Celebrating our living wage commitment

PrintThe Living Wage Foundation is pleased to announce that Holy Brook Associates, has today accredited as a Living Wage Employer.
Their Living Wage commitment will see everyone working at Holy Brook Associates, regardless of whether they are direct employees or third-party contracted staff; receive a minimum hourly wage of £8.75. Both rates are significantly higher than the statutory minimum for over 25s of £7.50 per hour introduced in April 2017.
The real Living Wage is an hourly rate set independently and updated annually. The Living Wage is calculated according to the real costs of living.

Rachel Eden, Director, Holy Brook Associates said: “As a relatively new employer we paid the living wage from when we first took on staff but we wanted to commit to this publicly – our team does amazing work with social enterprises, charities and small businesses and deserve fair pay to reflect this.”IMGP8745Employers choose to pay the real Living Wage on a voluntary basis. The Living Wage enjoys cross-party political support.

Katherine Chapman, Director, Living Wage Foundation said: “We welcome Holy Brook Associates to the Living Wage movement as an accredited employer.
“Responsible businesses across the UK are voluntarily signing up to pay the real Living Wage now.The real Living Wage rate is annually calculated to reflect the real costs of living.

“We are a movement of over 3700 UK employers who together want to go further than the government minimum to make sure all their staff earn enough to live on. We have lots of small businesses as well as big household names like; IKEA, Aviva, Chelsea and Everton Football Clubs and many more.  These businesses recognise that the Living Wage accreditation is the mark of a responsible employer and they, like Holy Brook Associates join us, because they too believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay”

Seven Questions you should ask before choosing a bookkeeper

image003Nicky Gentle is one of our experienced bookkeeping team.  Here she shares the questions she would expect a client to ask when deciding whether to work with us or not.

I  will often go and have an initial chat with someone who has contacted me about bookkeeping. I have learnt over the last few years which questions to ask in order to get a feel for the client’s needs and whether I am a good fit for them. But are there also questions I recommend a potential new client should ask me.

  1. What qualifications do you have? Check their website…

Bookkeeping isn’t regulated in the UK, however to ensure a level of quality look for someone who has completed a  bookkeeping qualification. There are a number of routes which a professional bookkeeper may have taken.  A Diploma with the Association of Accounts Technicians or International Association of Bookkeepers. As a member of either of these associations a bookkeeper will  have passed several exams covering a number of topics. They will be bound by ethical practices and have insurance.


  1. What experience and skills do you have?

Its often useful for a bookkeeper to have experience in the industry a new client works in. Industries differ in how they operate ie construction industry and CIS. It’s not essential but it helps

We all have to start somewhere of course but find out how long the bookkeeper has been practicing, or have they worked in an accountancy practice on different client accounts.

If you are VAT registered, make sure the bookkeeper  has experience of the VAT scheme you are using ie flat rate or standard. And that they can submit the details online. And if you are looking for someone to run payroll,  again check they have enough experience, and have dealt with the scenario you are taking to them in terms of numbers and frequency of payroll, and if you have employee benefits, have they produced p11ds at year end before?

Just get a general feel that they sound confident about the type of work you need doing!

  1. Do you charge a flat rate or hourly rate?

Really important to understand how they charge. It’s hard to estimate how long a piece of work will take, but I like to make clear how I charge my time. If a client has a budget I’ll work to that let them know what they can expect.

  1. Do you work onsite and offsite?

Depending on your needs check they will come to your premises, some bookkeepers may only work from home, or their own office, others will be happy to travel to you, and check if they will charge mileage?

5.  What bookkeeping software are you familiar with?

If you have an established business you may already have your accounts systems in place, and the software, so find out can they use that software. Perhaps be open to changing  the software you are currently using.

6.  Do you have enough time for me?

Check they have the capacity to fulfil the role, it’s no good if you need them a day a week and they don’t have the time!

