How Aliya Uses FreshBooks to Scale Her Communications Firm and Stay Confident During Tax Season


AJT CommunicationsAliya Jiwan-Thawer is a seasoned media trainer and media relations consultant who brings over 20 years of communications experience to the table. After working 10+ years as a television and radio news reporter for major Canadian broadcast networks, Aliya transitioned into the world of public relations.

While in public relations, she had the chance to work with both large and boutique PR agencies, creating and executing public and media relations campaigns in a variety of industries including financial, health, IT, education, childcare, corporate and non-profit sectors.

Aliya’s insight into the workings of a newsroom allows her to identify the qualities that make stories stick. She understands the science of generating media interest, and her rapport with media connections enables her to secure media interviews for clients on a wide range of topics.

Today, using her experience as a television news reporter, Aliya has also trained countless CEOs and company spokespeople for some of the toughest media interviews. She’s used her platform and company to help successfully launch a variety of products and charities for her clients. She has also media trained a wide range of spokespeople and managed numerous fundraising events while positively positioning her clients in ways that have raised awareness and brought attention to their stories.

As Aliya found herself making a career transition from journalist to media trainer and media relations consultant, she found herself in pursuit of added flexibility to help her dedicate more time to motherhood, “When I really needed that flexibility, I didn’t have it. So I left, and it was scary. I was very lucky that I had the support of my parents and my spouse because it’s a scary thing to go from making really good money on a consistent basis to not being sure how much money is coming in”.

Today, Aliya is able to maintain a balance that suits her professional profile while also carving out enough time to spend time with her family. As she continues to scale her namesake media company AJT Communications, she remains focused on her passions while allowing FreshBooks to take over the parts she’s happy to spend less time on.

Was the transition from journalism to media relations consulting slow and natural, or something that sort of happened overnight?

Aliya: After spending over a decade as a TV news reporter and anchor, and a little bit of time as a producer with various news outlets at places like CBC and CTV, the natural progression from journalism for me was to move into media relations. I got a job working at a large PR agency, and there was so much I learned there about just the actual job and media relations, media training, writing, editing, and managing teams. Then I got an opportunity to work at a smaller agency, which involved a lot of leadership, as it was a smaller firm. The biggest perk there was I got to work from home most of the time.

After a lot of commuting from the suburbs to the city with that job, I found myself having to endure a struggle that a lot of parents face when their kids first start daycare–being at an age where they are changing socially and sick often—you need a very understanding employer who is comfortable with you stepping away and go pick up your kid first, and putting the grind second.

After a while, I realized I didn’t really have that flexibility, and I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. With both of my parents being self-employed, they would say time and time again that consulting or starting my own business would be the right move. With that in the back of my head, when I really needed that flexibility I decided to leave and transition to working for myself, which was very scary initially. I was extremely lucky to have the support of my family and go from making really good money on a consistent basis to not being sure how much money I’m going to make.

What unforeseen challenges hindered you early on in your journey as a small business owner?

Aliya: The actual client services part came naturally to me because I was already managing clients, and I knew exactly what the clients needed. Having the taste level with the writing and the editing along with having that news judgment of what will help clients get media coverage, all of that came naturally to me. But knowing how to run a business? That was tougher to handle.

Making sure I was the person who was client-facing and doing the work wasn’t an issue at all, but also being the person sending out invoices and making sure the money came through was not something that came naturally to me. I was lucky to have the guidance of my parents who were both self-employed and both accountants. They kind of guided me through the process of making my own invoices and tracking my billable hours to make sure I was ready for tax time.

What was your old accounting process like, and how do you think it changed over time?

Aliya: For me, it was a series of spreadsheets and Word documents. Microsoft Office was my best friend initially because that’s all I knew. And when you only have a handful of clients, you can get away with it. As soon as I started ramping up clients, it became apparent that I needed a better way to do things.

The other challenge when you’re a consultant is, you need to really be prepared for the ebbs and flows of the business. Some months can be very, very busy, and suddenly other months can be very quiet. You need to really manage your cash flow properly so that you not only have the money when it comes time to pay your taxes and HST installments and all that fun stuff, but also so that you have the income to carry you during those slower months.

How does the seasonal nature of your business translate into tax prep? Is tax time an especially intense period?

Aliya: When it comes time for tax season, I basically give my accountants access to my FreshBooks account and they see everything at a glance. What I have to stay on top of are expenses, and incurring any mileage. With FreshBooks, it’s hard for me to fall behind on invoices and lose grip of my income projections since everything is tracked month to month. That makes tax time especially painless.

At what point did FreshBooks become the clear solution to help you streamline your accounting?

Aliya: It was really when I started scaling and adding more clients to my business. In the beginning, when you only have a handful of clients, tracking in a spreadsheet and having a column for billables and another for taxes felt sufficient. But at scale, those things were impossible to sustain. I started working with agencies who would subcontract work, and when I was getting 10-12 invoices per month, I knew it was time to find a better way—I was taking way too long to process them. I went from spending hours upon hours with my invoices to spending maybe two minutes tops. It was such a breeze to track billables in FreshBooks and then simply press “Generate Invoice”. It’s the best!

What sets FreshBooks apart in your mind?

Aliya: From the moment I first used FreshBooks it was immediately apparent that it was quite user-friendly. I didn’t really want to go through a steep learning curve with a new platform, I just wanted to use something that I know works. What I really needed was to be able to track billable hours. It was important for me to make sure that I was billing my clients accurately. At the same time, if I had a monthly retainer, I wanted to be able to let my clients know in advance that this was going to be a slow month, but that we had some money to carry over. Or, if it was going to be a really, really heavy month, maybe we want to scale back a bit next month, just to balance things out. FreshBooks gives me a level of foresight that I couldn’t achieve before.

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Which features are you the biggest fan of? Do you use some FreshBooks features more than others?

Aliya: I use invoicing literally all of the time. Every single project that I do with every client that I service involves invoicing through FreshBooks. I also put all of my expenses in there which includes monthly expenses like newspaper subscriptions, but also includes parking or any purchases I make for my business—software, subscriptions, etc. The one thing I still want to implement would be using the Mileage Tracking feature more. With COVID, I haven’t had as many excuses to travel!

Invoicing was a very manual process and something that took a lot of time for me before. I was tracking the time on a spreadsheet and then manually creating an invoice, whereas now I spend a couple of seconds generating invoices directly in FreshBooks.

Today, I can probably block off an hour at the end of every month and get all my invoices and expenses sorted. That’s a game-changer for me, and it helps me put that time back into my business, or spend more time with my family.



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about the author

If your books are a mess and you’re looking for an easy fix, FreshBooks is that solution. It’s software that makes billing, accounting, and client service easy for business owners. Get automated invoicing and payments to save you 550+ hours/year, reports that tell you how things are going, and access to time-saving tools for your whole team. Cool right? We’ve got a website with all the details, a Twitter account that’s pretty sweet, and a Youtube channel packed with awesome videos.