Carly Shaw is a director at Clarative Accounting
I fell into accountancy to be honest. When I left school, I applied for lots of different jobs and just happened to get one in accountancy and realised I absolutely loved it. I’m still in love with it now – I always thought an accountant was somebody that sat and played with numbers all day, but I've realised over the years that it's more about building relationships with clients and speaking to people, which is what I love to do. Yes, the numbers are part of that, but it's the relationship side of things that I absolutely enjoy the most.
My first job in accounting came with a training contract for AAT which I completed quickly over a couple of years. Then I had the choice whether I wanted to go on and study further. I looked into ACCA and ICAEW and decided that ACCA was the better route for me and qualified with all first time passes (but there’s no badges for that!)
I stayed with that firm for over 13 years and fully intended to stay there for the whole of my career and become a partner there. I craved more responsibility but realised that I needed to move to another firm to get the experience I needed to progress.
"When I moved to my next firm, I realised that there was still so much to learn in so many different areas, including billing, marketing, and most importantly for me, client contact. "
When MTD came in, I was heavily involved with the marketing and rollout which was good fun and made me so proud.
Changes within the practice meant I wasn’t going to be able to make the impact that I wanted, so I handed in my notice. I had the intention to join a smaller practice once again as I felt I’d have more of a chance to make my mark. But during my notice period I wondered if maybe I could work for myself. I happened to chat it through with a colleague that had also made the decision to leave, and we wondered whether we would be stronger together. Over the next few months Katie and I set up Clarative and it's gone from strength to strength.
We specialise in construction, and we decided on that for several reasons. One reason was because we know a lot of people in construction have always felt uncomfortable speaking to their accountant – sure, they can build a house, but they don't understand any of the paperwork and tend to hate it, often burying their heads in the sand. We felt that we had a real way of speaking to those in construction. We enjoy teaching them how it all works, and there's nothing better than when a client says that now that we’ve explained it, they finally get it.
We also saw a gap in the market - there are many accountants on LinkedIn who say they won't touch CIS with a barge pole - but we quite like it and we understand it. Most of the clients we've taken on are behind – behind with their CIS, behind with their VAT, they may be late with their accounts and have got into a right old mess. Many have grown quickly but unfortunately haven’t had the guidance of an accountant, or the right accountant. There's often a lot of sorting out to do when we take on a new client, but we love helping them and once we get it all sorted, it's so satisfying.
One of the ways we work differently to some other accountants is that we don't take on any year end only work – this means we don’t have any clients that we just do accounts and corporation tax for. We insist on a minimum of quarterly touch points with our clients which ties in nicely with their VAT quarters.
"We make it clear that we want our clients to talk to us. We want them to contact us and ask any “silly” questions because that gets us involved with their business on a real time basis. "
The more we talk to them the more it helps us to help them build their business. In fact, we insist we speak to them at least quarterly but to be honest for many of them it's monthly or even more frequent. We don’t charge separately for this but build it into our fees.
Accountants should be seen as real business partners to a company. We need to move away from the old-fashioned idea of an accountant being someone that deals with historic accounts to someone who helps drive a business forward. This is exactly why we didn't like the idea of being year-end accountants. We want people to value the work that we do and help them to better their business through real time management accounts and getting involved with business advisory.
Right now, the single most pressing issue for accountants has to be Making Tax Digital (MTD). When we first started Clarative we made a conscious decision to only work with limited companies who are over the VAT registration threshold. We knew that MTD would be easier to introduce to the clients we wanted to work with. I know a lot of accountants who work with smaller clients and with MTD coming in for sole traders and partnerships first, I think they're going to have a really hard time convincing clients that they'll need to do more than one tax return a year, and that they're going to have to pay for it. I really do worry that it’s going to be tough sell for them.