From The Kitchen Table to Forbes ¦ With Rachel Harris

Season 3, EP 10: Rachel Harris

Show Notes

On this episode Ciaran is joined by Rachel Harris, the dynamic force behind the popular Instagram account @accountant_she. Rachel is not only a seasoned accountant but also a passionate advocate for financial literacy and empowerment. With a wealth of experience in the accounting industry, she brings a unique blend of professional expertise and relatable insights that resonate with both budding entrepreneurs and established business owners.
Rachel’s journey in the world of finance began with her solid educational background and has flourished into a career marked by a commitment to demystifying the complexities of accounting. Her engaging online presence and practical advice have garnered her a dedicated following, making her a trusted voice in the financial community.
In this episode, Rachel will share her insights on the latest trends in accounting, tips for maintaining financial health, and the importance of financial education. Whether you’re looking to optimize your business finances or simply gain a better understanding of personal finance, Rachel’s practical advice and inspiring journey will leave you informed and motivated.
Tune in for an enlightening conversation with Rachel Harris, and discover how her passion for accounting and financial empowerment can help you achieve your financial goals.

Connect With Accountant_She




Podcast Transcription

Ciaran Brennan:

Hello, you’re very welcome to another episode of the Time & Materials podcast. So this week I’m joined by Rachel Harris. I suppose everybody loves a good success story, that old business story of we started at the kitchen table and we, you know, now it’s a roaring success, you know, and there’s a lot of hard work that goes into them.

And it was great to sit down with Rachel and get an understanding of where she started with Strive Accounting back at a kitchen table in 2020 and how it’s now one of the fastest growing accountancy practices in the UK. So Rachel dives into a lot of horse strategy at the time, including Building a personal brand in parallel to the business and how that’s become a huge success getting featured on Forbes, being on this morning.

There’s just a ton of value in this that I really, really enjoy. So please sit back, enjoy, and I hope you get some value from my chat with Rachel Harris.

We are up and running. Rachel, you’re very welcome to the Time Materials podcast. Thanks very much for giving us your time.

Rachel Harris:

Thanks for having me. Very excited to be here.

Ciaran Brennan:

Right. Let me kick into this. We always like to start off with a, try and get a bit of context to who we’re speaking to. Let me go right back.

Tell us a little bit about your story. How did you end up in accountancy?

Rachel Harris:

Alrighty. Cool. So hi everybody. Thank you so much for having us both in your ears today, wherever you are. I am a keen podcast listener when I’m walking my dog. So if you’re on a dog walk, I’m with you in spirit. So my name is Rachel and I’m a disruptor in the accounting industry and I’m disrupting what it means to be an accountant, what it feels like to have an accountant and disrupting the concept that you can’t scale a business to seven figures without losing yourself along. So I own one of the UK’s fastest scaling accounting firms.

We’ve scaled to seven figures within four years. Our whole team is on payroll in house. We’re a grassroots British business in an industry where it seems like everybody is outsourcing to countries who don’t pay the minimum wage. And so lots of clients choose to work with us, based on our values and based on it giving them the opportunity to drive their values up and down the supply chain as well.

My online brand is called Accountant_She, which is very pink. Pink is my favorite color and very often, the accounting industry can be described as quite stale and pale, and so I wanted to bring a little bit of colour, a little bit of femininity, only because that’s who I am, so we don’t specialise in working with women.

I just wanted to bring a little bit of my personality, my humour, so Accountant_She is a play on words, it’s punny, it’s funny, it’s light hearted, again, very much who I am. So, I didn’t go to university, I was a young carer, so my identical twin sister is disabled, and so I’ve been a carer. I’m 10 minutes older, so apart from those 10 minutes, I’ve had a really strong caring responsibilities for my whole life.

And so not going to university was a natural choice for me. I didn’t feel like I could leave my sister and my home life. So I did an apprenticeship at my local council, which was brilliant. I’m a huge advocate for apprenticeships. Very often, you know, anyone who’s listened to this, if you’ve got a relationship with an accountant, you’ll know that actually it’s the soft skills that really set that person apart.

