Featured Freelancer Catchup: Emma Willder, financial and governance support for charities

Emma Willder started Beyond Profit as a small business to fit around family life. 5 years later it has grown into a team of 6 and offers expert outsourced finance and governance support to charities.

Read on for a sneak peek into Emma’s story and how she’s built her successful business:

What is your name and what do you do?

My name’s Emma Willder and my business is Beyond Profit. We help charities thrive by providing finance and governance support.

There’s two parts to Beyond Profit – the finance side – where we provide outsourced finance to charities. Anything from bookkeeping, payroll, management accounts to statutory accounts. Smaller charities can’t always afford to have an in-house finance function so we’re a really good option for them.

On the governance side we run 5 or 6 grant giving charities on behalf of trustees where there’s no staff. We do all the finance, the governance, the admin and assess the grant applications. For other governance clients I’m the charity/company secretary so I minute all the meetings, review all the policies and make sure they’re compliant in everything they need to do. We also run lots of trustee development sessions, for example, reminding people of their legal duties of being a trustee. Recently I ran a session for local charities online through an organisation called MACC and that was all about full cost recovery.

We’re all about helping charities thrive and making sure they have the finance and governance support they need to be able to achieve their charitable objectives.

How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

It started out as just me 5 years ago and now it’s grown to a team of 6.

What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?

Interestingly most of my clients come from referrals; either existing clients or people I’ve worked with a long time ago in my employed life. I’m also a member of something called Consultants For Good which is a database of consultants that work in the third sector. I’ve had quite a few clients come from there.

Also, there’s not many accountancy practices out there that specialise only in charities so that’s where we’re quite unique as we only deal with charities. I suppose you would call us a boutique accountancy practice!

What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?

We’re on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and I’ve recently launched my Youtube channel. It’s called ChariTEA and Biscuits. That’s where I speak to people working in the charity sector about the challenges charities face. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

It’s a difficult question. If I think of it the other way and the one I could do without is Facebook as I don’t think many people engage with us that way.

Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?

Anyone who books a discovery call with me will be given a form to fill out with their charity number, what they need to speak to me about and things like that. As most of them are registered charities or CIC’s looking to become charities I go straight on to the charity commission website and search the register of charities. There I can download the latest accounts, who the trustees are and I can gather all the information beforehand. I also look on their website to see if there’s anything else on there. It’s nice to find a picture of the person you’re going to speak to. But yes, I always do research before I speak to a project just to see if they’re the right type of person and the right type of organisation that we’re aiming for.

A lot of the time with the pre-screening questions there may be something in there that will make me think that we’re not the right fit for them and them us, so I’ll call them up and talk about it. A good example of that is if someone wants to do outsourced finance support and their current finance system is Xero and they’re really wedded to it. We’re a Quickbooks only practice so if they’re really wedded to Xero then we may not be for them. I would then pass them on to someone else who also deals with charities and uses Xero.

What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?

Yoga and pilates. I do yoga every Monday and I find that makes a massive difference to my head space. While I’m doing it I can’t think of anything else as I’m too busy holding the pose and concentrating on breathing. It’s the same with pilates. I particularly noticed that over lockdown when my yoga classes went online – which was great – but I live in a house with four sons and a husband so there was no quiet space for me to do yoga in. I stopped doing the virtual classes and I noticed a real difference in my wellbeing.

I enjoy being with my boys, my youngest loves spending time with me. I’m a massive Bolton Wanderers fan so during the football season going to yell at a bunch of men on a football pitch is great for my mental health.

Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?

When I first set up it was very much to work around the children and I wasn’t very ambitious. It was partly because of the job I had; it was very high pressure and I just wanted to take a step back. But life doesn’t work like that does it, so the business has grown a lot quicker than I thought it would. I never wanted to take on staff originally but now I’ve taken on staff.

I probably work more hours now than I first anticipated; and that’s particularly true at the moment as I’m setting up the systems and processes to make sure I can take a step back from certain things so I can concentrate on working on the business rather than in the business.

What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?

Most common is cost. The way we price our finance services is based on transaction volumes. We list everything out for them; and if they want to reduce the cost they can say ‘We don’t want that’ and we’ll say ‘that’s fine, we can take that out, but it will have these implications’. I often find that after I’ve spoken to people on discovery calls and talked to them about a proposal they’re very keen to work with us. That’s why I always schedule a Zoom call with potential clients as I like face to face conversation and to know if I can get along with them. One of the benefits of having your own business or being freelance is that you get to choose who you work with; and I think people often forget that. Sometimes, if your gut is telling you to say no, you need to say no.

What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?

Helping my clients I think. I like to help people and if I can make a difference to them and they can make a difference to the people they’re working with then that makes me really happy. I get a great sense of achievement from that. I know the people I work with are not in charities to make profit; they’re in it because they care passionately and deeply about the charity they work for.

What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?

Telling people no when I don’t want to work with them or disengaging from a client because it’s just an awkward conversation. Generally I would do it via a phone call as I like that personal touch. It’s not nice because no one wants to feel like they’re making someone else’s life a bit difficult in the short term but I know it’s for the good of me and my business.

I’m not the type of person to leave someone hanging in the lurch so I will always recommend other people to work with.

What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?

Trust your gut. The biggest thing! I didn’t trust my gut on some clients and it was a very stressful time while working with them and it’s just not worth it.

What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?

Get an accountant. The reason I say that is if you start up and you’re self employed you might think you can do your own self assessment returns; but if you get a decent accountant they’ll probably save you money and they’ll know what you can and can’t put in. If you start a limited company you’ll have to do year end accounts and have a corporation tax return at the very least. You need to find someone who doesn’t just talk at you and you’re not afraid to ask questions in return. 

I’m an accountant myself and I don’t do my own self assessment and tax return and I don’t do my own business accounts and corporation tax as it’s not my specialism. I decided straight away I had to have someone else do it because even though I could do it, it would take me more time than someone who does them regularly. Why wouldn’t I pay somebody who knows what they’re doing to do that?  I know then that I’m doing things right.

You can connect with Emma and Beyond Profit on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Youtube.

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Emma Willder

Emma Willder