Our new charity of the year

We’re delighted to announce that following a number of very good applications we have chosen Against the Grain as our charity of the year.  They stood out to us for their enterprising spirit, their mission of working with young people and their commitment to sustainability.

against the grain

Sarah Sandle their Coordinator says

“Against the Grain is delighted to be announced as Holy Brook Associate’s charity of the year and is looking forward to working closely with Rachel and her team over the coming months.  We are particularly keen to continue developing our work within the local community and having the support from Holy Brook Associates will hopefully help facilitate further links within the local business community, which will be invaluable.”

We’ll share more details as we start to work together and you can find out more about them here.

Dying Matter week – Reading

HolyHolybrook Associates_4421b_resize Brook is proud to be supporting Dying to Talk, Reading.  Rachel Eden, explains why it is so important here:

Dying Matters Week aims to raise public awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement and of planning ahead.  As a society we know we’re really uncomfortable with talking about this issue so I decided to get involved and see who else woudl be interested in doing something focused around the national dying matters week locally.

Why did I do it?  Well I don’t like to to think about getting ill and dying anymore than anyone else, but not talking about it won’t make it go away.  Having a conversation can help you to live well and to make the most of life until the very end.   I have seen loved ones have good deaths, and not so good deaths, and I am determined that this is something we can improve.

Every death affects people differently. We’re often too polite to ask for help, or don’t offer it for fear of saying the wrong thing. But a family or a community dealing with loss needs help.

This year, the theme asks What Can You Do? This aims to get people more active in planning for dying and death and helping support those who may need it in times of grief and bereavement, be they friends, family or in your wider community.

I have been delighted by the range of people who have decided they want to help so we decided to not just make this a single event but to have a range of events – some of them fun: a BBQ, a charity quiz night others more thought provoking.

We’ve no any funding to do this, so I’m so grateful to everyone who has pitched in, and all we’re asking is that people come along and get involved.  Iyou think this is an important issue here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Share the messages on social media – use #dyingmatters and #whatcanyoudo along with the #rdg hashtag or retweet/share our posts.
  • Come along to an event
  • Have a conversation with your family or friends about the issue.
  • Make a donation to a charity – we’re recommending the Sue Ryder, Duchess of Kent Hospice

Let me know what you think – I’m on rachel.eden@holybrook-associates.co.uk and if you want to know more about Holy Brook Associates and how we support the community in the Thames Valley please do subscribe to our monthly newsletter

What are financial controls and why would I need them?

lh_may_16-copySmall organisations often know they need to have financial controls but put it off.  Virtual FD Lyndsay Henderson shares the business benefits of taking action and why it may not be as onerous as you think

When you lead a small organisation there are so many things to think about – running the operations, winning clients and delivering a product, service, or fundraising. One of the areas that can sit at the end of a very long to-do list (if it makes it there at all) is documenting your processes so your employees understand how the business works and can run it in your absence when you make it on that elusive holiday. In addition to understanding your processes, it is important to understand where your business is susceptible to risk e.g. theft of cash, or poor cash flow management, and build controls into your processes to mitigate these risks.

For me, as a virtual finance director, processes and controls are critical to business success and make scalability much easier. Here are my reasons why I think you should be thinking about them:

  1. Controls minimise risk

Controls minimise risks to your organisation. For example, as your organisation grows, you won’t have the time check every supplier invoice and make every payment. If you implement controls such as segregating tasks so that the employee putting together the list of invoices for payment is different from the employee making the payments you minimise the risk of fraudulent payments and errors being made.


  1. You might have what you need in place already

My view is that effective financial controls must be right for the size of the organisation. A limited company with the director as the only employee doesn’t need detailed process maps and segregation of duties around controls as that’s simply not necessary or practical when only one person is doing all the tasks!


  1. But be ready when it’s time to grow

When your organisation starts to grow, it’s key that the leaders continually assesses the need for putting in clear processes and controls and implement these pro-actively. When you take on new employees it will minimise the amount of time you need to spend explaining the basics if it’s all there documented leaving more time for them and you to get on with their day-to-day roles! There will be fewer errors and issues as everyone will be clear on who’s responsible. You should continue to regularly review e.g. once every six months, or after a big change, to ensure the processes and controls are still fit for purpose.


