Cloud Accounting is a three-year-old business based in Belfast's Northern Ireland Science Park. Founder Richard Graham is now using his experience providing one type of online service to diversity into a completely different activity area – an app to introduce people at nightlife venues.
Mr Graham qualified as a chartered accountant nearly 15 years ago and worked at a senior level for Microsoft and BAE. He became convinced that this experience created a business opportunity to use the skills he developed for the benefit of business clients.
"With the advent of online accounting, I saw an opportunity to act as a 'virtual FD' [finance director], offering expert financial advice to entrepreneurial start-ups and SMEs using the commercial knowledge I had gained over the years, as well as the skills in audit, tax and corporate finance," he says.
"Clients get access to this advice at a fraction of the cost of employing a full-time finance director.
"Very often I'm performing and submitting year-end accounts and tax returns for clients as well. I decided to truly differentiate myself and undertake this for a fixed fee, meaning you don't receive 'surprise bills' from me and as it is payable monthly clients enjoy cashflow benefits.
"I am able to perform this role using online accounting software, online business plans, online payroll – even HMRC is online these days. I'm often referred to Mr FD 2.0! I'm a keen traveller at heart and another motivation for establishing the business was the excellent work/life balance – basically I'm available for advice anywhere in the world 24/7."
Mr Graham has developed a business model that enables him to work with colleagues.
"Using the online software, I have a growing number of book keepers join our 'Partner Programme'," he says.
"With our unique collaborative business model we have seen bookkeepers increase their hourly charge out rate by up to 50% and reduce their time spent on clients by two-thirds.
"Clients see the benefits in having all their financial advice under 'one roof' – from real time management accounts, to VAT return completion, to expert tax advice and online business planning."
Mr Graham says he is enthused by the quality of his client base, adding: "I have been offering expert financial advice to an impressive array of start ups and SMEs."
That experience has encouraged him to develop his own new venture, 'Pulsate Date'. He describes this as "the world's first real time meet up app exclusively for nightlife venues".
"The app matches two people based on personality and looks and then acts as a fun icebreaker.
"Pulsate offers a much better way of meeting people you will connect with – and it doesn't have to be restricted to nightclubs and bars – it can be on campus, at a concert and even be used at sports events.
"The Pulsate concept is simple yet unique in the world of dating and it already has expressions of interest from superclubs in Las Vegas and Ibiza.
"It's been an exciting journey so far – and the next stop is raising £75,000 over the next 10 weeks through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter."
Mr Graham is clearly excited at the response he is getting with his app, which becomes available for download from June 27, with a launch party to take place in one of Belfast's best known nightclubs. It seems as if he is determined to challenge single-handedly accountants' reputation for a boring approach to life.
Why entrepreneurship will be extremely vital in the future
I was doing some work for a large corporate on the launch of its new learning and development programme.
The client is a progressive company that believes developed, engaged and happy staff are essential for their success.
The job was to give staff a briefing on the future of work and the context from all the latest thinking on the subject.
I designed four quadrants:
- work in the future
- the skills you need
- it is all about you
- you in charge of the future.
It was fascinating. The jobless society, Moore’s law, technology, exponential change, artificial intelligence, the move to soft skills and the impossibility of planning for a world where the tectonic plates are shifting.
On a subject like this, books by Nassim Taleb, Malcolm Gladwell, Ken Robinson and Seth Godin are a must.
They are huge advocates for entrepreneurship, passionately pleading for you to become anti-fragile to be able to cope with the shocks to the system; following your heart and passion as the only way to achieve mastery (which needs the 10,000 hours) and as the only way to be distinctive in a hyper-competitive labour market.
‘Selling’, which has been a dirty word for a long time, becomes fashionable again.
Reputation management becomes important. LinkedIn and your behaviour on social media becomes important. Understanding technology becomes important.
One of the future scenarios (and there is a lot of research confirming this) suggests that increasingly people will start operating as entrepreneurs in the labour market, shifting careers on an ongoing basis, over a career that maybe spans not far off 100 years.
All of which is a long winded intro into start-ups. Exponential change creeps up on you. It is there before you know it. How well equipped and capable are you to operate as an entrepreneur? How anti-fragile are you? How adaptable are you? Are you following your passion? Are you putting in the 10,000 hours?
And are you planning for such a future? Which brings you to basic business planning.
Not a CV, but a business plan for your career. Which will force you to look at you. Your passion, your purpose, your values, your personal pitch. Your vision for you. A happy, passionate you.
On smallbusinesscan.com we have a piece of kit that you can download that can help you with that. Have a look and if there is anything we can do to help, let us know.
People who are starting their business have a head start.
Like Rachel Saligari of Active Health Solutions and Richard Graham of Cloud Accounting NI.
They are already anti-fragile, they are following their dream and they are creating their own future.
When we researched the future of work assignment, we decided to research with this question in mind: if you would be advising your own children about their career, what would you advise?
And the conclusion is ‘starting a business as quickly as possible’.