How the Class of 2019 started their practices

'I'm going to really kick myself if I don't do it now': Class of 2019’s Ria-Jaine Lincoln, Matthew Goude, Debbie Hancock and Andy Sullivan all reflect on the moment that caused them to take their first steps as a new practice owner.

10th Dec 2019
Practice Editor AccountingWEB
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Many accountants dream of starting their own practice. For some, this dream remains just that as circumstances get in the way or they continue the 9-to-5 grind.

But in front of those who choose to go it alone lies a future of promise, hope and uncertainty.

It takes a certain mindset to push away doubts and demons and take those first solo practice steps. But if you’re finding that you’re dwelling too much on the uncertainty, a tried-and-tested approach is to emulate those who have already pulled the trigger. 

Whether it's redundancy, health reasons or a yearning for a more flexible working life, there are many drivers behind that final push to go it alone. We asked our four Class of 2019 startup practitioners to explain how and why they decided to swap the comforts of full-time employment for their own practice.

Ria-Jaine Lincoln, director of Ria-Jaine & Co Ltd

Ria-Jaine Lincoln

Lincoln never intended to start her own accountancy practice. She was actually all set to start up a beauty salon. 

She had built some serious chops in accountancy after spending eight years at Deloitte. However, such a massive multinational environment can pigeonhole you into one department, and Lincoln didn’t want to feel shackled to just one specialism or one accounting process.

“I worked my way around the different departments. I wanted to get as much knowledge as possible,” she said.  

But things were about to change. She’d gained her AAT qualification and was well on her way to studying her ATT when her career took an unexpected detour. After having her third son she suffered post-natal depression. 

That’s when she decided to train in beauty therapy. At first, it was just to get her out of the house and back socialising. But the more she became involved in the industry, the more accountancy faded into the background. 

Lincoln then started to plan her new working life: first running a mobile beauty service until she had the means to set up a salon of her own, which would also work around childcare. But when she clocked out of Deloitte for the final time it suddenly dawned on her: ‘I can't waste all the accounting knowledge I've got.’

Through her beauty therapy training, Lincoln was part of a number of WhatsApp groups with the other beauticians and it was there she noticed a massive gap: they needed an accountant

“They're all being trained up and told how to get their insurance and how to promote their services on social media, but none of them were told to register with HMRC,” said Lincoln. 

“I then emailed everyone I could in the beauty industry, beauty shows, training providers and said that we've all got a social and professional responsibility to make sure the people they are training know how to set up a compliant business and it's taken off from there.”

Matthew Goude, owner of Zincbooks

Matthew GoudeGoude always wanted to run an accountancy practice but it was just finding the means. 

“I've always had a few clients, as most of us often do. Even though I was in industry for 13 years I had friends who I did their accounts,” he said. “The challenge around setting up on my own was having the finances in place to go and do it.”

Although he dabbled on the side with some clients, he still needed that push. And in a roundabout way, Goude’s former employer gave him the opportunity to set up a practice.

Before Zincbooks, Goude was the group financial controller at Chargemaster, a supplier of charging points for electric vehicles. He’d held the position for over a year when BP swooped in and acquired the electric charging network for £130m, in a move that echoed its rival Shell into renewable energy.

Luckily, Goude was in the company’s share scheme. “That gave me the opportunity to have a run at it. I said to my wife, this is the time now. I've got some capital behind me and if I don't do it now, I'm going to really kick myself that I had the chance and didn't take it. The desire has always been there but I'd never had the means.”

Unlike some people who would leave their job on a Friday and “go figure it out” while they started their practice, Goude instead wanted the space to “not have to rush and jump into it with two feet”.

“I wanted to have some comfort there where I could have a good run at this for a few months and build it,” he said. 

Debbie Hancock, owner of Southbourne Accountancy and Business Services

Debbie HancockWhile the thought of starting a practice had been developing for a while, for West Sussex accountant Debbie Hancock it took a serendipitous suggestion from a family member and fellow accountant to point her down the practice pathway.

