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Woman sketching a business plan on a placard at a creative office
Woman sketching a business plan on a placard at a creative office

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

12th Oct 2020
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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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.

Perfect pitch

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.

Replies (3)

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By FirstTab
13th Oct 2020 07:39

No secrets have been revealed in this article.

No practice owner would reveal their secrets.

Thanks (1)
Replying to FirstTab:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
15th Oct 2020 09:29

Hi FirstTab, it's been a while since we corresponded, but good to see your footprints on AccountingWEB again.

Having written about practice development for a couple of decades now, and based on eight years' study of the activities of all our Accounting Excellence Award entrants, I have come to the conclusion that there aren't really ANY secrets to starting up effectively.

The formulas and key factors to focus on are all right there out in the open. In our hearts, most of us reading this article probably know them:
1. Identify your ideal clients and build your strategy around them
2. Research the problems that are giving them the most trouble
3. Fix those problems and communicate regularly with key clients and prospects to stay in touch with their needs
4. Recruit carefully to get people who understand your vision and are excited to carry it out.
5. Treat your practice as a business and build out from your core values/strategy. When the formula is working, it will attract similar clients if you put a bit of effort into communicating what you have to offer.

A bit obvious really, and you can read the same advice from Mark Lee, AVN, 2020 Group and all the big accounting software houses and practice gurus.

What makes Lucy's article valuable and interesting to other accountants is that she's done it and is passing on the benefits of her experience. If she says staying focused on your core strategy can be difficult, maybe the 'Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?' book is a helpful aid to retaining that focus.

I got 5+ little ideas from a quick read of the piece; maybe not new, but useful all the same. If anyone picks up just one of them and tries to put it into action in their startup, then Lucy's article will have made an important difference to a fellow accountant. Surely we should thank her for that rather than sniping at her efforts?

Thanks (0)
By FirstTab
15th Oct 2020 10:28

Hello John

I read your response as an attempt to make me stop expressing my opinion on these articles. I see it as you using your position in Sift to stop me expressing my opinion freely without concerns about come back from a senior-level person in the Editorial team. It will not work until Sift removes me as a member.

They are secrets about running any business. No business owner would disclose. Here are some examples

1) Detail on how to get new clients. Suppliers used. What exactly done. Not general information. Detail detail detail.

2) Marketing suppliers used, what were the marketings costs and success.

I will say it as I see it John, the key objective of these articles is the promotion of Practice Excellence and the practice owner.

Each time, I click the article I hope to read something of value. It just cannot be since the name of the person and practice name is disclosed. Ths real issues facing the practice cannot be discussed to protect the brand.

I will exercise my right to snipe. You can exercise your right to remove me or snip back at me. I am fed up with I am so good articles and Sift's heavy promotion of these articles.

One of the key reason I stopped blogging on AW is seeing over the promotion of these type of articles.

Thanks (0)