The Entrepreneurial Accountant: The journey to going solo
Part 1 – Raising a family and managing a practice: Finding the time to do it all, with Lydia Read-Potter
9 February, 2022
The managing director of Booksmart Accounting reveals why she started her practice and how she's getting used to managing her own team.
Want to start your own accountancy practice but worried that having a young family will mean you won’t be able to successfully juggle both priorities?
Lydia Read-Potter, the founder and managing director of BookSmart Accounting, faced that challenge – but she’s working hard to give both the time they need to thrive.
Joined by Entrepreneurial Accountant host Mike Psaras, and in part one of her interview, Lydia shares lots of lessons that she learned when she started her own practice.
From leaving office politics behind while working as an employee to relinquishing some of the control she has over her practice – by taking on staff of her own – so she can focus on growing the business, Lydia has lots of insights that could help you on your journey.
Here’s what we cover:
Goodbye restricted employee, hello flexible-working business owner
Welcome to The Entrepreneurial Accountant: The journey to going solo.
Today we’re lucky to be joined by Lydia Read-Potter of Booksmart Accounting, who’s been recently shortlisted on AccountingWEB’s most successful startups in 2021.
This episode is all about finding balance when juggling a practice, family, and mental health.
So, without further ado, welcome, Lydia.
Thanks for having me.
It’s an absolute pleasure, I’m really excited to get into all of this.
I wanted to start by picking your brain on something that I’ve been thinking about. Like a lot of people with very busy lives, like you, who might feel that, or might feel reluctant to leave the security of a salaried role.
You obviously have a very busy life, and you’ve decided to go completely the other way and start your own practice.
So, what prompted that?
So, I think it was a combination of frustrations in those employed roles. Obviously, the salary is consistent and secure, but for me, the downsides had started to outweigh the positives.
It was really difficult for me to feel those frustrations of things maybe not being done the way I would do them, or a lot of office politics, things that I just didn’t feel comfortable with.
And I’ve always been the type of person that speaks out on things. I’m not very good at just keeping my mouth shut and getting on with my job.
So, in situations where I’m unhappy, it can really take its toll.
So, for me, I just wanted the freedom to do things the way that I felt they should be done.
That’s really cool.
I mean, I think it’s really important for people to be able to speak out at work, and sadly, I don’t think people are heard when they do.
And it’s kind of like… you need to sometimes be a bit of a wallflower and just take things as they are
And definitely I think one of the benefits of being your own boss is being able to do things on your own terms.
And in that same sense, have you felt that as a result of starting your own practice, you’ve been able to fit work more easily into your very busy life by not being constrained by the expectations of a typical nine to five?
Yes, so one of the biggest things for me, I have four children, and so I have a lot of other things on that aren’t work related, and in an employed role, I always felt like that was seen as a negative.
If I had to leave to go to a play, or if there was a hospital appointment, I always… and it may not have been the case, but I felt like I was being looked at as not working as hard as other people.
There were always people that were able to be in the office every hour of every day because they didn’t have those commitments.
So, it’s a bit sad, really.
You just get to a point where you feel like you’re not really doing well at the work side, but you’re also not doing well at the family side, and it takes its toll on you.
You start to feel bad about things, and what I’m finding now, I’m doing probably more work than I’ve ever done in my life, but I can do it whenever I want, and I can fit it around those commitments, and nobody’s going to make me feel guilty.
I’m not going to carry any guilt for being there for the kids when they need me. So, for me, it’s the perfect way to work.
And interestingly, I was talking to somebody about this yesterday.
We were saying that there’s a whole new generation now of business owners who have lived that life and hated it, and hopefully now we will allow our employees the flexibility that they need, and appreciate that, actually, the parents are sometimes the hardest working of all the employees.
So, hopefully that culture will start to shift now that the people that have experienced it are in the management roles.
Balancing life in our ‘always-on’ culture
Yes, definitely. I think it comes down sometimes, and maybe it’s because of the pandemic, and shifting from working in an office to working from home, but to me, I think it’s about trust, and trusting that people are going to deliver no matter how they do it.
It’s not about constraining people to being in the office all the time, or working set hours.
I’m sure when you were employed, you did go above and beyond. It just wasn’t necessarily seen, and maybe you weren’t putting in the face time at the same time as other people.
But as you say, these are the things that are going to change over time because people are experiencing, junior people are experiencing them now and it’s going to feed into the culture as time goes on.
Well, this leads me on to the other thing that’s become more apparent, I suppose, in the wider working world, which is that in a certain sense, we feel like we’re always on doing something.
Like in your case, it’s working and looking after kids and stuff.
And I think the working from home and having your laptop visible, and mobile phones, and being able to – people dial into the office, and it pings up on your phone no matter where you are, and even when you’re on holiday, sort of thing.
Like we have this always-on culture, and I think, to a certain extent, it’s had an impact on our collective mental health.
How have you found that?
Have you been able to manage that even though you’re on from whatever time your kids wake up to whenever you finished that deep focused work at midnight, say?
How is that for you?
Yes, I do find that tricky, to be honest.
