How to build your firm from the beginning

Starting a company from scratch is not only daunting it’s also extremely difficult, but many do it and do it successfully.

Laura Whyte MAAT, left employment in 2014 to set up Whyfield – Business Accountants and Advisors, which now employs 12 people at their office in Truro. Whyte tells us how she was able to do so, what licences were necessary, her biggest start-up costs, and the greatest challenges and rewards.

Making the leap

I’d been in my job for quite a few years alongside doing my AAT qualifications. I started as an Accounts Assistant and worked my way up to Finance Director for a family owned business. I knew there was no further I could go and realised I didn’t want to be doing the same job for the next 40 years. I had lots of experience and my AAT qualifications, so I took a leap of faith and I’ve never regretted it.

I had secured some initial investment (a mixture of savings and external investment) as a fallback and so I could take the time to set up the business properly. I asked a friend who was also an AAT accountant to join me and it just kept growing from there. She is now a fellow director and shareholder and we employ 12 other team members ranging from admin and apprentices to chartered accountants.

Start-up costs

I began conservatively and started in an affordable shared office space, but the company outgrew it within months. I had to invest in a bigger office, but the only one in a suitable location needed a full fit out – new walls, window panes, desks, the lot – so that was a huge cost.

With every new member of staff that joined we needed to create a nice working environment for them including a new computer and then pay the recruitment fees, as well as the wages. On top of that, we had the software subscriptions for Sage, the printing of brochures and business cards, designing the brand and building the website. The biggest costs were getting those foundations in place, but the expenditure doesn’t stop now even though we’re established, because we’re always investing in making updates and more training.

Obtaining the necessary licenses

We practice under our Licence from AAT, and are also Registered Bookkeepers and fellow members of the IAB, as well as being supervised and regulated for Money Laundering Regulations. It’s only fair for clients that we maintain these standards, and I recommend that everyone checks that their accountant has these.

Strategies and processes to help you grow

We looked back at our first business plan and realised we’d smashed it. Now we look at everything more strategically. We have quarterly reviews, budget and target meetings. We’ve got a taste for growth now and don’t want it to stop.

As the industry changes and we get bigger we continue to look at our processes – creating new ones, streamlining them and communicating them to the team. At first, we started with basic processes – for example, for completing tax returns or a set of accounts, then we developed processes for running the business – dealing with new clients, logging enquiries, following up with quotes and letters of instruction.

Then we made processes for the staff like how to record time worked and how to speak to clients. With GDPR we had a massive overhaul to make sure everything was compliant and we’re doing the same for Making Tax Digital, coming into place on 1st April 2019. We’re almost a paperless office now and this allows us to be very efficient. If processes are too archaic or onerous in any business it can be a big stumbling block.

Overcoming the obstacles

One challenge we still have now is finding great members of staff who are passionate about accounting without having to pay huge recruitment fees (we’d rather give the employee a bigger package). To overcome this we try to get people at the start of their career, to train and grow them with us.

In the beginning, the other biggest obstacle was having enough self-confidence. It’s hard to blow your own trumpet and build your network as a new business starting in an area with lots of other firms, but if you do a good job it speaks for itself.

Reaping the rewards

The best thing is the feedback we get from clients and when people have already heard about us and our reputation. I’ve been shortlisted for three national awards next month and I was a finalist for the AAT Licensed Member of the Year in June.

It’s amazing to start being recognised within the industry. I also have a huge sense of pride for the team and hearing them say that they love their jobs. They work like a machine, get on like a family, and it’s so nice to have them to hand it down to. We trained them and they’re training the next generation.

Sophie Cross is a freelance writer and marketer specialising in business and travel. She is the editor for London Revealed magazine and her clients include lastminute.com Group and Merlin Entertainments.

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