Learning from my mistakes as a start-up accountancy practice

Here, Sam Boothroyd, founder of The Small Business Coach, discusses how he started, ran and sold an online accountancy practice.

It’s well know that great business ideas come from someone fixing a problem. There are great businesses out there that are successful because that fixed a simple problem. Just think how simple post-it notes are. 3M created the idea in 1980 and now turn over £30 million per year! Not bad for a square piece of paper with a sticky top.

I wish I could tell you my idea fixed a worldwide problem and I spend hours researching the market but that would be a lie! The idea process went a bit like this…

‘I want to start a business…I’m fed up of working for other people just so they can be rich…I’m already a qualified accountant so might as well stick with that…I don’t want to have to travel far either so could do with working from home…I’ll just be an accountant that’s online! That sounds pretty modern and trendy.’

And there it is. My whole thought process for creating an online accountancy practice.

It seemed like a simple idea; ‘the cloud’ makes working remotely simple and with tools like Skype and FaceTime, remote communication is simple too.

Plus it had to be better than working 9-5. I figured I could work the hours I want doing whatever I want in the process.

The first mistake

That was my first mistake; thinking I could work the hours I want, doing exactly what I want. I was working long hours in the beginning. Like most people, I had to start and grow a business around my day job. I would work 7:30 till 3:30 as a finance manager then go home and work 5 till 12 as a new business owner. But while that may seem like crazy hours, I used to look forward to doing the work in the evenings. It was my new business and I was 100 per cent invested in it becoming a success. Starting a business was one of the hardest yet easiest things I’ve ever done.
I faced lots of challenges in the beginning.

The first was my complete lack of understanding on how websites got the top spot in Google. Backlinks, keywords and anchor text was like a foreign language to me! I was an accountant, a good one at that, but at no point did anyone tell me I should be an expert in every area! This resulted in me paying a slightly sketchy young guy lots of money as he guaranteed I would be ‘on the top of Google within three weeks’.

The warning signs were there when I went to meet him and he was basically working from his nan’s basement. His furniture was straight out of the 1970s and he was working from what looked like a Commodore 64. (Google Commodore 64 if you’re under 35! Think Xbox one with less than 1 per cent of the power and games on cassettes).

Suffice to say, that didn’t work out very well but luckily, I found someone who would teach me the basics in return for me teaching him the basics of accounting. That was me over the first hurdle, and I’d also learnt something new. This is one piece of advice I give everyone, if you can, trade your skills for another! I am always happy to offer a day’s training in accounting or bookkeeping as it’ll save someone hundreds of pounds in fee’s if, in return, they can teach me something that will save me money too.

Clearing the hurdles

There have been lots of hurdles since that one. Growing the business, more importantly growing sales, is the hurdle most face every day. It’s not a simple answer too. What works for one doesn’t always work for another. But whatever you decide to do to get more sales, make sure you do your research beforehand.

I was once paying £20 per click on Google Adwords simply because I didn’t do any research on effective strategies. That’s a sure-fire way to go bankrupt quickly.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is every day is a chance to learn something new. I truly believe it’s just as important to invest in your knowledge as a business owner as it is to invest directly in the business. It’s in this part where you expect me to write how successful the business now is. Well you’d be wrong…I sold the business! Yes, all the hard work and the long hours resulted in a different kind of profit; I started something great that is now being run by someone else.

And for me, my passion has moved to helping the next generation of start-ups. I have gained huge amounts of knowledge (mainly from my own mistakes) which I now use as a business coach to help others start their own business.

Sam Boothroyd is founder of The Small Business Coach

Further reading on accounts

Which digital accounts software is right for your small business?

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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