“They can run their business and leave the headache bits to me.”
That’s the message to start-ups from Charmaine Melrose, a bookkeeper who offers to “walk hand in hand” with them. “I like it when they start and growing with them,” she says.
“I think we should be with a client from Day One. We don’t have to do the books completely, but it can help just being there, telling them how to set it up.
“It’s easy having HM Revenue and Customs giving you a list of things you should do but it’s the last thing anybody running a business wants to do – the boring bit.”
Charmaine is happy to train new business people in avoiding the paperwork pitfalls. “Remember to get your receipts, do that now before you’re Vat-registered. Get into the habit of doing it right.
“I take a quick look, make sure they’re not doing anything glaringly obvious and point them in the right direction. They get so wrapped up in what they’re doing and it’s nice for a stranger to go in with fresh eyes.
“When they start their business, it’s all exciting but then they come to their books and they’re up every evening trying to sort them out.
“This is one of the easiest bits to sub out. They love their business because that’s what they’re good at. Most people hate doing numbers. I love them. So give that job to somebody else and take the weight from their shoulders. When they’re doing Vat, they can end up every quarter with near enough a nervous breakdown. I take that away from them.”
When Charmaine became a mother for the first time at 40, she needed a job she could fit around the children. “Being an older mum, I wanted to be at home for them,” she says. “Luckily we could afford to do that.”
After years as an office manager for a firm in Slough, she was familiar with the bookkeeping role but had no qualifications. “I didn’t want to work for anyone and I’d always wanted to do bookkeeping. So while the children – Stephanie, now 13, and Philippa, now 11 – were toddlers, I retrained. I did it all from home by correspondence.”
Charmaine qualified in 2006. Finding clients was tough. After being a full-time mum, she felt she had lost a little confidence. Then a neighbour recommended her first client – a private investigator.
She joined a women’s networking group to rebuild her confidence, overcoming the challenge of a “nerve-wracking” talk that did in fact bring her some clients.
She believes bookkeepers are a vital resource for successful businesses, keeping them on track in a complex world.
“I nag them on a regular basis to get in their paperwork because if they leave it to the end of the year, they’ve forgotten what they’ve done. They want you to be proactive, but if you’re doing a year at a time, you can’t be. It’s then too late.”
“I remind them what they can and can’t put through the books legitimately. HM Customs & Revenue is getting hot on getting the books in order.” She says fees are often recouped by the costs saved by a bookkeeper. “When they want to rein in their spending, we can see where they can reduce their costs. I like it when I find they’ve double paid. A lot of clients pay invoices as they come in.”
For many business people, time saved by a bookkeeper is invaluable. But it’s not always about giving them extra hours to look after the enterprise. “I’ve had ladies tell me they are going to the spa when they would normally be doing the Vat,” Charmaine chuckles.