Winner stories: Andrew Sullivan FMAAT of the year

Andrew Sullivan, AAT’s Fellow Member of the Year, never had any intention to become an accountant. But his modern approach to accountancy is what has driven his success 

When Andrew Sullivan, FMAAT left school, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. “I went and worked a part-time job for a little while, and then when I was about 18, I went to college to do a business course,” he explains. “When I did that business course, I noticed I was pretty good with numbers.

I think numbers had always been a strong point of mine. So my college just basically put me into an AAT course and said, ‘see how you get on with this’.” 

Becoming an apprentice

When Sullivan started studying AAT and found it quite fun, he decided to go for it. He got an apprenticeship at an accountancy practice and stayed there for 14 years. “I had no intention of doing accounting as a career choice,” says Sullivan. “I didn’t know a lot about it. However, I knew I was never going to go down a standard route.” 

Applying what he had learned to real business scenarios was something Sullivan particularly enjoyed about accounting. He also found business owners interesting – and he still does. “I find it interesting how people get a great idea and then try to apply it and just figure it out along the way,” he says. So Sullivan took the aspects he enjoyed about accounting and made it the focus of his business.

“I work with business owners on implementing ideas and putting all their systems and processes in place,” he says. “They come to me because they know I’m an accountant, but that’s only a small element of what they want.”  

Showing business impacts

A lot of what he does isn’t what you’d typically ask from your accountant. His clients want reassurance and help with planning for what they are looking to do. “I help them make sure that they aren’t going into something that is going to impact massively on the rest of their business,” Sullivan explains. “I managed to pick up a few clients that want that level of service. I do all that remotely for them. I’m trying to build the practice up on that basis. Not general accountancy services.”  

Based in Cornwall, he deals with most of his clients on a remote basis – they’re the types of businesses that he wants to work with. “They’re flexible, and they have a modern approach to business, which is how I look to do things,” says Sullivan. “It’s a fluid environment that’s always changing and always moving. I’m probably the most informal accountant you will meet, to an extent. I don’t do the ‘traditional’ way of working.”  

A passion for technology

A passion for technology coincides with his modern approach to accounting. “I’ve always been massively keen on using technology,” says Sullivan. “I always thought when I was growing up that I would work in technology, or software or some form of the tech industry. So I’ve got a big interest in technology and software. That’s helped me to build my business.” Sullivan has a virtual assistant that does administration work for him, and he subcontracts accountants to do compliance work.

The business is growing organically. “I’m probably taking on a client every week at the moment,” he says. “I’m planning the next phase of the business now. I’m starting to explore some office space, and the potential of bringing on a part-time employee.” He is also working on building a full-scale website to handle all his leads. 

Starting his own business

The 32-year-old branched out on his own earlier this year, after 14 years at the same accounting practice. He moved up the career ladder in that practice – from apprentice to manager to director and shareholder. He was motivated to start his own business by the opportunity to be more flexible so that he could spend time with his two young children. It was the right decision for his health, too.

“I have Crohn’s disease, so it made sense for me to not be in a stressful environment,” says Sullivan. “Although having your own business is a different type of stressful environment.”  

“I’m planning the next phase of the business now. I’m starting to explore some office space, and the potential of bringing on a part-time employee.” 

Becoming self-employed with AAT

If you’re an AAT professional member, you can apply for an AAT licence to become self-employed. This entitles you to start taking on clients and offering professional services on a self-employed basis.

If you’re interested in becoming an AAT Licensed Bookkeeper or Accountant and starting up your own business, the first step is to check out the information online to ensure it’s right for you, then download the AAT licensed member application form, and follow the guidance on how to complete the form.

Further reading

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