  1. Leverage what you already have

Many accounting packages have ready-made controls in place such as purchase orders which allows an employee to request a purchase on the system, ask for approval and then when invoiced your book-keeper can match the invoice to the approved purchase, minimising the risk of unauthorised purchases and questions from the book-keeper about what an invoice relates to.


  1. Financial management

Strong processes and controls will enable better financial management which will mean clarity for cash flow forecasting and management. For example, by using purchase orders and recording invoices in a system when they are received it’s easier to forecast upcoming payments to suppliers so any tight points can be identified and pro-active steps taken to minimise them. It’s also worth considering that investors will look favourably on companies with clear processes and controls in place that are ready to scale up.

Implementing processes and controls shouldn’t be a daunting task and the benefits and value it will add to your organisation will far outweigh the time needed to do it. At Holy Brook, we have a wealth of experience in reviewing, assessing and implementing controls and processes, so if you would like help with your organisation please contact our Co-ordinating Director, Rachel Eden rachel.eden@holybrook-associates.co.uk


Why I started calling myself an entreprenuer – and you should too


venus finalist

photo Hemma Mason Photography

At the semi-finals of the Venus Awards, Thames Valley last week our founder Rachel Eden was put through as a finalist for Entrepreneur of the year.  Team member Lyndsay Henderson was in the running as the business mother of the year and made it to being a semi-finalist.  Rachel shares her thoughts on being an ‘entrepreneur’.


When I was initially nominated as ‘entrepreneur of the year’ in the Venus awards I was in two minds about it.  Although I’ve built Holy Brook Associates from the stereotypical ‘on my dining room table’ pipe dream to a values-based company that I’m hugely proud of that both serves our existing clients and is growing to serve new clients I’ve been reluctant to take the label of “entrepreneur”.

Being involved in the Venus awards, which is an award ceremony focused on women, has caused me to reflect on this.  I’m meeting with the sponsor, Jack FM, tomorrow (13th April) and in preparing for this I’ve been thinking about why I have been slightly embarrassed by the term.

At the semi-finalist announcement, Tara Howard – the founder of the awards – pointed out that many of the women in other categories were entrepreneurs and yet hadn’t been nominated as such, so I know I’m not alone in this reluctance to take this label.  It may be a gender-based thing, but I suspect quite a few men would have the same reluctance.

Perhaps it is because there is a stereotype of an entrepreneur being a young hotshot working in an office full of beanbags and taking excessive risks.  Perhaps it is part of imposter syndrome – an entrepreneur is Steve Jobs or Richard Branson not ‘just me’.

However, as soon as I started thinking of myself as being an entrepreneur it changed my mindset and has focused me in on four key activities.


Firstly, it reminded me that while Holy Brook Associates has already grown and developed it is still developing and growing and that we should continue to focus on innovating and trying new things.

Create value

Secondly, the heart of entrepreneurship is creating and seeking value – and that I should continue to look at how we can develop, whether it is through developing our informal recognition system ‘Holy Brook kudos’, supporting our clients or helping our charity of the year in a different way.


Thirdly an entrepreneur is a coordinator, so this has reminded me that Holy Brook Associates is most definitely not ‘just me’.  I have an absolutely stellar team around me. Because Holy Brook has a networked and devolved approach I coordinate them rather than manage the team.  Focusing on my role as an entrepreneur reminded me of that key coordination role that an entrepreneur plays, and – crucially – reminded me to delegate tasks both internally and bring in external people to support us.


Finally and perhaps most importantly putting a label on myself and having a certificate up saying ‘Entrepreneur of the year: finalist’ it has both made me commit.  I’m now more determined to not faff about, but to build a sustainable, successful organisation that will continue to add value to our clients and community.

I’d encourage others to take that same step and – if you are an entrepreneur – call yourself one.

If you’d like to be kept up to date with free resources and updates that Rachel shares with the Holy Brook Associates community on a monthly basis you can join our email group here


Changes to the VAT flat rate scheme

Holybrook Associates_4421b_resizeThe flat rate scheme is changing, which will affect many small businesses on turnovers of less than £230,000.  Here Rachel Eden, our coordinating director, discusses what this might mean and what you should do if your business if affected.

If you’re a small business registered on the flat rate scheme you’re likely to have had a letter about the changes to the flat rate scheme.

The main impact is that there’s a new category that the government has created called a ‘low-cost trader’.  If this sounds like it might not affect you, check again as it may do even if you have substantial costs, including VATable costs.

