Three Things I Have Learned in Five Years as a Business Owner

Three Things I Have Learned in Five Years as a Business Owner

Three Things I Have Learned in Five Years as a Business Owner 150 150 Cypher

In June 2024 Cypher turned five.

I was reflecting that, like when you have children, it is very hard at the start to envisage what they will look like, act like and sound like when they are five years old.

I have said this before; we were very lucky that we had nine months before Cypher started trading to create the structure, the systems and business we wanted.

We also had some clients coming over to us at the start so we weren’t going from scratch, which made a big difference.

We wrote down a business plan, which outlined the growth we were aiming for over our first five years and I am very pleased to say that we have managed to hit every headcount, client, and revenue milestone we set out. But we have achieved them all in a completely different way.

The mix of people and the type of work, for the type of clients we have is all actually very different.

Cypher started trading in 2019 and in our first year things were pretty ‘normal’, then in our second year the world turned upside down and provided us with a set of opportunities and a shift in working patterns that have shaped the business we are today.

Whilst accounting and auditing are accepted as ancient functions; rooted in traditions dating back to Ancient Egypt; modern accounting in the form of double-entry bookkeeping was invented by Luca Pacioli a contemporary of Leonardo DaVinci’s.

The reality is, bar a move from paper ledgers to computers, accounting hasn’t changed that much in more than 500 years. Yet in the last five years, some of the practices and processes we have now adopted are almost unrecognisable from those we started with as recently as 2019.

We thought we were building a digital-first practice for the ages, but, as it turned out, we had reinvented ourselves by the end of our second year.

We thought we were at the cutting edge of what a digital accounting practice could be, but the Covid pandemic- and the resulting impact of home working, remote collaboration and new, preferred communication channels- showed us we were just a variation on the traditional practices we were trying to get away from.

We had done away with spreadsheets but there was so much more we could do.

What Covid showed us – or made us do- was to rethink fundamentally how we could work; how clients wanted to engage with us and what new tech, systems or processes we could employ to give the clients what they wanted, when they wanted it.

For example, the number of emails we now receive from clients is similar to the volumes we received in 2019, but our client base has almost trebled. Clients instead now prefer to use WhatsApp to get instant responses from the team. We have embraced this – given them what they want- and have systems to help us track and monitor these engagements, but would anyone have accepted professional, compliance advice from their accountant via a text message in 2019?

And the practice of sending out end of month or end of year management accounts by video, which is something we adopted last year, would have been unthinkable, even in 2019. But clients like it, it helps them assimilate information when they want to and that suits us as it also provides us with time to focus on the clients, not on client meetings.

All in all, it has been a truly thrilling five years and these are the three main lessons I have learned during that time:

  • Business planning Gold

No matter how old your business is, it’s important to have a business plan. Lots of business owners have one; it gets done once, with just enough information to convince you there is a business opportunity there, but then it’s not looked at again. Some people have never done one; some business owners monitor and tweak it all the time.

One of the best things we did with our original 81-page business plan was to distil it into a one-pager; a pitch-deck of the key headlines. It has a summary of each section, plus some of the key numbers in the forecast. Now, whenever we log in to our client management system, the first thing everyone sees is our core values; what we stand for and why we’re trying to do things differently. All the stuff that came out of that business planning process is front and centre in our daily routine.

Despite not being able to really envisage what a £750,000 business could look like, the plans – and the numbers- held fast, despite the environmental shifts, and we were able to adapt based on the foundations we put in place.

Read  more about business planning for success here

  • Build the systems for the business you want, not the one you have

When we speak to any new business or business owner, we encourage them to build the business they want, not the one that have on day one.

We tried to follow our own advice but in 2019 it was hard to imagine what an accounting practice with 12 or 15 people working in it would look like five years down the line. As I look back, our old office building – for four of us – was smaller than our meeting room in the new office.

But we were clear that we wanted to be a digital-first practice and so built our operations and automations around the latest, most appropriate tech stack available at the time, which we thought would be able to scale with us.

What we have found is that while the front end- our sales and on-boarding process – and our final engagement -the creation of year end accounts and tax returns for clients -remain largely intact, we have evolved our processes a number of times to create the automated systems we have now.

And as we investigate the next round of tech integrations, we are again considering what we will need as the business doubles in size again over the next five years.

Listen to the Mind Your Business Podcast Episode called Let’s Get Systematical  

  • Get off the tools

My third lesson, and perhaps the most powerful for any business owner looking to grow a business, is that the quicker you can get yourself away from operational duties, the better your business will be.

It may sound counterintuitive to many; when you start a business, quite rightly you will put the needs of the customer first and if you are the one to deliver a product or service personally, it stands to reason you will focus on the customer and not yourself – or your business.

But real business growth happens when the leader gets away from the day to day duties and can focus on the long-term; the strategic decisions.

I tried to balance a 50% client facing role with a 50% CEO role for a while and found I actually did neither very well. I tried to run the business as the partner I was for my old employer and soon found it wasn’t working.

Fortunately, we were able to evolve our organisation chart and promote from within to create two operational director roles which now effectively run the business day to day. I have no operational input; I don’t know who is working on which set of accounts, or what is due on any given day, and that is a good thing as I can now focus on strategy, client astonishment and moving to the next level.

Our business has grown; we have more clients and become more profitable since I came off the tools!

Here’s to the next five years.