How one business evolved into a “firm of the future”
October is Canada’s Women’s History Month. It’s a time to celebrate and recognize the achievements of trailblazing women who have shaped our country, community and way of life. This year’s theme is “Make Your Mark”, which definitely rings true for all the women who found their voice, pursued their passion and claimed their place in history in the past 150 years.
So join us as we feature some inspirational women who are part of the TSheetsPRO community, our 15,000-strong network of successful, innovative and inspiring accountants and bookkeepers. This is our way of honouring them for being the amazing entrepreneurs, leaders, advisors and visionaries they are.
Life is never easy
Going into the new millennium did not fare well for Juliet Aurora.
Professionally, the company she was working for was bought out by an international conglomerate and would be moving to the US. Personally, she was going through a messy divorce, coping as a single mother and hating that her young daughter was spending so much time in daycare. She felt every little bit of control she had in her life was slipping away.
Being self-employed was the last thing on her mind, but she felt she had few options.
“It was soon after 9/11 and I didn’t feel that the political scene was conducive enough for us to move,” Juliet said. “I could either throw myself into running my own business and have the freedom to spend time with my daughter, or I could pound the pavement and find another job.”
Juliet chose to start Aurora International Services, in the spare bedroom of her house in Toronto. She used her last name because it made her sound bigger and stronger. She’s been AIS Solutions’ fearless leader and sensei for the past 16 years.
In that time, AIS Solutions has been named Intuit Canada’s 2017 Firm of the Future and received the 2016 IPBC Bookkeeping Firm of the Year as well as the 2015 Burlington Small Business Excellence award.
But at the time, Juliet remembered not being ambitious or visionary in any way. “I was just a mom who needed to do something for her daughter, to read her stories whenever she wanted.” She gave herself six months to try, which was all the funds she had to go on.
It was do-or-die time. This is Juliet’s story.
The myths, the struggles, the enlightenment
There are so many misconceptions about starting your own business. People think it’s easy. There’s less work for more rewards. As Juliet found out, this is not the case.
“You are responsible for the livelihood of others,” she said. “It keeps you up at night wondering how you will make payroll. I cringe every time I hear someone say entrepreneurs have the freedom to work so little and make so much money. Imagine putting everything on the line with no guarantee of success or reward.”
But Juliet did find success. Her first client was her former employer. Her second was a referral. Her third was her real estate agent, and her fourth was a friend. Though business didn’t take off overnight, her clientele grew thanks to word-of-mouth marketing. She took on any job that had anything to do with numbers.
By 2003, she had built her own website. By 2005, she was hiring subcontractors. But the business was still run from home and it would remain this way for the next five years. Juliet decided an office space was necessary when she could finally afford to separate her home life from her work life.
“Work-life balance was a myth,” she explained. “It didn’t exist. There was no separation for me. I didn’t have the personality or the discipline to ever turn it off. Having an office in my home meant waking up and going to bed in the office.”
In 2010, Juliet rented an office space in Burlington. The new overhead only added to the sleepless nights. But there was no turning back now. Juliet also hired a full-time staff and installed an infrastructure to create secure channels for their clients. Aurora International Solutions was re-branded as AIS Solutions. The firm was ready to take on the bookkeeping world by storm, or so Juliet thought.
She soon realized she’d created a system in which nothing could run without her. She was still always connected to work and could not recall what a vacation felt like. She wasn’t spending more time with her daughter either. The reason she started had been lost along the way.
“I was the bottleneck because I needed everything to go through me, instead of getting out of the way and empowering my team instead,” Juliet said. “Our service suffered. Our clients suffered. My business suffered.”
Something had to give, and it came in the form of a success coach.
“Hiring a success coach in 2011 made me realize how we must change the core fundamentals of our business operations,” she said. “I had been hiring for skills instead of my business’ values and goals. So all I got was an able person who did the minimum of what was required and that’s it. Now, we hire team members and I have faith in every single person to do everything that is needed and more.”
Juliet went from never taking a vacation to taking a two-week getaway where she was able to disconnect completely. She didn’t answer a single email or phone call from the office. The business functioned. The clients were looked after, and the experience empowered Juliet’s team to work stronger together.
Juliet firmly believes her team and their focus on sharing knowledge distinguishes AIS from others. The AIS team knows there are always better ways to improve in-office and client processes. And when client processes improve, so does AIS.
Juliet decided to look for these same qualities in business partners as well. “I think the most important reason we went with TSheets was for the company culture I had seen Matt Rissell build,” she said. “It’s always been an inspiration and what I hope for with my firm. My motto is to always do business with those I like and respect. TSheets embodies that completely.”
What’s next for AIS Solutions?
In 2015, a large accounting firm offered a generous buyout to AIS Solutions. The decision to take or reject the offer ultimately came down to the pride of knowing how far they’ve come and all they’ve built. So instead of selling, the team decided to double-down.
The same year, Juliet created Kninja with Steve Loates, her partner and Marketing Shogun at AIS Solutions. An education and learning platform, Kninja the firm’s way of giving back to the bookkeeping industry, where businesses are primarily home-based, and hopefully accelerate the path to success and spare others of their lows.
“It isn’t easy, and it can be scary,” Juliet said. “There are days and months and years when you just want to slam the doors shut and hide in a corner. But hang in there and don’t give up. All is possible and it’s worth it.”
More about Juliet Aurora
Did you like this story? Be sure to check back this next week as we continue to celebrate the female entrepreneurs in Canada! Have your own story to share? Drop us a note!