It’s Global Bookkeeping Week, so we’ve asked bookkeepers from around the world for their industry insight and view on the future of the industry. Ken Bell, who founded Ken Bell Accounting, tells us his story, from classroom to bookkeeping practice.
Where did it all begin for you?
Not where it does for most bookkeepers. Despite a lifelong love of numbers, I started out in education. It wasn’t until 2001 that I decided to train as a bookkeeper. This was my calling, and the career I never had. My initial degree was economics so it was a logical step for me.
Once qualified, I worked as a one man band before growing the business and once we started working with Xero, we have doubled in size year on year. This growth led to me setting up Ken Bell Accounting in 2012 and today we’re now a 12-strong team.
I always liked the idea of using new software, seeking out new developments and innovations to make my life and my clients lives easier, so I was pretty excited when online packages started to surface about a decade ago. After using a few of the early players, I signed up with Xero in 2010, initially becoming a bronze partner, before progressing to a platinum partner.
Since (then) 2012, the practice has gone from strength to strength, but we haven’t rested on our laurels. We strive to keep our finger on the pulse when it comes to the latest technology innovations such as disruptors like Bomo and Curve, and are always looking out for the next thing to help the practice continue to evolve.
What do you think makes your practice stand out from the rest?
We encourage not only staff, but all of our clients to use the software. A lot of accounting firms will only use it internally, but that’s not our way. Even if just to create a sales invoice, it’s crucial that clients quite literally buy into the idea of accounting software as a tool to make all of our lives easier.
I also take great pride in the strong relationships we nurture with our clients. It’s enjoyable to have that personal interaction, but more importantly it means we can give clients access to their accounts in real-time.
How do you think the bookkeeping industry has evolved since you started Ken Bell?
The pace of change has been incredible and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I was around in the pre-online days when we were using time-consuming, clunky desktop software and memory sticks to manually process bookkeeping. Today, we have more time to focus on what matters most: the relationships we have with our clients.
I can’t quite believe just how far the industry has come.
How do you think the bookkeeping industry is changing?
The revolution has only just begun. Once Making Tax Digital comes into full force in the UK, anyone who hasn’t already picked up the digital baton, will have no choice but to bring their processes into the twenty first century, and the bookkeeping industry needs to be ready to support those businesses in their transformation.
What qualities do you think are essential in a bookkeeper?
Professional development and good communications skills are vital, so that you can get your head around the challenges facing businesses. Yes, we’re living in a digital age, but when it comes to understanding the bookkeeping needs of a small business, nothing beats human interaction. It sounds obvious, but bookkeepers need to be experts in the software they are using too.
What are some important tips in maintaining healthy relationships with your clients?
Meet the client, even on skype etc. Pick up the phone! Take the time to get to know the businesses you work with. It will benefit both you and them.
Consider joining a professional body. We’re a member of The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers in the UK. Combined with our own expertise and knowledge, this gives us an extra layer. This is especially pertinent in the coming years, with Making Tax Digital: businesses will be looking for a trusted expert now more than ever.
What are challenges you’ve faced in your business and how have you overcome them?
Adapting to the pace of change is a challenge. Yes, it’s thrilling to be at the forefront of this transformation, but that also means that we all need to stay on top of the latest trends and innovations to ensure we can continue to drive forward. Maintaining the right skill set that can respond to these changes head on is also a challenge, but by recruiting well, providing the right training and nurturing staff, we’ve been able to adapt well as we grow.
How did you celebrate winning UK Bookkeeping Partner of the Year at Xerocon?
All 12 of us went out for a celebratory meal last night. I took the award along for the ride, and it sat at the head of the table, which really brought it all home. It was such an achievement for us to win the award, and shows us how far we’ve come since I was doing it all on my own.
We’ve grown with Xero, and are thrilled to have got to where we’ve got to with their support. Let’s see what 2018 brings with it!