother to 2 children – Cassandra 14 and Max 12. I’m a “solopreneur”, bookkeeper, accountant, tax agent and MYOB Certified Consultant.
When ABN Director Leanne Lewis originally asked me to write this blog series I was speechless. For those of you who know me, you will understand that I was extremely humbled that the ABN team thought of my journey as worthy of sharing; worthy of being told; and worthy of being considered even remotely inspirational.
I want to be clear – this is not going to be a ‘poor me’ or a ‘feel sorry for me article’…but rather a ‘you can do it’ blog series.
This 4 part series of blog articles covers my journey from the very beginning….way before bookkeeping and right up to today which is way beyond bookkeeping. I want to share with you that it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you think you are (or aren’t), how well you did at school, your lack of qualifications or even mental health challenges – YOU’VE GOT THIS! You can do it…we all can.
Here we go!!!
Part 1 – Back to the beginning – BC….before children
I’m going to go right back to 1987 when I was doing my HSC at Parramatta High School. I know it seems like a weird place to start, but I think in order to appreciate my journey you need to know the good, the bad and some the ugly bits.
In 1987, I was 17. I was always an above average student who wasn’t a studier, I had very few friends as by nature I’m a bit of a loner but what I did have was a huge attitude. I used to rationalise this simply as me being a ‘spirited’ child, but now that I am a parent myself I realise it was just attitude at its finest!!! – in fact my mother calls my daughter ‘pay-back’, and I can’t argue with that!!!
As a result of my “spiritedness”, I was expelled from school on July 11th in my HSC year. With the HSC exams in October, needless to say it was not a good time to get expelled but it is what it is and I ended up being shipped off to another high school to finish my last 2 ½ months of school. I was made to sit the HSC exams in the principal’s office as he ran the school (taking phone calls, having meetings etc.). So it was to no surprise to anyone that I failed my HSC quite spectacularly. There went my hopes of being a teacher Can anyone else see the irony there?
So with absolutely no hope of getting into any university off to TAFE I went to learn typing – one night a week for 3 months – after which I was able to get a Government traineeship in an office. I remember the first time I was asked to ‘post’ invoices in the computer and I was like: “where do I stick them”? “Why don’t you just give them to me and I’ll take them to the post office”? “What are you talking about”? I guess that was the moment I started my journey in accounts.
I was now 18 and still “highly spirited”. I was fighting with my parents and so moved out with my boyfriend at the time. We married when I was 19. My husband was abusive to say the least – physically, verbally, emotionally and financially. He would make me write in a green ledger book every cent I spent. He would tell me how fat, ugly and stupid I was. He would hit and kick me. I was 20 years old, weighed a whole 45 kgs, wasn’t allowed to wear makeup (he wouldn’t let me) but I knew I wasn’t stupid. So I pulled out the TAFE handbook. I got to ‘A’ and saw ACCOUNTANT and thought: “that looks smart, I’ll do that. That will prove to him I’m not stupid.”
In 1991 I started my Associate Diploma in Accounting. I was working full time as a secretary and going to TAFE three nights a week. I really enjoyed TAFE and took to accounting like a duck to water – I loved it. I remember the very moment that the concept of debits and credits made sense to me. It was second semester in Accounting II. I was sitting in the back row of a classroom at North Sydney TAFE and I just let out a huge ‘Ohhhh’. I remember my teacher smiling and saying: “you just got it didn’t you?” – It feels like yesterday and still makes me smile.
By the time I was 22, the violence had become so bad that I had been in hospital numerous times. I’d already had 2 back operations, 2 wrists operations and a few concussions. It was in 1992 when I was 22 that my husband left me. Yes you read that right – he left me. Thank God, because I know if I’d have left I wouldn’t be here sharing my journey with you now.
Because of the injuries I’d sustained it took me until I was 26 to finish my TAFE course. During this time I worked for numerous big companies such as Honeywell, Estee Lauder, Elders Wool, Vittoria Coffee in various roles but always with some sort of accounts component.
At 28, I was working for Berri fruit juices and had worked my up to be manufacturing accountant. Then Berri bought National Foods and I was made redundant. I was devastated – I loved that job. What made it worse was that I couldn’t even get a job interview anywhere because, although I was technically an accountant, my qualification from TAFE wasn’t considered good enough to even get me an interview. Everyone wanted a degree-qualified person.
So, I started researching how I could convert my Associate Diploma into a degree and was disheartened that basically I wouldn’t get any credits for any of my TAFE subjects. I would have to literally start from scratch and was looking at another 3-4 years of part-time study in order to get a degree just so I could be recognised as the accountant I already was.
But I got lucky. I met someone who was doing their MBA and he was telling me all about it – it sounded awesome so I looked into it and found a University that would accept me without an undergrad as long as I could show I had some practical, real-life management experience. The experience I had at Berri was enough to get me into the course, and so down the MBA track I went.
I was now 29 and about to get married for a second time (don’t worry this guy was very different to the first husband). For almost 3 years I studied at night, worked full-time during the day and eventually, when I was 3 months pregnant with my first child, I graduated with an MBA.
It was the year 2000, just as GST was being introduced, and the accounting world as we knew it was being turned upside down. I was working for a small business who was using an accounting package that was asking for $15k to become GST compliant and we just didn’t have $15k. I was asked to review various different accounting packages to see what would suit our business, and our budget. We had 4 companies – one was a distributor of stock, one was an installation/project/job costing based business, one was a service centre that serviced all the equipment for the other two companies, and the fourth company employed all the staff.
Finding a software package to cover all these scenarios that we could afford was a challenge. At the time, my brother in-law who lived in Perth, was a MYOB consultant. I had a chat to him and he recommended I look at MYOB. After trialling it, I loved it. Because of my corporate background I had only ever used larger systems like Oracle, JD Edwards, BPCS but MYOB was really very, very clever….for the price. In fact I could make it work for all of the companies with the added bonus that it was only about $850….a far cry from the $15k the other company was asking for.
This was my first small business job in over 10 years and one thing I learned quickly was that in small business every single person counts and is needed – all hands on deck at all times. So when I had my first child I literally processed the payroll the morning before my caesarean and was back in the office within 2 weeks because the payroll and BAS was due!! I remember clearly laying Cassie on my desk and breastfeeding her in my left arm and typing with my right hand trying to get the BAS finished and lodged! For the first few months I worked 2 days a week – one from home, one in the office and a few hours here and there as and when needed.
In 2004, when I was 33 and three months pregnant with child number 2, I was made redundant. Because it was a small business, no redundancy payouts were applicable. The problem of not being qualified was now no longer an issue but the reality was that I was pregnant and no-one would employ me to doing anything.
Then one lucky day I saw a job in Sydney’s Child magazine from a bookkeeping company asking for someone to work a couple of hours a week. I applied and I got the job. I was now officially a bookkeeper…