7.  Will you provide me with a letter of engagement?

A good business relationship should of course have a degree of  trust, however I always insist on a Letter of Engagement so find out if the bookkeeper will provide that. This will set out what you can expect from the bookkeeper in terms of the work they will be carrying out for you, and what they will need from you as a client in order to complete the work.

8.  What other services can you offer or are you part of a larger team?

You may be happy just having a bookkeeper but if you are likely to need other services it’s worth being aware of what other services your bookkeeping firm can offer.

Finally one question to ask yourself…

If you are happy with the answers you are given then you have a good idea that the bookkeeper will do a good job for you.  After that it’s down to personality, and you need to ask yourself, do you have a a good feeling about working with this bookkeeper?


How you can think like a finance director to help your business thrive


if you are a small business owner chances are you do everything.  Do you want to know the secrets of how to think more like a finance director?  Lyndsay Henderson shares some of her secrets:

I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the benefit a Finance Director can bring to small businesses and charities. You may wonder why a small business might need this over and above a tax accountant AND a book-keeper and you may not feel you can afford a full service.

However, thinking like a Finance Director and looking at your historic numbers and growth plans with a finance slant can help you get to the nuts and bolts of how to get your business to succeed.

  1. Look at your numbers. If you have a book-keeper or you are doing your own book-keeping you have data, even better if it’s in an accounting system. Look at the information and use it to see how your business is doing.
    Leverage the data you have to focus on how to grow your business. Don’t be scared if they don’t tell you the story you want to hear, use this information to get to the root cause of the issue and you can turn things around. Rachel published some great tips on things to look at here.
  1. Have a plan
    You probably have a strategy for your business, but do you have a budget? A budget is just a plan, but with numbers.  It makes you accountable, it focuses your mind and it helps you grow your business. If you aren’t sure where to start, think about where you want to go in the next year and what the numbers look like – do you want to sell more, take on more staff, increase profit? Look at your numbers from previous years and work out how these have to change to meet your goals, then think about your strategy to get there.


  1. Be efficient and manage risk.
    The easiest way for many small organisations is to improve efficient and manage risk is to implement better processes and controls.  Having your processes documented makes it easier for someone else to do tasks you don’t have time for and by writing things down or asking someone else to do it, you might find that you were not doing it in the most efficient way. Having controls allows you to know the risk of fraud and error in your business are minimised as you scale up. If you want to know more, I wrote about this in more detail in here.


  1. Outsource or delegate.
    A good Finance Director doesn’t do it all but has an overview of everything and how finance and organisational matters are being addressed. I work with specialists for book-keeping, tax and compliance but I know when to zoom in and help fix a problem.
  1. Cash
    Finally, don’t ignore cashflow. Your business plan and your historic information can help you build up a picture of what’s going to happen and can help avoid problems before they are upon you. Recent stories about Carillion have shown that no one is too big to fail so make sure you know what’s going on. Do your due diligence on new clients, invoice promptly, get a purchase order number, find out who the finance person is, consider 14-day terms or IMGP8769part payment upfront and chase as soon as it’s due – polite and firm. Chasing up your customers for payment isn’t a fun job but it is critical for your business to succeed.

If you want to know more but don’t have the budget for a finance director Lyndsay and Holy Brook Associates founder have created a low cost online course to help you grow your business, or some one off support can cost less than you might expect, so do get in touch with our Co-ordinating Director, Rachel Eden rachel.eden@holybrook-associates.co.uk.

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Following the 5 simple steps accountants use to grow your business

As a qualified accountant Rachel Eden profile April 2017I’m often asked how to grow a business.

There are lots of get rich quick schemes out there but for a organisation to that wants to grow and thrive while there aren’t any easy fixes there are ways of boosting your chances of success.

However I can share with you the steps that as a management accountant I recommend, based on a 5 step course that Lyndsay Henderson and I have created.

Accountancy techniques may not usually be seen as setting the world on fire but if they mean you can double your turnover and triple your profit or surplus that surely is worth thinking about.