I can teach you technical skills, but I can’t teach you to just get stuck in, leave that person better than you found them, ask more questions, like get down to the root cause. And so, yeah, really sort of scaled my accounting journey. So I took an apprenticeship. got a junior position, a senior position, a semi senior position, and along the way, once I qualified as an accountant, I also did an MBA, which is a master’s in business, which is when I feel like my head was turned from accounting into running a business.

I think lots of accountants run accounting firms, whereas I feel like I run an accounting business. And so, yeah, over the last 4 years, I’ve scaled StriveX, which is my accounting firm, from my dining room table to a multinational firm. So we’ve got an office in Oxford, an office in Manchester. We’re in the top SME employers in the UK.

We offer a world class benefits package, and I’m just trying to create the workplace that I wanted to work for when I was a young person.

Ciaran Brennan:

Congratulations on that because it’s not easy. I’ve been involved in setting up a couple of businesses at this stage. And I have firsthand experience of  how difficult it is to get a business off the ground.

So first and foremost, congratulations on that. Can I ask you a question? Because something you’ve said there is really interesting to me. Where did the strategy come from for the personal brand, right? So you’ve set up StriveX, that sets up in the kitchen table, loads of stories about that. Was it in your thinking of, I need to have a personal brand attached to this from day one, or where did all that start?

And how did you then go about building that?

Rachel Harris:

Good question. My favorite, for anyone who’s listening and not watching, Ciarán’s got a pen in his hand, and that’s my favorite type of podcast interview, because he’s like rapidly, writing stuff down for the next question. So yes, the short answer is yes, it was incredibly strategic and intentional.

So the business launched in the summer of 2020. And if you cast your mind back,

Ciaran Brennan: yeah, Covid?

Rachel Harris:

again, I knew that I trained at a top 100 firm. And so I knew I watched like the best partners in the firm who were the best at winning work were the ones who were building personal relationships, like finding really great relatability points with clients to win more work. And so I knew firstly, people do business with people and you can have all of this background behind you, but our businesses are something that we really only want to hand over to people that we trust implicitly.

But at the same time, we were in lockdown. I couldn’t  get out and see people. And so I am a millennial, I turned 30 last year so I’m right in the back bang of being a millennial and for me Instagram is my native platform. So I’d watch partners build great relationships to win work. I was doing an MBA, which gave me the strategic insight to analyse our market, understand the market segmentation, understand who I was talking to, have very strong clarity on what our, key value drivers were; what sets us apart from other firms, because our Value proposition is incredibly strong in the accounting industry for the people that we work with.

So I’ve never seen other firms offer the value proposition that we do. And so it was strategic from a value proposition. It was strategic from a personal branding. And the reason my online brand is Accountant_She and not my name is I was engaged and so I knew my name was going to change, but I knew it wasn’t going to change for a while. And so I thought, I really can’t be arsed to build a personal brand for two years, get married, change my name. And I really wanted to change my name. And so I wanted something that wouldn’t change. And actually I’ve always wanted it to be bigger than me. So with Accountant_She, I’ve launched bursary schemes to help underprivileged people into the accounting industry who can’t afford to do it and it’s become a sort of content creation powerhouse for, by, about, and for accountants. And so I wanted something that was bigger than me.

Ciaran Brennan:

And when you’re, when you’re sitting down and you’re building a strategy. A lot of people in that position would think, I’ve enough on my plate here trying to get this business off the ground. I’m at the kitchen table. I don’t want to be here forever. It’s going to take an enormous effort to get this business off this kitchen table and into something that looks like a business. And then you think about this personal branding and I’m curious to think about where your mind was at in terms of how am I going to deploy energy or what percentage of my energy should I deploy to that versus the business?  How do you come up with a strategy that says, okay, this is how I’m going to get both of these off the ground at the same time?

Rachel Harris:

It was really hard, and I think a lot of people; I very much fall into the category of someone who didn’t have a backup plan. I became a homeowner in May of 2020 and became self-employed in July. Did not have a backup plan. And so for me, it was, I was doing chargeable work between 9 and 5. And doing marketing outside of nine and five for a very, very, very long time. And literally just while the kettle was boiling, was making Instagram content, while I was waiting for someone to join a prospective client call, was jumping on LinkedIn or doing something on my Instagram stories and for a long time had to find ways to almost make my job part of the marketing.

