Diana Mikolajewska, MAAT, a single mother of three, has overcome considerable odds to become an AAT licensed member.
“I would be lying if I said it has been a piece of cake,” she says. “It’s not easy, to sum up, the struggle and effort I have made to make it work. It’s involved many long days and nights. Good organisation and planning have been the key.”
Mikolajewska came to the UK in 2002 from Poland and worked in mental health care for several years but always dreamed of becoming an accountant. “As a child, I often helped my Dad complete his VAT returns, tax returns and payroll,” she says.
“From the age of 10, I helped him with calculation and double checking the numbers. Dad was too stubborn to use the computer so my task felt quite crucial, essential in fact.”
Overcoming the odds
Mikolajewska didn’t speak much English when she first arrived in the UK, after studying law in Poland, and, after her English improved, she began studying AAT level three and four in 2011. She completed her NVQ in 2013 then took a one year break before starting her ACCA.
She became licensed at the end of 2015, a few months before her youngest child was born. “I found it very difficult to work and look after a baby at the same time so ended up working during his naps and late evenings when he was asleep,” she says. “A year later when my business was picking up and I was expecting things to progress, my eldest son suffered a cardiac arrest and became disabled.”
Mikolajewska says the flexibility and freedom the ACCA has given her as been essential. “Having three children on my own is more challenging than I ever thought and flexibility is essential to be able to work and look after them and work around their sickness, holidays, half terms etc.”
Since gaining her MAAT status and AAT licence, Mikolajewska has started her own practice. “I was quite surprised how quickly I attracted a few small clients at the beginning,” she notes. “I did a bit of advertising but much of it came through friend’s recommendations and from the first month, I became profitable.”
There were, however, a few issues along the way. “The downside of working for myself and not having colleagues meant that I could no longer ask for help or advice if I came across an issue I had never dealt with,” she explains. “I often had to ring HRMC, the VAT office or Companies House etc. and even got advice from friends to deal with ethical matters.”
Battles with Brexit
She has also struggled with Brexit over the last year or so. “Following the referendum, several clients started to panic and decided to leave the UK and go back to their countries. I have lost some revenue due to that. Not only this, I was bombarded by phone calls, sometimes up to fifty per day from potential clients, asking me about Brexit.”
Mikolajewska says she spent the majority of her time helping clients to complete their forms to obtain permanent residence and later on the settled status and that is not really what she’d planned to do.
In light of this, she is considering teaming up with another accountant with more experience.
She has felt that belonging to AAT has given her considerable confidence and credibility though. “Belonging to AAT makes me feel very professional and recognizable,” she notes. “I’ve also taken advantage of the many AAT events and materials available on the website. Having MAAT letters after my name makes me feel very proud,” she says.
The opportunities are endless
“There were times my children were upset about not seeing me much but I created a star chart, where they were rewarded for playing nicely in their rooms while I studied and over the weekend we always had nice quality family time,” she notes. “I also used part-time cleaners and babysitters.”
Mikolajewska loves the opportunities having a recognised qualification has given her. “I know that I can apply for jobs literally anywhere: schools, hospitals, manufacturing, hospitality, banks, all sorts of financial institutions, courts, army, etc. Plus having a globally recognised qualification will allow me to travel and relocate for work.”
She is justifiably proud of all she has achieved. “I think many others would give up being stuck in the situations I found myself in.
Over the last two years, I have extended my circle of work friends and returned to my ACCA studies and I will be fully chartered in a years’ time. Flexibility and freedom was the best thing about becoming AAT licenced member as it gave me the work/life balance my family and I so need.”
Becoming self-employed with AAT
If you’re an AAT professional member, you can apply for an AAT licence to become self-employed. This entitles you to start taking on clients and offering professional services on a self-employed basis.
If you’re interested in becoming an AAT Licensed Bookkeeper or Accountant and starting up your own business, the first step is to check out the information online to ensure it’s right for you, then download the AAT licensed member application form, and follow the guidance on how to complete the form.
- How to be your own boss and start your own practice
- How to build a great small business culture
- Bookkeeping – what are the most common mistakes SMEs make?
Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.