The government has defined this as any business which is spending less than 2% of their turnover (or less than £250 a quarter if that is higher) on certain VATable goods.

It’s important to check carefully whether you do spend more than 2% of your turnover on the right categories of goods: services don’t count and there are some very specific rules. For example, software that you buy on a CD counts as a good, but many people now use downloaded software or subscriptions to cloud-based software and this doesn’t.  However software that has been design bespoke to your business doesn’t count as a good even if it is delivered on a CD.

In addition if you are investing in your business by purchasing capital equipment, for example, a computer, furniture, printer or mobile phone these don’t count either.  This applies even if you aren’t treating them as capital expenditure in your accounts.

If you have to move over to this category it will mean that the business could have to pay several thousand pounds more a year over in VAT, as the deemed rate will be 16.5% instead of rates of between for example 4 and 14.5%

The intention is described by the government as to ‘tackle aggressive abuse of the flat rate scheme’ but the impact is that it will disproportionately affect businesses that spend more of their turnover on services and on employment, and could distort incentives.

As a business on the flat rate scheme, it’s important to check your position so that you are correct from the start of April and it may also be worth considering moving off the flat rate scheme to the more complex standard scheme to ensure you can reclaim the VAT you are paying.

I’d recommend if in any doubt discussing with your bookkeeper or accountant and HMRC has guidance here.  If you are Holy Brook client do get in touch.

To access our free resources and checklists join the Holy Brook community


Letting a challenge change you


Promoting yourself for an award is outside a lot of people’s comfort zone.  Here Lyndsay Henderson reflects on what she’s learnt about challenging yourself since being nominated in the Venus Awards:

I’m very excited to be a semi-finalist for Reading Chronicle Business Mother of the Year in the 2017 Thames Valley in the NatWest Venus Awards – the only category where the public gets to decide the winner. And I’m in great company as Rachel Eden, founder of Holy Brook Associates is a Jackfm104 and Sir John Madejski Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist.

The Venus Awards is a unique initiative founded by Tara Howard in 2009 to recognise and reward local business women across the country. Looking through the list of semi-finalists for 2017, it’s clear that the Thames Valley is home to some outstanding women and their businesses.

Since finding out I’ve made it to the semi-finalist stage, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learnt since starting Stellation Limited just under a year ago. I left the corporate world to set up my own business to give me the opportunity to use my financial expertise to work with small businesses and their owners to help them work towards their own success. Working with my clients on a part-time basis gives me the flexibility and control over my work-life balance.

When I started my business, I was naturally focussed on winning clients and the services I could deliver. What I didn’t consider how far I would push myself out of my comfort zone and how much I would learn as a result! One of my favourite fitness quotes is that ‘if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you’ and I think that this is equally valid in business and all life. So here are my top three from the last few months for pushing my comfort zone and what I’ve learnt.

  1. The Elevator Pitch

How can tell people what you do succinctly and in a way that they can relate to. I’m an accountant with a corporate background, I’ve spent a career networking with other accountants who automatically ‘get’ what I do, I also like to get things right. The best way to perfect your elevator pitch is to try it out at different networking events, get it wrong (aagh!), reflect and refine. I’d like to think I’m getting there but as my business evolves I’ll keep working on it.

  1. Say yes…

There’s so many I could include here but as I’m on the subject of the Venus Awards, I’ll go for that. Applying for an award is not something I would instinctively do, I don’t have a marketing background so it doesn’t come naturally to me. Coupled with the added surprise of having to make a video about myself and my business you could definitely say I was out of my comfort zone. What have I learnt? If you think it might be good for your business say yes, be brave and enjoy conquering the fear of watching yourself back on screen.

  1. And say no…

The beauty of running your own business is that you do get to choose who you work with and the work that you do. I don’t like to say no to prospective clients or contacts but I can’t provide excellent client service if, for example, I’m stretched too thinly; so if there’s something that’s not right for you, don’t be afraid of saying no, people appreciate honesty!

The last few months have been an absolute rollercoaster with some real challenges and highs. I’m really hoping to add 2017 Venus Awards finalist to this!  Voting opens on 29 March 17 and I’ll be sharing details both through Holy Brook (@HolyBrookLtd) and Stellation (@stellationFD) so please follow on Twitter for more information.

And, here’s my nomination video if you’d like to learn more: