Role and companyCo-owner and Director of Clever Accounts. With my business partner, I currently run Clever Accounts, a specialist small business company that provides advice and support to customers right across the UK. We use online technology to improve the accountancy service received by small businesses and self-employed people, taking the hassle out of accounting and tax. Our clients can integrate their invoicing, online bank statements and other business processes with our online system to remove the need for bookkeeping. We then take care of everything else, in terms of accounting and tax and they get a real time view of their finances, 24/7 and access to their own experienced accountant.
Employee numbersIn total my business involves around 15-20 people and I expect to recruit at least another ten during 2014.
Growth forecast for the next 3 years:Our client numbers and turnover at the end of this financial year should be three or four times what they were at the same time last year. Broadly speaking, I’d expect the business to double in size next year and hopefully again the year after. During this time, we will be continually investing in quality people to add to our team and in our customer-facing technology and systems, to further enhance the experience our clients have and the service they receive.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace?Combination of technology and expertise to provide a far better service to small businesses:
- Saves time – makes bookkeeping obsolete;
- Improves control – gives clients an up to date picture of their financial position, automatically, 24/7;
- Transparency and reduced costs – all-inclusive fees, unlimited advice and no contracts; and
- Easily accessible, hassle-free service.
What’s the big vision for your business?To grow it as much as possible, so we can bring the benefits of our revolutionary approach to as many small businesses and self-employed individuals as possible and improve their professional lives accordingly. Ultimately, we’d like to shift the market for small and micro business accountancy services, so that the online model, the use of technology and our brand in particular is recognised as a leading option for any small business in the UK. This, all due to the hassle, paperwork, time and money it saves and the greater control and visibility it provides. We’d also like to expand into other areas of advice and professional support for small business owners – a one-stop, online, small business support shop. In many ways, the tax regime and the traditional accountancy model, let down the smallest businesses in the economy and we’re looking to rectify that. We’re aiming to offer small businesses the service they need and deserve, at a price that they can afford and that enables them to run their business more easily and with more visibility and control. ‘Online’ may not be for everyone but the truth is that using a modern approach really does take away the time-consuming – but important – compliance burden from small businesses that they can’t afford to ignore. We offer transparent pricing, unlimited, clear advice, a hassle-free service to keep them safe and added value in terms of the visibility they have over their finances.
Current level of international business, and future aspirationsWe’re 100% UK based at the moment and I don’t see that changing for a while, mainly due to the fact that we don’t want to divert focus from what we’re doing to improve and evolve the service in the UK. Also, there are a number of differing international tax regimes that affect what we do, so we would need to take this into careful consideration.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from itI once spent 18 months doing a pretty big job that I though would be interesting and provide a new challenge, but which I knew pretty quickly wasn’t really for me. However, I stuck at it for a while before finally leaving to run my own business. I learned that I know when something isn’t right and when you’ve got another idea you’re enthusiastic about, not to waste time – just get on with it. I gained some valuable experience before that, in some large organisations, but I wish I’d started Clever Accounts earlier! I also once came close to making a sizeable, multi-million pound business acquisition that fell through at the last minute. These things happen but I learned that if you have a sound strategy, you’re patient, and you keep looking and talking to people, there’s always another opportunity around the corner.
What makes you mad in business today?Not a lot gets me mad to be honest. Part of being in business is rolling with the punches and dealing with the landscape and the cards you’re dealt. However, constant ‘moving of the goalposts’ in relation to legislation, particularly in relation to employment status, is frustrating and I still wish it was easier to get funding to back good ideas and facilitate growth. I guess one thing that makes me mad, is how difficult it is to drive round the UK!
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?The continuing polarisation, between high-end advisory services for big and medium-sized businesses and quick efficient, value for money compliance services for small businesses, the latter characterised by greater use of technology. Also, less need for manual records, greater integration and use of data in digital form and a blurring of the lines between the services currently provided to small businesses and the providers of those services. Along with anything new that comes out of HMRC of course.
Can businesses in your sector access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?In truth, I think it depends on the business. In general, it is still very tough to get debt finance, without a very strong track record of profitability and delivery and/or security. New ideas are hard to get this kind of funding for. However, for the right idea, with the right research behind it, there are equity investors out there and I think the newer avenues of crowd-funding and peer-to-peer lending are useful and here to stay, unless legislation makes them unviable.
How would others describe your leadership style?I would hope that I give them a clear idea of the vision for our customers and the business itself, where we fit into the market and what we’re trying to achieve – and then let them do their job, knowing what’s important and where they fit in. Get the strategy right, get good people in place, and then give them the freedom to get on with it, with simple targets. Less kindly, they might say, I’m ‘changeable’ in my view of what this month’s priority is… but that’s just being opportunistic!
Your biggest personal extravagance?Holidays, I guess. I like them, I need them, I appreciate time with the family and I like the sun. It takes me a few days to wind down but I believe everyone needs a chance to relax and I often have my best ideas when I get a bit of perspective. By Shané Schutte
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