After 16 years with two well-known supermarket chains, Gary Martin decided it was time to serve a different kind of customer.
He started in his first supermarket at the age of 16, working his way up to bakery department manager.
But he had begun to think of others ways to make a crust. “I was getting bored with the same old stuff day in day out,” he recalls. “I’d had two seven-year itches and thought I can’t be dealing with this any more.”
He took an Open University bookkeeping course that was accredited by the International Association of Bookkeepers (IAB).
His challenge was to find a way into this new career. A bookkeeping practice took him on and gave him a client. “I was given two carrier bags and told to sort it out,” he says. “After I sorted it all out and produced a trial balance, that was the last I heard from them.”
Undeterred by this setback, the Army Reservist decided to battle on alone. His retail experience had served him well, providing valuable skills in budgeting, calculating staff hours and great customer service.
His breakthrough came when his mother’s financial adviser was looking for someone to do the books. He paid £30 for an advert in a local community magazine and landed his first client. “Don’t go for big glitzy things, start in you local area,” he advises new bookkeepers.
Now 34, father of toddler Freddie, two, is familiar with social media. His Facebook page has brought him several clients although Twitter has proved less successful. He attends local events arranged by social enterprise Buy Local Norfolk, networking group Norwich Kitty, and BNI.
His business is growing and he expects that soon it will earn him sufficient income to give up his part-time paid role as a Reservist.
He now works for more than 30 clients, with turnover doubling every year. In his networking talks, he underlines the benefits of hiring a bookkeeper. “I ask business owners how many of them don’t have time to sort through those receipts in the evening. All the hands go up. So I tell them: “Okay, give me all that stuff and I’ll do it for you.’”
Gary has added a strapline to his business – “Giving You More Time to Enjoy Your Spare Time.”
He says the impression that bookkeepers are merely “data entry finger punchers” inputting numbers into a spreadsheet is false. “We can do far more – tax returns, payroll, Vat, CIF – It’s like being a mini-accountant.
“We can’t give advice on tax but we can certainly do tax returns and that sort of thing. People have the impression that you’ve got to go to an accountant to get their tax return done. Oh no you don’t! I can – and I’m more cost effective.” Gary’s biggest buzz comes from securing a tax refund for clients.
Gary’s first consultation is free and it can be at any location chosen by the client – even a coffee shop. At the end of the consultation, he provides a no-obligation quote with flexible payment terms.
Over the next few years, Gary hopes to have an office, employ IAB-qualified staff, qualify as an accounting technician and become an IAB Fellow (eligible after 10 years as a member).
He believes the bookkeeper is vital for any small business. “Had it not been for using me, a client would never have known they had broken through the Vat threshold and had to register. It could have landed them with a £5,000 fine. I keep in contact with them all year, ensure they’re keeping on top of receipts and that their business is doing okay. I’m like an early warning system.”