Surviving Brexit and overcoming obstacles with AAT

Diana Mikolajewska MAAT has overcome a variety of setbacks during her accounting career. Nevertheless, she has learned to adapt.

If there’s anything Diana Mikolajewska’s story demonstrates, it’s that rolling with the punches and adaptability can quickly turn perceived weaknesses into areas of strength. 

Originally from Poland, Mikolajewska moved to the UK in 2001 and began working in the mental healthcare sector. 

“My first job was as a receptionist,” she explains. “I couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t study, so I just had to start something. I was a law student in Poland, so it wasn’t my dream job. I wanted to continue my law studies in the UK, but when I had an interview with an education adviser, she was not confident about my English and she suggested that I should work with numbers and think about accounting.” 

She started studying business, marketing and finance in 2009, but didn’t enjoy the marketing aspects of the course. “Then I came across AAT courses at my college, so I started that in 2011 and I loved it.” 

Mikolajewska completed AAT Advanced Diploma and Professional Diploma within two years, and just two months after qualification, she started working at a practice. 

“I couldn’t believe that I had a job straight away,” she says. “I was so new to accounting.  I wanted to learn more and I wanted to be involved with bigger clients and audit.” 

Her employer encouraged her to study ACCA, so she started in 2014. However, a death of a close friend and subsequently being made redundant made her re-think her career. 

“I came across the AAT practicing licence and I thought: ‘That’s a great option for me, I can work from home and I can work when I want.’  

So I got my licence in 2015.” 

Another setback 

Working from home and looking after her three children, Mikolajewska began to grow her new accounting practice. 

The UK-EU referendum caused some issues for her business in 2016, as it sent many of her clients into panic mode – and many decided to return to their home countries. 

“It was just a massive panic – everybody was bombarding me with phone calls asking me about Brexit,” she says. “But nobody knew at that time what was going to happen.” 

Another setback came for Mikolajewska in 2017 – just as her business was starting to grow and she was taking on more clients, her son suffered a cardiac arrest. 

“The AAT licence meant I had the opportunity to carry on working, despite what had happened,” she explains. “If I was employed I would have had less flexibility.” 

She paused her ACCA studies and reduced her working hours so she could care for her son. 

“I decided to go back to work full-time in December 2019,” she explains. “It was great, and I got a big client who asked me to set up a branch abroad. That allowed me to travel abroad once a month, and eventually I was asked to look after the accounting for that branch too.” 

Surviving the pandemic 

As international travel was disrupted by the pandemic in March 2020, Mikolajewska’s work with her new client slowed. 

“Whenever things are getting better, something happens,” she says. “You can never get too comfortable. You always need to be ready for a change. I think we have all learned this during the pandemic. It’s not just about becoming a big success, it’s about surviving in times of crisis.” 

As she mainly looks after small clients, most of them were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and needed Mikolajewska’s help to apply for grants and loans. 

“Some of them ended up with debt problems, so I had to advise as well,” she explains. “Similar to the UK-EU referendum, I was again bombarded with phone calls from potential clients asking for help with grants and loans. Being unable to meet face to face, it’s harder to go through and complete due diligence. I didn’t get any new clients during the lockdown and I lost some clients as well. I lost clients during the referendum, and a similar situation occurred during the pandemic – many people decided to go home.” 

Looking ahead 

Mikolajewska is looking forward to focusing on her career in the year ahead. She has options to expand her practice by hiring someone to do administrative and marketing work, or team up with friends to start a new firm. 

“I often spend a lot of time just taking calls from potential clients – it’s tough when you are on your own,” she explains. “I do enjoy working on my own, and I did enjoy working from home, but I don’t want to anymore. I want to be back in the office. 

“I have friends who are chartered accountants and we have started talking about forming a partnership, so we can join our experience and skills. We speak many languages between us, so that allows us to take on international clients. Together, we can offer the complete package.” 

Avid about her CPD, Mikolajewska hopes to finish her ACCA studies this year.  

“There’s a lot that many accountants have realised over the last year,” she says. “We can help clients be more efficient, survive and adapt.”   

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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