And that’s what I think, as well as there being a brand behind the business, a really strong part of my brand is like a founder brand, in that a part of my brand is just storytelling, to make myself immediately relatable to people who own businesses of my size, because they get to follow along and think, oh god, like, she finds that really hard too, or she finds that hard, or that’s what she does as well, and so, because I was so tight on time, I actually made just my day to day, content became a day in my life, which was content that I could just do at the same time as coming onto podcasts and it was like really sort of low entry point content.

And so I had to bring in founder brand just through great storytelling to make people see me as that authority in the industry, which has then grown and changed to the point where content creation and business development is my full time job now, and I have four full time members of staff who report to me who enable me to do that.

As well as within the accounting firm, we have a strong focus on supporting business owners, influencers and celebrities. And so as the influencer and celebrity client base has grown, so have I. And so there’s a bit of a, you know, if we’re speaking to someone who’s just come off, this might not be my target audience, but if we are speaking to someone who’s just come off, a show like Love Island or Big Brother, or I’m a celebrity and they’re looking for a new accountant, actually, if content creation or being a public figure is part of their job, if they consume, if they just search my name on Google, they’re not going to see my website. They’re going to see Forbes, Instagram profiles with, you know, tens of thousands of followers. And so it builds that authority within our client base as well.

Ciaran Brennan:

So what percentage of your time today then goes into personal brand versus your accounting firm?

Rachel Harris:

So I am nearly entirely removed from the accounting firm day to day. That was a really strong driver from the word go. I’m a young woman, I got married two years ago, I would really love a family. And so I knew from day one, I don’t just want to have to injector seat myself out of this business when I have a family. I want to make sure that I’ve got stability and rhythm within the business before then.

And so I am hugely involved in core focus, vision, mission, values, and enabling all of that within the strategy of the firm, but day to day in terms of the running and the ecosystem, I am completely removed from the accounting firm.

A big part of my role is launching new areas of the business. So we just launched Audit. We do lots of angel investment, company valuations, consulting. And so a big part of my role is diversifying the portfolio of firms because the accounting firm is seven figures, but we also have a group of companies that sit around it, like HR audit so that’s where a lot of my time is spent.

Ciaran Brennan:

A lot of listener base to this podcast are generally people that are involved in construction and it’s taken a while, I feel for construction to see the value in building an online brand and the ability, because it’s, there’s a bit of white space there because not many from construction rush to, to online rush to Instagram to, to build a brand, but we’re starting to see some real influences, come up with like, millions of subscribers right millions of you like who would have thought it someone like some guy talking about construction has millions of subscribers on YouTube which is just it’s crazy to think it you’ve been featured on Forbes you’ve had you know invites to This Morning – How do you, how does that happen? How, like, everyone would be listening to that saying, you know, that must’ve taken an awful lot of work, an awful lot of years, you would think, but you’ve done it in a relatively short space of time, I would think, right? How does all that come about?

Rachel Harris:

Yeah, so it’s worth saying I have never paid for any, PR or public representation. I don’t, I’m not managed by anybody. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have, like, anybody working for me. I actually have a completely free resource. So I am not afraid to ask for help. And so, my journey to Forbes was, if you could have written how you would want it to be, that’s what happened to me.

So I was at a networking event, walked up to somebody, went to introduce myself, and she said, ‘You’re Rachel Harris, I’m a senior editor at Forbes, I would love to tell your story’. Was literally how it happened, and I couldn’t have dreamt it any better. So what I did was, After she’d written the piece, I said to her, my whole community are business owners who want opportunities like this.

Will you help me tell that story? Because most people don’t have that happen to them. Most people are pitching to places like Forbes for a really long time before somebody does it. And so we can include it in the show notes and the description to the YouTube video. But I’ve actually got a completely on demand resource, which is the editor who wrote my Forbes article telling you how to get featured in Forbes and other huge magazines.

And so we’ll include that in the links to this show note. But it is incredibly hard, I think, to build a sense of authority, is the word that I always come back to like, it’s not super hard to start creating contact content. The barriers to entry are quite low. Most people own an iPhone, but actually it’s trying to look at in your industry, what is going to give you authority.

