Lisa Newton studied accounting, began her career in bookkeeping and, today, is the driving force behind a nationwide network of bookkeepers – as well as the author of more than 10 business books.
How did she do it?
Picture a bookkeeper: Are they buried under six feet of receipts? Perhaps they’re weeping in front of an endless spreadsheet? Delving into the realm of fractions and figures may seem like a solitary pursuit, but bookkeeping can offer much more. The profession provides the opportunity to forge meaningful client relationships and pursue an entrepreneurial approach to business.
Award-winning bookkeeper and author Lisa Newton’s career has gone far beyond just balancing the books. After earning a Master’s Degree in investment management from London’s City University in 2004, Newton founded her own bookkeeping business, Boogles. In 2007, she was named ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ by Precious, an online magazine, network and resource for African British women.
Now, just over a decade after Boogles first became a reality, the company boasts a network of bookkeepers across the UK and a handful of industry awards. In 2015, Boogles received the ‘Best Bookkeeping Company London’ award from Acquisition International. This year Newton herself was featured in BE Mogul, an annual publication which celebrates the achievements of black British business owners. But a head for numbers and a flair for enterprise weren’t her only motivations for pursuing the business of bookkeeping.
“I finished the Master’s in September, and the graduation ceremony wasn’t until the following May,” Newton explains. “A lot of the people who had done the investment management course were working in the City as investment bankers. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t meet this lot again and not have something to say’. What better to say than I’ve started my own business and I’m now a company director?”
Newton was on a path toward a bookkeeping career long before her business ventures took flight, but her route into the role wasn’t entirely straightforward. During her A-Level exams, she began pursuing the AAT Accounting qualification. With a clear trajectory ahead of her, Newton undertook a degree in Accounting with Marketing at Middlesex University — though it didn’t take her long to realise that her talents would be best used outside of her chosen profession.
“I looked at the job market and realised actually what people were asking for was bookkeepers, which is a completely different ball game, she says.”
In the summer of 2004, with her Master’s Degree newly in hand, Newton pooled her funds in an effort to get Boogles off the ground. She used £50 donated by her mother and £100 from her student overdraft to launch the business — proving that the combination of market demand and sheer determination can be adequate fuel for a fledgling enterprise.
“There’s no time like the present,” Newton says. “Because I’d just finished studying it was quite easy because I didn’t have anything to lose: no job, no money, pretty much nothing.”
At first, Newton set about running her business single-handedly. While she enjoyed the flexibility this gave her, Newton soon found that her workload outgrew her capacity. Extra hands were in order. “Finding the right people has been a challenge to the point where when people say they ‘just can’t get the staff,’ I actually know what they mean!” she says.
To run a successful bookkeeping business, it’s crucial that you retain two types of people: staff and clients. While Newton may have faced initial challenges with the former, keeping customers coming back is a particular point of pride. So, does it take a special sort of person to be a bookkeeper?
“You’ve got to be quite methodological, you’ve got to be very organised, and you need to be reliable,” Newton says. “The key is to give good service to clients and make yourself available. When a customer can’t get hold of you, they’ll find someone else.”
More recently, Newton has traded balancing books for writing them. With over a dozen titles to her name — mostly on the topics of bookkeeping and business management — Newton has largely left her primary trade behind.
“I do very little bookkeeping on a day to day basis now,” she says. “I run more than one business so that keeps me busy, though I do all the bookkeeping for my own businesses, of course.”
Those considering a career in bookkeeping may not necessarily see the profession as the first step toward becoming an entrepreneur. However, Newton is living proof that what starts as a little knowledge about money can, in fact, go a very long way.
Johanna Hart is a freelance writer whose work has been published by Google, Facebook and Natwest.