By nature, I’m a people pleaser. So, I’m not very good at saying no. I’m not very good at not responding to someone as soon as I see an email or a message, so I have had to really learn lessons on this.
So, what I’ve consciously done now, and I still find it really difficult, but I do it anyway, is I’ll book out time.
I’ve actually got a client who is an amazing beauty therapist, and now I’ve three times been to her, taking a block, it may only be an hour or two hours, but I’ll go and have a facial or have a massage or something where I’m completely switched off.
She doesn’t even allow me to have my phone. It’s just complete quiet time.
The old me would have felt guilty for that. I would have felt like that was time I could be using better.
But what I’ve learned is that because I’m always on, because my phone’s pinging sometimes until 10, 11 o’clock at night, or I’m at the laptop, I need those times just to regroup, just to take deep breaths.
And it made me laugh, actually.
She said I can tell that you’ve not switched off yet, because your shoulders keep going up like this, and she said, I have to keep pushing them back down.
So, even when I’m in that moment, it does take me a while to switch off, but I think it’s key.
You’ve got to have whatever works.
I know some people sit and crochet or knit, some people like to read, listen to podcasts, it can be anything. But just that little bit of time that you just take completely away from everything, it’s key.
The driving force behind the business
Definitely, I think that’s a really, really good tip, and a really, really good point that you make that actually you have to take that rest, and even though sometimes, as you said, you felt guilty about it.
But taking that rest is what allows you to go and perform later on in the day.
And without it, you might suffer and you might not be able to get through it.
Also, I think for anyone who worries about this thing, if you’re going to rest, just rest. Do just switch off and don’t worry.
And also, like I think, so my personal thing is that the work’s never going to be over. As soon as you do one thing, another thing appears, and it’s just a continuous cycle.
So, if you don’t take your breaks, you’re just going to burn out.
And yes, as a business owner, and you previously did everything yourself, if you’re not taking your rest, and you suddenly are feeling a bit rubbish, you may even have to take time off work.
It’s basically about you taking care of your physical and mental health for the long term to make your business sustainable, because if you’re not able to do it, no one else will and your business will ultimately suffer.
So, I think the breaks are super, super important and I’m really glad that you brought it up and made some really good points there.
The other thing that I wanted to ask you about, obviously, was you are a parent.
I’m not yet, I hope to be one day, but I’m worried. I think we’ve covered it a little bit, but I’m worried about what that will mean for productivity, efficiency, and ability to focus for a while.
How has that journey been for you?
I know you’ve been a parent for a long time, but how have you found that since you started your own practice?
Yes, I did worry about it, and I do still worry about in the day-to-day that actually the business is taking time and energy away from the children, and it’s really difficult.
For a couple of years when they were younger, I was at home with them, and I was with them every second of the day, so it’s hard for them, especially the older ones, to get their head around the fact that I’m working, say, more than I’ve probably ever worked in their lifetime.
But the thing that children does is it gives you a completely new perspective, and it gives you these little humans that you love more than you’ve ever loved anything, and you just want the world for them.
You want them to have every single thing, every opportunity.
My eldest son, he’s at secondary school, and we’ve just signed him up for this ski trip, and it’s an expensive trip to him to go on, it costs a lot of money.
And the reason he’s able to do that is because we have the money to give him those opportunities.
So, I suppose they’re actually the driving force behind the business because I want to be able to provide for them.
And not only that, I want them to be proud of me.
I want them to look and say, wow, our mum built this empire, all while looking after us, all while giving us a brilliant childhood, and look how amazing it is.
So, although it’s difficult, and a lot of people say to me, how do you do it, I think it’s just that driving force that you need.
The children are, in fact, the best thing you could do, because it will make you want more for yourself.
Well, I’m super inspired, and I think I feel a little bit more relieved by it, just knowing that they will be the motivation.
Maybe if you are feeling a bit tired or worn out, or whatever, you see them running around, you’re like, this is why I’m doing it.
And as you say, the ski trips, and the things you can afford to give them and improve their lives and stuff.
And being an amazing role model as well I think is really important. So, yes, I feel relieved.
Good, glad to help.
Thank you, thank you.
And another thing. Speaking about family, another thing that you and I have in common, which I don’t know how normal it is, but your husband’s an accountant and my wife’s an accountant.
How have you found that?
Has it been nice to have somebody to bounce ideas off, throughout your career, but specifically also now when you’re starting your own practice?
Yes, it’s definitely good to have somebody that understands what you’re talking about.
Obviously, with any job, there are frustrations, and there are things that if you said it to anybody else, they would just be like, what are you talking about?
So, it’s nice that he does understand the things that frustrate me.
Even if it’s just a little software quirk, or a problem with some numbers, or people taking too much money out the company, or whatever it may be, he will understand why that’s an issue and why it’s frustrating to me.
And obviously, sometimes he has a different way of looking at something that might help me.
So, I think there’s definitely a lot of benefits to us both working in the same industry.
Yes, yes, I totally agree.
And I’m not so secretly trying to long-term recruit my wife, but we’ll see about that. I’m not sure how keen she is.
But yes, talking about recruitment. You have recently recruited, I think, one person? Two people?
I say one and a half.
