Lucy Cohen FMAAT, co-founder of Mazuma Money, tells us her recipe for success and why becoming a member of the AAT Employer Scheme has always been part of the plan.
Cohen’s very confident when talking about Mazuma Money’s future outlook: “We’ve set a goal of 10,000 clients over the next three years.”
Sounds like a weighty ambition, but you can’t really expect anything less from someone who competed in powerlifting internationally, for both Wales and Great Britain (nowadays, Cohen sits on the board of the Welsh Powerlifting Association and is involved in the coaching of the Welsh powerlifting team).
But how is this kind of growth even possible outside the bigger firms? And how do you service that number of clients without compromising on the quality of your service?
You have to be different
Cohen and her childhood friend Sophie Hughes FMAAT set up Mazuma in 2006, soon after both had completed their AAT qualifications.
And they quickly identified a gap in the market, inspired by Cohen’s experiences. She grew up in a family of self-employed creatives, who struggled with the tax and accounts side of things. Together, Cohen and Hughes created a solution for these issues, in the form of a low cost, hassle-free subscription-based accountancy service for small and micro-businesses.
Cohen explains: “Our clients simply put all of their paperwork into our trademark Freepost Purple Envelope®, or they can upload into our app – whichever suits them best. Then we do the rest: all of their bookkeeping, management accounts and a monthly advice report with things like a tax estimation.”
Cohen says Mazuma closes the gap between tech and compliance for small businesses that don’t want to deal with having to use software or a spreadsheet. “In this way, we offer a different service from your typical online accountants who have a preferred software that their clients have to use themselves.”
Their different offering has stood the test of time and is perhaps even more effective – and in demand – today.
“The accountancy market out there has significantly developed in recent years, but it still doesn’t effectively deliver for the sole trader, partnership or small limited company,” says Cohen. “For example, software products such as QuickBooks or Xero still need the business owner to ‘drive’ them.”
She adds that traditional, high-street accountants are too expensive for small and micro-businesses. Offering this service online doesn’t work for the large accountancy firms, either: KPMG pulled the plug on their small business online accounting venture in February 2019, after just five years in the market.
With impending Making Tax Digital for taxes in addition to VAT, the demand for Mazuma’s services from software-shy micro business owners is set to grow even further.
Investing in technology
New technologies help Mazuma respond to increasing demand, grow the client base and keep fees low at the same time.
“While the offering to our clients has remained the same over the years, the tech that we use has allowed us to become more and more efficient,” says Cohen.
Mazuma now use high capacity scanning machines to digitise all paperwork, and OCR (optical character recognition) and ML (machine learning) to extract data from documents.
Other than increased efficiencies, Cohen says this also means their staff can focus on providing exceptional customer service and added value over more manual processes like bookkeeping work.
Investing in and developing people
Mazuma has recently appointed a new Chairman of the Board of Directors and an experienced sector NED. They are now working closely with Cohen and Hughes, and the wider management team, to get them to the 10,000 clients mark.
As for the rest of their team of 26, seven of their staff are AAT-qualified and five more are currently studying towards gaining the qualification.
Cohen says encouraging staff to study AAT is a total no-brainer in terms of developing their team.
“It’s such a fantastic qualification and completely applicable to our line of work. It means that their practical knowledge of accountancy is good, that they can apply their studies into a real-world scenario. And that is vital for what we do.”
Becoming an AAT Employer Scheme member
Becoming a member of the AAT Employer Scheme was a no-brainer, says Cohen.
“The membership was part of our business plan right from the start. It was important to us that we aligned ourselves with an organisation that demonstrated high levels of expertise and integrity. ”
In deciding to become a member of the AAT Employer Scheme, Mazuma has joined the ranks of Barclays Bank, Department for Work and Pensions, NHS, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Transport for London, and many other household names.
The AAT Employer Scheme is free to join.
Cohen says being a member of the scheme demonstrates that the company is committed to supporting their employees’ professional development.
“It also helps us attract the best talent as it shows future candidates that we take learning and development seriously via a professional qualification, that we take our reputation and professional standards seriously and that they will be working in a high-quality environment.”
Want to start your own business?
Cohen says she would advise any other members thinking about going self-employed to define their market first and then stick to it. “Know what you do well and keep focused on that.”
Also, make sure that your “house” is in order. “Get to grips with compliance and the legal side of things quickly and set up systems that will last you.”
She warns that starting a business is a steep learning curve and that there will be some tough lessons along the way. “You’ll get things wrong. But as long as you learn from your mistakes, you will be moving forward.”
And don’t sweat the small stuff, she says.
Cohen and Hughes started Mazuma Money from a spare bedroom, with just the two of them; now they are headquartered in Bridgend, West Cardiff with almost 30 employees. Their story shows that building a successful accounting business starts with the right positioning in the market, and that growth is driven by hard work, investment in the right technology and in professionally qualified staff.
Further reading on starting your own business:
Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.