Are you up-to-speed with your Cloud Accounting technology? Mandy Bagot, Director of Outsourcing at Mercer & Hole, sits down with Adam Munro, Associate Portfolio Director at AJ Chambers. They discuss all things tech-based in the ever-changing, fast-paced and dynamic world of accountancy and finance. Covering outsourcing solutions, awards nominations and Mandy’s own experience of setting up a franchise business from scratch.
Hi Mandy, please can you give us a quick introduction about yourself?
I am a qualified FCCA accountant with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. My current role is Director of Outsourcing at Mercer & Hole, a Top 40 accountancy practice, based across four offices in London, St Albans, Rickmansworth and Milton Keynes.
What has your career journey been like so far? We’d love to know how you got to where you are now.
As an 18-year-old, I definitely did not see myself becoming an accountant! My dream was to become a textile designer but I realised there were more naturally-gifted people than me. I could have become a professional golfer (I was then Middlesex Junior Champion) but there were few women and events to compete in and earn money.
I also loved Classics and Maths, so it was either go to university to study Classical Civilisation or join an A-Level accountancy trainee scheme in a company. So, I decided to join the John Lewis Partnership, Sloane Square branch, as an ACCA trainee. My thoughts were that qualifying as an accountant was a good solid grounding for anything I would decide to do in future. After 5 years of great experience at John Lewis (including being promoted to Manager at 21), I felt I needed to gain auditing experience to pass the compulsory audit exams.
Therefore, I joined a small local accountancy practice. I loved being in practice, the interaction with clients and the multi-tasking! I qualified at 26 and luckily found a forward-thinking boutique accountancy practice where we were always looking for ways to automate what we did, whilst creating a brand. From the manual systems we had created, we developed a practice management software on DVD. We eventually sold this in 1999 to IRIS, who are now one of the major players in the accountancy world.
Tell us about founding ‘Bookkeeping Made Easy’ and ‘Cloud Bookkeeping’? What made you want to set up these businesses?
Back in 2003, I trained a friend to become a bookkeeper by creating procedural notes, systems, templates, checklists and a pricing grid to process, using Sage50 desktop in the quickest way. Having the audit trail on Sage50 helped enormously to manage the work being done and help her become self-sufficient and also give her the tools to train her own remote bookkeepers. From this, we founded the ‘Bookkeeping Made Easy’ company. It was the outsourced bookkeeping arm of the practice where I was working and also offered bookkeeping services to other accountancy practices. We were ahead of our time with outsourcing! In 2008, I decided to leave practice to work full time on Bookkeeping Made Easy.
In 2010, I could see that we needed a cloud solution to manage data files and our remote bookkeepers, instead of the back and forth of data backups and the collection of paper documents. My friend was happy keeping with floppy disks and bags of paper, so we parted ways! So I created Cloud Bookkeeping, still using Sage50, but hosted with Microsoft Office on a cloud server. It had a dashboard that allowed me to see all our bookkeepers’ Sage data files. This was all very exciting and made it easier to take on remote bookkeepers anywhere in the world! It was such a game changer at the time. I also worked with an IT developer to create a ‘postbox in the sky’ for clients to upload their records onto our cloud portal, which they loved.
Setting up a Franchise
Based on the model I had created with Bookkeeping Made Easy and, with the help of a mentor Rachel Elnaugh (ex-Dragon’s Den), I was able to convert Cloud Bookkeeping into a franchise. Therefore, I became a Franchisor. This was very different to being an accountant. I had to learn new skills of mentoring and selling. I awarded franchises to 28 franchisees across the UK and we had over 500 clients for the duration. It was enjoyable to visit the many accountancy practices and networking events around the UK with our franchisees to offer our services and not be seen as a competitor!
I loved the Cloud Bookkeeping brand we created, mentoring our franchisees and hosting our development days. Based on their feedback, I won Lloyds Bank Best Growing Franchisor of the Year Award in 2012 and 2013.
From 2012, we were also getting more involved with cloud and data capture software (Xero, Quickbooks and Dext) and I was given the opportunity to take my whole team of franchisees to their head offices for training. Cloud software was now allowing business owners to access the software at the same time as the accountant. In 2017, the software companies were changing their model to focus on selling to accountants instead of to the business owner as a software as a service (SaaS). This provided an opening for accountancy practices to manage and grow an in-house bookkeeping offering instead of using the traditional outsourced bookkeeper.
Maxing Tax Digital
This created a reduction in leads for our franchisees from their main lead source (accountancy practices) and would result in a longer return on investment. So I decided in 2018 it was best not to take on any further franchisees and sold the clients to the existing franchisees. The thing I was most passionate about ‘cloud software’ had ended my business! But I was happy to take on my next venture helping accountancy practices set up their systems ready for HMRC’s incentive Making Tax Digital (MTD) that went live in Apr 2019. This led to heading up outsourcing departments that were starting to emerge out of MTD. I’m proud that many of those franchisees are still out there running their successful bookkeeping practices and often catch up with them at events such as Accountex.
Where does your love of Cloud software come from?
My love of cloud software comes from the early days of developing systems and procedures and always looking for ways to make things easier with information at your fingertips. I was recently checking the Xero app from my bed, waiting for HMRC to come back online following an earlier outage. All so that I could file a client’s VAT return before the midnight deadline! The fact that it’s easily accessible, always developing and improving and so keeps you engaged. I’d almost say ‘exciting’. So I’m passionate about cloud.
I love attending events such as Accountex and The Digital Accountancy Show, learning about the new softwares, apps and developments. It’s a great talking point with clients. As we move away from legacy to cloud software, if you do not embrace technology and accept it’s forever changing, you will be left far behind.
You were recently nominated for the Top 50 Women in Accounting 2023. What a great achievement!
It was exciting to be nominated for Top 50 Women in Accounting 2023 Award on International Women’s Day which is for the Top 50 women in accounting across the world not just the UK. Also, as mentioned, I won Lloyds Best Growing Franchisor of the Year and was a finalist New Woman Franchisor at the EWIF awards (Encouraging Women into Franchising).
What are your thoughts on remote working and the opportunities it offers?
Having launched my first remote working business in 2003 and the second in 2010 with added cloud software, I have seen the benefits of remote working especially for working mums. The flexibility it allows, to work around school times, being able to jump on and work when available rather than keeping to core working hours.
It also allows a better work-life balance. It also kept office costs to a minimum; I had no office from 2010 to 2014 and it was only when I set up my own outsourcing offering to our franchisees in 2014 that I took on an office only to provide training to our apprentices.
Is there anything you would like to promote?
It will be interesting to see how far AI will have an impact on processing time with accounting software and will this reduce the need for outsourcing/offshoring.
I really believe the AAT apprentice route is the best solution for outsourcing departments within accountancy practices in the UK rather than offshoring.
What advice would you give to those starting their career?
- Enjoy where you are working
- Don’t feel you cannot question a method of doing something
- Always look for ways to keep things simple
- Never give up try again
- Time goes so fast, ensure you will enjoy what you are doing and where you are working
- Do lots of research on a future employer
- Keep up to date and do lots of research about software developments for your industry
- Keep impartial when it comes to softwares
- Don’t stay complacent, challenge and implement
- Be a mentor and empower
- Don’t think once your exams are finished that’s the end of learning… it’s just the end of the boring bit, the real fun starts once qualified
I wish I had another 20 years to see the developments that are happening in the accountancy industry!!
Mandy Bagot was talking to Adam Munro at AJ Chambers. If you would like to speak with Adam regarding talent attraction or the latest vacancies within Accountancy, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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