Taking on staff – letting go to grow the practice
And what I wanted to ask you about is what impact that has had on reducing stress levels and the burden of responsibility day-to-day.
And on the flipside, what delegating tasks and relinquishing control has meant for you in your business.
Yes, so it’s one of the hardest things.
I am an absolute control freak, and I find it really difficult to let go of anything, and I find myself being consciously patronising, because I’m spelling things out to such a level.
I had to stop myself the other day, because I was leaving the office before my employee, and I was literally explaining to her how to switch light switches off, and then I was like oh, this is ridiculous. What are you doing?
So, it is a big learning curve, it’s really difficult, and I did toy with the idea of just stopping the growth, of keeping the practice at the level where I could cope with everything, and just being content at that level.
But in the end, I decided that wasn’t the right path for me, and I know there are a lot of accountants out there who do that, and that’s brilliant for them.
They don’t have the extra stresses of staff, they don’t have the extra stresses of sharing the load, but for me, I wanted the growth.
I love it. I’m excited by it.
It’s the thing I love most about business, meeting new clients, making new relationships, doing those sales.
So, yes, I couldn’t think of the time where people would come in, I’d say no, there’s no room for new clients.
So, it’s just something I’m having to get used to.
I just have to get used to people doing the work, and actually, I’ve chosen the people that I’ve chosen for a reason.
They know what they’re doing, and yes, I’m getting there. It’s a work in progress.
Yes, for sure. I mean, it always is.
And in terms of that way that that works, is that a new thing for you, or did you have a team in your previous employment roles, or are you learning that skill of management as you’re going along, would you say?
Yes, I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve been managing a team.
I’ve trained junior staff, but I’ve never had the full responsibility for them, and it’s something I’m really conscious of. In my career, I’ve had absolutely amazing bosses, and I’ve had terrible bosses.
So, I know the boss I want to be, and how I want to make people feel. So, I’m trying to really consciously create an environment that people want to work in.
For sure. I mean, I think sometimes we learn more about how not to be like our bad bosses.
Do you know what I mean?
Those are the lessons that you’re just like, I’m never going to be like that. I’m going to do everything in my power to not be like that, and I think it’s really good that you’ve decided one way or the other.
I’m in the middle at the moment where I love it, closing a deal is amazing, that feeling of getting in a really lovely conversation, winning a client, making a big difference to their business life, help them with a lot of things.
That’s really satisfying.
But then it’s like the commitment of the work that, I suppose at the time, you’re not really thinking about.
So, that’s the thing where I’m like, OK, cool, if I carry on this trend, I’m literally not going to have any time to do anything.
So, I think you’ve homed in on that issue and said, alright, cool, I need staff because I’m going to carry on winning work, carry on bringing it in.
And yes, I just think that’s really good that you’ve decided, and you’re going to focus on growth rather than a small footprint.
So, it wasn’t really a question. It was just a thought.
Setting life goals and creating a path to success
No, yes, I think it’s important, though, to make those conscious decisions.
I think it’s really easy when you’re in the business 24/7, you’re just plowing on, and there’s no direction, no goal.
And I had a bit of a wobble where I was like, what am I doing? What’s the aim here?
And somebody very wise, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to name jobs, so I won’t, but somebody very wise said to me, what does Lydia want?
And then BookSmart will help Lydia get there and not the other way around, and it was an epiphany for me.
Oh, OK, what is my goal here?
What are my life goals, and how can I create a business that supports me in achieving those goals?
And it sounds so simple, but I wasn’t doing that.
I was just push, push, push, drown, drown, drown, and not really focusing in on where are we heading and why.
So, that’s really given me a new direction and a new focus, and those decisions are really important, because some of them will literally be make or break.
Totally, and I think that’s a big issue for accountants, because when we’re in employment, we are just looking after a portfolio normally, or maybe looking after some stuff if we’re in a management role.
But it is very much about operations and not the bigger picture.
And as soon as you go into starting your own practice, it’s really easy to fall into that same pattern of just head down, work, bill, let’s go on to the next one.
And actually the operations, the business, the plan, all that stuff, just gets left behind
It does take sometimes a while for the penny to drop or something to happen where you’re like, I’m not sure what’s going on here, to motivate you to actually be, it’s almost like a wakeup call, isn’t it?
And you’re just like, aha, I’ve got it! I need to do this, this, and this, and then I think that becomes a whole separate pursuit of your business, and it’s really amazing.
I found that a really rewarding experience.
Yes, and I think what’s happening in the world now is that people are a lot more open and willing to share their story.
So, it used to be that people who run successful businesses wanted to hide away and be the only ones that ran successful businesses and not share any of their secrets with the world.
And now, especially with things LinkedIn, people are telling their story, and people are saying, actually, we can all do this, we can all be successful in business, and here’s my story, and here’s what I would do differently, and then letting other people learn from that, and that’s a whole new thing.
But it means that you’re able to learn from that before you even hit that point, which is amazing.
For sure. I really love that and I think it goes back to that thing, there’s enough sunshine for everyone.
We don’t need to keep it all to ourselves, and yes, it’s a great thing, for sure.