Two years prior to starting her firm, Hancock had taken voluntary redundancy from her role as a finance manager at BAE Systems. At the time, her sister-in-law’s father, himself an accountant, suggested she start her own practice. However, Hancock remained unsure, and a call from Babcock a week later with the offer of a part-time role put the startup in practice decision on ice.

After a year and half at the engineering company, a restructuring meant the role needed to full time: a move that proved something of a watershed moment for Hancock's practice ambitions.

“I thought, this is not for me,” said Hancock. So the CIMA accountant stepped towards the exit door by studying for the ATT qualification. “I used the run out for that to gain as much knowledge as I could.”

Hancock also volunteered and completed tax returns on the side while she worked out what she needed to do, and worked towards gaining her CIMA Member in Practice accreditation.

Hancock was also keen to emphasise her background in management accounting, and so added a ‘business services’ emphasis to her firm's name. “I wanted people to know that it is not just tax”.

She has initially given herself to Christmas 2020 to make life in practice work. "It’s good having a deadline to focus your mind. But having that date as a goal is not only a motivator when you’re out on your own, but it’s out of necessity," explained Hancock. "If it doesn't work, then I'm going back to work. It's looking OK. I'm extending it out.”

Andy Sullivan, director of Complete HQ Ltd

Andy SullivanFor Cornish-based accountant Andy Sullivan, there were push and pull factors at play when it came to taking the plunge and starting out on his own.

“Last year I found out I have Crohn's disease and I was off work for six weeks," said Sullivan. "You go to work and do 45 hours and then come home and do your emails and other stuff. I have two young kids as well. So gradually it was killing me."

This diagnosis forced Sullivan to manage his life better, and for the sake of his health, he started his own practice.

He started out without any savings, but as a director and shareholder in the practice where he’d worked since leaving school, he was able to take a few clients with him. In his own words: "all my life’s work were in those shares."

He started getting some form of income from June, but it was a phone call from the other end of the country that changed the Cornish accountant’s practice fortunes. After initial conversations with a Scottish-based firm, Sullivan found someone who was a kindred spirit. 

“They contacted me asking to help out with some of their clients, and I signed up to some ongoing consultancy," explained Sullivan.

“They've got a really interesting take on accountancy. Similar to me, I don't try to look like an accountant whilst offering accountancy services.“

Although he kept expectations around growth fairly limited due to his health issues, Sullivan quickly found that people wanted to work with him. So despite his restrictions, he has been able to rapidly grow his fee-base.

Starting a practice has enabled Sullivan to focus on that flexible lifestyle his health required and to spend more time with his family. “I've been lucky,” he said. 

What was the moment that pushed you to take your first steps as a start up in practice?

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By GR
10th Dec 2019 21:46

Great article / series. This is a question I have often wondered, i.e. what makes someone give up the safety of being an employee for all the risk of being self-employed. It kind of makes sense that it takes big life events (e.g. children, redundancy, ill health, etc) to give people the reason/opportunity/excuse to go self-employed. Class of 2019 seem very brave, especially as they all appear to have partners, children, etc. Would be good to read further articles on advertising & growing & cash flow, dealing with the loneliest of working from home & work/life balance, set backs and going back to employment, taking on first employees and moving into offices, effects of Brexit & IR35, etc.

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By Leon Ruward
05th Jan 2020 09:12

I started my own practice for many of the reasons mentioned in this article. but one of the main reasons, is that with online software the infrastructure costs of setting up not that high. However, I thought well in advance about those issues of working from home, promotion etc. So I joined a local business networking group, started a part time job at large fitness centre (learnt about marketing), undertook some very direct marketing and ensured that I took part in a fitness class three times a week, which as a marketing and well being mix has within say two years given the portfolio size of clients that I was looking for and a sustainable way of working.

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