So for me, very early on, because of the brand that I was building, there was huge momentum hype around our firm. And so being the fastest scaling for a long time. was my USP, that was my tagline. Caught, like, creating disruption to an industry that desperately craved it. That was my specialism. And so, I think personal branding isn’t super hard to start, but getting to a point where other people, like, peers within your industry view you as authoritative and a voice to be heard, that’s the piece that’s hard.

And I think for different industries, it looks different. I think construction is very, very much about selling the dream, like connecting the piece of work that you’re doing to, doing to the bigger why. Which would then give you the opportunities to quadruple your fees because you’re selling the dream, you’re not selling the work and so I think authority comes into personal branding a lot, not hard to create content, but incredibly hard as a woman in my 20s, it’s incredibly hard to get accountants who’ve been in this industry for 40 or 50 years to think she is the person to listen to now.

Ciaran Brennan:

I’ve seen a lot about you guys in terms of values, right? I see values come up a lot, you know, in anything I’ve seen and, you know, missions and deep cultural stuff that, I believe in, I, I big believe in it, but in terms of conveying that message across to a client, and let’s say potential clients, like let’s wrap this right back to construction. If I’m a construction owner, I’m not happy with my current account, but as you say, they’re a bit old school and not really moving at times in terms of maybe I’m looking to advance my technology and they just don’t have that expertise in house. So I’m looking for something new. What’s different about you guys?  Why would I want to go to you? And like, and I suppose, how do you attract me to your company?

Rachel Harris:

So I think we split this into two sections. The first are our values, our core values. That’s how I decide how to recruit, who to hire, who stays but it’s also how we choose which clients to work with.

And so all of our clients have to accept our core values too, because actually there’s no point in me spending loads of time and effort recruiting the best talent in the industry if you’re not a good fit and you’re going to upset everybody. So within our proposals, everybody accepts our core values.

And the second is our service package. So it’s really important to say that if you just want your tax return filed, you could go to a low cost, low touchpoint online provider who you’ll never speak to and could probably file your tax return at maybe a third of our fees. And so if that’s what you’d like, definitely go and do that.

On that spectrum being low touch point on one end, we are at the other end. And so our service package and our value proposition is split into three sections. We have ‘live online’, ‘on demand’, and ‘one to one’. By default, every single client, regardless of their services, even if they just want a tax return, gets access to all of those.

So the ‘live online’ is two hours with me every single month. That is one to many, not one to one. But every single month, we get people together to go through a financial wellbeing routine. So that’s if you do your own bookkeeping, that is an hour in your diary with an accountant on the call to do your bookkeeping, plan and save for tax, log into your government gateway, make sure you’re up to date with your CIS returns, make sure everybody’s paid, make sure your accountant’s not shouting at you.

The second hour a month is called Monk Mode, where we all just sit on a live accountability call to work on our businesses and not in it. The next is the upcoming webinar, so I just mentioned our most recent webinar was how to get featured in Forbes, and so every single month we are bringing the go to small business, like we are curating that content to make sure it’s what you need to grow and scale your business.

So there’s three hours every single month where you are either working on your finances, working on your business, or working to grow your business. On demand, we have the StriveX Financial Education University, which is every single bit of content I have ever made, broken down into small, segmented, bite sized chunks to help you learn and understand.

So if you’ve just started using Xero or QuickBooks, all of that education is all in one place for you to start and then get better and more confident on Xero. Everyone gets free access to HR advice. We have a client portal and they can all get access to a free quality of life audit. And then we have one to one.

So everybody gets a free hour long, one to one training session. they can have customer excellence meetings, business development meetings, one to ones with their accountants. And we offer completely free financial advice and mortgage advice as well.

Ciaran Brennan:

Very different to the traditional accounting offer.

Rachel Harris:

It is. And you can probably tell as well, like a lot of it is embedded into; we are a digital practice, a lot of our growth is fueled by my personal brand. And so a lot of it is built around clients who are attracted to that. So if you have come through my personal brand or you’re a builder who does loads of trending audios and you’ve grown a following on Tik Tok, like actually you will intuitively lean into a lot of that service package because you are a digital business that is growing and has all of the same problems that we do as well.

And so within that, within our core values; I actually have a book on my desk because I treat it as a bit of a Bible, but, if you have a business, if you’ve got a team and you’re trying to scale, and I’ve just said the word core values and your tummy’s fallen out and you thought, I don’t know what core values are.

