Yesterday was the ICAEW's Practice Conference with the tagline "Connecting in a Digital World". Its a great event primarily aimed at, unsurprisingly, chartered accountants in practice, and I was delighted to be asked to speak about my experience of setting up Bulldog Accounting.
For the uninitiated, you can broadly split accountancy roles into two groups: practice roles, and industry roles. Practice means you work for a firm of accountants, who provide accountancy and other services to a range of organisations. Industry is where you work as part of the finance team of an organisation. My experience, prior to Bulldog, was in industry (though I was in the public sector, then the charity / social enterprise sector) so its been a bit of a shift in focus to move into Practice and I've learnt a lot by doing so.
Yesterday I talked about five lessons I wanted to share:
1. Think very hard about what you want
There are all sorts of pressures when you start up a business, not least of which is how long you have until your money runs out. It takes a while to find clients and start getting paid, so you need to have a plan for how you keep yourself going in the interim. There are lots of different strategies: I lived off savings for about 6 months before I started generating enough money to support myself (those were stressful months). Others have stayed in employment until they have enough income from the Practice to move over seamlessly, and some use money from redundancy payments to tide them over. Whatever you decide, you need to have a plan in place, and be patient.
Its also very important to consider what sort of work you want to do. I like to work with charities and social enterprises, but I also have a soft spot for a chatty start up. Some like nitty gritty tax work and others really thrive on forward looking services e.g. forecasting, rather than retrospective compliance work. If you don't enjoy doing something, probably best not to offer it. If you love something, probably a good idea to specialise in it.
It is crucial to understand what you want to achieve in the longer term, in a vague sense at least. Do you want to better balance work and home life? Do you want to create an asset which you can sell? These outcomes require VERY different approaches, and will lead to very different experiences. Good to get an idea of where you're going before you set out (even if you change your mind along the way).
2. Don't be afraid to be different
Having a cute dog (or two!) certainly simplifies your marketing and gives you a hook to get people interacting with you. Being the bulldog mad accountant has definitely worked for me!
3. Never underestimate the importance of customer service
Exactly what it says on the tin, customer service is EVERYTHING to a small business. There are so many different accountants around who can do - pretty much - the same things that I do. I therefore try very hard not to give people a reason to jump ship!
4. Be sociable (and social)
I use social media a lot, particularly Twitter, and it has proven to be a super tool in terms of connecting with the local (and wider) community. I've met some fantastic people through it and these have in turn led to some really interesting opportunities. The numbers also don't lie: around 20% of my sales in the year to 31 October 2018 were linked to interactions on Twitter. That is significant, surprising and definitely enough of a reason for me to carry on with it!
5. The right tools will make your life easier.
Technology is big news in the world of accounting at the moment. Several of the talks at the Conference focused on it, considering the way in which the profession is utilising and accommodating the way we now interact with the world. There are SO many different options to explore it can be a tad overwhelming, but I've found the cloud-based accountancy packages to be really helpful in engaging with my clients, and managing my workload. I'm a Xero partner practice, make use of Auto-Entry and have recently signed up to Accountancy Manager. I'm going to be spending some time in the next few months exploring what other systems and apps might be available to help my clients, and help me, do things more efficiently. Exciting times!
In other news, we are now a two bulldog household so everyone is slightly sleep deprived. Rocky is 11 weeks old, and arrived on 30 October. He has been causing mayhem ever since.
(Thinking about it, Esme is probably not so sleep-deprived as she's been hiding from the hooligan by napping in the office which he is not allowed into. Clever girl.)