Clare started her career by working as a web-developer and after several years, she landed what she then considered her dream job as a systems analyst for the NHS
Soon after, she fell pregnant and Clare decided to re-locate to her husband’s family farm in Lincolnshire which, although a dream place to bring up children, was harder to commute to and was the reason she eventually left the IT industry. After an unsuccessful job search for local IT jobs, she noticed the way the farm bookkeeper worked – arriving for an hour a week and then taking the paperwork away – and considered bookkeeping as her next move. There were many transferable skills between her old job in IT and bookkeeping; logic, coding, language, requirements gathering, process mapping, helping people, it was the perfect fit.
With the help of family providing childcare, Clare enrolled on a Level 2 bookkeeping course with AAT. However before she was able to move onto the Level 3 course, she fell pregnant again and was unable to commit the time to study at the college. “I found it really hard going, I was exhausted by 8 or 9 pm when I sat down to study. AAT exams are all closed book, so I would be writing and revising notes and sometimes wouldn’t even understand the notes I had written myself. It took me almost 2 years to complete AAT Level 3.” Eventually, Clare completed the AAT Level 3 course with a 99% pass on her final synoptic exam.
“On the website, I could see ICB had a much more modern approach to learning. I really liked the fact that the Level 4 units were in stand-alone modules and they were open-book exams that reflect real life rather than a memory test''
Now equipped with the knowledge, Clare experienced some drawbacks to progressing to the next stage of her bookkeeping career. She was nervous about setting up her own business. “I took 6 months off under the pretence that I was waiting for my youngest to start pre-school, but actually I was just procrastinating.” Finding out that AAT wouldn’t allow her to obtain a practice licence to set herself up as a self-employed bookkeeper, she came to hear about the ICB through a friend from college. “On the website, I could see ICB had a much more modern approach to learning. I really liked the fact that the Level 4 units were in stand-alone modules and they were open-book exams that reflect real life rather than a memory test. I could see how much more support they offered for the self-employed so I applied for membership by exemption.” In February 2020, Clare received a call from ICB to welcome her into membership. “I was so happy that I had been accepted, I was literally dancing around my kitchen with excitement”.
Clare started taking the next steps to set up her business. Taking out an ICB practice licence, she started to create flyers to post in local shop windows. Soon after, the whole of the UK went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The shops were all closed, I felt like I had nowhere to go with my business. It seemed like another dead-end but it was actually somewhat of a gift.” Clare put in the time to set her processes up and watched webinars on marketing, bookkeeping and software demos to ensure she was fully equipped with the systems to help her support her future clients. She also completed accreditations with Quickbooks, Xero and Sage to ensure she was competent in all the common software used by small businesses.
As the country went into lockdown, ICB launched ICB TV, a daily broadcast to comb through the details of the new schemes being released by the Government, including furlough, SEISS, SSP, CBILS etc. “I watched a ton of ICB TV…which enabled me to help some of the local business people and especially some of the school's mums I knew. It earned me a reputation of being knowledgeable and helpful. That helped my business, because those people I helped, tell other people about me regularly.”
After watching a webinar, she decided to start a marketing campaign for Facebook. “It was a huge change for the traditional marketing I had intended to do, but it was a great success. Within 6 months of getting my practice licence, I’d picked up almost 10 clients, half of whom had come through a 6 week Facebook campaign. It wasn’t anything complicated – I use Canva to create images and then shared them as adverts on local business Facebook groups.
Clare also attributes the ICB Lincolnshire branch group as playing a pivotal role in her success. “They are my tribe. I felt that from the minute I joined the first zoom meeting. They offer support, advice, encouragement and it's like having a group of really knowledgeable and helpful colleagues. Even though we’re self-employed, we’re a proper team.” The Lincolnshire branch group gave Clare the courage to study her Self-Assessment tax exam with ICB to become a one-stop shop for the self-employed.
“I have just the right amount of work to keep me busy and work on my business at the same time”
After watching a webinar hosted by Jo Wood FICB and Zoe Whitman MICB on the business benefits of awards, Clare took another step out of her comfort zone and took the plunge and applied for the New Practice of the Year Luca award. “Applying is a fantastic process as you sit there and take stock of everything you’ve achieved. It really helps you understand where you have got to with your business. I was absolutely delighted when I was nominated – in fact, that was the marketing dream. I wanted to use the laurel on my business things as it felt like it gave me some authenticity. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I won it and the Lincolnshire branch had a couple of wins within the team too!”
“It was totally out of my comfort zone to take on the branch chair, and I agreed to do the admin side if Laura did the speaking, but here we are, we are a team and I felt like I really owed them for all the support they gave me”
Clare stated that she broke even on her start-up costs within the first year of setting up, including her training costs. Now, just over six months later, Clare has 15 clients, half of whom come to her for regular bookkeeping, and the other half just for self-assessment, all of which she does part-time. “I have just the right amount of work to keep me busy and work on my business at the same time.”
Clare has also recently taken on the role of joint chair of the ICB Lincolnshire branch with co-chair, Laura Murphy MICB. “It was totally out of my comfort zone to take on the branch chair, and I agreed to do the admin side if Laura did the speaking, but here we are, we are a team and I felt like I really owed them for all the support they gave me.”
Clare is currently studying Level 4 Drafting Financial Statements and is hoping to go on to Corporation Tax by the end of the year so that she can expand her range of services for limited company clients and is hoping to grow the business when her youngest child starts school full time in September.