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Work-from-home bookkeeping

Interview with...

Neville Ford
Business name:
Operates under own name
Open for:

Home-based bookkeeper Neville Ford never liked working for other people.

Instead of buying a home-based business, Ford decide to set up from scratch. Operating from an annex on his family home, Ford achieves a great work-life balance while attracting and retaining clients without the need for a plush office or big-name brand to operate under.

Krystena Petrakas: Did you always feel destined to work for yourself?

Neville Ford: Yes. I'm not a good employee, like most self-employed people. I've always wanted to be self-employed.

I'm self-motivated and disciplined, so the transition to self-employment was not an issue

Once I decided to qualify as an accountant I went to night school to do the exams, while working as a management accountant during the day.

I did a few other jobs, for a furniture manufacturer and in retail for Asda, but I eventually had enough working for other people and wanted to set up on my own.

KP: Sounds like starting a business was natural to you...

NF: I didn't find it difficult because I've always been used to working on my own without direction from others. I'm self-motivated and disciplined, so the transition to self-employment was not an issue.

KP: How did you grow your business?

NF: Word of mouth. Obviously it took quite a while to build up the business to a stage where it supports a house and family lifestyle.

I tried all sorts of advertising and marketing means but I find accountancy is a very difficult business to advertise. If you need to find an accountant you don't pick up the yellow pages, you go on recommendation - and that takes time for bookkeepers to build up.

Most accountants' extent of advertising is a brass plate on the front door [laughs]. We do something unique: we send out postcards via Royal Mail door-to-door delivery, so twice a year we send out 27,000 postcards, which go to every delivery address in the immediate sector around us.

We monitor the response of the 10 times we've done it within the last few years and keep a historical record of success. This form of advertising has been very fruitful.

KP: How long are your working hours?

NF: My office is actually a self-contained granny annex beside my house, so I have the luxury of doing work at home without it interfering with my family.

I'm normally there from 7:15am till 6pm, but as the business becomes more established I have stopped working weekends.

KP: So presumably you've got a better work-life balance than most...

NF: I find owning a business fits in well with my lifestyle, but I've been working like this for a long time so it seems normal to me. For other people it might not be so easy.

I have two members of staff who are a big help, but I understand small businesses require more work from the owner then large companies.

KP: How profitable is bookkeeping?

NF: For me it's quite profitable and gives me a good standard of living. I'm never going to get rich doing this, but I enjoy it more than working for a living.

KP: What are the toughest aspects of entrepreneurship?

NF: The slow process of implementing ideas. I always think of new ideas and want to push things forward straightaway, but obviously you're constrained by factors outside of your business.

One of the challenges of owning a business is solving problems you'd normally have someone else do, like fixing a computer fault without calling an IT repair service. If you don't want to bother doing those jobs you should be employed not self-employed.

Attitude is important. It's not like having a job; you can't go home or ring in sick, because if you don't do it no one will.

KP: What has most surprised you most about running your own business?

NF: The diverse ways people earn a living. I come across businesses you would never think of in a month of Sundays!

One of our clients buys needles from the Far East and sells them in America. Another wholesales thousands of different shoelaces.

It's surprising, these little businesses that operate out from back-bedroom offices and garage conversions.

KP: How do you attract such an array of clients?

NF: I think part of the reason is these businesses like to deal with bookkeepers with a similar set-up. If you're running a small, eccentric business you're not going to want to go use big city-centre accountants.

My business is similar to their business and that gives people a level of comfort.

KP: Do you have a fixed plan for the future?

NF: I have an informal plan in my head which I'm working towards. The bookkeeping business fluctuates to a degree that makes a formal plan meaningless.

But I think in your head you must have an idea where you want to be.

It's very important to keep these plans realistic. I have seen too many businesses fail because of people's unrealistic expectations.

We've had businesses fail because their goals are unrealistic. My job as a bookkeeper is managing client expectations.

KP: Do you have any advice for anyone contemplating setting up a bookkeeping business?

NF: My advice is to start small and gradually build up, so you can solve problems when they arise without too much pressure. When you work for yourself there's no one to turn to for advice and that's a big learning curve - so don't go into it like a bull in a china shop.


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