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Growing up in The Gambia, AAT member Ali Jaw hated the rainy season, “It’s the farming season. My grandma was a farmer and I had to go and help in the holidays but I used to hide.”
Jaw was determined to use his education and build his own career path, and while he may not have loved farming, his dedication to accountancy shows he’s never been afraid of hard work. Beginning his AAT studies at the Management Development Institute in The Gambia, he then took on work experience at an aunt’s hotel, where his encounters with international guests encouraged him to pursue further studies abroad.
The unconventional career path
“I always had an interest in accounting. I found it fascinating, especially the business side of things,” he says. “I met a really nice couple who said I could stay with them to study. Before you know it I was in England, still carrying on with the AAT and enrolled in a college in Birmingham.”
Despite its own rainy seasons, Jaw settled permanently in the UK around 2000-2001. He continued with his studies, secured work in the financial department of a fire safety and security company, where he is now operations and finance manager, and even took on additional unpaid work to expand his accounting experience.
His diligence paid off and after first establishing his own practice, he now also works in partnership with fellow AAT member Michael Beech, as half of AM Accounting.
Networking with your peers
Beech, who also runs his own practice, first met Jaw at a meeting of the AAT Birmingham Branch, and later proposed teaming up: “We wanted to support each other and pool knowledge. My strengths are IT, software, customer service and having meetings; Ali’s very good on taxation and final accounts and accounting knowledge. We thought that two heads were better than one: we could share costs, knowledge and resources.
“If you’re on your own it’s difficult. You need to be patient and you need to expect to take a bit of a hit,” he adds.
Two heads are better than one
Ali’s taught me some things about the taxation side and I think I’ve taught him some ideas behind business growth
The pair set up the business in October 2015 and often work remotely using phone calls, video conferencing and a central office space for meetings to keep in touch and manage their current roster of 30 clients.
“Ali’s taught me some different things about the taxation side and I think I’ve taught him some of the general ideas behind business growth and business plans,” says Beech, who is an FMAAT, and has a diploma in management accounting from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
“From working together I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s difficult to delegate, but you need to be patient with other people, that’s all part of developing yourself as a person. You can’t clone yourself, and with me being bossy it must be difficult for him sometimes too!”
Choosing the right business partner
To go into business with someone you need “ultimate trust” in that person, Beech adds. Jaw agrees: “Find the right person; you need that chemistry. I see Michael as more than a business partner, he’s a big brother figure too. He’s been in the game longer than me and is a native of this country. He’s industrious, very good with IT stuff and a creative person.”
The business has recently celebrated Jaw attaining ACCA status, with Beech able to act as more than just business partner, and take on the role of supervisor for the Practical Experience Requirement.
Both are, however, realistic about what partnering in business and running your own practice means: “It’s not always going to be plain sailing when you work with someone. You will have those differences but be ready to embrace them,” says Jaw, who is the current treasurer and a founding member of the Worcester and Hereford AAT Branch.
Creating a five year plan
“You need to look for a five-year plan; it has to be a mid to long-term plan. Just hang in there if things aren’t going right. I had the most atrocious first January when as an accountant you should be rushed off your feet. I thought, do I need to go and get a job? But I hung in there and it paid off – ever since I’ve been really busy,” adds Beech.
Working together allows them to brainstorm technical problems, share advice, skills and a growing workload, and provide mutual support in those tougher moments. Both have no regrets about being their own boss.
A leap of faith
“A lot of people have said to me ‘I couldn’t do that’ and it is a courageous step to have your own business – but it’s worth it,” says Beech, who has worked in industry since 1988 and had roles with some corporates before striking out on his own five years ago.
“It’s the non-monetary perks: you can work when you want, where you want. When my wife had a hip operation recently I was able to take 12 weeks to help nurse her back to health. I could work the business around it. When you send an invoice for the first time and they pay the money into your account and it’s purely your money for your work, there’s no better feeling. You have just got complete freedom. I can work in whatever sequence I want and organise myself how I want so long as I meet deadlines.”
While Beech and Jaw say they are ahead in terms of their five-year business plan, you won’t find them resting on their laurels. They want to continue to grow their client base through good word-of-mouth and take on more work in an advisory role while keeping an eye on the future.
“We’re trying to gauge where the accountancy world will be in five or 10 years time and get ourselves towards that, training ourselves in more analytical skills and knowledge,” says Jaw.
“You have got to be ready or you will be left behind. We’re keeping our eyes open so that when that change happens we won’t be. Artificial intelligence is here to stay so we’re going to embrace it but use it to our advantage as well.”
Laura Oliver is a Freelance Journalist and Former Head of Social and Community at the Guardian.