Starting a business – going it alone

A moment comes when the vague desire to start a business suddenly turns into
reality, and planning turns into action. As a financial controller, it had been
my job to limit risk and exposure. In May 2009, I embraced it. I felt
simultaneously liberated and apprehensive, I wanted more control over my future
than the corporate ladder could provide. I saw this as a logical step for me,
albeit at a perilous time economically.

It may appear like bad timing, starting a firm in a recession. But
entrepreneurs are embracing the once­in-a-generation opportunity for small
businesses to steal a march on big business. If I was going to work with them,
and still use the skills I developed as a management accountant and equity
analyst, I too had to act now. Working with growing companies driven by
passionate entrepreneurs is hugely rewarding.

The reality is sink or swim. The first and only thought that comes to you is
about sourcing clients. I had canvassed many contacts working in or with SMEs
prior to setting up, and there was a gap in the market for a company that could
combine bookkeeping and advisory services for growing businesses.

Many small companies employ a junior bookkeeper to sort out day-to-day issues
and use an accountant once a year to produce annual accounts. Innovative and
high-growth companies in sectors such as IT and energy have shunned this “rear
view mirror” approach, wanting instead someone with experience to combine these

Getting out there
The first pitch I did with this notion was in a café in Soho, for a company that
undertakes R&D and investment in renewable energy. Like any firm without a
market name, I only had two real weapons ­ price and tangible benefits.
Competitive pricing may get you invited to pitch, but relating the benefits of
your depth and breadth of ability is what makes the difference. This, coupled
with evident determination, won me the pitch.

Going out and winning business goes against the grain of many in the accounta
ncy profession, but clients weren’t going to drop onto my plate. There is great
motivation in a business being your own which drives you to network and
shamelessly tap any contact. Six months on, I am some way towards developing a
diverse portfolio of clients, all with different requirements.

Hard-learned lessons
I moonlight as Ayshford Sanford’s IT expert, marketing department and stationary
procurement officer, all things that you take for granted at a larger firm.
Taking all these distractions in your stride and balancing them against what the
client expects can be extremely challenging at times, and prioritising is

I’m also seeing the advantages of the small company. The myth of choosing
when you work is quickly supplanted by working harder than ever, but the work is
rewarding. Importantly, I can equate what I do every day with the success of my

What next?
Times remain testing for us all, but six months from now I hope to have grown
the headcount from the current two directors. We are in the process of launching
a family office and high net worth finance support service. I would also like to
develop a research function covering AIM-quoted companies.

Whatever happens in the coming months, it gives me great determination to
know that, whether I succeed or not, it is now up to me to achieve this.

Ed Sanford founded Ayshford Sanford in May 2009, providing accountancy
and financial advisory services to growing and entrepreneurial businesses.

Tips and tricks

Branding up – you are no one without a website these days. There is a huge
number of website designers with massively different fees. It is essential to
find an individual who understands your brand aspirations. When naming your
business ensure you look at availability of domain names as well as enquiring
with Companies House.

Developing a professional network – when you’re busy winning business, this
often sits on the back burner. Clients value you more if you can short-cut the
work needed to find good lawyers and other specialists. It’s worth every evening
it takes.

Time management – there is a great temptation to get caught in the
administrative side of the business. The priority always has to be paid work and
providing a service to clients; the admin can be done at the weekend.

Invest in flexible IT services, such as voice over internet protocol and
laptops to enable you to work remotely.

Shop around for several professional indemnity insurance quotes, there are a
great many brokers who can obtain quotes for this and it is not as specialist as
you may think.

If possible, look to share work space rather than committing to your own
office space.

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