I definitely recommend a book called traction by somebody called Gino Wichman. And he breaks down exactly how to work out what your core values are. So that’s a bit of a handbook for me when I’m doing work like this with clients to help them work out what their core values are, but the core values that we make our clients sign.

Ciaran Brennan:

A lot of the time people think of values as an internal, you know, an internal structure that we should set up to allow us to decide which type of people that we should employ. But like from where you’re coming from here, it’s very much about the types of people that we want to do business with as well, have to be aligned to our values.

And I suppose a question I have on the internal side, right? Are you guys, remote, I see you’ve got a couple of locations set up that you’re saying now, but is the business, like, do the people in those offices, are they there five days a week or are they there, is it hybrid or how do you generally work?

Rachel Harris:

Yeah, of course. So we are completely hybrid. So everybody comes in one day a week. So again, very strong sense of community, but a very strong sense of autonomy around your working environment, I’m actually hard of hearing and I wear hearing aids and so for me like being in an office full time was very difficult for me in terms of just general noise and like hearing fatigue and so as somebody who’s always been open to what if we focused on like output and results over chaining someone to their desk between the hours of nine and five, hoping they’ll be productive during that time. Like I love getting up early in the morning and going to the gym in the middle of the day when I feel lethargic. And so we’re completely hybrid one day a week in the office. But then outside of that, we have flexi time work from anywhere.

Some people have family members all across the world and someone’s just worked from Australia for a couple of weeks. And so, yeah, we’re very hybrid.

Ciaran Brennan:

And when it comes to say values and culture, which is also, a part of that, how do you keep that together? Then in terms of like, obviously brilliant model, love it, very similar to ours, by the way, we’ve got some people in Australia, we’ve got people, everywhere right. And one of the struggles I have, and I’m coming at this from a selfish point of view, and I’m looking for advice here, right? How do you do that? How do you keep that team culture together? How do you keep those values together when the team are pretty much remote.

Rachel Harris:

So your commitment to core values, because it’s one thing making them, it’s another painting them on the wall. Your commitment to the core values is what is going to make or break your culture. So creating core values is a chunky piece of work, but it’s also something that can change as you grow.

And core values existed when it was me on the dining room table, as much as they exist now, I’ve just put words to them. And one of the reasons it’s been really important for us to incorporate core values into the curation of who we work with as well is because when I worked at a really top 100 accounting firm, clients were really allowed to like speak to you in a not very nice way.

And it hugely impacted my experience as a trainee, like the partners of the firm would look at the profit margin on the job before they looked at whether or not they were nice to work with. And we work in an industry where there’s a recruitment crisis in the accounting industry at the moment, because we saw so many people not going to university and actually not choosing accounting as a career, because there’s a very strong stereotype within our industry that it’s boring and not a great career.

So we have a recruitment crisis. I’m attracting these incredible, talented, soft skill driven, but also hugely technically qualified accountants. And if I was hiring people that spoke to them in a really horrible way, or were just rude to them, not very nice, like, really demanding, it’s just not gonna set the right point.

So like, the commitment to core values. It’s quite bold to ask our customers to sign them because our number one core value is don’t be a dick. And that is set in the tone with the client that you will not speak to the team in a disrespectful manner. And actually, if that offends you, it probably offends you because you might speak to people in a not very nice way.

Whereas actually, if you’re a great person and you’re very polite, even if you’re a little bit stressed, sometimes you’d be like, yeah, I don’t want to be a dick, like I want to work with somebody who doesn’t even hire people that are dicks. So number one core value is don’t be a dick. Next up, we’ve got ‘ask more questions than you answer’.

Very often people’s financial questions are very, very strongly attached to their mental wellbeing. And so sometimes people can come to you with one question, but the real thing that they’re worried about is like three questions down. And so we’ll always commit to asking more questions than we answer to create a safe environment for the clients to speak openly.

We want the team to be creating wow touch points. So whether it’s a monthly financial well being session that you attend or an in person client networking event. I want you to have wow at every single touch point with our team. ‘Leave it better than you found it’ this applies to processes, systems, data, the office and clients.

