Class of 2021: This year’s most successful start-upsby
Meet the newcomers who defied the pandemic this year and launched new practices to realise their professional ambitions.
The past 18 months has seen businesses buckle under the weight of the pandemic. Countless clients have turned to the profession for support, leaning on their accountants for help amidst a treadmill of government guidance and grants.
We spoke to some of the most successful firms to come out of this year to find out how they managed to weather the start-up storm through 2021.
Natalie Binstead, BW Business Accountants
Firm: BW Business Accountants and Advisors
Established: April 2021
Staff employed: I’m the only accountant in the business, but I have just taken on a marketing assistant, which is really exciting. She joined two weeks ago, working two days a week to help me with the social media marketing strategy. I was finding that I was having so much work to do that I couldn’t manage to fit in any of that side of things too. She's incredible - she's scheduled social media posts to around mid-December already.
Working from: Home
Services: We offer a mix of things: the standard stuff that you would expect from an accountant, so accounts, tax returns, management accounts, that kind of thing. But I’m also a chartered tax advisor as well. Tax advice is the stuff that I really enjoy doing.
At the moment I'm working on some capital gains tax calculations, and I really love getting stuck into that kind of thing. Tax is such an emotive subject, because it is people's hard earned money at the end of the day. It’s the one thing that all clients want to talk about, regardless of what they do or how they’re set up.
For me, compliance work is the bread and butter of everything that I do. That's where you build really long term relationships with your clients, whereas a lot of the advisory work that I do are just one off projects. I love having good relationships with my clients.
What made you decide to start your own firm? I don’t like doing what I'm told. I quite like being in charge. So for me, that was quite important.
I had got to that difficult stage in my career where I was at a managerial level, but not senior manager level. So I had a bit of autonomy, but I was still having to do what I was told. I’m a team player, but if you’re not the one dictating how the team’s going to operate, you kind of have to fit in with what other people want.
Being able to set my own processes and my own working hours was a big thing. Being able to choose which clients I work with is also a plus. Something I found in my previous role during Covid was that some clients were pretty unreasonable. I got to the point where I wanted to work with nice people who genuinely value what I do.
I also really enjoyed working from home during the pandemic. I liked having the flexibility and autonomy over my day.
I don’t think I would have started my own practice if Covid hadn’t happened. It gave me time to really think about it. It’s something that I’d always wanted to do, but I’d always thought it’s not the right time, or it’s too scary.
But something as massive as Covid makes you realise that life’s too short to keep putting stuff off. I think everybody’s had a chance to reassess their priorities.
Did the pandemic affect your start up journey? I was so busy straightaway, which sounds like a good challenge to have. I genuinely thought I would have months sitting here twiddling my thumbs, processes in place, doing a bit of networking, getting things properly up and running, before I had any client work to do.
I literally had client work from day one, which was amazing. But it meant trying to put the processes in whilst doing the work. I was really learning on the spot and having to adapt quite quickly. I was trying to balance new clients with actually creating a business with processes. All of that was quite hard.
What have been the major challenges in establishing your firm so far? I’m not around all the time. Having to squeeze all of the work into three days can be hard at times, especially this time of year. I’ve been going for around eight months. I reckon I’ve only had one, maybe two days where I’ve had no meetings in the diary.
What are your goals for your firm in the future? My plan is to go full time in the business from September next year. I’d really like to take somebody else on around the same time to help me with the processing type work.
In five years’ time, I’d really like to get to the point where the business is almost running itself, so it’s not directly linked to me. I’d like to be doing less of the compliance work myself. I still want to be offering it to clients, but I don’t necessarily want to sit here doing the bookkeeping. I would love to be doing that tax advice that I really enjoy.
Lydia Read-Potter, BookSmart Accounting
Name of firm: BookSmart Accounting
Established: January 2021
Staff employed: I’ve just taken on my first employee!
Working from: Hybrid between home and the office.
Services: Accounts, corporation tax, self assessment, VAT, payroll, management information and advisory services. Pretty much everything except audit!
What made you decide to start your own firm? I wanted that autonomy. It’s the nature of who I am - I’m a bit of a control freak. It’s much better for me to do things the way that I believe is the right way and best for the clients. Having that ability to make those decisions myself takes a lot of the pressure and stress off me. I’m not the kind of person who’s just going to sit back and number crunch and let someone else worry about it.
