Skydiver, business owner, bookkeeper

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When you find yourself 12,000 feet in the air, dangling out of an airplane, there’s a lot racing through your head.

Is the reserve parachute definitely in my pack? Do I know which cord to pull on? How far do I fall before I open it? But for some skydivers, the most important question is whether they’ll be receiving a VAT receipt once the adrenaline rush subsides.

Alison Gale is a self-employed bookkeeper who knows a thing or two about balancing unique experiences with financial compliance. An independent bookkeeper since 2013, her clients include security specialists, designers and skydivers. And when it comes to the latter, Gale herself is well-prepared to offer advice, given her personal passion for skydiving.

“I started out doing all sorts of different roles: reception, admin, office management,” she recalls. “But every employment agency kept pushing me towards finance jobs because I’d done a City and Guilds accounts qualification when I was younger.”

Gale got her first bookkeeping job working in the corporate finance department at Virgin Mobile. She initially worked as part of the banking team as a treasury assistant, and then later moved over to the consumer sales ledger. It was during her time in this role that she started to dream of working for herself, but little did she know the heights her work would reach.

“I sat a few of the International Association of Bookkeepers exams, which were really helpful,” explains Gale. “Then I left and got a part-time job as a bookkeeper for a property developer in Bath. This was right around the time of the property market crash, so I was actually only there for three or four months.”

Undeterred, Gale began her journey towards self-employed bookkeeper status. Despite her experience and skills, her first business venture started out slowly due to a lack of guidance or industry mentorship.

“I eventually got started working for a school’s accounts and budgeting team for the local council, which was quite interesting,” says Gale. “I saw a different point of view, but not much of a challenge. I really wanted to go out there and help small businesses as I thought this work would be most interesting.”

From a relatively bleak start, Gale’s client list soon began to grow. By 2013, she was finally secure enough to be able to work full time as an independent bookkeeper. But, as any bookkeeper knows, sometimes the biggest challenge is convincing clients of the importance of tidy bookkeeping.

“I’m constantly facing clients who say: ‘oh, my wife can do this’, or ‘my mother can’,” says Gale. “Especially now with the availability of accountancy software packages, everybody thinks they’re an expert!”

But just because software has made bookkeeping easier, doesn’t mean that professionals like Gale don’t have a place in ambitious businesses. Often Gale finds herself setting up software solutions for her clients, and while small businesses in particular appreciate being able to manage their own affairs, she finds her clients see huge value in being able to call on her expertise when they need advice.

For Gale, transitioning businesses to more efficient methods of bookkeeping is just part of her service offering, and there are always more clients in need of advice on how to best handle their ledgers. But it tends to be the contacts she’s made in the skydiving industry that approach her with out-of-the-ordinary receipt collections.

“Somebody approached one of the companies I work for wanting them to design a wing suit, which is not something they’d done before. You have to have it all tested, and it can be quite a challenge getting it right,” Gale explains. “It’s usually the accessories rather than the main equipment where things get interesting. You can get some very odd requests for where people want to put their cameras.”

Alongside odd requests from her clients’ customers, Gale occasionally has difficulties explaining to skydiving instructors how to separate work expenses from personal ones. In fact, the lines can get rather blurred sometimes.

“You have to be careful and be quite strict, because you do get some real characters in skydiving. You find them doing silly things like naked sky dives,” says Gale. “Dressing up in extravagant gear or fancy dress is also common. Some of them have funny hats and things like that. Obviously not all of it can go through expenses!”

When it comes to being a bookkeeper, Gale shows that you definitely need good people skills, and you have to be flexible. Whether sitting behind a desk, or freefalling from high up, it’s always important to be professional in front of clients. No matter what they choose to wear.

Johanna Hart is a freelance writer whose work has been published by Google, Facebook and Natwest.

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