By Sophie Jardine Inspiring stories Helping entrepreneurs launch their businesses is a labour of love for this accountancy firm 22 Aug 2017 Being an accountant isn’t just about cash flow charts, tax returns and spreadsheets. At the very core of accounting is the desire to help clients understand and manage the complex world of finance. With technology quickly transforming the industry, accountants need to find innovative new ways of delivering value to their clients. That’s exactly what accounting dream team Elizabeth Claxton and Michelle Raper of Rostrons have done. The director duo share a passion for helping people, and saw an opportunity to marry that passion with their accounting know-how. They noticed that their local community was scattered with fresh, innovative new startups that Rostrons would love to work with, but who couldn’t afford their help. As a solution, Michelle came up with the idea of a unique support system that wouldn’t cost the startups a single penny. “The Entrepreneurs’ Academy came about because there are clients that we have at Rostrons who need the sort of strategic advice we give, and who we definitely want to give it to, but who clearly can’t afford it yet,” Claxton explains. Stepladder to success The Entrepreneurs’ Academy helps startups on tight budgets by offering two years of free mentoring with bookkeeping, strategy, marketing and compliance. Claxton and Raper hope that by getting these businesses off the ground, they’ll blossom into successful, interesting ventures that will want to work with Rostrons for a long time to come. “We didn’t want to lose the opportunity to work with people like that for the sake of a couple of years while they’re finding their feet,” Claxton says. “Why don’t we help them reach that point by encouraging them to only pay for the services that they need at the time?” And what Rostrons provides is an innovative approach to problem-solving. Every individual accountant takes this approach of being open and honest with their clients and encouraging the same openness and honesty in return, which Claxton believes makes Rostrons uniquely placed to aid startups compared to other accountancy firms. “What makes Rostrons qualified to do this is that we work really collaboratively, and have other professionals that we work very closely with,” says Claxton. “If clients need help with banking or HR, if they need help from a lawyer, where are they going to go? In the first two years they’re likely to not ask for advice to save on cost. Actually, advice at this early stage will save money in the long-run. We work so collaboratively, we’ve got other professionals completely onboard with this concept.” Making the difference Rostrons holds strong values of openness, honesty, and cooperation. As well as establishing the Entrepreneurs’ Academy, these values have enabled Rostrons to extend their professional network and become hugely influential in an ecosystem of thriving businesses. While it might not seem practical to invest time and money in clients that haven’t found their feet, Claxton says that helping young business succeed is a reward all its own. And because the programme is selective, it doesn’t affect Rostrons’ wider revenue streams. “The entrepreneurs’ academy does not have a lot to do with our bottom line, because at any one time there are only around six businesses in the programme,” she explains. “Ultimately, we want our entrepreneurs to create really successful businesses and then we will grow the services we give to them. But we don’t have a target that states we must be charging a set amount of money in two or three years’ time. It’s simply not about that.” For Rostrons, the academy is not just a gimmick designed to attract up-and-coming young clients, but a value offering designed to maintain a relationship with a company as it grows. Rather than setting goals or benchmarks for the programme, the firm decided to begin piloting it and reflect on its success as it unfolded. “We wrote down on one side of an A4 piece of paper what we were trying to achieve and then we started the academy,” Claxton says. “If we spend a long time trying to work out exactly what something will look like before piloting it, it’s wasted time because as soon as we start we realise all the things we didn’t think about and all the things we got wrong in the detailed plan that we put together.” The accountancy sector is changing rapidly. Technology is performing many of the more menial tasks that were previously the responsibilities of accountants and bookkeepers. As we move even further into the age of digitisation and automation, accounting firms have to find new ways to deliver value to their clients. Claxton believes exploring new services, such as providing strategic advice to financially challenged startups, is imperative to the survival of accounting firms. “Expanding and branching out isn’t just important, it’s critical. It’s absolutely critical, it’s non-negotiable. If you don’t do it, you could wake up one morning and not have a firm anymore. The world you wake up in may have been revolutionised by some new technology or process that renders your firm irrelevant. It really is do or die. As the technology tide rises higher and higher, maybe it’s time other accounting firms looked to following Rostrons’ lead. Investing in future customers rather than waiting for their businesses to come of age is rewarding both commercially and personally. It also secures a successful, interesting client base to avoid drowning in the wake of digitisation. Five ways accountants can support young businesses Help shape their strategy. Most new businesses have a good idea of what their goals are, but are often less sure about how to actually achieve them. Accountants can offer the necessary experience to help them find the right path forward. Ask them the right questions. Experienced accountants will have helped their fair share of clients out of some tough cashflow spots. In mentoring young businesses, accounting firms can preempt disasters by forcing clients to ask tough questions about their growth plans. Get them using the right tools. These days there are a dizzying number of accountancy and bookkeeping tools available. Accountants can show their clients what the best tools are for tracking day-to-day expenses and keeping on top of their finances. Manage their expectations. Accountants can analyse a client’s expansion plans and expenditure to help them forecast any potential financial hiccups. In doing this, they also help clients create an informed and realistic picture of their company’s future. Offer a confidence boost. Perhaps most importantly, a skilled accountant and mentor can offer encouragement like no one else can. After years of looking at revenue streams and tax returns, an accountant knows what a successful business looks like. And their impartial praise can offer young businesses a boost. This is the second story in a four-part series about Rostrons. Read about Elizabeth Claxton’s journey to become director of the Norwich based firm. Sophie Jardine is an editorial assistant at Flibl. She writes, researches and reports stories about finance and technology.