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image of cohen and harris | accountingweb | FAB

Unveiling a different side to accounting


Lucy Cohen and Rachel Harris took to the Accounting Excellence stage at FAB and delved into the personal aspects of managing an accounting business, emphasising the importance of embracing openness within the profession.

14th Mar 2024
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Lucy Cohen, founder of Mazuma, and Rachel Harris, founder of accountant.she – both Accounting Excellence winners – led a session on day one of the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping at Birmingham’s NEC. 

They shared their personal experiences amid their professional success and delved into the emotional toll of the accounting profession. Both Cohen and Harris stressed the significance of friendships and opening up about difficult conversations. Their insights shed light on the more human side of accounting. 

Opening up 

Both Cohen and Harris opened up about going into therapy and having the space to prioritise themselves amid the demanding nature of their profession. “Going to therapy needs to be made less taboo in the workplace,” Harris said. 

Cohen also shared, “At the end of the day, employees are not bothered about what we are going through, they still expect us to be the best boss.” 

They spoke about how important it is to be self-aware and understand how you are feeling to ensure that you do not burn out. 

“A lot of the things we experience, we do not have training for, we have to navigate it on our own and rely on those close relationships,” said Cohen.  

Maintaining friendships 

Being a successful businesswoman in the accounting profession, although rewarding, comes with its own personal challenges. 

Cohen and Harris talked about struggling to maintain and make new friends, which often leads to loneliness. “It is really hard to maintain friendships when you are busy and running a business. You go into business and you change rapidly and it is different to others who are not in the profession and so aren’t in the same position,” said Cohen. 

They both spoke about the difficulties of outgrowing people and how running a business can feel isolating because it is not the same as turning up to a normal job. “Phasing out and breaking up with friends is painful,” Harris said. 

She continued, “I have rapidly scaled my business, which has meant that I have had to rapidly scale myself, and to be honest, it has made me feel quite lonely.” 

Cohen replied, “To be able to survive in accounting and business you have to find those people who will support you and cheerlead you.”

Being comfortable talking about money

Cohen and Harris emphasised the importance of being transparent and open when it comes to talking about money. As successful women in accounting they have both felt like they couldn’t openly discuss money. 

“It is an awkward conversation but you have to talk about it because no one else will,” Harris said. 

Cohen spoke about her experience after her company’s multimillion-pound investment. She said that, although it was awkward, it forced her to be a lot more open about money. “You have to be comfortable sitting in this uncomfortable space,” she said. 

They emphasised the importance of acknowledging your hard work and taking time to appreciate that. Despite their hard work and success, both women experienced guilt when it came to treating themselves. 

“It became a constant reminder that I needed to move onto the next thing and achieve more when instead it should have been a reminder that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters,” said Cohen. “You work hard and there have to be ways to treat yourself and recognise that you have worked hard. You do all this hard work for others and it is so important you take a moment to look at your own quality of life.”

Success is for everyone 

Harris mentioned that she has often been made to feel like she was unworthy of success if someone else was also successful. 

“Women in particular have this issue that there should be only one ‘alpha’ female,” Cohen said.

They encouraged others to know that just because someone has a slice of the pie, it doesn’t mean there should be less for anyone else.

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Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
18th Mar 2024 09:45

All good points - excellent in fact!
But the problems and difficulties mentioned are common among many small business owners. There is no training ro preparation available, nor possible I believe. It's always been 'lonely at the top'; if you have employees you'll always be left out of the (gossip) loop and the last to know. And it's ALWAYS about the money - that's the oxygen of business - and people who don't run businesses never fully appreciate the pressures and stresses that causes.
One of the best ways accountants (and bookkeepers) can help the (small business) clients is to "be the therapist", explain the numbers, and that's the 'value' most small business owners don't know they need and/or don't ask for. That's something accountants are in a unique position to provide - that's where real value lies for clients.
Those awkward 'half hour of polite conversation, avoiding the elephant in the room' meetings many have with clients once a year when they present the final accounts are NOT good for either party.
Being a 'real' person, popping in on clients, and asking those hard and direct questions, appreciating clients fear of being frank and open add REAL value. I know it's costly, but if your clients get that value two things will happen: they will prosper and so will you.

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