Meet Clare Mannall the inspiring winner of the Small Practice of the Year at this year’s Luca Awards...

The basic stuff

Name: Clare Mannall FICB

Qualifications: ICB Level 4, Masters in Hospitality Management, PGCE

Business Name: CEM Bookkeeping & Consultancy Ltd

How long have you been in practice: Five and a half years

The Q&As

How did it feel to be named small practice of the year and win a Luca award? Absolutely amazing.  I was so thrilled.  I have worked so hard over the last five years to build the business and overcome some previous work baggage.  This felt like the icing on the cake and that I was being rewarded for my hard work.

Why did you decide to set up your bookkeeping business? I wanted to help small businesses, to understand their finances better and feel supported to make the right financial decisions for their business.  Alongside that and for myself, I wanted the autonomy and independence of running my own business, being my own boss and rewarding myself for my hard work and efforts.

What advice would you give others just starting out? Be brave, be patient, don't give up, and don't forget to give back to the world.

What does being an ICB Bookkeeper and your own boss enable you to do? Choose and enjoy the clients I want to work with, work from home, work productively without getting stuck in office politics, see more of my friends and family and set my own targets.  Being an ICB Bookkeeper means I am also well supported, well trained and given the opportunity to continue my professional development.

How many clients do you have, and how big do you think you could grow? I have about 40 clients, some are one day per week, some are half a day per month, plus some self-assessment tax clients.  I don't want to be a lot bigger.  I didn't set out to create an empire.  It is all about having a work life balance that I am in control of.  In addition, offering the opportunity to other bookkeepers for some work and training, where perhaps they aren't as self-assured and need some confidence boosting.  But never say never.  Sylvia [Bourhill C.FICB] got Small Bookkeeping Practice five years ago, and this year she won Large Bookkeeping Practice!

What do you most enjoy about your work? Explaining the accounts to the client and providing them with additional information like cash flow.  I enjoy the clients themselves too, they are all so different and varied and I enjoy spending the time working them out and what they actually want from me as their bookkeeper.

What do you dislike about the work? Chasing clients for receipts and invoices.

How much of your day-to-day work is actually bookkeeping? 75% probably. The rest is spent following up enquiries and running a busy practice that prides itself on its communication with the clients.

Is client retention your biggest challenge?  Client retention is starting to settle down now.  When you first start out you're so desperate for your first clients, you'll take anyone. Then you start to work out you don't enjoy working for them or the fit just isn't right, then you can take the time to start weeding them out.

Is there an art to managing client expectations? Any tips here? Don't overpromise. But equally don't sell yourself short.  And remember: you can't please all of the people all of the time.  Some clients will love you, for some clients you are just a service, and for others, they really value you, and they still want more from you and will keep challenging you.  I almost prefer the latter as they keep me on my toes and make me better at the service I provide for other clients.

If you were starting out again what piece of advice would you give yourself? Just do the same again.  It's a learning process - enjoy it.

What was the best advice given to you on your journey? Be patient, you will get your first client, eventually.

What is your best time management tip for your fellow ICB Bookkeepers?  If you are repeating it, automate it...There was this amazing speaker at Xerocon in 2018 and that was his motto. It's true. Don't bore yourself with repetitive tasks that a computer could do instead.

The QuickFire Round

What’s on your work desk? Timeular, water, glasses, phone & bank dongle.

What time do you leave the office? 5-6pm.

Last download/CD bought? Cats, the film version.

What are you reading at the moment? Lady Anne Glenconner's Autobiography (lady in waiting to Princess Margaret) and the Lemon Tree (history of Israel), a bit high-brow compared to my norm.

Favourite podcast? Inside Kingston - all about local business people and I'm going to be in it too!

Dinner party or pub? Dinner Party.

Summer or winter? Summer.

Favourite tipple? Gin & Tonic / Prosecco.

Favourite website? Monica Vinader. 

Who is your hero? Gary Barlow.