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Articles | firms-in-the-spotlight

Firms in the spotlight: Full Stop

Full Stop is a Cardiff based accountancy business founded by Lauren Harvey in 2011. They are 100% digital and have twice been nominated for the Xero Small Firm of the Year award. We caught up with Lauren to find out a little bit more about her and her business.
SPACING: 30

You created Full Stop in 2011. Tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to set up your own firm.

I started my career as an analyst programmer at PSA (Peugeot and Citroen’s Parent Company) and through my time there I became more involved with defining and implementing processes and ERP systems for car dealers throughout the UK.

It was at this point I realised how important accounting was in telling the ‘story’ of a business using efficient and accurate data and that was the starting point of becoming a Chartered Management Accountant.

I continued to work in different industries as a hybrid of accountant and systems/process specialist before starting Full Stop.

Why did you decide to start up your own accountancy firm?

It initially was out of necessity. We had decided to move back to Wales, my childhood home, and this hybrid role I had in industry didn’t exist for businesses here at the time.

There was an increasing passion for small business and cloud accounting was growing in the UK so I took the leap and decided to set up my own business for multiple remote smaller businesses.

Do you mind just giving us a quick snapshot into your firm today?

No not at all!

We are a small firm with 6 of us in total (5 full time and 1 almost full time). We worked out of a rented shop front until the end of April and now and post lockdown we will work from an old dentist surgery (in our garden).

We are a 100% digital fixed fee firm with the vast majority on Xero and a couple historically on Freeagent.

You must be thrilled to be shortlisted for the Xero Awards this year – congratulations on such a great achievement. Did you enjoy the event?

Yeah it was great although slightly surreal now given we were all sat around shared tables eating, chatting and drinking! We’ve been finalists for two years running now which we don’t underestimate, and we are busy working on making 2020 our best yet!

Your niche is creative businesses. Did you choose to focus on this area from the outset?

It is and it isn’t! We have always naturally attracted creatives as they want to work with people who are able to make things understandable and as simple to them as they can. This then allows them time to run the business for which they have a passion. Effectively we are process and systems specialists who translate how their business is doing for them!

The ‘niche’ for us has actually always been working with ‘Nice People’ – we relaunched in 2016 with a Nice People Charter. We rely on great tech but we specialise in providing a great human service to owner managed businesses – full stop.

Our clients are mainly located along the M4 corridor so not too far from us although we’re set to work with people wherever they are based!

What do you feel are the main benefits of niching and do you believe this helps when it comes to marketing?

The advantages of niching internally are the economies of scale IF you have enough of that one type of client in terms of knowledge, reduced systems costs and efficiency in following fewer processes. It takes time to grow those sorts of numbers of clients. This leads on to marketing and the clarity in the message you’re putting out – meaning more of this type of client and less time vetting prospects to see if they are the right fit. Again this takes time to build so you have to be in it for the long(er) haul to see the benefits!!

We didn’t specifically niche in the early days as being cloud was enough then. It is only as times have changed since then that we’ve learnt enough to know which area we’ve wanted to niche in and this remains under review with us working on it still.

Technology is the heart of your business so what are the core products that you use in your firm?

Our core applications (including internal and external ones) are Squarespace, Infusionsoft, Practice Ignition, Karbon, Receipt Bank, Xero and Float. Those are at the core of every client interaction then we have a host of others for Vertical specialisms!

What is your approach when it comes to apps?

For us it’s very much to get the value out of the software and going deep on knowledge and integrations before moving to a new product. Often they can do way more than you give them credit for!

These apps for us are very much like additional members of our team and unless we get that sort of value from each one then we don’t work with them!

With the Covid-19 outbreak, did you find moving from an office to remote working to be a difficult transition?

We’ve all been able to work from home if needed since day one and we went travelling around Europe two summers ago to see how remote working could work if any of our young team did want to go travelling. It worked well but at the time we had no idea it would be a pandemic we were practicing for.

How did you keep in touch with your team remotely and keep morale up?

We have Zoom team meetings at the start and end of the day. Some meetings at the end of the week may have a drink attached to them and we have done quizzes too. I’ve also sent parcels of gin, Lego and books to the team to keep them going.

What about your clients – how did you keep in contact with them

A mixture of 1-1 meetings on Zoom, agreed task lists in Karbon and they have our mobiles for emergencies. We also run cash flow surgeries which Float help us with!

We did use Zoom for client meetings before covid and we will continue using them as they remain the best use of everyone’s time. When we are out of lockdown, we are also able to meet people in the ‘surgery’ or at a club we work from in London if needed.

Did the lockdown have a big impact on many of your clients?

We do have orchestras and arts organisations who are our clients so we are making sure they get all the grants they can right now. We are also starting to plan scenarios of how the business needs to change to make sure its purpose can still be met in the future.

It can be hard to run your own firm and to take the time to work “on” your business. Have you got a business coach/mentor to help?

I’ve had two over the last year – one within the accounting industry and one completely unrelated. I’ve learnt from both and have needed both to ensure realistic accountability and to ensure I remain on the periphery of the accounting industry which is where I work best!

It is not often you meet an accountancy firm which also owns and runs a shop! Tell me a little bit about how this came about!

So we love an app (as you can tell!) but when planning and creating ideas for business you can’t beat a notebook! So when we had the shop, the plan was that when clients came to our space to work on their business they had a curated range of stationery to choose from to help with those plans. System wise it also meant we were Vend experts for example as we were using it ourselves. With the physical shop now closing as we move locations, we’re currently getting Shopify set-up and linked to our Squarespace website. However, when clients do come to the new office, we will still have our products for sale displayed.

We sell stationery that everyone drools over! I studied Japanese at University and have a love of all things Scandinavian so goods from those countries feature prominently alongside stationery from our own clients and an assortment of the best pens and pencils!

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