It’s funny how things change

Let me take you back a few years…2010 to be precise.

I was employed as an Office Manager but didn’t really feel as if I was doing the right job. I was in a lucky position where my path crossed lots of new start businesses and I kept thinking “I wish I had the guts to do that”.

One day I came across the concept of Virtual Assistant and thought to myself “that’s never a real thing”. A little digging and I realised it was most definitely a real thing and not only that, it was massive in the States.

Cue a visit from my pal “Imposter Syndrome”.

She said – “you’re not a trained PA, you can’t do that”. So, after some more research, I signed up for a Virtual Assistant training course (VACT) thinking I could fill the gaps in my knowledge and help me get started. An intensive weekend course and 9 months of modules followed before I graduated from the programme. The programme made me realise there weren’t as many gaps in my knowledge as I’d thought.

Setting up

I registered with HMRC as a sole trader in January 2011 and the plan was to be a Virtual Assistant business supporting solo business owners and providing them with admin services.

I spent the first few months working my employed job in the mornings and then coming home and teaching myself everything from how to code websites to how to run email marketing campaigns in the evenings.

You’ll remember my pal Imposter Syndrome? Well, she joined me on the startup journey. She was with me when I went to my first networking event (huge thanks go to Martin Jack from Think Different Events for making me feel welcome) and she came with me when I joined my local Scottish Women in Business group. This group was the best for confidence-boosting. In fact, I often tell the story about meeting my first paying client (who was a male) at that female-only networking event. I’ll tell you that story another day over a cuppa.

The thing about this first client was we bonded over our love of Xero. He needed a xero bookkeeper and although I wasn’t planning on offering bookkeeping services I mentioned I had experience with the software. I hadn’t quite realised that independent bookkeepers were a thing. In my experience bookkeeping was either done in-house by an employee or outsourced to an accountant.

How wrong was I? And how short-sighted not to have seen the opportunity that lay ahead. Not long afterwards I took a phone call from an accountant of a local practice. One of his clients was looking for temporary onsite finance support 3 days a week. As I was new to business I had the capacity so I accepted the challenge. Things grew from there and it seemed my name was getting out there (in a good way) and as one of the very few Scottish bookkeepers with Xero experience I was getting a reputation as the one to go-to.

Standing out from the crowd

For a the first 18months or so, I was the only Scottish certified Xero bookkeeper on the Xero advisor listing. But it was short-lived as more and more people started using the software slowly more bookkeepers became certified.

I needed a new USP.

I needed to differentiate myself again.

We’ve been lucky in that the majority of our work has come from recommendations and referrals but I needed more. If I was to grow I needed to grow as a person as well as build a team. So I booked myself onto a training program to formalise my bookkeeping skills.

I needed accreditation.

Anyone for a game of Snakes and Ladders?

Many a time it felt like I was playing snakes and ladders. I’d climb a large ladder only to be hit with a problem and I’d slide back down the snake. But, I plodded on.

I took on associates to help me with the excess workload at first and the business structure changed from Sole trader to Limited Company. “I” became “we” as I took on employees and we became VAT registered in the same year.

Many a proud moment followed as we won award after award (you’ll see them dotted about the site) and we basked in those few years of great success.

I don’t say this to boast more to show that others can often see in you what you don’t see in yourself.

 

This is where we pivot

2016 brought the biggest leap.

We’d been working with an accountant who was looking to give up his business. He offered us his Xero client bank. We didn’t offer accountancy services at that stage, but it didn’t put us off – this was not an opportunity to be missed.

So we joined forces with a local ACCA accountant who had the skills to take accounts that step further. We never advertised accountancy services but again, one referral led to another and this side of the business naturally grew. It grew to the point that we now employ an accountant.

 

11 years later and as well as a Practice Licence with the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers we also have a membership of the Institute of Certified Practicing Accountants and I’m a Fellow member of the Chartered Management Institute.

We’re ticking lots of boxes, not bad for a wee lassie from Hamilton who wanted to work in an ice cream shop all her days (who remembers The Capocci Man).

What does the future hold?

Very good question. And not one that I can answer here.

We have a few irons in the fire and tricks up our sleeves so all I can say is watch this space…

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