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Mark Telford | From Ice Cream Man to Chartered Accountant (or Bar Manager in Greece)?

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

That was my career move.

Ok, so I’ve let my artistic licence run wild but I genuinely was an Ice Cream Man – whilst a student and it was my (last) job before I started training as an accountant.

I literally fell into accountancy. I was in my third year of a history degree (yes history to accountancy a logical move) and all my mates were having interviews, getting job offers, so I thought I’d better do something.

I took the path of least resistance – went to the careers centre – completed a questionnaire and the ‘ideal’ job it came up with was ‘accountant’. At the time there was a group made up of 15 medium sized firms in London who joined together for recruitment and training purposes so they could compete with the Big 4 (6 then). I could pass a recruitment suitability test and my details would be sent to 15 firms – perfect!

Long story short – 1 test – 2 interviews (on the same day) – job offer – sorted.

So I started life as a trainee accountant and hated it, boring work, endless study, rubbish pay.

At the last hurdle I was very close to going in a completely different direction. I had to re-sit one paper of my final exams and on exam results day we did the usual in my firm, which was based in central London. We headed to the West End on Friday night for a night out and to collect a copy of the first edition of the Saturday morning edition of The Times which published the results.

Now, if I’d failed I was ready to hand my notice in and head off to Greece to run a bar.

As fate would have it I passed.

I left practice shortly after and spent 14 years in industry, mostly Property and Construction, working my way up Group FD of a £100m turnover business.

In 2009 it was the height of the property recession and life in a construction business was stressful. I decided to call it a day and started working as an FD Consultant for a boutique finance consultancy, from here I moved on to running my own FD Consultancy business.

It was while running this business that I regularly came across small business owners who were getting a really poor service from their accountants – once a year compliance only service – no business support or advice at all.

The once a year service small business owners received from their accountant was woefully inadequate. This was really brought home to me when I started working with a business which had grown too quickly and it culminated in the business entering a CVA and ultimately being liquidated.

The warning signs were there early on – over reliance on invoice finance and loss making contracts. The client had a bookkeeper and no management accounts were prepared so the first he knew of the huge losses was when his accountant presented to accounts to him 8 months after the year end.

As the underlying issues hadn’t been addressed the problems then were 8 months worse!

Traditional accountants, those who have only ever trained and worked in a practice, usually a top 100 firm or a large regional practice will have no experience of real business.

Their work is a sausage machine of accounts and tax returns. Seeing each clients financials for a few ours or days once a year. Complete the job and move on to the next one. I know because this is exactly the type of firm I trained with!

Leaving practice and moving to industry was the best decision I ever made. It armed me with the mindset and communication skills which can really help provide small business owners with the level of service they need.

The steepest learning curve was when I started as a Financial Controller in a new division of a FTSE 250 Property Group.

Everything was new. Most of the directors were great in their field of work, but had little knowledge of how the finances impacted on them and vice versa. This was one of the great skills of our MD at the time – he made department heads and managers of each function spend time in other departments and work closely with staff in those departments.

I was responsible for ensuring that all directors knew exactly what our financial targets were and the impact of delays in sales and construction delays or overspends. This meant I had to learn quickly and often on my feet, how to convey financial information in a way which made sense to a construction manager, a surveyor or a design technician.

The one work practice that really brought this home to me was the construction site visits I did on the last Friday in every month with the Construction Director. I was able to directly relate financial performance to the actual construction performance.

I was then able to convey to the Construction Director the financial impact of missing, hitting or exceeding targets and whether we were behind or ahead of target. He in turn was able to use this information to motivate his team.

We were both then able to attend Monday morning Directors meetings with up to date and accurate information. Singing from the same hymn sheet.

The experienced I gained here had a profound effect and has shaped most of my work since. It’s the need to have effective communication with business owners, directors and managers.

This communication has to convey the financial information in a way that non-finance people can understand. More importantly this information has to be communicated when it’s needed. In the case of the business which went into a CVA – if the owners had received accurate and timely quarterly management information the outcome could have been very different.

I saw a need to provide a better, regular level of service to small businesses but the traditional accountancy model of the once a year service, using either desktop software, spreadsheets, or worse – paper records, just wouldn’t work.

A chance meeting with Glen Foster from Xero in 2010 led me to thinking about starting a practice, something I had swore I would never do.

When I first saw Xero it was a light bulb moment, here was a way in which accountants could stay in regular contact with clients throughout the year, working collaboratively with real time up to date, accurate information.

2011 saw me start to plan starting the practice and in 2012 it went ahead.

Move forward to 2019 and I can honestly say it’s the best decision I ever made.

Gone are the work habits of an employee in a construction business which saw me kiss my daughter goodnight on a Sunday, the next time I would see her was a Saturday morning as I would spent the week leaving for work before 6am and not returning until after 8pm.

Now, I take the kids to school most days and usually pick them up and sit down to dinner with them most nights. Work fits around family. Which is the way it should be.

I’ll often be working at 10 or 11 o’clock at night but that’s because I chose to, having taken time off in the day to spend that time with my family.

So while I ‘fell’ into accountancy it’s turned out pretty well…and the success I’ve had with developing my business model has encouraged me to share my story with other accountants.

As accountants running our own practices we have a great opportunity to provide a great level of service to clients, have a good level of income and fit work in around our families. A better outcome for us and our clients.

With Mark’s help, you can Run The Practice You Want, The Way You Want.

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