Sharon Burrows is a freelance accountant running her micro practice STB Accountants in Brentwood, Essex. Her accountancy business has been going for 12 years, and she had run other companies previous to that.
We spoke to her about her experiences of being her own boss and asked her if it gets easier as time goes on.
What was the catalyst for you starting your business?
I like to work with the type of client who wants someone who’s been there, who knows what it’s like to be in an entrepreneur’s shoes and understands a lot of the pitfalls that can occur. I have that experience to share.
I’d been in business with my husband. We’d supplied consumables to the construction industry. The accountant we had wasn’t brilliant. He’d been recommended to us by the bank and wasn’t qualified; he was an ex-bank manager.
Then I’d moved into accountancy; I’ve been doing it for 30 years now. I worked in the City and then set up another business in troubleshooting.
I’d always wanted my own practice, so I went back and qualified with AAT after starting my qualifications through ACA. If you’re going to start your own practice, then AAT is an excellent, practical route to doing that. I began by doing bookkeeping then moved on to tax returns and accounts.
What were the main lessons you learnt in your first two years of running businesses?
The most important things I learnt were to set good foundations in place, whether in terms of time management, budgeting, logistics or systems. From a time and money perspective, everything will always take a lot longer than you think.
Does it get easier?
Yes, once you’ve got your processes in place and you’re happy with them. Tricky things will always come up now and then, but you get increased confidence in yourself with time.
There’s greater flexibility in working for yourself, but you continually work hard. I love what I do and enjoy helping people. It’s great to be able to go out in the sunshine in the week and work the weekend when it rains; it’s the little things like that.
How important is mindset in running a business?
You’ve got to believe in yourself, and you’ve got to be prepared to make mistakes as with anything you do in life. Mindset is a big part of it, and it comes with experience.
Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome, but if you’re the type of person who sets up a business in the first place – if you’ve worked for someone else before and you believed you could do it better – then you must have something inbuilt.
What do you wish you’d known when you started?
To just take one step at a time, be a bit bolder and braver, and have more confidence in myself.
What advice would you offer to others thinking of starting their own practice?
Make sure you always stay up to date with your licence, CPD and keep your finger on the pulse. I do this by being a member and secretary of the AAT Essex Branch; I subscribe to tax magazines and visit the AAT website regularly.
Keep it personable with your clients. I get in touch with mine at least once a quarter, especially those I do VAT for. I try to make it as seamless as possible for them as it helps in the long run.
Get some good software in place – it doesn’t have to be the most expensive but make sure you’re happy with it. The costs can run away with you, so start small and grow slowly as you get more clients. Add-on software can help streamline your processes but make sure you’re getting it because it’s relevant for you, not because you think you should or because someone is trying to sell it to you.
Why did you decide to become a licenced AAT member, and how has it helped?
I wanted to have my own practice, so I needed to be a licenced member. I’m now a fellow licence member, so I can do extra things like sign off mortgage applications.
The CPD is second to none, and I had the practice assurance done on my practice earlier in the year. The checks were thorough, and it was a beneficial exercise.
Being licenced makes you more reputable and marketable. Recruiters often approach me because of it (even though I’m not looking for employment!).
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Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.