Peter Taylor-Whiffen 2 May 2019 05:08pm

A day in the life: Natalie Clapp

Natalie Clapp tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how she achieved the perfect personal/professional balance by setting up her own management consultancy

clapps 630 ditl
Caption: Photography By Bill Morton

How I changed career

Right from the start of my career I’d always dreamed of having my own business one day, but when I was younger I imagined it would have to involve some grand genius idea that no one had previously thought of. Actually, in the end, starting out on my own was about achieving a work-life balance and it made sense to use the experience I’d built up to start my own management consultancy.

The seeds for this were sown early on as well, when I was at school doing business studies. I was fascinated as to why some firms succeed while others fail, so accountancy was an obvious career choice, and I was fortunate to get a placement at PwC.

After getting my ACA there I became a performance improvement analyst, really getting to know individual businesses and how they work. It’s always been my favourite part of the job. After a few years I moved back closer to home in the New Forest and became a senior financial management consultant at Hampshire County Council.

After 10 years there I moved on to KPMG, but I have three children now (aged nine, seven and four) and although the office was based locally, travelling to clients made it hard to always be there for my girls when they needed me. A former colleague recently launched her own business and that inspired me to take the plunge to work for myself. Another friend, Rob Anglaret, was in a similar situation with a complementary skill set and we became business partners to set up New Forest Business Solutions last year.

My responsibilities

In terms of the business, Rob and I split our responsibilities according to our talents. While we’re still setting up, I’m doing the internalfacing work: the processes, the compliance issues. Rob does the more outward-facing jobs: the marketing and website. We also have a responsibility to our customers – we want to be able to solve their problems but along the way we want to build strong, positive relationships with them.

We don’t want to take their money to do jobs we don’t feel are necessary. We see ourselves as a team with them, and when you see these businesses grow and flourish, that’s a great feeling. Of course my primary personal responsibility is to my children and my husband (who is also an accountant). I make sure I am always able to be around for my girls and support and help them with whatever they need. And don’t they get a lot of homework?

My typical day

Because we are so client-focused there isn’t a typical day. That said, I do think everyone’s sharper and more productive in the morning so I discipline myself to do the tough stuff early in the day. I might, if the morning allows, skim through my emails first thing, but not if there are other things going on. There are regular tasks and business housekeeping to do, but they run alongside ad hoc projects so there’s always something new and different happening.

The challenges I’ve overcome

It’s a daunting task to set up your own business, especially from a standing start rather than buying into one. I think one of the most challenging aspects was that setting up something like this takes time, and you have to do that alongside working elsewhere, so that was difficult.

But ICAEW has been brilliant with any professional challenges I’ve had. They have so many resources that I didn’t know even existed – helpsheets, business coaching – and I paid reduced member fees because I won’t have a fixed income for the next year. They’ve been tremendously supportive.

Industry quirks

The most obvious quirk is also the best perk – accountants get invited into all sorts of businesses. It’s so exciting to meet business owners or CEOs, to walk round, to see inside their organisations and how they work. In any town you might see a manufacturing building, or a shop, or an office, and there are works of genius happening behind the door that you never knew anything about. I think it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be allowed in to see what’s going on.

The habits of an accountant

I think we ask a lot of questions and work hard to get the right result for our clients. Good accountants work with their customers to ensure their businesses run as smoothly as they can, and it’s extremely rewarding when you can help someone to do that.

How the ACA helped my career

It has given me the skills I have now, not just the financial and business ones but also the people skills – this is such a people-led business. The Institute has given me so much support but this career has also given me a network of really supportive, professional people.

There’s always someone to ask. I’ve been inspired by people starting their own business, and I hope I inspire others to do the same. There is so much work out there that it feels like no one’s ever in competition with anyone else – everyone’s just doing their best to support and help each other. We all want each other to succeed.