Interview With Emma James

We recently caught up with one of our award winning bookkeeping members, Emma James, and found out a bit about her business and her journey.

Tell us a bit about your practice

On the 1st of September I'll be 2 years old.  It's just me at the moment, but that could change. I mainly work with remote clients.  I have a few on site, but I'm only taking on new remote clients in the future.

I only work with Xero, and I’m focused on very, very small businesses.  I feel that the term SME is too wide so I focus on micro, owner managed, businesses.

My biggest client has just for members of staff.  All of my clients are service based, and nearly all in the creative industry like web design and digital marketing.

I also work with social ventures.  When I started my business I was clear that I wanted to give something back.  These businesses account for around 10%-15% of my income.


Why did you decide to start a bookkeeping practice?

To answer this question I need to go back a bit.   I was previously a university administrator but I burned out.  When I hit 30 I had a difficult time. I gave up work and retrained.  From a young age I was interested in accountancy.

I became AAT qualified and started work at a medical consultancy.  My title was finance administrator but I was essentially the finance team.  They were an international company with a decent turnover but always had a small finance team.  In 2013 they brought in qualified accountants and bookkeepers. My role was going to change and not be fully accounting.

The commute was long and I felt that the company's values were beginning to move away from my own.

In 2014 my partner became self-employed and suggested that I do the same.  It had never been something I had thought about and I felt it didn't have the experience but decided to give it a go.  I did a Google search and found the bookkeepers conference and decided to come along. I had some chats and I left feeling that I could do this.


It seems like your values are very important to you. Do you feel the help or hinder your business growth?

In the beginning I took some clients that I know I shouldn't have, but I think I did that less than I would if I wasn't clear of my own values.  Some clients say they are attracted to me because of my values, but I've also moved people on because their values didn't match mine.

I've probably grown my practice a bit slower because I haven't taken on everyone that I could have.  I don't think my values have really hindered me, though.

Do you have an ideal client, or ideal clients?

Sector isn't important, but I have found people with matching values in the creative Industries.   It's about feeling a vibe. It's hard to put into words. We need to have some of the same views on certain things but they don't need to be carbon copies of me.  How they treat the staff is very important to me.

If you could give 2 years ago you some advice, what would it be?

Your savings won't last as long as you think.

I think I was a bit naive about how quickly I could grow.   I thought I could cover my life costs in 3 months. It took a bit longer.  I suppose my advice would be be more realistic.

I worked really hard and went to all the networking I could.  That was difficult for me because I find it hard speaking to new people.   I'm not that type of person but I had to eat.

When I started my business I couldn't really do anything while I was working because of my long hours and long commute.  This meant I had to start my business with no job from nothing. In hindsight, if I had run it alongside my full time job I probably wouldn't have run the business for very long.  I’d have given up. It would have been easy to find excuses but knowing that has to work is a good motivator.


What's been your biggest success so far?

I guess turning a profit from month 2 and being in profit every month since.  It's meant that I've been able to take a decent wage from the business. I think that's important.  You should always pay yourself something to show that you value your time.

Being profitable is a lot harder than people think.

Still being here after 2 years is a huge success as well I really didn't believe that I would be.

What motivates you to keep going?

I've cultivated a really nice group of clients. Working with good people I respect or doing good things in the world.

Not happened to commute and have the long hours also helps.   There's always the fear of having to go back to working for someone else. I wouldn't do well in an office now.  People used to tell me that I had a lot to say for myself. I always took it as a compliment but realise now it probably wasn't how they had intended it.

In terms of getting clients, for advice would you give to new bookkeepers?

It's difficult knowing exactly who you want to work with when you don't have any experience but knowing who you don't want to work with is really useful.  I knew I didn't want to work with tradespeople.

A blank diary gives you so many options and it can become paralysing.  It's a bit like buying a house, you have a list of the things you do and you don't want and then you start to realise what you will and won't compromise on.

Networking has been very important to me.  I don't go to grab clients. I go for business support and clients seem to find me.  I find that commenting on different Facebook groups helps a lot too.


You've become famous within bookkeeping circles for your use of apps. What are your three favourite right now?

I guess I should have known this question was coming full stop

Zapier,  because it does most things for me.

Type it for me.  I use it for things like I've done your VAT return and here's where to pay, or have a good weekend.   It's amazing how much time small things like this can save.

10 to 8.  Cut so loads of the “Are you free?” back and forward.  someone goes to my website I can book an appointment with it making a call it becomes really easy.   I've had clients tell me this is why they have chosen me above others.

Also streamlines the onboarding process and the catch ups.   It cuts a lot of emails from existing clients because the save up a few queries and then arrange a call.

What does the next 12 months hold for you?

Oh God, who knows?   I don't want to take on much more bookkeeping work.   I want to build relationships, become more advisory.   

I want to find ways to grow without taking on more day to day bookkeeping.   I may employ someone.

I also want to explore other revenue streams but I'm not too sure what this looks like. I have too many thoughts. I want to support more people my aim for the next year is “enabling people”.



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