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How did your first few years go?

What are your success stories and what advice would you give yourself if doing it all again?

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So, in the upcoming days I have set aside some time to prepare / update my business plan for the next 12 / 24 months.

The first year has been OK, with none subcontract turnover being close to the £25k mark. There has been no real conscious push on advertising or networking to grow this area, and has all come via referrals from friends and then clients.

My heart tells me to drop the subcontract work and use my time to grow the business and drive it forward. However, my head is telling me that it is too risky to lose the steady income from subcontract work, albeit not as profitable work.

So, as a little motivation and inspiration, I thought I would ask you all how you got on in your first few years of self-employment? Any success stories you want to share? Any advice you would give yourself if doing it all over again? And did you have to juggle work (Subcontracting or employed) with growing your own business, and how did you manage?

Replies (12)

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By Slim
30th Jul 2019 15:26

No real success story here.

Tried to do it with a full time job but had to make the jump as it became too difficult.

First year full time I went from 6k fees to 24k. Spent about 1k on advertising.

I’m sure some will laugh at this, especially with such small numbers, but I actually had to cut things down as I was growing too quick!

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Replying to Slim:
By Open all hours
31st Jul 2019 12:34

Fee income increasing like that is nothing to laugh it. Well done. It’s all relative. Maybe some of ad. spend was wasted? It usually is, nature if the beast.

Also good you seem to be in control of what you are doing. Stay in charge and enjoy the ride.

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By Maslins
30th Jul 2019 16:06

My first year was a massive flop! I survived as lived frugally and had a bit of savings from previous job, but I made a net loss in year 1. My turnover wasn't as high as £25k.

I think a primary issue with hindsight was that I was trying to be everything to everybody. In year 2 I stumbled across FreeAgent (at the time a tiny start up with a small cult following). They grew well which helped me to grow, as at the time I was one of only a handful of accountancy practices working with it. As time has gone on lots of other firms have jumped on that bandwagon so I wouldn't suggest you follow my footsteps, but is worth thinking about what your niche could be.

Good luck with it!

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By accountantccole
30th Jul 2019 17:01

I bought my existing client base from my old firm so hit the ground running fortunately.
I tried to make sure the brand made me look bigger than a one (wo)man band, posh website, regularly updated with technical data (Thank you Total solution) and about what the firm was doing. Lots of marketing, weekly BNI, FB and Twitter. Pricing pitched at what I thought I was worth rather than trying to be very competitive. Quality clients will generally pay.
Start to push on the marketing side so you get a feel for what work you can get in, then take the leap. You'll always be too busy or find excuses otherwise

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By atleastisoundknowledgable...
30th Jul 2019 17:19

Don’t have clients that are too big for you. The sort that take up all your time, you lose money on, but are too much of your income to risk upsetting / losing them.

I have always had at least 1 such client, I invariably lose 20%-30% of my income in one hit every 18 month.

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Replying to atleastisoundknowledgable...:
By SouthCoastAcc
30th Jul 2019 20:10

Happened to me, had a larger client paying a good fee and they decided to "shut up shop" so to speak.

They were happy with me but decided they wanted a lifestyle change.

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By James Green
30th Jul 2019 22:46

£0 to around £300k signed up in one year back in 1999 through marketing.

Back in the day, I was the only person in the area professionally telemarking (using Accountax - remember them?) and pushing incorporation (again, remember the £10k 0% CT band).

Frankly, it was all utter chaos.

Practice Management consisted of a Lotus 123 spreadsheet and even then was pretty incomplete. Had no tax software and typed the accounts on Wordstar!

My advice would be: slow and steady and make sure you have systems. Keep average fees to about £1,500 and do the basics well. Avoid anything complex. Host your systems. Then decide who you are trying to be. I’d have made more money over the years if I’d kept sub £100k of fees and just me, but I wanted offices and staff and a “real” firm so kept reinvesting and reinvesting and didn’t really earn well for 12-15 years...

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Replying to James Green:
By Maslins
31st Jul 2019 10:29

James, that's fascinating. I read the first sentence and briefly thought to myself "here's a smug show off". Then read the final para.

Sounds like perhaps you're not a typical accountant, in that you're clearly a great salesman (few accountants are!) but perhaps also don't share the normal accountant trait of being cautious, not wanting to overstretch etc.

I also made no money in the first few years...and that was with naff all costs! That's what having negligible turnover leads to!

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Replying to James Green:
01st Aug 2019 06:05

A similar path to myself, I chased turnover (vanity) and only started making decent money when I chose cashflow (sanity).
However, I would not have got to where I am now, less turnover, less staff, mostly working from home, without having built up a decent turnover with 2 traditional offices that I was able to cherry pick from when I decided to change.
Many things learned over the last 20 years but these stand out as the most important.
1. Staff - in the early days I had great very trustworthy staff but as the business grew one or two rotten apples made my life very difficult and stressful.
I could not have done half as well without my one long term 100% reliable employee - she is good at everything I am not and the clients love her, frankly once you get to a certain level of clients it is just a waste of your time to be doing certain jobs but I would never choose to go back to having more than one or two trusted colleagues.
2. Systems - these days it is as much about choosing the right software for the client and making sure it runs smoothly on the book-keeping side. Get that right on a monthly basis and the rest will follow.
3. Payment - my life changed when we moved the majority of clients over to monthly fees paid by DD
4. Personality - this is a people business, to a large extent your success will depend on how well you get on with people. I still have many clients that have been with me for over 20 years, the reason is that I have taken the time to get to know them and what makes them tick, both in business and personally, I have always had the attitude that I am in business just like them and we all want the same thing. When you are dealing with people in that way they usually recommend you to others and we now have a few "clusters" of clients, their family and friends. For us these are the "golden" clients, there is a ready made built in trust in the relationship from the start and on our side we are willing to go the extra mile for them.

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By Open all hours
31st Jul 2019 12:51

Had an easy start due to running alongside a day job with employers permission for a couple of years. Best not to be afraid of long hours.

Always knew when clients were leaving, it was 12 years before we lost one to something other than natural wastage (retirement/death). Up till then, always replaced them before they went.

When the time comes hire someone brighter than you are. If they happen to be loyal, hardworking and of a like mind you’ve (I) struck gold and got yourself a business partner.

Four times we’ve lost our biggest client. Retirement(2) , health, a pub forcibly removed by their tied brewery and we never noticed when they’d gone.

Treat every day and every client like the first you’ve had, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with, do double the CPD required and thank God for stupid politicians who are intent on making things ‘fair’ but only ever succeed in creating more and more work for us all.

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By Ken Howard
06th Aug 2019 19:26

I started in 1999. Purely accidentally, one of my first clients was an IT contractor worried about IR35. I signed them up and they recommended another couple of IT contractors. In those days, it was good money, so I set up a home made website offering contractor accounting and IR35 reviews. There weren't many accountant websites in those days and even fewer IT contractor specialists, so my practice grew very quickly until I hit my personal capacity. It's been steady ever since just from referrals - I don't advertise anymore and my website is now just a simple one page. I'd suggest anyone starting today not to be a general practice and to find a niche. Far too many generalists to make a decent living these days due to competition from the unqualifieds etc.

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Replying to Ken Howard:
By Gloria C
19th Aug 2019 21:56

hi Ken, saw your profile in here. I m interested in your accounting services. Where can I have a chat with you ? I can't seem to find where there is an option to contact you with email or message.


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