Small practice dreams big in Ballarat

Derek Grima CPA set up Ballarat-based BeFinancial, an accounting and business solutions practice

Ballarat local Derek Grima CPA wants to give small businesses brilliant service. He set up his own practice to do just that.

Derek Grima CPA isn’t afraid to dream big and work hard. Last year, aged 31, he set up BeFinancial, an accounting and business solutions practice in Victoria’s busy regional hub of Ballarat. His goal is to open offices across Australia, offering services to small-to-medium businesses.

Grima grew up on a farm 30 minutes outside Ballarat, where his family raised quarter horses. There was plenty of space to run around but not plenty of money. With five children, the family struggled to make ends meet, and Grima grew used to wearing clothes from Salvation Army donations. 

“The thought of one day having a better life financially and being able to support my mum and brothers were big drivers for me,” he explains.

By the time he was 17, Grima was living away from the farm, juggling two jobs and studying full-time. His father died when he was in his second year at the University of Ballarat, studying for a Bachelor of Commerce. It was a challenging time, he says, but it taught him about resilience. It’s something he still carries with him.

“My life experiences have definitely helped me deal [with difficulties] and made it easier to adapt to certain situations,” he says. “Business is all about trial and error and dealing with different situations every day.” 

Grima began his finance career in 2005 as a graduate accountant with McCain Food in Ballarat. 

"Word-of-mouth is powerful and there is that really warm feeling with a lot of my customers."

With his eyes firmly on long-term goals, he also continued his studies. He completed a Diploma of Financial Services (Financial Planning) through Kaplan University in 2009 and gained his CPA designation in 2010. 

He had a short stint as a credit acceptance officer at Circuit Finance in Geelong in 2008, but returned to Ballarat at the end of that year to work as a client services manager for local firm MDS Accounting & Financial Services. 

Grima found he particularly enjoyed dealing with people, whether they were clients or the team of accountants he managed. After eight years with the firm, he had an entrepreneurial itch to scratch and was ready to build up his own public practice

BeFinancial kicked off in February 2016, offering business advice and tax compliance services to individuals and SMEs. 

With the help of a small team of part-timers, Grima is making his mark by offering after-hours appointments and a fully mobile service that uses cloud accounting platforms including Xero and Intuit QuickBooks. 

He aims to give his clients a premium service and, despite the presence of several other established accounting firms in Ballarat, the young practice is growing. 

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Grima says he now works “10 times harder” than ever before, but this time it’s for himself. He faces the same challenges as other small business operators in meeting fixed overheads such as staff wages and buying software. 

“I’m spending a lot of resources covering those overheads but this will allow me to grow and give the customer a better service.”  

Although he misses the relationships he had with clients and colleagues at his previous job, Grima says he is fortunate to be working with some familiar faces. His strong links in the Ballarat community, a city of almost 100,000, also made it “a lot less daunting” to take the big leap of starting his own business. 

“Word-of-mouth is powerful and there is that really warm feeling with a lot of my customers,” Grima says.

He has a dream to eventually have a string of BeFinancial offices, all offering a superior service to smaller businesses. 

“With the increasing struggle of small-to-medium enterprises, I see BeFinancial as the ultimate solution to successfully guide these businesses through every step in the business life cycle,” he says. 

One piece of advice

“To achieve successful results you have to be willing to put in the hard work to stand out from the rest. My university results and CPA designation definitely helped give me more of a presence in the employment marketplace.”

Read next: Smashing the glass ceiling: a CPA's challenge

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June 2017
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