AAT award-winner: Growing your accountancy practice

Farid Gasanov MAAT, AAT’s Licensed Member of the Year, had big career goals from the get-go. And with his own award-winning accountancy practice at age 30, we met up with him to hear how he did it.

Gasanov got his BA in Finance at Azerbaijan Economic State University. Rather than cracking on with a job straightaway though, ever-ambitious Gasanov then headed to Leicester University for a master’s degree.

This considered, long-term vision is a key theme in Gasanov’s career to date.

Originally, he had planned to stay in the UK for a single year but it soon became a new home; “It fit my principles much more than Azerbaijan did.”

Gasanov’s career finally began in PwC’s audit team. He took the ACA qualification, then moved on to a company called Tunstall Healthcare, starting as Assistant Group Financial Accountant and working 
his way up to Group Finance and Tax Analyst.

Becoming licensed with AAT

His overarching dream, however, was to start his own practice. He decided to start one alongside his day job, which is how he discovered AAT.

“I didn’t actually study AAT,” he explains. “I had the ACA qualification, and through this you can get AAT membership, and become a licensed member.

AAT was the natural choice for becoming licensed to practice, as Gasanov could get started straight away. “For ACA/ACCA, you need to have worked for two years in another practice… I didn’t want to change jobs before starting up. ICAEW actually recommended I go to AAT.”

Gasanov liked the clarity and ease with which he could become licensed and compliant.

Running his own practice

Small companies don’t get enough detailed advice

Starting off with a couple of clients, he had the opportunity, being employed full-time, to really get his head around small business needs and how he could deliver a service that met them.

“They don’t have as much money to pay for accounting fees, so they tend not to get as much regular, detailed advice as large companies would get. One area where they’re really underserved is tax planning; often they don’t have the right tax planning in place.”

Gasanov saw that in many cases, SMEs were over-complicating their tax situation, taking the wrong mix of salary and dividends, or taking a lot in dividends and no salary at all.

“Simple things like that can save £2,000-£3,000 a year. And that’s a big thing for small businesses.”  

He also found that business owners felt they’d been misled by some accountants in the past, hit by ‘surprise’ fees when they thought they had everything covered. So Gasanov decided to be upfront with all of his fees – putting a fixed pricing structure in place.

“That’s not revolutionary, but it’s something a lot of businesses were missing. And they want it, because they don’t want to face a big bill at the end of the year if their accounts are down. And the cost of the fixed pricing structure is spread throughout the year, so they don’t feel it.”

Fixed fees had another advantage – Gasanov knew exactly how much he would be earning from his practice, Q Accountants, month-to-month. “It makes it very easy to plan and scale.”

Growing the business

Despite setting his practice up as a home-based side-business, Gasanov always had an eye on scaling up.

He spent a lot of time in his first year putting the right foundations in place for growth. Automation played a big part in this, allowing him to provide bookkeeping services without overloading himself or increasing the cost too drastically for his clients.

The set up was very simple – Xero, set up with bank feeds and Receipt Bank, which assured that the books were populated automatically and accurately. 

He also spent a lot of time in his first year gathering feedback from clients and other small businesses, and using that information to hone his services and procedures.

“I will never get bored of talking about procedures. For every new client we have, there is a very strict process for bringing them on board. Otherwise, it’s very easy to miss something.” 

Moving out of the house and into an office

Gasanov continued to steadily grow and refine his practice for another two years, relocating from Leeds to London in the process. He watched his cash reserves grow to a point where he knew he could make his move, then struck out on his own.

“After moving into a co-working space in London, we were able to take on our first AAT apprentice, quickly followed by a second. In a year and a half, we became a team of seven.”

Now, Gasanov is opening his second branch in Sheffield – an office of three people. After two years of steady growth, it has kicked into overdrive, thanks to Gasanov’s meticulous planning and his simple, clear subscription service.

Award-winning efforts

The impressive speed of the firm’s growth – and its careful planning – won him the accolade of Licensed Member of the Year at the AAT Professional Member Awards. But Gasanov’s ambitions don’t stop there. 

“I have a vision for the practice: that by 2023 we will be one of the top 100 accounting firms in the UK. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s where we’re going.”   

In summary

So what’s the big secret? There’s more than one way to successfully grow your business, but Farid Gasanov’s carefully considered methods have certainly reaped the results he was after. And whilst his goal to become one of the top 100 UK accounting firms may sound ambitious, there are probably a number of steps already underway to get him there.

Gasanov’s work with charities alongside his fierce ambition, make him a very deserving Licensed Member of the Year, and we look forward to seeing what he does next.

Follow Farid’s lead at the Annual Conference 

Past attendees at the AAT Annual Conference have gone on to form practices that have won accolades in subsequent years – and you could be next.

This year’s conference (2019) covered everything from team management to the latest trends and beyond. It’s a fantastic opportunity for accounting and bookkeeping professionals to build their own foundations for personal growth – learn new skills, create development plans, meet their next business partner – or become an award winner. 

Find out how you could be your own boss

Read more on our recent AAT Annual Conference 2019, and register your interest for the next one at aat.org.uk/conference

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