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07801 250 668secretary@uckfieldchamber.co.uk

The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB), recently caught up with Chamber Treasurer, Claire Allen C.FICB to discuss her excellent work to help women in the bookkeeping profession. Practising for over 25 years, Claire is the owner of Chamber member,  Team 4 Solutions LLP, which had its 10th anniversary on 1 March, and now boasts an impressive 160 clients. Like many other businesses during lockdown, Team 4 has seen business somewhat decline. However, business is picking up and there is light at the end of the tunnel. ‘’Turnover is down, as anticipated it to be. However, in the last couple of months, the wheels of business seem to be turning again! We are getting more enquiries now.’’

‘’When I first set up practice 25 years ago, I had no confidence whatsoever. I took on some awful contracts and had clients who treated me appallingly”

You may also know that Claire’s husband, Julian, will soon be joining the business as a Practice Manager. Beforehand, he was an Aviation Quality Manager, and it’s this experience that made him a good fit to help Claire manage her team and run the business. “It’s really good – he will come in and help manage all my staff, look at AML (which I am so pleased about) and put some good processes and procedures in place.’’

Claire did not become a successful bookkeeper and entrepreneur overnight. Similar to a lot of bookkeepers today, Claire suffered from confidence issues when starting, which led to her taking on contracts that she knew were not the right fit and working with clients who were not particularly friendly. “When I first set up practice 25 years ago, I had no confidence whatsoever. I took on some awful contracts and had clients who treated me appallingly. I sometimes got bullied and I didn’t know how to stand up to them at the time.”

Throughout the interview, Claire expressed with great enthusiasm that she would like to use the experience of her past confidence issues to help other women in the bookkeeping community. This is firstly evident by looking at Claire’s social media channels, which are filled with inspirational messages. Claire is also Branch Chair for both East and West Sussex branches. When questioned about the confidence of other bookkeepers, Claire said “I think a lot of bookkeepers do not progress their business as much as they should. After they’ve done all that hard work studying and gaining their qualifications, they find it hard to get themselves off the ground because they don’t have the confidence to get out there and network and sell themselves. I want to reach out particularly to female bookkeepers and show them that they are strong people and have a very valid place in the accounting industry, in entrepreneurship, and life.’’

Claire also aims to help other bookkeepers by establishing long-lasting partnerships with them. Did you know that Claire co-founded Freedom 4 Ltd? She founded this new practice alongside Rebecca Young AICB, who she employs at Team 4. Claire sees the future of her business heading that way too. “This is how I see the business developing, having smaller partnerships with other bookkeepers all under the Team 4 brand. My goal is to work with up-and-coming bookkeepers, so they can have an experienced mentor to help them develop their business, rather than going alone.’’ Claire and Rebecca also recently got their first client! Good luck to them both with their new endeavour.

”I want to reach out particularly to female bookkeepers and show them that they are strong people and have a very valid place in the accounting industry, in entrepreneurship, and life.’’

After talking at some length about the work that Claire does to help others, we then discussed the importance of sisterhood in the bookkeeping community. We are sure that Claire would like to help everyone, but it is also up to the other bookkeepers to lend a hand! When asked about the importance of sisterhood, it was clear that she knows that sisterhood and working together is very important in bookkeeping, but she also pointed out how strange it is that this is the case as bookkeepers are, in one form or another, competing. “I think quite uniquely, it is important. In most industries, I wouldn’t say that’s the case. But seeing ICB and how ICB works, and the family feel of ICB – everyone supports each other. Ultimately, bookkeepers are competing against one another and we are competitors. But we don’t act like we are competitors. We are all there for each other, and that is so unusual.’’

You may also wonder why is it that practice owners are so close to the people they are competing against. “In my view, bookkeepers are like this because a lot of ICB members are women, and we nurture and care for other people, and we want to see people succeed. Our membership, our clients, are all part of our lives. We don’t just see them as commercial income, we want them to be part of our lives.’’

”Ultimately, bookkeepers are competing against one another and we are competitors. But we don’t act like we are competitors. We are all there for each other, and that is so unusual.’’

Despite Claire’s two successful practices, it’s clear that she’s not driven solely by a desire to make money. What does Claire think then about the suggestion that bookkeepers aren’t charging enough for their services? It’s certainly an issue she feels strongly about – ’’Not sometimes, 95% of the time! Most of us don’t charge anywhere near as much as we are worth and do more than we are being paid for. Even after all these years, I still do it.’’ 

The solution to this, Claire points out, isn’t easy. “If you are selling your services at an hourly rate of £15, that’s easy to quantify, but that £15 an hour is worth so much more than that! It’s not just the time you are spending, it’s all those years of experience you bring and all the other benefits the client is going to get from that £15 an hour. You can’t value that.’’

”Most of us don’t charge anywhere near as much as we are worth and do more than we are being paid for. Even after all these years, I still do it’’

It is not just the benefit of experience that Claire recognises as being so valuable to clients, it is also the friendliness and support ICB bookkeepers offer to their clients. This is also difficult to quantify in Claire’s opinion. “Nearly all my clients ring me up just because they want to have a chat sometimes because they don’t have anyone else to talk to about their business. No one else knows their business as much as a bookkeeper. A bookkeeper is a close confidant, if you like, someone whom the client can trust. So clients use us quite often as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, things like that. How do you value that?’’

With the interview taking place on the eve of International Women’s Day, we asked Claire about how the significance of being a female bookkeeper and entrepreneur. ’’I’ve suddenly realised that yes, I am an entrepreneur! To view myself as an entrepreneur is something that I’m very proud of, and I feel like I’ve finally arrived and am running a legitimate business. I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I’ve poured into my business for so many years. I’m ultimately proud of what I’ve got and the team I’ve got around me as well. My staff and my wider network are hugely important.’’

To finish the interview, we asked Claire what advice she would give to women just starting their bookkeeping practice, or thinking about making the move into self-employment. With great passion, Claire said “For women especially, this is a fantastic industry to get involved in. It gives us so much flexibility. Make sure you don’t short sell yourself. Get yourself a mentor who has been there and done it, and there are plenty within ICB.

’’I’ve suddenly realised that ‘’yes, I am an entrepreneur!’’

We are most grateful to Claire for volunteering and dedicating time to looking after the Chamber finances, which are in very capable hands…