Many freelancers start with an end goal. For example, some see freelancing as a way to kick start their journey towards creating an agency, while others want to be as good as they can be but remain on their own. Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer to this, other than the need for peer support to help the journey along, which is why this series of behind the scenes interviews exists. I first met Elaine Clark, this week’s Featured Freelancer, during our work with MicroBizMattersDay. Elaine started as a freelance accountant and still is one, but has also built up a franchise business from it over the last 10 years. This is the very honest story of her journey so far…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Elaine Clark. I’m based in the North West operating throughout the UK online with my business CheapAccounting.co.uk which hopefully explains what I do.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for ten years now starting way back in 2007 when I last sat in a “high powered” corporate meeting and thought “I can’t do this anymore”. The monotony and repetitiveness were boring me senseless. Along with the utter waste of corporate money I knew that my “blue chip” career just wasn’t fulfilling me.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
To be honest I kept my ideas close to my chest at the time. I didn’t want to worry anyone. Accountants are known for being risk adverse; so taking the leap of faith into the unknown would have been considered a bit out of character. I didn’t want people to think I was having a mid life crisis! That said most of my friends and family have been encouraging; a couple are even envious of how things have worked out for me.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
At the very start I did get a local grant for £500 which I used to cover set up costs and Professional Indemnity Insurance. Being an accountant meant I had all of the tax and finance covered. My background in IT and Masters in Internet Computing helped me with the technical side including writing an online accounting set as well as the web development. In fact, without wanting to sound arrogant, I’ve given out more support than I’ve received.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
We’ve now well over 3,000 clients who are all self employed freelancers, consultants, contractors and small business owners. All of them are looking for a friendly, easy to understand accounting service at a price that they can afford. We do just that by providing an online accountancy service.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Given the name of the business, it should come as no surprise that initially clients come to us because of our competitive fee. We offer cheap accounting but we are not cheap accountants. There is a subtle difference. When I started out I streamlined the accounting and tax business processes introducing technology to undertaken the repetitive tasks. This left me free to focus on the areas where I could add value and my experience was needed such as offering specific tax advice.
Over the years we’ve amended and flexed our services as things have changed; believe me the world of accounting and tax changes each year with new rules and regulations consistently being introduced. It’s tough enough for us to keep up with the changes, let alone the red tape burden this places on freelancers and small business owners. The penalty and fine regime imposed by HMRC is horrendous; so falling foul of regulations is something to avoid. Freelancers and small business owners need a friendly accountant on hand who will rapidly respond to queries raised without the need for the client to take time out of work to attend a meeting.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
Yes it is everything I thought it would be and more … in a good way of course. I love it! As to my working hours, at first it was more hours to get things up and running. Now I have a good work-life balance taking time out to do the things I love like walking and working the hours I need to keep all the plates spinning. The flexibility works well for me.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Oh now that’s a difficult one; I should say one of the Cloud Accounting Apps really but I would have to say the iStock for my images which I use on my social media and blogs. I have a monthly subscription which gives me a number of images that I can use. That way I steer clear of any copyright issues and my accounting content becomes a little more interesting; well that’s the hope!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
It’s hard work. Whatever business you start will be hard work. Some say that I’m lucky with my business; I find that the harder I work the luckier I get!
Starting an accountancy practice is no different to any other business; you’ve got to be able to manage the full life cycle of the business; marketing, selling, converting clients, delivering the work as well as the billing and operations. It is not just about doing a set of accounts or a tax return.
Added to that you’ve got to keep up to date with a huge amount of laws and regulations with the potential for clients to take action against you if you get something wrong.
Whilst the accountancy profession is not regulated there are standards that you must adhere to. I’d always advise someone starting out in accountancy to work within the limits of their experience. Don’t take on work that you are not “qualified” to do. If you’re not comfortable with some of the non technical skills you may need to look at other ways of working bearing in mind the cost of doing so. Accountancy is a very crowded market. You need to be able to stand out from the crowd, in a good way of course.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Just how impatient I am and how much I hate someone telling me that something cannot be done or it won’t work. If someone says that to me I must admit to taking it as a dare to prove them wrong!
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
No day is ever the same as the one before or the one after. I love the variety and flexibility knowing that I am being rewarded for the hard work that I put in.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Now this is the question that I had to think about the hardest. I guess that sometimes the life of a freelancer can be lonely; you can miss out on the interaction of an office environment. But then I remember that I didn’t much like the office environment; the gossip, the moaning, the Christmas do and goodness knows what else.
These days I put effort into making sure my social life is good. That is where I get my social interaction from; being with people that I choose to be with doing the things I enjoy. A nice balance.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To continue doing what I do and loving it. As the retirement age gets later and later I believe that many of us, me included, will need to continue to work until goodness knows when. For me it is about re-defining work into something which is not a four letter word if you get my drift.
Life no longer includes work and play; rather life includes a set of things that I do which I enjoy. Some earn money. Others cost me money … that’s my life and long may that balance continue.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That I was well capable of doing it … I’m not sure why I didn’t take the plunge much sooner!
You can connect with Elaine at: