Secrets to start-up in practice success revealed
Starting your own practice from scratch is always going to be a daunting prospect, let alone during a time of economic crisis. Beginning her business back in 2006, Mazuma co-founder Lucy Cohen knows the highs and lows of starting up in practice.
In an AccountingWEB Live webinar, Cohen shared her best secrets for building a successful self-made firm.
What’s your motive?
The foundation of any start-up business is the motivation: why are you starting your practice? What inspired you to take that step? What do you want your company to look like and what do you want to achieve?
Cohen advised budding practitioners to focus on your motive and keep it in mind as you move forwards “or you might lose sight of what drove you in the first place”.
She suggested writing down specifically what your goals are. Include every detail - expenses, hours, clients - and always aim towards them.
For Cohen, it was about spotting a gap in the market - at the time of Mazuma’s creation, there were no subscription-based accounting services in the UK. Researching and responding to the areas in the business that need attention is a great way to ensure a viable client demand. Today, Mazuma is one of the UK’s leading providers of online accounting, working with over 2000 clients and a further 3000 in the US.
Cohen was also pulled by her desire for independence. “I’m not good at being told what to do,” she said, wanting more control over her work-life balance and career path.
“What was that moment that tipped you over the edge into deciding ‘I’ve had enough - I can do this for me’?” she asked viewers. Maybe you had a horrible boss, or maybe you were part of a practice that was technologically inept. Whatever your reasons, hold onto them and use them to propel yourself into your new practice.
Finding your feet
Like the honeymoon period of a new relationship, the early days of a business are always the most exciting. “You get to do all the fun stuff,” Cohen reflected. “You don’t mind going out and finding business and doing all the work. You don’t mind playing receptionist and answering emails and the phone, because it’s exciting and new and thrilling.” There's nothing like the feeling of securing that first client.
Cohen encouraged listeners to focus on their business goals when recruiting clients, and to stick to that specification: “If a client comes in that doesn’t take that scope, say no.” She recommended reading Will it Make the Boat Go Faster, co-written by Harriet Beveridge and Ben Hun-Davis, for tips on how to stay undistracted.
Your initial clientele will likely be people you are already familiar with, and therefore will be more forgiving. “Make sure your first clients are kind,” Cohen advised, “because you’re going to make mistakes and you need to allow that - we all do it.”
The burden of responsibility when starting a practice can be difficult, and it’s only made harder by the amount of roles you have to personally fulfill - marketer, copywriter, planner, lawyer, networker - so just “be kind to yourself”.
“Too often we don’t allow ourselves to demonstrate vulnerability,” said Cohen. “It’s okay not to know stuff.”
Numbers and networking
She also assured listeners that it’s okay to not have a lot of funding. Mazuma was built from nothing but a spare bedroom and two best mates with a good idea. You don’t need money to get started with your branding, just tenacity and Bootstrap. “The first logo we had was done by [co-founder] Sophie Hughes' cousin as a favour,” she said, which actually saw their company through until last year.
It is important, however, to focus on the structure of your fees and pricing model. Having come from a family of creative freelancers, a regular and reliable income was vital to Cohen’s business vision, another motive behind her subscription-based approach. She favoured the predictability and time-efficiency of the concept because it suited her motive; take the time to consider what would personally work best for your business.
Once these foundations have been laid, you can then branch into more serious networking. Although business is not running as usual with current social distancing measures, Cohen advised exploring digital alternatives. Events are still running online, and there are hundreds of groups to join on social media platforms.
Rehearse your elevator pitch and use networking opportunities to refine it. “You get feedback in the moment,” Cohen explained, “you can look at people and see if they understand what you’re saying.” The benefit of their reaction is invaluable, and it’s a great way to meet potential clients.
Cohen stressed the value of not being afraid to ask for work, even if all you gain is feedback: “It’s so important when you’re starting a business, because it stops you going down the wrong route.”
With the task of social media, Cohen recommended “doing it well or not doing it at all”. If someone checks out your socials and they’re looking a bit bare, “they might wonder whether you’re up to date with the other stuff”.
Of course, you’ll be busy running the more pressing issues of your business, but it won’t damage you to not have an online presence across every single platform. Try focusing on one, and making that shine; for example, Cohen favoured Linkdin as it was more appropriate for her business sector.
The baby steps of your business will be a scary process, but the rewards will be worth it. “Remember, clients will leave,” Cohen said. “Try not to believe your own hype - just be concerned with doing a good job.”
For all her tips and tricks, watch Cohen’s How to start a practice from scratch webinar series on AccountingWEB Live.