I clearly recall the point of my life when it hit me. I hadn't put myself through years of training and left a highly paid city job for this!
I was an accountant working in my own business. I expected so much more reward!
There I was in someone's front room, with his smelly dog jumping all over my head (literally!), trying to sell some accounting services to a lead who would have been yet another unsuitable client, purely to get client numbers up.
My profit and earnings were low and my personal borrowings were high. I was a busy fool and my stress levels were through the roof. Something had to change.
It was that moment of clarity, with the dog on my head, that made me decide that there must be a better way. I realised that being a good accountant was not enough to give me a stress free, profitable business which would also give me a good work/life balance. The actual fee earning operational work was what I was concentrating on and it became clear that this work is only one aspect of the business.
I decided to work on my business, not in it. I took the leap of faith and employed another accountant and a marketing executive. I could not afford to do so at the time financially, but I could not afford not to if I wanted to build a business.
Whilst handing over the operational work to my new staff, I worked on every aspect of the business from sales, marketing and pricing to business strategy and practice development. I created a personal plan for what I required from my business, a business plan for how my business could provide me with my requirements, and a marketing plan to detail the type of client profile that would fit in with my business aspirations. I disengaged clients who were unsuitable and / or unprofitable and ensured that only clients who would fit my business model would be taken on. Pricing was carefully defined and the scope of work for any fixed fees was given in writing and agreed. Time was no longer given away. Hourly rates were abandoned in favour of fixed fees forcing greater efficiency. Advertising was stopped in favour of more effective marketing and networking. Strategic relationships were developed with key introducers. We created a stylish, fully optimised website to ensure good traffic to it with the message we wanted to convey.
The result of these changes were staggering. I was happier, had much more time to spend with my family, was less stressed by unsuitable clients and profits were up! I had a business not a job. I could now not only afford financially to take 2 weeks holidays, I was confident that the business could run without me whilst I did so.
My moment of clarity was 12 February 2008. Today is 19 June 2009. Not a long time in the great scheme of things to completely turn a business around. Especially in the middle of a recession.
It was from my experience that, together with Zoe Simpson (the marketing executive I employed), we decided to set up Seahorse (UK) Ltd - to give start up and existing small firms of accountants and bookkeepers access to services to ensure that they get greater efficiency, profit, satisfaction and work / life balance from their business.
We want to provide accountants and bookkeepers access to services, information and support that I never had when I started out - other than going down the franchise route. I did not want to do this due to substantial buy in fees, considerable annual fees, as well as contractual tie-ins and loss of control. In my mind, this is not what building a business is all about.
As we are not a franchise, we have no tie in or up front fee - our services are purely on a 'pay as you go' basis and are discounted if you become a member.