My Story

I did not come from money or an entrepreneurial family, left school without going to university, applied for every job in the News Shopper and managed to get a position as a junior in an accountancy practice in Lee Green. I was earning just over the minimum wage at the time but due to family circumstances and a need for independence I knew that my plan was to get onto the property ladder. With my trademark determination, within two years I had saved up a fifteen thousand pound deposit and in April 2007 I purchased my first flat. It was a complete dive and needed a lot of work. I spent a fortune on credit cards doing it up, with the intention of selling it later that year for a profit. The flat was ready to go by November but an older friend of mine told me “you never sell a property over Christmas, leave it until the New Year!” By January 2008 the bottom had completely fallen out of the property market and the flat wasn’t even worth what I had paid for it, let alone what I had spent. 

Lesson Number 1 – Trust your gut! I knew it was time to move on from that property, but I let someone else who I assumed knew better than me just because they were older, make me doubt that decision!

Next came 3 years of really tough times – there were no real affordability checks on mortgages back then and the reality was I couldn’t afford the repayments, let alone the council tax and utility bills. I had growing credit card debt from living beyond my means. I couldn’t sell the flat as I was in negative equity. To make things worse there was very little opportunity to increase my salary in my employed job, to do the next stage of my training my bosses wanted me to take a salary sacrifice. I couldn’t agree to that as it would have undoubtedly led to me losing my home. During this three year period I was promoted twice and also moved to work for another practice in Beckenham in Kent.

Joanne Bell - Story

I gained a huge amount of experience working with small businesses, both companies and self-employed individuals who needed to complete a self-assessment tax return each year. My earnings were improving but they were still capped by the economy at the time. I was still struggling financially and I was getting desperate, I simply had more going out than I had coming in. Ever resourceful I put an ad in a local trade magazine, advertising that I would do personal tax returns privately for £150 each! To my surprise, 3 people responded to the ad and just like that I had earned £450 in one weekend! I did a good job, collected and delivered their records and gave good advice on what they could claim for and what they couldn’t. Then those 3 people told 3 more and so on, before I knew it I was swamped with enquiries for my services. I still had my full time job so I was working evenings and weekends 12 to 15 hours a day, but I was buzzing and my debt was reducing. My friends at the time did not understand my choices as I refused to go out drinking and partying like most 20 somethings, but I knew I was onto a good thing here. I even paid for my own training to finish my qualifications.  

Lesson Number 2 – It takes dedication and true graft to make a business work and to start to build a reputation for yourself. Grant Cardone, an American property tycoon has a saying that really resonates with me “Work while they sleep, learn while they party and live like they dream!” Don’t let anyone tell you that you work too hard, if you are investing in yourself and building a future for you and your family.

Joanne Bell- Winner Kent Women in Business Award 2019

Within a year or two, I was earning more from my private work than I was from my job and I knew it was time to make that jump and go it alone! I met a business coach at one of the many networking events I was attending at the time. To my surprise she was impressed with my efforts so far and agreed to coach me. That lady’s name was Alison Stansfield of Barbro Consulting. She met with me every month and helped to ensure I stayed on track with all my goals and targets. She helped me to build a dashboard of key performance indicators so that I could monitor my progress at all times. She also spotted problems before they arose and helped to ensure my business was properly resourced at all times. She knew when it was time to move into an office premises of my own and when I should take on my first member of staff, a conclusion that would have taken a lot longer to come to on my own. Alison coached me as well as my 30 odd staff across five offices, right up until she passed away during the Covid pandemic. I have felt her loss and missed her encouragement and guidance every day since and I would highly recommend to any business person that they find a mentor who is as supportive as she was for me. They need to be someone you trust, someone who challenges you and someone who is further along in their journey than you. You definitely need someone who is more experienced at actually running a business than you are and someone who you aspire to be like! Meet as many people as you can who drag you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to be a bigger and better version of yourself. If you associate with negative people it will drag you down.  

I had a lot of limiting beliefs when I was in my early twenties, why would anyone take me seriously?! I am just a young woman, how will I sit in front of company directors twice my age and tell them what to do with their money!? Well I am now in a position to tell you just how you do that. You find someone, not just someone but a team of people who believe in you and your mission and want to help you become the best you can be. There are so many people who have helped me along in my journey, way too many to list here. I owe each and every one of them everything I am and everything I have today. I used to stand up at networking events and say “I run a small accountancy practice in Chislehurst”.. until someone pointed out to me that I had 5 staff at that point – so actually, it wasn’t that small and I should probably be saying I run the BEST accountancy practice in Chislehurst! I thought that was a good point well made.  

There have been a huge amount of challenges along the way. I have spent money I didn’t need to spend, not spent money that I should have spent, bought businesses that had so many red flags I should have run a mile. I have experienced cash flow problems, marketing mistakes. I have suffered the occasional bad debt from a customer. I have employed the wrong person for the wrong job. I have failed to communicate effectively with a client or a member of staff for various reasons. I have scaled up too quickly and I have introduced processes too slowly! The key to resolving all of those things, not just surviving but flourishing, is how you react to them in the first instance. Firstly, I acknowledge my mistakes and I never keep flogging a dead horse out of some sort of misplaced ego or a false hope that continuing to do the same thing will bring me a different result! I change direction quickly and I often consult with other professionals or people more experienced than myself. I keep a grip on my numbers, monitoring my cash flow and my profitability very closely so that I don’t run into trouble. Then, in every instance, once a situation is resolved, I ask myself the question, what have I learned? I sit down with my entire team every month and we discuss what has gone well in the last period and what has not gone well. This enables us to learn from each other, help and support each other but most importantly to acknowledge our mistakes without blame and put processes in place to ensure they don’t happen again.  

Joanne Bell with her daughter

I am sure you have heard it said before, that you are your business. If there are things you are not good at then there are things your business will not be good at. The dangerous thing is not knowing what you don’t know! You need to focus your energy on the things that motivate you and the things only you can do! Everything else can be outsourced, and I mean everything, to someone who will do a far better job than you in half the time. Recognising the value of your time is half the battle. I have seen business owners spending days on end creating a leaflet themselves, doing their own bookkeeping or learning how to build a website – when they have finished they have neglected their customers and lost money by not focusing on what they do best. Worst of all they are left with a result that isn’t half as good as it would have been if they had paid someone in that field of expertise to do it for them!

 That brings me onto my third and final lesson – Recognise your strengths but also your weaknesses and ask for help from those more experienced than yourself!!

 I would like to leave you with a final thought – mainly for those new start up businesses who may be reading this but also for those looking to maybe go in a new direction:

 “You are never too young to build an empire and you are never too old to start a new dream”