A Business Start-Up Story

10th March 2023 by

An Interview with Suzanne Craig, Harpers Accountancy

2023 has seen many publications listing the Top 10 start-ups, Top 100 innovators, 100 most disruptive businesses to watch or similar catchy titles to grab our attention. But how many people do you know that have taken the brave step to invest in and begin their own businesses?

There is no denying that while the effects of the pandemic and the economic crisis have changed business as we knew it, history has shown that turbulent times often produce innovative businesses. One such brave soul we caught up with recently is Suzanne Craig who is the founder of Harpers Accountancy, a chartered accountancy practice specialising in looking after owner managed businesses, with an agricultural specialism. Hearing about her progression, rising from accounts junior/car mover/tea girl, right the way up to a partner in a top 30 accountancy firm, it was only right we spent some time to hear a bit more about Suzanne’s entrepreneurial journey.

1. What inspired you to start your own firm?

Like many no doubt, it took more than one reason to compel me to give up the security of employment and to start my own accountancy firm.

Having started my career in accountancy over 26 years ago, I’ve had to juggle a career and parent responsibilities whilst working within a male dominated industry whereby you had to work so much harder for recognition and to climb the ladder.  Losing my beloved Mum 5 years ago along with the coronavirus pandemic, made me really reflect on life.  Carving out more free time to spend with my children, family, partner, friends and to be able to travel was a key driver for me to start my own business and to have more control over the hours I worked.

Providing a friendly, proactive, solution-focused, year-round supportive service to my clients has always been my passion but can sometimes be difficult to deliver in the parameters and demands of working for a larger corporate.

Lastly, I have always dreamt of running my own business and therefore I knew if I didn’t try, I would almost certainly regret it and forever be thinking “what if”!

For all these reasons, I am very passionate about my “why” and regularly keep this at the forefront of my mind.

2. When starting out, what things (tools, expert advice, knowledge, accessibility etc.) did you absolutely need? Did you come across any unexpected problems?

I am certain that I couldn’t have made this move without the support of my ‘peloton’, made up of close friends, key business colleagues and of course my family.  All of whom not only brought great support and encouragement but also complimentary skillsets in these early stages.

As I expected, I encountered several challenges and no doubt there will be many more along the way but seeing each one of these challenges as an opportunity has really helped so far.  Also, being solution focussed with my own business akin to how I work with my clients, is key to finding a way to keep putting one step in front of the other.

3. Were there any barriers to entry for you as a female starting her own accountancy firm in, what many would say is, a male dominated arena? If so, what were they and how did you overcome those barriers?

Without a doubt being female in a profession where the ‘old boys club’ has still been very much prevalent throughout my career has created many obstacles.  Although on reflection, these hurdles, have only made me more determined and focussed to keep moving forward.  If there had been an equal playing ground, I think I would have had the confidence and belief to start my own practice sooner.

There have been significant positive developments for women in business, certainly over the last decade, and I know many female business owners that really inspire me, many of whom are in the local area. However, I think there is still some way to go to rectify the gender imbalance so it’s vital for women in business to speak up and inspire other women to lead the way.

4. What are the most common mistakes you see business owners make when it comes to the accounting/finance side of business and what advice would you give to business owners to help them avoid making those same mistakes?

Planning is absolutely key, at any stage of the business life cycle.  As an example, we are often asked advice about changing accounting software particularly with ‘Making Tax Digital’.  Although from the outset this may look like a quick and easy decision but without exploring the detail, and documenting the plan, fundamental considerations may get overlooked, whether these are operational issues or whether such a change is not congruent with your overall business strategy.

My advice is always to plan, to document each element of the plan, therefore having the foresight of any potential challenges or indeed opportunities ahead.  Also, have a dialogue with your Accountant, undoubtedly they would have already encountered a similar issue with another client.

5. Are there any developments on the horizon business owners should be aware of from an accounting/finance perspective?

The biggest issue I am seeing across my ‘owner managed’ client base, in differing industries, is the huge rise in costs.  In some cases, I have been working with my clients by revisiting their business model and tweaking, where possible, to reduce the impact that these hikes will have and are having on operations.  Clients are also cutting back on unnecessary spending and becoming leaner to manage these increases.  I have assisted clients in reforecasting financials on a more regular basis along with producing timely and accurate management accounts so that decisions can be made quickly and businesses can take more of an agile approach. The support to clients in such a time, really goes hand in hand with my personal and business philosophy.

I am always happy to offer a free consultation to discuss how Harpers can help business owners with their accountancy matters.

6. What do you know now, that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

Just start – the longer you wait for the elusive right moment the harder it becomes to start!  Also, always stick to your strengths, don’t be the master of everything and surround yourself with the best people that you can.

A huge thank you to Suzanne for sharing her journey with us at Healys. If you’re interested in finding out more about Suzanne and the services she offers, the Harpers LinkedIn profile provides all the information you need. You can also email Suzanne at: enquiries@harpersaccountancy.co.uk