4 Vat Returns And A Lot Of Learning

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The 2 January 2019 was a day that I had long thought and even dreamed about. This was my first day of self-employment. My own business was born.   It was the beginning of something both exciting and terrifying.

After nigh on 30 years of life as a Chartered Accountant I had stepped out of the protection and security of the large company surroundings where all numbers seemed to have an “M” suffix and was going out into the big wide world as a practising Chartered Accountant.  I was on my own and would stand or fall by own actions and efforts.  My goal wasn’t to rival the Big 4 firms where I had trained all those years ago, but I did have a clear mission:

 


To take control of my own life by using my professional experience 

and expertise to help small businesses to grow and to succeed


 

I knew life wouldn’t be quite the same again and I was ready for the challenge.  Raring to go.  Practising certificate in hand, I was off.  

One year on I can report to having had a fantastic first year in business.  I have recruited 50 clients. I  definitely have more control of my life and the feedback I am receiving attests to the help and support that I am giving to my clients.  I guess it’s been said before ....…. but I wish I had done this years ago!

So what have I learned in a year?  The list is a lengthy one.  A great deal about myself and even more about the joys and challenges of running and serving the needs of small business.  I have quite literally bundled my way into a totally different world.  One that was invisible to me previously but one that I now know to be vibrant and hugely exciting which is brimming with opportunity.    Here are my thoughts in five areas followed by a reflection on the mistakes I have made and learned from.

 

It’s All About Marketing!

Accountancy prepares and equips you for many things in business but I think it’s fair to say that marketing and selling are not high on this list.  I had to find some clients  …. But where?  I needed some help. In a foretaste of what was to come I met  Jenni Henderson through the recommendation of someone I had known for many years.  Jenni steered me through the, to me at least, mystique of marketing, the required content of a website, learning to effectively use Twitter and LinkedIn, and imparting a great deal of her own small business focused learning.  But most importantly Jenni introduced to the world of small business networking.  More about that later.

 

Be generous….. share your knowledge

The most memorable marketing advice I received was not to see marketing as an act of selling.  “Be generous” I was told.  Share your knowledge and experience and people will be attracted to your business. Yes, you may have told them how to do something but they haven’t the time or the desire to do this for themselves, they just want to know and be confident that you are able to help them.   Write blogs, share interesting and useful information on social media …. and be generous!

 

 

Every day is a school day

Never Stop Learning

I absolutely did not think I knew it all but after 30 years in big business I had accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience.  I will always be grateful for the many and varied opportunities that I had throughout my employed career which developed me into being more than just an accountant. Over the course of the past year my sense of gratitude has only increased.  I have drawn widely on that experience and used it help my own business and those of my clients.  Yes, the numbers are much smaller – I’ve not seen one of those “M” suffixes all year ! – but I meet people on a daily basis who I am learning from now.  “Every day is a school day” is one of my favourite sayings.  This has never been truer than in the past year.  Long may this continue.  

 

 

The best things in life are free

Yes Free !

There is so much out there that you can do and obtain free of charge.  Yes, there are plenty of people and businesses out there who offer you all manner of offers and must haves for your business – just wait for the postman in the weeks after you register a new company.   You can spend a lot of money but it isn’t necessary.   As an accountant I know the importance of cashflow – so many businesses fail due to a lack of cash especially in the first five years.  It is therefore essential to generate cash before committing to all but the most essential expenditure.  I have listed some of my favourite and most useful freebies at the end of this blog.  Do let me know of your favourite new business freebies and I will add them to the list.

 

 

“No man is an island ….”

Isolation is an issue.

As for many new businesses “the office” was actually my study at home.  I enjoyed the 20 second morning commute from breakfast table to desk but I quickly came to dislike the isolation and seemingly never leaving the house.  My fledgling business could not support an office of my own. I came across a whole new concept (for me at least) of the Co-Working Office. A collection of small, mainly new, businesses sharing a single location on a short term flexible basis.  So I moved into the Bloomspace office in Malvern.  It was perfect. Just what I needed.  Space to work and people to interact with. 

 

 

More people are willing to help than you think.

Make connections and get out of your comfort zone

Networking, Networking, Networking!

Networking has been a revelation to me.  Working in large organisations this just doesn’t happen.  What on earth would the procurement department make of doing business with people you come to Know, Like and Trust?  The power in these groups comes from the referral process where members develop the confidence to recommend you to their clients and contacts.  This has easily been the biggest source of new clients, and indeed suppliers, for my business and I have made some good friends along the way too.  

