“Before, I was just an accountant. Now I am an award-winning accountant”

How can you distinguish yourself from the competition – and create publicity for your business at the same time?

One of the best ways is to win – or be shortlisted for – a major award. So when it comes to the AAT Professional Member Awards, what are the judges looking for, how should you go about entering, and what difference can it make to you both as an individual and as a business?

Abul Nurujjaman FMAAT won Licensed Member of the Year in 2017. He runs Taj Accountants in East London.

Why do you think you won?

I took it really seriously, and I put everything possible into the application to make myself a strong contender. I didn’t expect to win, but the judges mentioned certain things that really appealed to them. I changed my practice from ‘zero to hero’, I’ve put in new computer systems and technology, and I’ve changed the infrastructure of the whole business.

What do you think the judges were looking for?

I took on a huge challenge – Taj Accountants used to be very small, but I’ve set up shop in really large premises on one of the busiest streets in East London. It used to be a clothing store and I’ve redesigned the whole interior, creating workspaces for eight people, dividing the space up with glass, and generating waiting areas for people in reception.

I think the judges liked this sense of scale and ambition – plus the way I implemented the infrastructure changes, and dealt with challenges and managing expectations.

Do you have any advice for would-be entrants?

Make sure you present it well. It’s not just about doing good things – it’s about demonstrating clearly how you did them. When you present a case to the judges they need to know why they’re giving you the award.

Ask yourself – why do I deserve to be there? Be confident. Convince yourself first – and then you can convince the judges. And then ask a colleague to proof-read it.

How does the award help you develop as a person?

When you enter for an award like this you look inside yourself; that’s a really fascinating and rewarding process in itself. You understand your strengths. You see what you like about what you’re doing and you see what your weaknesses are – how do I enhance what I’m doing well, and how do I change what I’m not doing so well?

Knowing yourself is one of the best pieces of advice I can give about being a good professional. It opened my eyes as a business person and it’s a great motivator.

And how would you encourage others?

Find your unique selling point. What’s your differentiator? Discover that, then highlight it in the application form. It doesn’t necessarily have to be big, but it does have to be special.

Everyone has unique qualities. As an SME owner I believe the key to a successful business – particularly in a service business such as ours – is the relationship you build when speaking to clients. Take the time to show them you care about them. Clients can be fussy, or upset, or not in the right frame of mind when they walk in the door.

Patience is key. If you get it right, their tone of voice changes when you listen to them and communicate effectively.

What has winning the award led to?

Before, I was just an accountant. Now I am an award-winning accountant with recognition from a top industry body. That makes such a difference to everything. People both inside and outside the industry take you more seriously. On a personal level, there’s been lots of travel this year, both professionally and for well-deserved holidays too. I’ve spent extended time in Malaysia and Thailand and I’m about to set off for Bangladesh – both for pleasure and business. That’s what life is all about – work hard, but remember to play hard too.

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Hazel Copeland FMAAT won Professional Member of the Year in 2017. As CFO of Woldmarsh Producers, a farming co-operative, Hazel has made their accounting processes more efficient and accurate, automating invoices and speeding up invoice processing by a remarkable 31%.

What’s happened in the year since you won the award?

I’ve continued to develop the team and introduced EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) technology which has improved the processing efficiency of the accounts department. This has kept costs down, while maintaining a high level of service to the farming co-operative’s membership.

How has the award benefited you – and why would you encourage others to enter?

I was absolutely thrilled to be recognised by my accounting body for the hard work I put in to developing my accounting skills, training my staff and embracing new systems of work. I’d encourage others to enter the award as it highlights your achievements to the wider accounting community and will hugely support your career development.

The award has given me recognition within the business community where I work – and similar businesses have visited our accounts department to see how we’ve utilised IT to help with the processing of accounting transactions.

Why do you think you won – and what lessons have you learnt?

It’s having a commitment to personal development, I believe – and helping others on their journey too. I gained my CIMA qualification and MBA after qualifying with AAT. I’ve shared my skills with others, teaching bookkeeping and accounts at evening classes and mentoring AAT students within my workplace.

I’m committed to adopting new digital working practices to ensure we stay competitive. As for lessons I’ve learnt, communication skills are key. I’ve always sought to involve my team, develop their skills and recognise the contribution they make to the success of the accounts department.

There are six categories for the AAT Professional Member Awards :

  • Professional Member of the Year
  • Licensed Member of the Year
  • Rising Star of the Year
  • CPD Champion of the Year
  • AAT Advocate of the Year and
  • Branch of the Year.

The winners will be announced in a ceremony at the AAT Annual Conference on 7 June 2018

Image from left to right: Award winners – Hazel Copeland (winner of Professional Member of the Year), Abdul Nurujjaman (winner of Licensed Member of the Year), Diana Cornford (winner of AAT Advocate of the Year) and Libby Walklett (winner of CPD Champion of the Year)’

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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