And then finally, ‘be the best you can be’. There’s a very strong stereotype in the accounting industry. But actually, it’s not correct all of the time, but there is a reason that there’s a strong stereotype and that’s because we all have very similar personality types and comparison is a huge part of that.

And to be the best you can be is our commitment to only measuring people against themselves.

But that commitment to it is what upholds the culture, because unless you are willing to fire your highest performing member of staff, because they’re not committing to core values, having them is pointless.

Ciaran Brennan:

Yeah, I fully agree with that as it’s like, you can be the best performer, but if you can’t get on with, with the rest of the team, like, what’s the point, you know, I’m fully behind that one. It’s funny when you talk about the typical stereotype of an accountant,  that sort of maybe dry, traditional look of an accountant, but we’ve been exhibiting at DAS in London for the last couple of years and, you know, really turns that on its head, doesn’t it?

And Xerocon and these types of events, if you want to see where accounting is going, you’ve got to start to turn up to these events and you can sort of see a whole new era of young, energetic, as you said, as you’ve already described that people are coming in and disrupting that pretty quickly, and that’s, that’s one of the things I’ve seen. When it comes to a company, a lot of time, they can get comfortable with their traditional practice and in terms of moving, accountants can feel like this huge task, right?

Where, but all my financial historical data, these, these people know me so well. Is there a way to break that barrier down with a company and say, in other words, how do you put me at ease that the transition between where I am today to where I’m where I’m going to go is, is going to be a smooth one.

Rachel Harris:

Do you mean with changing from one accountant to another?

Ciaran Brennan:

Yes. Yeah.

Rachel Harris:

So we really encourage a lot of conversation around, again, there’s lots of changing behavior. So historically, if you had an accountant and you’d met them in person and you see them at Christmas and you shake their hand, an accountant is for life, not just for Christmas, whereas actually it’s becoming more common for people to shop around.

Like, people aren’t comparing accountants to other accountants in the same way that if you work in the construction industry, they’re not comparing you against their peers. As an accountant, I’m being compared to Amazon. Like, they want next day delivery. They want 24 hour response times. I’m not being compared to other accountants anymore.

I’m being compared to the wider economy that I sit in. And so it’s becoming much more common for people to shop around. And so actually really openly talking about that transition period is really important, but also using core values to identify when that actually might be a risk factor. In taking on the client.

So a red flag for us, we have like a big list of red flags that we have to talk to clients about in prospective client calls. And one of those is, have you changed accountants more than twice in two years, because you do get like accountant hoppers who are just hopping from one to another, like trying to find the right porridge.

And so for us, making sure we incorporate; you can change behavior and you can have had a bad experience, but actually like, how do we work out if someone is hopping, but also going over and above, so our onboarding team is very large for the size of our firm. And so we have a full time client coordinator whose job it is, is to give you a wow experience in onboarding.

We’re very lucky that in the accounting industry, because it’s a regulated industry, and we all report to governing bodies. There’s a very official handover process, something called professional clearance. So one accountant has to hand over all of the financial records from one to another. And then we offer an incubation process.

So we put you into an incubator. So you have three meetings, two weeks apart. So you go into incubation for six weeks, where you’re having hour long calls every two weeks with your point of contact to make sure we understand an audit of your systems, exactly where you’re at at the moment. And then a sign off of this is the work that we’ve done so far, we’ve moved you from Joe blogs to StriveX. Are you happy now? Let’s hand you over and then we’ll see you once a month for financial wellbeing and monk mode.

Ciaran Brennan:

Excellent yeah. Very different to give me access to your Xero and we’ll look after it from there

Rachel Harris:

Yeah. Let me log in. I’ll see you in January.

Ciaran Brennan:

Rachel, you’ve been hugely kind with your time. If anyone wants to learn more about you, learn more about StriveX, where can they go to find you?

Rachel Harris:

Of course. I would absolutely love to hear from you, to see you. If this has prompted a question or you’d like to have a conversation, I’d love to have those questions in my DMs. So you can find me at ‘Accountant_She’, everywhere that you consume content.

So that is on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Instagram DMs are my happy place. So if you do have a question, I’d love to see you in my Instagram DMs.

Ciaran Brennan:

Excellent. Rachel, thanks very much for your time. Really appreciate you coming on.

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