It is 2017 and after 16 years of practice and industry experience, you are about to launch your own business as a portfolio finance director. This is a key moment for you, and one you have been thinking about for a while, but doubt has always crept in. Why would you give up the security and ease of continuing to work in-house for an employer?
Having spent time reflecting on your past, you know your whys – to be able to help others, to enjoy challenging work whilst having the flexibility you crave to be available for your family, to be in control of your time, to not have to settle for a part-time job that does not challenge you or enhance your lifelong love of learning, and to inspire others that they can also make the leap and pursue their own flexible career. You know your reasons why and it is time.
So what can I tell you now, three years on, that will help you, and others who may be reading this thinking of doing the same, as you embark on this next chapter? Firstly, it will take you time, 6 months in fact. Fortunately, you have saved enough to manage financially during these first months, and you would recommend others do the same. You must remain patient and not give up. Your support network of family, friends, and former colleagues will become your cheerleaders on the tougher days. They understand why it is so important for you to keep going and stay focused. Some people will think you’re mad and that you should get a ‘proper job’, but you will learn it is best to ignore those that mean well but don’t understand.
It is during this time that you will set yourself goals and work out how you will achieve them. Setting simple targets will help you feel like you are achieving something in those quiet, early days. SMART objectives may be unoriginal, but they work and provide you with direction when you feel like you’re floating around. Nobody is going to tell you what to do, so you will find having these steps identified will be key to keeping you motivated.
Be prepared to network like never before! At first, this will fill you with dread, but you soon realise that it is just chatting, only in a different context. You spend time perfecting your ‘elevator pitch’ and hone your listening skills. Having a few conversation starters up your sleeve boosts your confidence and as a typical Brit, get ready to chat about the weather! As you start to learn names and faces, these events will become less daunting and you will make some meaningful connections. By listening and asking questions, you will gain a good understanding of what others do and you will get a buzz from being able to help them. Dressing comfortably and allowing plenty of time helps you feel less frazzled. Building up a network with accountants, solicitors, and professional service providers will become key to finding your future clients.
Gaining your practice certificate with the ICAEW shows that you are serious about your portfolio career and requires you to take the time to assess your strengths and identify any gaps in your knowledge. Taking time during the first few quieter months to work on these gaps and get your documentation such as engagement letters and anti-money laundering processes in place is a good use of the time. The ICAEW’s recently formed independent advisors and consultants community provides useful support and guidance, and you will wish it had been available when you started.
You will feel like a proper grown-up when you organise your professional indemnity insurance (having found a broker you happily recommend to others). Whilst it is hard, you will learn the importance of leaving time in your schedule to stay on top of your CPD and keeping up to date with technological developments that will help transform your clients’ processes.
Like many others, imposter syndrome will strike from time to time and quite frankly, will be a pain in the proverbial. You will ask yourself cruel questions like “Who am I to do this? What do I know?” Quite a lot actually but some days it will be harder to see this than others. Staying motivated by kindness will help and remember to focus on the positive impact that you are having on your clients. Chatting to your aforementioned cheerleaders will be the boost you need on those harder days.
Us accountants aren’t typically known for their sales skills and you will struggle with the idea of selling ‘yourself’. Over time, you will realise that what you’re actually selling is 20 + years of experience and knowledge that can help people.
Your days working in-house will help you understand that SMEs sometimes need hands-on help. You will use your experience to swiftly assimilate information, providing quick wins alongside longer-term solutions, and you understand that being able to communicate clearly with non-financial people is key.
Whilst you have already dabbled in it, you don’t yet realise how important LinkedIn will become to you. Offering free advice and help to others will help people to believe and trust in you. As I write this, we are in a global pandemic and it is a strange time. You won’t believe me if I tell you the ways our world has changed so all I will say for now is, LinkedIn has become even more important, so keep focusing on those connections!
Something that you will continuously need to work on is self-care. Whilst you have a good understanding of just how important this is, the reality is that you will struggle to find the time. The pandemic is forcing many people to work harder but you remain hopeful that there will be a better balance soon and the flexibility you craved 3 years ago, will again become a reality.
So Caroline, please believe me when I say it is all going to be ok. Have faith in yourself and what you know, I promise it will be worth it. If you stick with it, you will learn enough to write a letter to your younger self one day – who’d have thought...?