Plain English accounting – the Kinder Pocock way
Accountant & Bookkeeper Stories
8 min read
Sick of confusing financial jargon? So was Sharon Pocock. Discover how she started an online firm that focuses on modern technology and plain English accounting.
Plain English accounting and cutting edge technology
Sharon Pocock is a proud mother of two, an art enthusiast, and an intrepid traveller. She’s also the founder and managing director of Kinder Pocock, a firm that makes accounting easy and accessible.
They keep up with the latest online accounting technology and always talk in plain English. Sharon makes sure her clients know exactly what’s going on with their business. And it’s working. Sharon was named Xero UK’s Most Valued Professional for 2016.
Sharon grew up in hospitality, so she’s always been keenly aware of how important it is to treat customers well. “My mum and dad ran various pubs and hotels. I always saw how they dealt with customers, and I think that's ingrained in me,” she says.
“I remember times when my mum would be giving me a stern talk, and then a guest would walk past and she’d instantly switch on the charm. So I learned early on how important it is to look after the customers,” she says. “It’s the same with clients – you need to make them comfortable and happy.”
A childhood dream to finish The Lord of the Rings
As a child, Sharon dreamed of being an artist. She was inspired by the 1978 animated film of The Lord of the Rings which was never completed. “I loved The Lord of the Rings, but it only told half the story,” she says. “My ambition was always to finish it.”
With her sights set on a career in animation, Sharon decided to enrol in an introductory arts course at Hereford College of Arts. But her plans soon fell short, as the course didn’t have a graphic design tutor – the area she wanted to specialise in. Instead she studied live drawing, fine art, textiles and jewellery crafting.
While she enjoyed trying various artistic disciplines, she never found anything to rival her passion for animation. “I lost my way a little bit,” she recalls. “When I left college I didn't know what to do. My dad encouraged me to do a six-month secretarial course – which I hated.” While Sharon didn’t know it at the time, that secretarial course would be instrumental in her accounting career.
Founder of Kinder Pocock
Plain English accounting
Before Kinder Pocock
Accountant for medieval-style hotel
Reading, music, walking to the seaside with her sons
A year of travel
After her the secretarial course, Sharon and a friend went travelling. The pair hitchhiked through Europe to Austria, then went to Greece, Israel, South Africa and finally ended up in Zimbabwe. Sharon was overseas for over a year before she came back to England.
“I saw some amazing places and met some really amazing people,” she says. “It’s made a big difference to my current role, as I’ve learned how to communicate with people from all walks of life.”
When she returned home she applied for a job covering a secretary’s maternity leave at a local firm of accountants. “It was perfect for me really, because I only wanted to work for a little while, to save money so I could go travelling again."
From covering maternity leave to an accounting apprenticeship
Thanks to the secretarial course that Sharon took after college, she excelled in her new role. She got all of her work done so quickly and accurately that her boss, Andy, asked her to help with some basic accounting tasks. After Sharon’s contract ended, Andy offered to train her in accountancy, so she stayed on. He even let her travel to Zimbabwe for a month during her training.
“Andy was an amazing boss. He was so down-to-earth,” she recalls. “He always spoke to his clients like friends, making sure not to intimidate them with fancy jargon. He met lots of clients at the rugby club or over a pint of beer."
“A lot of people think accounting is dull. But I think they’d be surprised if they saw the cool technology we use.”
Turning down a partnership for a change of scenery
Sharon was only supposed to be at the firm for six months, but seven and a half years later, she was still there. Andy even offered Sharon a partnership, but she had already made other plans. She had recently got married to Wayne, whom she had been friends with since high school. The couple craved a change of scenery and decided to move to Bath.
Sharon and her old boss Andy still keep in touch. “I can pick his brains about all sorts of things, and he can pick mine about online stuff. I’ve recently shown him how cloud accounting works,” she says.
Sharon and her husband Wayne stayed in Bath for four years until their first son, Dylan, was born. Unable to shake the travel bug, they decided they would move to Australia. They returned home to Herefordshire to spend time with their families before the big move.
The challenges of starting an online accounting business
However, instead of moving to Australia, Sharon and Wayne ended up buying a house. Sharon started doing the accounts for a little medieval-style hotel, but it wasn’t long before she thought about starting her own business.
At the time she was being asked to do tax returns for people. “I thought I may as well start my own business, seeing as I was already offering tax return services,” she says. “I also thought it would fit well with our small family, being able to control my hours and workload.”
Sharon quit her job and started her own business. But early on, things didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped. She found it difficult to network and promote herself while looking after a two- year-old from home. Because of Wayne’s job as a support worker, he had irregular shifts. That made it even harder to balance work and family life.
Two years later Sharon and Wayne welcomed their second son, Bryn. Sharon admits at the time they sometimes struggled to make ends meet. “Wayne and I could have both worked 50 hours a week and packed the kids off to boarding school. But it’s been crucial that at least one of us is always with the kids,” she says. “Besides, I went to boarding school and I just hated it.”
Eleven years later, Sharon says family-work balance remains one her biggest challenges. “I’m still not sure I’ve figured out the balance yet,” she laughs. She’s planning to start working from home one day a week so she can pick Bryn up from school.
The importance of plain English accounting
From the beginning Sharon wanted to set her business apart with the way it treats clients. “I don’t agree with using the technical jargon when you know the person opposite you doesn't know what you’re saying. There’s no point,” Sharon says.
“It’s their business and they’re paying me money, so it’s really important my clients understand what it all means. What is turnover? What is profit? What does my balance sheet mean? It’s too easy to not bother with that stuff,” she says. “It’s so important to me that we never confuse clients. We treat them like friends, really. I think I picked that up from my old boss Andy, and from travelling and meeting so many different people.”
New accounting technology has changed the game
Sharon says people are often surprised by how technologically adept modern accountants are. “A lot of people think accounting is dull. But I think they’d be surprised if they saw the cool technology we use and what we can do with it.”
When Sharon did her accounting apprenticeship, everything was done with pen and paper. “It’s crazy now – click a couple of buttons and you’ve got a set of accounts done,” Sharon says.
“Learning how to use all this new tech is a lot of fun. The boys will be playing computer games and I’ll be on my laptop playing with online accounting software,” she laughs.
The ups and downs of evolving technology
Kinder Pocock uses a range of online accounting and tax tools. Always being connected to the cloud is great for convenience, and provides new touch points with clients.
“Even if clients are only phoning up to ask how to do something on the software, it’s another way we can support them,” Sharon says. “Even if it’s not accounts or tax, you’re still there for them. I think that’s really important.”
However the always-on technology can make it difficult to switch off. “My husband says I’m always in the cyber world. I’ll be at work all day and when I get home, I’m immediately on my phone checking emails.”
“People expect you to be online all the time,” Sharon says. “I’ll get emails from clients over the weekend, and by Monday they’ll say, ‘Didn’t you get my email?’ Sometimes I have to ignore them to spend time with my family.”
Advice for new accountants: embrace technology and don’t undervalue yourself
Sharon knows first-hand how hard it can be to start your own accounting practice. She encourages anyone starting out to have confidence that they’re worth what they charge. She says it’s easy to undervalue yourself when starting out, especially if you’re working from home.
Her biggest advice for new accountants is to set prices fairly – both for themselves and their clients. “You’ve got to set your fees at the right level so that your clients are happy and feel like they’re getting good value, but also you’re earning a decent rate.”
She also suggests staying up to date with recent technology to keep ahead of the competition. “It almost seems obvious to embrace technology and keep one step ahead. There are still accountants that don’t see that cloud accounting is the future – I think it’s really important that you are that future firm.”