The following are the five steps we’d encourage all organisations that want to grow to take:

Step 1 –  Know your numbers and your goal

I often talk to people who are interested in growing their organisation – whether to serve more people as a charity, to make a bigger difference as a social enterprise or to scale up their business.  It’s really tempting to answer the question ‘how big do you want to be?’ with ‘as big as possible’ but actually it’s really important to know what your turnover costs and margin are now and to quantify how big you’d like to get to in what timescale.  For example Holy Brook Associates exists for more reasons than just to make a profit, so while growth matters to us – it means we are making a bigger difference – I am willing to sacrifice some growth to ensure we meet our social goals.

Step 2 – Explore your revenue

Understanding the different sources of income for your organisation is crucial – which areas give you a good return, which do you think will increase, which remain similar – and are there any areas you think will reduce or even stop.

Step 3 – Managing your costs

Knowing where the money goes is vital as is understanding how they will change as your business grows.  Some costs may remain the same, some will increase as you increase your output, others will grow in steps or jumps.  Other costs you may not even recognise might appear as you grow – for example a large organisation may require more management, which if you as a founder are providing may not appear in your accounts as a cost – you’re likely to be putting in a lot of time that a manager might expect to be paid for.

Step 4 – Cash matters

Cash flow is really crucial – businesses and charities generally don’t fail because they aren’t covering their costs on paper, but because they run out of cash in the bank.  This is particularly vital as you grow a business as you may have to invest in more equipment, staff or inventory before you see money coming in.  We’d encourage you to keep a very close eye on your cash flow and the forecast for this, and take action as you spot potential issues – rather than waiting for them to arise.

Step 5 – Really unlocking growth

The final step we’d recommend is to understand what your key resource is and find ways to maximise its use.   This is whatever it is that if you had more of it you could grow faster.  Once you’ve identified that you need to maximise the use of it.  For many small organisations this is actually the time of the founder, chief executive or even the chair of trustees.  If that’s the case you need to look at how you free up time from less important tasks, tasks that can be delegated and you may need to look at recruiting or paying for skills that help you be more effective.

I’d be fascinated to hear from you if you have been  thinking about growth and whether you’ve taken any of these steps.  Do get in touch – if you’d like more help you can join our community for FREE resources and templates

Lyndsay Henderson and I also host an online course that takes you quickly and simply through these steps for your businessIMGP8769

5 alternatives to New Year resolutions

Rachel Eden profile April 2017As well as the annual tradition of setting new year’s resolutions, I’ve also noticed that  it feels over the last few years that an alternative tradition not setting new year’s resolutions has developed.

The Holy Brook team is a bit split on this with some people seeing it as a useful way to set intentions for the year, and others as a way to set yourself up to fail.  One thing we all agree on is that setting habits and goals rather than vague ideas is a good thing.

As an accountancy professional, who now works in a more creative way if I was setting a standard new year’s resolution I might say to myself “Be more creative”.  However I know this would be something that I would look back on in a couple of weeks and realise I had done nothing to achieve.

So here are some some other options I am considering:

  1.  Create habits that will indirectly lead to your goal.
    The amazingly creative Mark Mason has just shared a set of 10 habits you can integrate into your working life that will foster creativity.
    For example Mark has been asked to bring ice cream to our Holy Brook team catch up on 5th January.

  2. Set SMART targets:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant* and Time-bound.
    This was actually the approach that Lyndsay Henderson advocated we tried last February as a Holy Brook team, and it worked (it is also worth a re-read).  Setting a SMART target for creativity might seem counter intuitive but actually structure can be really important for allowing true creativity.
    For example I have set a target to create a blog post to be published each Friday of January that adds value to our network
  3. Set a word of the year This lovely idea is one I spotted on Antonia Taylor PR’s instagram feed.  The idea is to set a single word that you want to use to sum up your year.  Then everything you decide on and activity you chose should be able to be linked back to that.
    For example I am playing around with words to use currently I think ‘create’ is the word I will pick, although that might not be creative enough – so I’m going to throw it out to the Holy Brook team for ideas

  4. Have anti-resolutions.  Rather than deciding what you will do, decide what you won’t do, such as cancelling a gym membership that you never use.
    For example I am not going to allow other work invade my Friday morning creativity sessions and I am going say “no” to projects that are not part of my creative mission for the year
  5. Visualise your future state.  This can sound a bit mystical, but I know a few people who are great believers in visualisation.  The idea is to picture yourself and the world in the state that you want it to be, but make it very specific.  As an accountant, another way I might put it is to have a well defined goal.
    For example I could picture myself finalising the draft of a book on using financial management techniques to foster better communication.

