Keeping on top of bookkeeping is crucial for all businesses, and keeping on top of bookkeeping technology is one of the fundamentals of Urmston-based COS Bookkeeping. GM Business Connect caught up with Karen Garrattley, Managing Director, for a chat about her business.
Can you give us a brief history of how COS came to be?
“It all started in the early 90’s temping as a secretary for a computer sales company. I picked up word processing quickly and got really into computers, and from there found that I could work software easily. Here I saw accounting software for the first time. At the time I was also doing my husband’s accounts manually – so I invested in the software and also began to handle the accounts for another larger company too.”
When did you decide you wanted to expand?
“When I was temping I worked for an accountancy firm, and because I was using a computer I was asked to visit their clients who also used computers. This was a good 10 years before all accountants really began to go digital, so I started to get a lot of work on the bookkeeping side which gradually took over. It just kept growing. I didn’t really decide to grow, per se. It was from meeting people who were already bookkeepers but wanted to understand Sage that I found I was in demand – and they wanted to pay me for my time. At the same time, the more I was offered bookkeeping jobs, the more I could offer this work to those same bookkeepers whom I was helping. So, it worked out that I would bill the client and then send the bookkeepers in whilst also helping them train and learn. It grew from there. Four years ago there was a big turn in business, which I could see from the development of online systems, so I knew we would be able to help people remotely. Where the client wanted to do the majority of the work themselves, we developed a ‘top and tail’ service to finesse and check over their accounts. This has really taken off and in that 4 years, I have gone from having 2 employees to 12 and also 30 subcontractors who are self-employed bookkeepers (some of whom have been with me all these years). The culture I’ve developed with COS bookkeeping was not just in subcontracting to bookkeepers, but helping and supporting them at the same time.”
Tell me about your core team?
“It’s all about recognising people’s skills and abilities, and providing the training support they need. Each person has gravitated to their own specialism. We have one lady who has become an expert in uploading software for invoicing. Another has become an expert on the HMRC portals, so she is doing all of the ‘making tax digital’ registrations. Another team member is an expert on Quickbooks Online.”
What sort of clients do you have?
“All sorts and they are hard to quantify. Some will have come to us for one-off training and we don’t see for years. Others we deal with day in day out. Many will engage when they have changes in their business including staff. All in all, we will see around 1,500 clients in a year.”
Tell us about the different services you offer?
“It used to be always Sage 50 training, but when Xero, Quickbooks Online, Sage Business Cloud for example came in, we developed classroom courses which seem to just fill themselves up without promotion. We grew organically, and we never know what is round the corner, however, just as it was four years ago, it’s about spotting what needs to change. If you plan too much you can be too rigid. It’s best to have an eye for opportunity and to recognise it when it appears. This is a skill in itself. Where others advised against embracing these faster methods of bookkeeping thinking that we would do ourselves out of business, I disagreed and felt that we should embrace what’s new and adapt.”
What’s your view on making tax digital?
“I think it is a great idea. The support and information sent out from HMRC has been very poor – very confusing. However, the concept is good. I do believe that moving things to a more ‘real time’ basis is much better for business owners as you pay your taxes as you go along and you are not waiting 6 months after the year end to find out how you’ve done. Our strapline is ‘Putting You In Control’. The only way you can do this is to understand your figures. Know your figures are right and react as you go along, avoiding debts and cashflow problems.”
You seem to have a great portfolio of clients. What are you plans for future expansion?
“We seem to generate a lot of new business from referrals. The trick is to ensure our growth in clients is catered for by an equal growth in our ability to service those clients. We’re currently looking for more Bookkeepers to contact us with a view to help them with training in all the current software, plus subcontract them to a fantastic range of clients.”