Handling 999 calls made me a better accountant

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Working for the police for 20 years taught Stella Pickering the people skills that make her practice stand out.

As a control room manager for Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Stella Pickering answered 999 calls and placed police officers on the streets. “Every major incident you can think of, you deal with,” she says. Often, it involved handling difficult logistical situations under immense pressure. “It’s all hard work. You had to stay calm.”

Her husband set up a plumbing business in 2002, and Pickering ended up doing his bookkeeping. It was a steep learning curve, but she was determined to improve her knowledge. She started studying the AAT Advanced Diploma to take her skills to the next level.

Then a reorganisation at work left Pickering without a job. She took a career break while she completed her studies, achieving her AAT Professional Diploma in 2013.

Career emergency

Pickering had worked for the police for 20 years. She felt she couldn’t work for another employer, so she decided to take the leap into self-employment, setting up Bristol-based accountancy business Accounting by Stella in September 2013.

The transition was daunting. Pickering didn’t come from an accountancy background, so she had “no set way of doing things or talking to people”. It took time to build up her confidence, but eventually she decided to build a service based on what she wanted her practice to be, rather than what was expected.

Her business is people-focused; Pickering spends a lot of one-on-one time with clients. And her service is as much about helping them understand accounting and bookkeeping as it is about producing the accounts: “They’re scared of brown envelopes hitting the doormat. That shouldn’t be the case.”

Her experience with the police has proven especially useful. “Working in the emergency services, I had to talk to everybody. When I talk to clients, I draw upon my life experiences and I can tell what they will need,” she says.

Pickering plans to grow her business organically and to take on staff. Next year, she will become chairperson of the Bristol branch of AAT. “From a start-up, small-business point of view, the AAT branches provide a valuable support network. I want to make the branch a friendly place for people.”

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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