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Two practice owners putting the world to rights

11th Nov 2022
Brought to you by
BrightManager logo

Award winning CRM & practice management software

Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

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To celebrate Global Bookkeeping Week and International Accounting Day we hosted a virtual sit-down with two practice owners. It was live, honest and thoroughly inspiring. 

Meet Lydia Read-Potter from BookSmart Accounting and Libby Walklett from The Ethical Bookkeeper as they give you a peek behind the scenes at their businesses.  

Next week, we take a deeper dive into how Lydia and Libby use AccountancyManager to power their practices. 

 

What inspired you to set up your business? 

Lydia: I worked in industry for years before realising that practice accounting was for me. I put myself through the exams and moved to a large firm. Then after a few years there, I decided to set up on my own.  

Covid had a large impact on my decision. I was working from home with four children – homeschooling three of them and the youngest was seven months! I realised that if I was going to work that hard, it’d be sensible to do that for me and my family. 

January 2021 BookSmart Accounting was born. So we're coming up on our two-year anniversary now. I've now got a team of three staff, over 200 clients and it's been the best decision I ever made. 

Libby: I originally started out in hospitality, quickly moving to management, but you don't have any social life – it's really long hours and really hard. So I went into an office job and worked my way up from there. As I went from job to job, I took on more finance work, eventually working for a group with seven limited companies, doing their part of the bookkeeping.  

I set up my own company because I wanted flexibility around my caring responsibilities – the children, my dad and now my mum as well. I wanted something that was flexible around family and I didn't want to feel guilty every time I had to ask, can I go home? Can I make a phone call?  

Equally, I want to work with people that appreciate what I can do for them and not feel like an expense. In the past, as an employee, I felt that we aren’t making money, we're just costing money. I hate feeling like that and I don't think it's true.  

Lydia and Libby

What sets you apart from other firms? 

Lydia: We try to have a close relationship with our clients. To be actively involved in their businesses, know how they work, what their goals are, where they want to be and how they want to get there – and support them in that journey.  

The last thing we want to be considered as, is accountants they see once a year or that sit behind a desk and put numbers together. That's not what we're about at all. It's about full business support. 

The most important thing from the staff point of view is that they feel empowered. So I try to make sure that they have their own relationships with the clients and that they have as much responsibility as they're happy to take on.  

Libby: My business aim is as much to avoid the kind of people I don't want to work with as to attract the people I do want to work with. I want to work with people who also consider themselves to be ethical – they pay their suppliers on time, they treat their clients well. I'm quite happy to work with most industries, it's more about the people that I'm working with. 

 

What advice would you give someone who's just started their practice? 

Lydia: I could really go to town on this one… There's so many things I would do differently,  hindsight is a wonderful thing! 

I would say, every decision you make, go with what feels right for you. Don't compare yourself to other people. You don't know if someone has lots of capital behind them or a business partner in the background. Stick to your own path. Whatever your own goals are, focus on those and make your own decisions.  

With practice management and onboarding, start with the software from day one, it'll just make life a hell of a lot easier.” 

The other thing I would say (and I haven’t been bribed, I promise) is make sure that you have good software from day one. It might seem like overkill but I looked at a couple of softwares early on and thought, ‘oh I don't need that. I'll be fine’. Then regretted it when I was having to switch later down the line. So particularly with practice management and onboarding, start with the software from day one, it'll just make life a hell of a lot easier. 

Libby: I absolutely agree. Don't compare yourself. We see snapshots of people doing amazing things and then you put them all together and feel like you should be doing all of those things. It's mad. I think there's a case for ignoring everything that's going on social media for a bit and focusing on what you want to do and where you are going.  

If I had to pay somebody to do the work that AccountancyManager does, it would cost me a lot more than the cost of the software.”  

Running a business is hard and – a bit like kids – it doesn't come with a manual. So get practice management software in place early, because you won't find the time to do it later on. For me, with AccountancyManager, I wanted something affordable and it was affordable. If I had to pay somebody to do the work that AccountancyManager does, it would cost me a lot more than the cost of the software.  

 

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned?  

Libby: That it’s ok not to know everything! It's about having a support network in place and knowing where to find the information that you don't know. I suffer sometimes with imposter syndrome and I'm an overthinker as well. I'll go round in circles trying to work out what to do and that sometimes stops me moving forward.  

So I use my support network a lot. I'm in Facebook groups where I’ve made wonderful friends, particularly in the ‘six figure bookkeepers’ group. They're just fantastic. If I have a problem, they’ll go out of their way to help me – as I will for them.  

 

Dare we mention MTD ITSA? How are your preparations going? 

Lydia: Our plan has been to start with our smaller clients and make sure they’re confident in digital bookkeeping – well in advance of MTD beginning. And if they’re not using the software, we are on their behalf. 

We use a lot of data capture, so sometimes the only part of that process the client will need to do is the data capture and we’ll do the bookkeeping from that. It's making sure that by the time it happens, it’s just second nature. 

We spend a lot of time supporting clients when they move onto new software. I also run a two-day bookkeeping course for small business owners at the local college. That's worked to my advantage because I send a lot of my clients onto the course, which means I can teach them all at once rather than doing it one to one.  

I'm not saying we've got everyone on software, but I've heard a lot of accountants give the same advice, which is to start with the easy ones. Then you've got your last few difficult ones to deal with, but at least everybody else is ready to go.  

Libby: It still amazes me that anyone isn't using accounting software. I actually received an invoice the other day from a limited VAT-registered trader in Word – I can't believe that that's still happening. Why are they not using software?  

I know what I need to do… I wouldn't say I have a plan in place but I don't think I'm alone. I'm not even sure whether HMRC know what they're doing at the moment!  

 

Are you preparing clients for the recession? How? 

Lydia: We’re trying to make sure that clients are as recession-proof as possible. Obviously we know whenever there's a recession, businesses suffer, so it’s thinking about how they can adapt their business.  

One thing that the pandemic did give us is that ability to change. So many people had to adapt during Covid. They had to learn new ways of working and new business models and it’s given business owners a new attitude. Now they're willing to be flexible and adapt when something happens.  

I've got a client who sells luxury kitchens, very expensive, high-end kitchens. They've already said: no one's going to be buying these kitchens come the new year. So they're starting to manufacture set-size kitchens and sell them through an online shop. So it's all about supporting clients with that change, offering ideas or just being a sounding board for those ideas. 

Libby: I think I'm always preparing for a recession! I view business accounts in the same way that I would treat my own personal home finances. Always looking to reduce unnecessary expenditure, duplicated costs and overlaps.  

It's not necessarily about not spending money, it's about not wasting money – and still being ethical. I would still want everybody paying their suppliers on time, if not earlier. But then are your customers paying you on time as well?  

It's important to set out sales invoices properly and encourage good credit control. So many businesses fail because of the cash flow, not because they're not profitable. So now is more important than ever to keep an eye on that side of things. 

 

Finally, what would you say you're most proud of? 

Libby: Client reviews are such a boost. When you get a client review and it's all your own work, that's really special. A fellow accountant did the most amazing glowing reference for me. That, from one of my peers, just means the world. It was so nice, I read it and thought, ‘how much do I owe you?’  

Lydia: I'm proud of where I am now compared to where I was at the beginning. It's a cliche, but my business literally started at this very kitchen table as a bit of an idea. Less than two years later there's four of us, we've got offices, we've got lots of brilliant clients and sometimes it surprises me.  

There are days where it's really tough and you have to give yourself a little pep talk to get through it, but when you look at where you've come from – it's amazing.  

 

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