Why I left my chartered role to go self-employed

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Sometimes people are reluctant to give up an employed job because they see working for themselves as a risk. While running your own business can be challenging, it can also bring great satisfaction.

Here we hear from AAT qualified Chris Brown FCA, ATT, a Chartered Accountant and tax specialist who left his chartered role to become a successful business owner.

A self-employment success story

Chris Brown is a Chartered Accountant and tax specialist, providing tax planning and advice on both a corporate and personal level. He has over 20 years’ experience in the accountancy profession and decided to set up his own business after spending eight years specialising in corporate tax at KPMG.

Now he heads up a team of five accountants and his company is growing fast and taking on new clients all the time.

“I did AAT at local college after my A levels, got my qualification, and then worked for a couple of different firms on audit and tax. He decided to study for chartered status, and said AAT was “a good springboard” towards that.

The path to self-employment

“I specialised in corporate tax at KPMG and was made redundant seven years ago. I was already doing accounts for friends and family and so used redundancy money to launch my career as self-employed accountant. I knew I always had the qualification to fall back on if it didn’t work.”

He grew his own book of clients, and bought another accountancy practice a couple of years ago. He works with a network of other professionals and so can outsource financial advice and mortgages and can also arrange commercial finance via national online firm and provide virtual credit control.

The first steps towards self-employment

“When I first graduated felt like a scary world and felt as though I knew nothing working with other business owners,” he says. “As you become more experienced you find out what works and what does not work and see how other people grow their business and how an accountant can help.”

He says you need resilience, particularly when you are starting out.

“It is important to have a clear idea as to where you want to go and the more you read and connect with your peers, the more it helps you. If you are doing a bit of freelance work for friends and family and you tell your employer they are usually OK with it, but you will need a practising certificate even if you are just doing tax returns for your family.”

It can be a challenge to build up your book of clients in the early days, and having a coach or mentor, and the support of other professionals can really help.

Key takeaway: Be prepared to work hard and learn new skills, it’s also a good idea to think as commercially as possible.

Growing your business

“When I got made redundant, I asked good clients if they knew anyone who was looking for an accountant and made it clear that I was trying to grow my business,” he explains. “Good clients will bring you other good clients.

Now I work more hours than I ever did – probably 60 hours a week and at home in the evenings and at the weekend. That is because I am trying to build the business quickly.”

Key takeaways

  • You can work from home and by using the Cloud you can connect with anyone in the country or around the world.
  • You have greater flexibility and scope to grow income more quickly when you run your own business.
  • It can be helpful to have a coach or mentor to give you the confidence you need.
  • Don’t make the mistake of selling yourself too low and or taking on poor quality clients – make sure you charge what you are worth.
  • If you develop a niche specialism you can charge a premium for your services and experience.
  • Connect with other professionals – you can learn a lot from each other.

Chris Brown’s recommended reading:

In summary

“Once you get going it is an incredible journey,” Chris Brown says. “The upside is brilliant and you get a real sense of achievement. The financial rewards are great and you can help other people in their career – by training and nurturing them you become a better accountant too.

At KMPG I was not very commercial and I was more of a technical specialist – starting my own business I had my eyes opened to the bigger world out there. I would recommend it and if I can do it, anyone can.”

What you need to know about 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. You’ll be supported by AAT, who will usually also act as your anti-money laundering supervisor, which is a legal requirement.

  • You’re eligible to apply to become an AAT licensed member and offer self-employed services once you become an AAT professional member (AATQB, MAAT or FMAAT).
  • You cannot provide services as a professional member without a licence and must apply if you intend to offer services.
  • Before providing any accountancy and/or bookkeeping services you must ensure you are supervised for the purpose of anti-money laundering compliance by an approved supervisory authority.
  • Applying is simple and you’ll receive help and support from AAT to help you run your business and ensure you’re compliant
  • If you’re providing self-employed services and think you’re exempt from holding an AAT licence, you must check and apply for an exemption if needed.

Applying to become an AAT Licensed Bookkeeper or Accountant is easy.

The first step is to check out the information online and download the AAT Licensed member application form, then follow the guidance on how to complete the form.

Take your first step to getting licensed by checking out the Be Your Own Boss support online.

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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