Resilience and how to bounce back in business

My business coach recently interviewed me, and I talked about how I built up an advisory-only practice. Looking back, I realised a big reason for where I am today is that I never gave up when things got tough. Every business has setbacks and challenges, but how we deal with them and pick ourselves back up is what makes the difference. For years and years, I would go back to the drawing board, try and test other ways of doing things until something stuck, and I wouldn’t be afraid of changing how I did things.

This resilience got me to where I am today, so I thought it was worth sharing my story in hopes of helping others do the same. 

If you’d prefer to listen to the interview, click below to watch the video.

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Setting up the business as a “side-gig”

Initially, I set the company up in 2012 as a side gig whilst finding my next full-time role. I had just been made redundant, so I needed a way to bring in some income while I did this, but I was never expecting to love it so much that I committed to becoming a full-time freelancer just four years later. 

It wasn’t long before this “side-gig” turned into a full-blown business, so I reached out to Heather Townsend (my now business coach) for help to make this my permanent lifestyle. It was 2019, I hadn’t got any new business for several years, and I was predicting that my three core clients would likely move on (for positive reasons) in the next two years, so I needed to up my game. My goal now had become more ambitious: I wanted to build a business that was scalable and not reliant on me for everything.

Committing to growth

I’ve never been one to carry on doing the same thing and wonder if something will happen on its own, I have to be active. And I was committed to growing my business right from the early stages. I tried things like pay per click and growing the practice beyond myself, and I learned from my mistakes. But what really accelerated our growth was tapping into our client base to see what they valued about us.

The answer was three-fold:

  1. We really understood their business.
  2. We were proactive (e.g. we would renegotiate their supplier contracts if required).
  3. We were their confidante and their sounding board, always in their corner.

Opening a new route to market using LinkedIn

After discovering what made us different, I realised that this was what we needed to be shouting about. This is what we needed to be showing new prospective clients. If we could highlight this extra value that we provide – beyond just what we do and our expertise – this would start bringing in the type of work we wanted.

It took a bit of time, but we transitioned from “active observer” to “active doer” on LinkedIn. We developed a strategy where we started to post and comment consistently, usually talking about our difference and what we do. We began to proactively connect with referrers to broaden my network. Committing to our new LinkedIn strategy significantly accelerated our growth in the following ways:

   

  • I developed a better connection with my network.
  • It became easier to find team members (they would find me).
  • Clients would often find me due to something I posted on LinkedIn.
  • My best clients would typically comment on my posts which meant more of the right sort of people saw my content.

Valuing our worth

As well as adopting a more hands-on approach on LinkedIn, we committed to only taking on the right type of work. While it took a fair amount of time to really crystallise what we did (as it was far-reaching), once we were clear on our value, it became much easier to sell, and our growth became much more purposeful.

A key risk for us was taking on too many of the wrong types of leads, so, with help for the other members of the Accountants’ Growth Club, I outlined what we did, who we did it for and what we didn’t do. Once we had this, we committed to valuing our worth; we created a page on our website that states what we don’t do, and we refused to get out of bed for less than £1000 per month. (Gutsy, I know, but this is what made us grow in the right way!).

Getting through the tough times

As with every business, I experienced ups and downs in my growth journey over the years, but my resilience to adapt and succeed has really carried me through. Two significant examples stick out in my mind to show you how I worked through them.

Sudden growth

Example: landing a new core client that made up 10-15% of our turnover.

How I managed it: 

  • Although our team is small, it is flexible, and our key players are permanently employed.
  • I invested in our process and systems so that we could handle a higher workload.
  • I ensured that we are ISO 9001 qualified, which means that our whole way of working is documented. This means that I can onboard new hires efficiently and effectively and help the team scale up quickly using clear workflows.
  • We always look for good talent, even if it’s not needed right now, and we bring them into the team early. This allows us to get them completely up to speed so they can hit the ground running when new work lands. 
  • I had to trust (a lot!) in the process. It takes time for leads to convert, and sometimes our business stuff gets pushed back, but I stuck with it, and now we have clients who are willing to wait a month or so until we are ready for them. 

Large setbacks

Example: potentially losing 60% of our business over a 3-6 month period.

How I managed it: 

  • I have an emergency plan (so I always know exactly how far I can scale back things before service takes a hit).
  • I have a flexible team (I have a mixture of permanent and contractor staff with some offshored. Which allows me to do more work when it’s there, but I can also cut back very quickly if it’s not). 
  • I was always looking ahead to the next piece of work to create a new pipeline, but not at the expense of our current work.
  • I accepted help when it was offered, which a lot of people did as I looked after them in the past.
  • I utilised my coaching and the supportive community of the Accountants’ Growth Club.
  • I had to reframe my situation, which wasn’t easy. We were a £150-200k business at the time and were potentially going to lose over £100k of annual income, but my coach helped me to see the positives:
    • If some clients left, it would mean I wasn’t as personally chargeable, which helped with scalability in the future. 
    • Any new clients to fill the gap would not be on legacy rates.
    • Without so much client work, I would have time to focus on business development to fill the gap.
    • I might not lose as much as I was dreading (and I didn’t, it ended up being around 60k).

Due to doing these things above and having specific measures in place before this setback, we refilled our client losses only nine months after losing 60k of business. During this time, our practice became more easily scalable and more profitable.

What I would have done differently

While I now have an FD-lead practice which is 100% advisory, and our turnover is £250k with just ten core clients, there are things that I would have done differently in hindsight. Even in just the last five years, I would have:

  1. Marketed myself differently. I lost a lot of money on doing the wrong things with the wrong people and getting little or nothing for it.
  2. Learned to trust my instincts better. It’s really easy to be led in different directions because of self-doubt, but our instincts aren’t usually wrong.
  3. Had more confidence in myself. Everyone tells me how great I am, but I still don’t feel it – this is an ongoing journey. 

One of the key services we offer our client base is being that sounding board and confidante role. Having this for ourselves has been invaluable. If you need help to build your resilience – if you or your business want that sounding board – and we are a good fit for your business, then please get in touch. 

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