We caught up with Zoe Whitman MICB, 2018 Luca Awards Small Practice of the Year winner
How does it feel to be named Small Practice of the Year and win a Luca Award?
I was over the moon to win the award. I started But the Books two years ago so I was very proud that my hard work had been recognised at such a high level, the competition was high within the category and I certainly didn't go the awards expecting to win.
Why did you decide to set up your business?
A combination of things. Before I started the business, I'd been mentoring young entrepreneurs through the Prince's Trust, specifically helping them with their business plans and accounts. My experience of this made it very clear that business finance just isn't taught at school. Then while I was on maternity leave and getting questions from many friends and family about their tax returns it felt like the right time to formalise things and I started But the Books as a side project. I took the business full time in August 2018 and I've just appointed our fourth team member.
I feel more creative now than when I worked for someone else.
What does being your own boss enable you to do?
I'm in control of my workload, the clients I choose to work with and how and when I work. There's no doubt that running your own business gives you a lot of responsibility, but it also gives you a lot of freedom, and I feel much more creative now than when I worked for somebody else.
What advice would you give to others just starting out?
Speak to other bookkeepers and find out how they did it. It's easy to feel like you're the only person in the world starting a business, but there are plenty of us ICB Bookkeepers who have already been on that journey and are happy and willing to share our tips and advice.
Is it possible to 'have it all'?
I think you can have most things if you prioritise what's important to you and plan well to achieve the balance. As a business owner and mum of a busy toddler, there's no denying there are days when it seems like there are just too many balls in the air, so I just try to be realistic about expectations for myself.
How many clients do you have and how many could you have?
Since starting out in 2017, we've worked with over 40 small businesses. This year we're focusing on taking on slightly larger clients we can work with on a regular basis. The team is growing, and we can grow more if we take on more clients but at the same time, I want to ensure that the quality of our work remains high so we'll always be looking to achieve a balance of growth with continuing to provide a personalised service.
How easy is it for you to retain clients?
We don't have any issues retaining clients, the main challenge for us is converting the very small one-off jobs into regular clients so we've developed entry-level services which are aimed at filling that gap.
How much of your day-to-day is actually 'bookkeeping'?
I'm moving further and further away from the bookkeeping, and as a business owner that makes sense. I'm building a team to do that part of the job, so I can focus on our business strategy, make sure we have the right people and build a great business delivering a great service to our clients.
I love working with business owners
What does the future hold for your practice?
We've spent the past year understanding what our customers really need from us and this year we've launched some new advisory services. We'll be focused on this in the first quarter.
What further training/CPD needs do you have?
We need to be prepared for Brexit and potential changes to the VAT regime and there will always be technical updates to stay abreast of, but I'm also aware of where my soft skills fall short. Personal development is very important to me and I've identified strategy and leadership as two development important development areas this year.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
I love working with other business owners, talking to them about their businesses and understanding the challenges facing them. Taking on staff and wanting to make sure my team work in the way that I work has made me think hard about our values at But the Books and one of those is definitely Active Listening. Having those discovery conversations with our clients every time helps us develop strong relationships and means we can really get to the route of what they need to provide a service which is exceptional.
Zoe Whitman MICB and ICB President and Co-Founder Garry Carter at the 2018 Luca Awards in the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel, Heathrow, London
You can find Zoe's business here
You can find the full list of 2018 Luca Awards winners here
Look out for next month's article when Zoe talks us through 10 top tips for marketing your bookkeeping practice.