Of course there’s nothing to stop you setting some good old fashioned new year’s resolutions, but if you find in a couple of weeks they aren’t quite working for you, it might be time to revisit and try one of these alternatives.  I’d love to hear what your doing via our twitter account.

We’ll be sharing more tips on goal setting and creativity via our newsletter in the coming months so do subscribe if you’d like free access to these and all the resources we shared in 2017

Seasonal reflections

As we come towards the close of 2017 I think always feel that the Christmas period is a good time to reflect and reconnect.

Holy Brook Associates will be closed for Christmas from today (22nd December) until 2nd January, and we’ll all be taking time out to spend it with family, friends.

I also use Christmas as a prompt to reflect on the year that is ending and to think ahead to the next year.  Having started to do that for this year I’ve realised how privileged I have been to work with some amazing people, including the Holy Brook team and our clients.

There have been some real challenges but a lesson that has been reinforced to me is that by finding people to collaborate and cooperate with you can make an even bigger difference.

It is also a time when I think we all think about people who may not have all the privileges that as we do.  This year we didn’t send Christmas cards from Holy Brook Associates and instead made a seasonal donation to ABC to Read, a charity local to us that helps children who need extra support with their reading.

I’m also planning ahead for next year – both as we continue to grow and support more clients through Holy Brook and some pro-bono work.  In the second week of January I’m meeting up with some wonderful people who want to mark Dying Matters week 2018 and to celebrate V100 in Reading – 100 years since the first women in the UK got the vote.  Which leads me back to reflection and perspective:  the importance of a good life lived and remembering loved ones who are no longer with us this Christmas, and the progress that we have made in creating a better world over the last century are easy to forget in the bustle of every day life but so important to keep in mind.

What are you reflecting on this Christmas?

How changes to VAT may affect your organisation

Rachel Eden profile April 2017Our founding Director Rachel Eden, looks at some possible changes to the VAT system that may affect smaller organisations.

The Office of Tax Simplification last week published it’s first report on VAT.

They have timed this to fit in with the planning for the Autumn budget, so it is perfectly plausible that some of their recommendations may become government policy.

The biggest recommendation they have is about the VAT registration threshold.  Currently this is relatively high compared with many other countries at £85,000 (indeed  one of our smaller clients told us a few months ago he was having trouble convincing European customers he was a business because he was not VAT registered).   There was some press coverage about the idea of reducing the VAT registration threshold to around the £20,000-£30,000 turnover level although the recommendation in the report itself is more cautious.

A number of our clients are charities or small businesses, some above and some below the VAT threshold, so it’s worth considering the impact of more businesses needing to register.

  • If you are already registered for VAT this would have little overall effect on your business.  There may be some cash flow differences if you buy from businesses that are currently not VAT registered but become VAT registered and you may find that some of your competitors start to charge VAT, which will make you more competitive.
  • If you are not currently registered for VAT but would now need to register you will have to ensure your processes and record keeping are up to speed, as completing a VAT return will become a legal requirement.  If you sell primarily to VAT-registered organisations you’ll find that there is little impact on your attractiveness to customers, but if you sell to charities, very small businesses or consumers you will effectively be giving them a 20% price hike (or have to take a price cut yourself).
  • If you are a charity you may not think you are affected but your smaller suppliers, for example tradespeople and freelancers may have to start charging you VAT and if you aren’t registered then you’ll find it increases your costs.

As ever if you are a client of our finance team do let us know if you have any concerns about VAT and if we can help: rachel.eden@holybrook-associates.co.uk