Initially, as someone nearer to the introvert end of the personality spectrum, I was very wary about joining such a group.  It was nowhere near my comfort zone.  I needn’t have been!   I have met such warmth and friendliness with a great sense of camaraderie …… such a shame these meetings tend to take place between 7am and 9am!   I am not a morning person!   I joined the Business over Breakfast (BoB) club in Worcester and the Family Business Practice (a rather better timed, for me,  late afternoon meeting) and have benefited enormously.  I only hope that my presence has helped others in a similar manner.  There are a number of other such groups.  They all have their own twist on the central premise so I would suggest that you go along as a visitor a couple of times and join the one you feel most at ease with.

 

 

Forget the mistake.  Remember the lesson

Mistakes … I’ve made a few ..

Hopefully you will forgive the poor paraphrasing of the great Frank Sinatra song but it seemed an appropriate way to start along this track of reflection.  I have of course made mistakes but perhaps only one is worthy of note in this blog …. and I share it so that hopefully others don’t do likewise.

I needed a website.  I am very IT literate and I use websites extensively.  But I have never bought a website before.  How hard can it be?  Acting alone, before I took the advice referenced above, without a detailed knowledge of what I was buying I bought the equivalent of a shiny new luxury car that had somehow taken a detour around the production line and missed the engine section.  The site looked fabulous.  I was thrilled with it.  But Google couldn’t see it.  Bing couldn’t see it.  Nobody could see it!    Welcome to the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).  I quickly learned that this is best done by design rather than retro-fit.   The most cost effective solution – a new website.   I’m thrilled with this one too and it doesn’t look that dissimilar to the first one but there is now something under the bonnet and people are finding me through it.  Success.

 

Thank you

During the past year I have received a great deal of help and support from many different people (some of whom have done so unwittingly) – too numerous to mention them all.  I have referenced some of these people in the cast list below.  I want to pay particular thanks to Jenni Henderson who gave me a much needed shot of confidence right at the outset and who has also been a great source of new clients; Richard and Caroline for providing me with a new office when major roadworks made the morning journey to Malvern all but impossible; Richard Frazer and Peter Roper, respectively, for the opportunities that BoB Club and the Family Business Practice have afforded me.  But above all I have to thank my hugely supportive wife Jane. Without her love and support I really wouldn’t be sat here today excited and motivated as I embark on my second year in business.  

2020 here I come !

 

 

Cast List (With Website Links)

My Clients                                                50 (and counting) individuals and businesses who have put their trust in me

Xero                                                            My principal software supplier.  

Jenni Henderson                                    Chrysalis Business Support

Bloom.Space, Malvern                        Jack Wratten    

Sentio Insurance Brokers                    Richard Waltier and Caroline Fairclough

BoB Club Worcester                            Richard Frazer

Family Business Practice                     Peter Roper

Nepeta Consulting                               Inexpensive really useful small business focussed training courses in Malvern 

Quick By Design                                   My website rescuers !   Offering a really personalised service      

Institute of Chartered                           I have received fantastic help and assistance in the past year

Accountants In England & Wales                               

 

 

My Favourite Freebies !

  • Seek out your local County Council and their business development teams.  In Worcestershire we have Worcestershire Business Central who offer a whole range of free and very low cost training, mentoring and networking opportunities for new businesses not to mention easily accessible start up grants.

  • Networking – OK so not always free to join – but the process of meeting fellow members on a one to one basis (this is cost free) can yield so much diversity of experience and guidance from those who may have been around the block many times or are possibly only a matter of months ahead of you on the learning curve.  It’s amazing how much confidence you can also generate by helping others too

  • Starling Bank – totally free of charge, FSCS protected and very good if you operate in a digital world.  You really can have a bank account up and running inside half an hour.  Admittedly, not so great for a retail business ….. but for everyone else ?

  • Video conferencing – Zoom.com is brilliant and saves so much time and cost travelling, not to mention the planet !  It enables me to offer software support by sharing a screen and can also open up new markets by bringing clients from further afield to your desktop.

  • Seek out a local Twitter Hour where local businesses communicate amongst each other on a weekly basis.  These are very popular and widespread but maybe with the excellent @worcestershirehour we are spoilt in Worcester.

  • High quality images are essential for social media and websites.   Try Pixabay.com. and Canva.com for fantastic quality free images

  • CRM systems are an excellent tool for businesses of all sizes.  Try Capsule.com

  • Digital marketing – how about Mailchimp.com?

  • Let people see when you are available and allow them to book a meeting with you – Calendly offers this functionality for free 

  • Internet based learning – there is so much out there from product webinars, discussion groups and forums through to You Tube.   You just need to look.

  • Try before you buy is more or less the norm in the application software world.  You can learn a great deal in 14 or 30 days and you may avoid an expensive mistake