The good kind of creative accounting

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When accountants get creative, it usually leads to trouble. But creative accounting in the guise of developing outside interests can do a power of good.

We spoke to AAT members who told us about their creative ventures and how they benefit from them.

Creativity helps with all spects of my role, even down to how I communicate and present information.

Emma Locke MAAT, Finance Manager, Roberts Environmental

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Photography makes me a better colleague

Emma Locke MAAT, Finance Manager at Roberts Environmental in Newcastle upon Tyne, and a nature and wildlife photographer

“Photography is the perfect blend of creativity and technical knowledge, as well as giving me an excuse to spend my weekends outside.

“Creativity is something that came later for me – the further I’ve progressed through my career, the greater the need has been for a creative outlet. Photography gives me a focus outside of my job, but also helps me cultivate skills that benefit my work. I think everybody should have a hobby outside of work, and if it’s something that can benefit their mental or physical health, even better – photography definitely does that for me.

“Being creative makes me a better problem solver. Being able to focus on something other than work means when I go back to the office, I’m looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, and often able to spot mistakes or generate new ideas. Creativity helps with all aspects of my role, even down to how I communicate and present information.

“Spending time being creative while surrounded by nature reduces my stress levels and helps me sleep better, which improves my quality of work, as well as my mood.

“As my photography is all outdoors, it’s been incredibly beneficial physically too. As someone who struggles to allow myself time to relax and unwind, I can spend time outdoors while also feeling like I’m achieving something. Sometimes conditions aren’t right, or the shots don’t come out the way I expected, but this has taught me to find enjoyment in the creative process and not just the perfect shot.

“Creativity is a skill that must be cultivated, and gives so many benefits – stress reduction, self-expression and using different parts of the brain. Creativity makes me healthier and happier, as well as making me a better accountant.”

Setting my own pace

Stuart Haynes FMAAT, CFO at Outer Temple Chambers in London by day and rock drummer by night

“Drumming is one of those activities where the easier it looks, the harder it is. It’s a completely different challenge to work, using separate parts of the brain, allowing you to escape from everything else. Even a straightforward song like Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty has an unusual bass drum pattern and there is a point in the song that requires all four limbs to play slightly different parts. It’s challenging to learn new songs, but the sense of achievement from practising is amazing.

“Practice is so important. I was fortunate enough to meet Steve Hewitt, who used to play drums for Placebo and Six by Seven. He told me that when Six by Seven were recording an album, he spent six months solid just perfecting the rhythm and the grooves, before he started working on fills. That shows incredible dedication, self-awareness and a desire for perfection that, as a skill, translates well to a work environment.

“Being motivated and conscientious in achieving one’s goals are important life lessons, regardless of one’s profession.

“In the band, our setlist is made up of 35 songs. We have another five as back-up. That is a lot of songs to be able to play from memory. We also regularly drop some and introduce others, so there’s a perpetual learning process. As a CFO, I have to be up to date with technical developments and legislation, so I need to constantly maintain my CPD. Working in a barrister’s chambers, I also have to be abreast of legal developments. Having the mindset to appreciate that change is healthy, rules will vary and the need to keep learning is directly applicable in a band setting. I’ve also realised that I will not always succeed the first time, but the end result is in direct relation to the amount of preparation. This is true for budgets, a presentation or playing Lonely Boy by The Black Keys.

“Drumming allows me to forget the work environment and use a discrete set of skills. The band consists of an occupational psychologist, a primary school teacher, a golf instructor and a tattoo artist. Despite our disparate backgrounds, we all agree that our practice sessions allow us to reset mentally and devote ourselves wholly to the music. Additionally, playing drums is physically demanding and it has forced me to work on my fitness levels.”

Making things gave me my identity back

Lorraine Hatfield FMAAT runs her own accountancy and small business coaching firm, as well as a sideline making bird feeders and cake stands out of vintage crockery

“I was building up my accountancy firm when my daughter was diagnosed with autism. She really needed me, so I offloaded the business to concentrate on the family. But I felt a bit lost. I’d always had a strong professional life. So, I thought, what can I do from home?

“The lightbulb moment struck in a vintage shop. I love the vintage style and upcycling. I use crockery — side plates, saucers, teacups, milk jugs and so on — to make cake stands and bird feeders. I use a desktop drill to make the holes very carefully, then run rods through to bring all the pieces into form. There’s a technique to knowing the right drill speed and the right amount of pressure, it’s something you have to learn, but I picked it up pretty quickly. It’s about challenging yourself.

“It’s very rewarding, especially when people want to buy what you’ve made. And it helps me de-stress and switch off from the professional side of things. It’s like therapy, because it’s a different way of thinking. It’s just completely different from my professional life. I can’t imagine not having this creative sideline, much to my husband’s dismay, because I’ve taken over one of his sheds and part of the dining room with stock.”

Hitting the right notes

Sinead Pratschke MAAT is a tax adviser to musicians and performers, and a former professional opera singer

“I trained as a singer at the Royal College of Music and National Opera Studio, and worked for 10 years as a freelance musician, before retraining as an accountant and tax adviser. I still love singing, but I didn’t think I had the right temperament to do it as a professional. Fortunately, I’ve remained immersed in the creative arts through my client base at my firm Orpheus Accounting.

“The music business, for me, is too steeped in work, so while it’s unquestionably a creative industry, it wasn’t until I stepped away from it that it began to become a creative outlet. I love attending concerts, plays and dance performances. It’s part of my job to see clients performing. I now get a mental health benefit, of stepping outside myself, doing something different – there’s a real release in it.

“I’ve found satisfaction from solving problems. While I was a financial controller at the Royal Opera House, I prepared a detailed production budget for the orchestra. I looked at the various music scores, I saw how many players they’d need and when. In and of itself, it perhaps wasn’t creative – in the end it was an enormous spreadsheet – but you had to know how an opera would be rehearsed and what players were needed for what parts and for how long to even begin building the spreadsheet. I spent hours devising that elaborate spreadsheet, but it provided numbers that worked and informed people, so it was time well spent.”

Conclusion: creativity in the workplace

  • Creativity helps communicate and present information
  • improves physical and mental health
  • is a skill that must be cultivated
  • can evolve into a sideline business
  • can enable greater knowledge and detail in some job roles.

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Take our online masterclass to stay ahead.

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Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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