How mentorship saved Jamie Johns and helped him build Sky Accountants

A Venn Diagram: the left circle is pale blue with the words 'Jamie Johns, Sky Accountants, Wize Mentoring', and the right circle is Jamie's headshot.
  • Jamie Johns, CEO of Sky Accountants and Co-Founder of Wize Mentoring, has practiced accounting across the spectrum: government, hospital, public accounting, and small business.

  • Jamie was burned out while starting an accounting firm in his 30s. But mentorship from his friend Ed Chan made the difference in going from overload to success. 

  • Today, Wize Mentoring helps accounting firms across the globe go from overwhelmed to managed. Its online modules are an accessible way for busy firm owners to pick up new management skills. 

It takes a village to raise an accountant. That’s how the phrase goes, right?

That’s been the experience for Jamie Johns from Sky Accountants. Although his accounting career has taken many twists and turns, he’s always found stability through patient mentoring. Jamie has benefited from the wisdom of a whole host of accounting greats, notably his fellow Wize Mentoring co-founder Ed Chan

Jamie knew he had to make a change when extreme burnout led him to the point of physical illness. Ed helped Jamie find ways to create both a successful accounting firm and life. Ed’s mentorship was so life-changing that Jamie was determined to pay it forward. 

Together with co-founder Brenton Ward, Ed and Jamie started Wize Mentoring to help other accountants shift from putting in long hours to making more profitable, manageable business models. 

“It's really hard going until you work out the formula. We're sitting here talking today because of mentorship,” Jamie says.

In an interview with Karbon CEO and host Stuart McLeod on episode 51 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, Jamie details the winding path of his career, as well as what’s new with Wize Mentoring and Wize Talent. Plus, Jamie shares how a talkative bricklayer became his best marketing tool. 

Every day is a winding road

Jamie isn’t one of those accountants who graduated, got a job at a firm, worked his way up to partner, and turned on cruise control for life. He’s tried just about every aspect of accounting in Australia.

Coming from a long line of farmers and entrepreneurs, Jamie initially imagined himself as a landscape gardener—but a teacher convinced him to go into business instead. Post-graduation, he worked in bookkeeping for a furniture company. At the time, tech was not what it is today, and he relied on a handful of different systems to get work done. 

As technology advanced, so did Jamie’s opportunities. Finding himself with extra downtime once programs like Quicken and MYOB came along, he decided to teach other small businesses how to take advantage of tech as an MYOB consultant.

“Everyone just wanted to computerize their books. That's all I did for two years straight. I was just out on the road getting clients off paper,” Jamie says on the podcast. 

Through his consultancy, Jamie worked for a variety of businesses. He tried public accounting, accounting for a hospital and the government, and working for a large firm in Ballarat in Victoria. By the time Jamie was 30, he was ready to strike out on his own, leaning on some of that entrepreneurial DNA from his family.

From brute force to being in control

When Jamie started Sky Accountants, he fell into the trap that many new firm owners do: he worked seven days a week, grinding away on the books with no end in sight. 

Eventually, the prolonged stress caused his body to react. Jamie developed a condition called labyrinthitis, which causes loss of balance. 

As if the physical pain wasn’t enough, he also lost three staff members—two accountants and a receptionist—over a span of three months. The personal and professional crises prompted Jamie to seek out help anywhere he could get it. 

Having heard a memorable talk from Ed Chan, Jamie decided to reach out for mentorship. Although Jamie didn’t expect a response, Ed got right back to him, accepting his request to be mentored. Ed then shared his system with Jamie, which involves putting the right people in the right seats, and sorting firms by minders, grinders, and finders to eliminate overlap. 

“It was only supposed to be one year of mentoring with Ed. And then I just enjoyed it so much—and got such good results out of it—that it went on for three or four years with that mentoring piece. After that, I felt like there was probably not much else I could learn from that guy's brain,” Jamie jokes.

With the knowledge he gained from Ed, Jamie worked to formalize his learnings with Wize Mentoring. 

Today, Wize offers self-guided online master classes to help other accountants transform their firms as Jamie did.

“We had a lot of firms in different countries asking for one-on-one mentoring. We had just started to kick that off with a group coaching type arrangement and the pandemic hit. We pivoted and went to Zoom and we’ve developed the whole one-to-one mentoring so much more over the last two or three years,” Jamie explains. 

Recommended reading: Hire slow, act fast with Ed Chan

Solving for talent

One of the big challenges across all industries today is talent retention. Accounting is no stranger to that struggle, with more accountants retiring than coming into the field. Jamie recognized the recruitment challenge and looked to other industries for a solution.

“About 15 years ago, I did a course out of the US called Topgrading. It was created by a couple of brothers who studied with Jack Welch at General Electric. I took the concepts of that hiring process and re-engineered it to apply to accountants and bookkeeping,” Jamie shares.

From that re-engineering, WizeTalent was born. In the year since its launch, WizeTalent has connected over 100 candidates to open positions in accounting and bookkeeping across the globe. 

“It's funny when I look back now for me, an Australian guy, about to jump on a call with an American firm owner, or in the UK or Singapore or Canada, and they've all got the same problems,” Jamie says of the commonality across accounting that makes Wize so appealing. 

And this is part of what drives Jamie to continue to spread the mentoring spirit to elevate accountants across the globe.