Features / If I Knew Then

If I Knew Then: Zoe Whitman

By ellie pipe, Monday Dec 10, 2018

Founder of But the Books Zoe Whitman has held senior accounting roles for large organisations, including the BBC, BT and Lloyds Banking Group.

Inspired by young entrepreneurs with startup companies, she launched her own bookkeeping practice in 2016 to help small businesses with their accounts.

How did you start your career?   

I decided not to go to university and I started my career in local government, where I trained as an accountant.

My advice to anybody today who thinks they want to be an accountant is to find an employer who’ll pay for their training – qualifying as an accountant aged 23 really helped me get ahead in my career early on.

If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?

I found it difficult to identify exactly which clients were right for me and my niche and I definitely wasted some time when I should have just trusted my instincts.

What I know now is that it’s OK to be selective, in fact it’s better for me and for my clients.

What advice would you have given yourself when starting?

I would have told myself to start my business years before. As it happened, I didn’t feel I had the space and time to start a business until I had a newborn in my arms. For some reason, becoming a mum gives you this incredible feeling of being able to take over the world.

If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?

Yes. But the Books might be bigger than it is now, just due to the time and experience that starting up several years earlier would have given me. That said, my clients are mostly startups and my marketing is mostly through Instagram, so I feel that I’ve built a business that suits the here and now.

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

I know a lot more about myself and my abilities as a businesswoman. I always thought I had a good entrepreneurial spirit, I talked a good talk, but it’s only being in business myself that’s let me put that into practice.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?

I never got the chance to meet my husband’s grandma, but he told me that one of her sayings was “the opportunity of a lifetime must be taken within the lifetime of the opportunity”, and that struck a chord with me.

What is your career highlight?

I started But the Books as a side project on maternity leave and I returned to work for six months whilst continuing to run the business. It was a huge juggling act so the moment when I realised I could turn my side project into my full-time reality has to be the highlight so far in working for myself.

What is your career low point?

Returning to work after having my daughter really made me realise that I couldn’t have it all. Working for somebody else didn’t fit with my life goals and ambitions anymore and that really helped me to put into perspective what was most important to me in life and in work.

What keeps you awake?   

If one my clients is having a particularly tricky time, perhaps with cash flow, I do worry about it. My clients bring me into their businesses at such an early stage and that makes me feel like family, so I do carry their worries as I want them to succeed.

What’s changed from when you started out?

I’ve been an accountant for 16 years and I’ve worked for a number of large businesses. I was actually told in my first job that I had a job for life which you would never ever hear today.

What’s still on your to-do list?

Apart from the usual day to day work there’s some additional training I want to do so I can add some extra services for my clients. That’s certainly a priority for the next few months.

What’s next for you in business and personally?

I want the business to grow in a way that allows me to continue to offer the same high-quality service to my clients, but where I can start to involve others in some of the day to day work.

I’ve recently joined the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator which is really pushing me in my business, and taking on staff is my next big goal, so watch this space.

Read more: If I Knew Then: Silas Adekunle

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