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Happy 4th Birthday! 6(ish) lessons I’ve learned along the way

by | Jun 1, 2021 | Emma Willder

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My dream was to set up a business and help small UK charities. And despite the wraith of Covid-19, which decimated the charitable sector, last year our growth was ridiculous to the point where my team is now 4 strong.

In honour of hitting this milestone in a blaze of glory, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the ‘lessons learned’ over the last 4-years:

From a client perspective…

Lesson 1: The people are so passionate

The charities I work with are very values-driven because they’ve been born out of personal circumstance, or because of an unfulfilled need within the community. I am inspired by their efforts – particularly the smaller charities who face the same regulatory pressure as their larger peers, but operate with just a fraction of their resource.

But while there’s passion in abundance, often, small charities lack the commercial awareness or specific skills to run their charity – which is where Beyond Profit comes in.

My passion is to ‘level the playing field’ so that every charity – no matter how small – has access to the same resources needed to serve its beneficiaries well. My team can help with everything from budgets to bookkeeping, management accounts, year-end accounts, payroll, independent examination and more.

Read more about Beyond Finance…

Lesson 2: Set up with the right legal structure

This is a common problem I’m asked to help with, where a charity has been set up with the best of intentions, but not necessarily in the best way.

The most common ways to set-up a charity are:

  • Unincorporated charity: only registered with the Charity Commission but Trustees are individually liable if things go wrong.
  • Charitable incorporated organisation: only registered with the Charity Commission but does offer the Trustees legal protection.
  • Charitable company: holds dual registration with both the Charity Commission and Companies House. 
  • Charitable trust: these are unlikely to employ staff or enter into any contracts. Many grant giving charities are set up in this way.

The way you decide to operate has an impact on both your finance and your governance, so it’s important to be clear on your legal obligations from the start to avoid making a costly mistake.

To learn more, please visit our FAQ section…

Lesson 3. Stop using spreadsheets!

I see far too many small charities rely on spreadsheets to manage their finances, which places a huge unnecessary burden on your shoulders:

What if you’re not working on the latest version?

What if you forget to back it up? 

What if you forget to record income/expenditure?

How do you restrict access to it?

How easy is it to demonstrate how/where you’ve spent funding?

How easy is it to complete your end of year accounts?

Cloud-based accounting software is so accessible and offers you incredible value-added functionality – things you wouldn’t even think about.

Find out more about cloud-based accounting software…

As a QuickBooks Pro Adviser, I can offer you a discount on your subscription – even if you still choose to do your accounts yourself. 

From a business owner perspective…

Lesson 4: Ask for help

When I started as a company of one, I reached out to find like-minded people so I wasn’t alone. And I’ve found some incredible groups, like Freelance Heroes, a 11,000 strong community of freelancers across every discipline imaginable. And MiP Net, an informal group of CIMA members within the practice network.

These communities have been so important as I’ve built the business – always happy to listen, offer advice and support, bounce ideas off, celebrate all the big wins and share their knowledge to help me better serve my clients and build a strong business.

Lesson 5: Follow your gut

If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. 

Ignore it, and guaranteed it’s going to come back to bite you. Gut feeling is the ‘voice’ of experience reminding you that you’ve been in the same/similar situation before. Research published by the World Economic Forum refers to this instinct as a ‘predictive processing framework’. It’s the result of the brain constantly comparing new information and experience against stored knowledge and past experiences to predict what happens next.

I’ve had times where my instinct is telling me to walk away, but when you’ve got bills to pay it’s really hard to do. Needless to say, I’ve found myself in situations that with hindsight I wish I’d avoided. 

Lesson 6. Get your systems in place

Feeling confident to let go of certain responsibilities has been really hard, but it’s necessary if I’m to be free to support my clients in the best way. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, workers spent 60% of their time on ‘work about work’ and could recover over 6-hours each week by simply improving their processes.

Just as I’d advise my clients, I immediately got QuickBooks in place to help manage the finances. And I was also quick to get everything online so we weren’t reliant on paperwork, which has proved extremely useful with remote working.

And because everyone loves a bonus…

Lesson 7: Be kind to yourself

Even when you have team, you’re still in charge and it can be really hard to balance the need to work on the business, as well as in it. To manage a team is tricky at the best of times, but in a remote world of work I felt the need to check-in even more to see that everyone was ok and had the support they needed.

And then there’s the work-life balance. Homeschooling 4 boys hasn’t been easy and I’ve found myself up at 5am most mornings to squeeze in a little extra time.

This approach to work isn’t good for your long-term mental health and wellbeing. One of the best things I’ve done for the business and myself was to secure an office in 2019. It gives me the mental space to separate my work and my family, as well as create an environment where my team feel able to do their best work.

So what happens next?

Over the next 12-18-months I’d like to move the business so I am focusing more on governance for small UK charities, with Kirsty leading on the finance side. And while we’ve enjoyed our recent growth, I didn’t set Beyond Profit up for world domination. I would hate for the business to grow beyond the point where I couldn’t have the deep level of knowledge about our clients and their needs.

I genuinely love what I do, and ultimate success for me would be to tell my husband that he doesn’t need to work full-time anymore, so he can be at home with our boys.

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