With the family side, being able to be there for certain commitments is amazing. If I need to go to an appointment, or I just haven’t spent enough time with them recently, I can just decide to do it.
Did the pandemic affect your start up journey? The pandemic gave me a whole new outlook on life, especially with having all the children at home. I felt like I was having all this pressure but I wasn’t really getting the reward. At the time of the first lockdown I was working for a large practice and working all the hours I could around the kids - I was quite often working through the middle of the night. It made me realise I was ultimately doing all of that for someone else’s gain.
What have been the major challenges in establishing your firm so far? The worst part for me was the restrictions during the pandemic. When I first set up and I was trying to get out and meet people and get word out about my business, a lot of the networking I did was online.
On the flipside, it did mean I could do a lot more because I was just on my laptop at home. But you don’t necessarily make the same connections with people that you do when you’re meeting them face to face. We weren’t able to meet with potential clients and strike up that rapport - it was also via Zoom. Adapting to that way of working was the main issue for me.
Learning time management was also a challenge for me - you can fall into the trap of the addictive nature of winning new business. There’s no greater feeling than meeting someone, telling them how you can help them, and them agreeing to work with you - you feel like you’ve won a prize. It’s just amazing.
But you have to remember that actually, that new client then comes with a massive commitment of workload. When you’re the business and you’re the one doing all of that work, it’s hard to balance those two things - the fun side of networking and the actual day to day grind.
What are your goals for your firm in the future? I’ve never really had a set ambition of where I want to end up because ultimately when I started I just didn’t have a clue how well it was going to go. I didn’t want to set myself up to not meet a target.
But now that I’ve had such an amazing first year. I’ve taken on my first member of staff, I’m in talks about taking on a second, I’ve got an office - I would really like to get to a point where we’ve doubled the client base we have now within the next year. I also would like to increase the staff.
The dream would be to take a week or two off and have the practice run without me there. I’d love the staff to take on some of those bigger responsibilities even if it’s just for a week.
Vicki Boddice, Boddice Accounting
Name of firm: Boddice Accounting
Location: Central Scotland
Established: Summer 2021
Working from: Home
Services: I feel that accountancy can be a hybrid - you can get all the compliance stuff you need, but you can also get the advice. It’s just all built into the one offering. People don’t always necessarily know what they need. Building a relationship with a client allows you to work out what other kinds of support they need, and really kind of tailor everything to that.
What made you decide to start your own firm? I’ve got a young family and a physical disability that gets worse if I’m stressed. I had the mental kind of strain that was going into physical strain, and I just realised that wasn’t what I wanted my life to be like.
I gave up work, sat for a while and thought about what I wanted to do. I chatted to people who had their own businesses and realised that actually setting up an accountancy firm was something I could do - I was qualified and there were a lot of people I could help.
Did the pandemic affect your start-up journey? I had five people that I was managing on my team. It was a different way of working. People couldn’t see the impact that workloads were having on people. But we were geared up to take care of employees when we weren’t seeing them all the time.
I think things are getting better now. People are more aware of silent cues. But I certainly think I would have always ended up here. The pandemic just made it happen faster.
What have been the major challenges in establishing your firm so far? When you’re actually out and about, you’re meeting people , going into businesses, chatting to them. That obviously hasn’t happened this year.
Thankfully when I started in the summer some restrictions were starting to ease off. But on the other side, I was getting clients coming out of lockdown who needed that extra handhold. They didn't really know where they were going, what they were doing - they needed advice and help.
Starting up involves getting over that imposter syndrome. You start to doubt what you’re doing. Selling a company that you work for is different to selling a company that is yours. Self belief is such a hard thing to put across.
But once you start getting the clients coming in and you start saying, “Yes, I can do that work, I am good at what I do.” That just builds and things start to snowball.
What are your goals for your firm in the next 12 months? For the next year I am going to be moving into an office space. I’m looking to get up to my comfortable maximum of clients.
I’m also hoping that in 2022 I'll be able to bring in an apprentice. Accountancy is one of those careers that you can go in as an apprentice and then leave as a partner and I want to encourage and nurture that.
I like helping people who maybe haven’t had the best start to or haven’t got the qualifications to get into college. You can bring them in and build them up as far as they want to go. That’s something I’m quite passionate about.