Location: United Kingdom
Highlights: flexible working
Diane Pilling has come a long way since she left school at 15. After a career as a local government accountant and then as an accountancy lecturer, Diane now runs her own pioneering accountancy practice that promotes the concept of flexible working, which has been very popular with her all-woman team.
‘The idea came about by accident really,’ Diane says. ‘I have two children and I hated the fact that I had to miss things like sports day and the Christmas play. I started the business from home and as it developed I found that there were a lot of qualified accountants who felt the same way as I did.
So I introduced a style of working that fits around our particular needs.’ Modern technology has made flexible working easier than ever before. The team of six accountants working for Diane’s company, Affordable Accounts, are all provided with equipment to make it possible to work either from home or at the company’s base in Bolton, Lancashire.
‘My staff choose their own routine,’ Diane explains. ‘I decided I wouldn’t have a nine-to-five policy. Everyone can take time off to do what they needed to do, provided they get the work done and put the hours in.’
Affordable Accounts now has a virtually paperless office and this is a benefit to both staff and clients. ‘It used to be the case that I’d drive round to everyone’s house with big brown boxes of paperwork,’ she recalls. ‘Now we scan everything. All the information is available electronically which means you can use your computer wherever you want. It makes working much more flexible.’
Being techno-savvy means that Diane can also help her clients to use their own software more effectively. ‘Part of the service we now provide is training clients to develop their software skills. Some of them haven’t got over their technophobia yet, but we’re working on it,’ she adds.
Since the company was formed five years ago, Affordable Accounts has gone from strength to strength. There are now around 450 clients on the books and the company has attracted an armful of awards. Under the UK government’s Exemplar Employer Initiative, the firm was also recently invited to become one of 100 selected companies which help to promote flexible working and ways of helping women with children to get back to work.
Diane says her training as a CIMA-qualified management accountant has been invaluable in setting up the company and providing a more rounded service to its clients. ‘CIMA is crucial,’ she says. ‘The qualification is great for entrepreneurs because you study so many different aspects of business life and it gives you the tools to run a business effectively.’
The flexible studying options offered by CIMA is also an attractive proposition for anyone wanting to improve their career opportunities. ‘There are no minimum entry requirements with the CIMA qualification so provided that your maths and English are good, anyone can go for it,’ she explains.
‘CIMA’s flexibility is also useful for anyone considering a career change,’ Diane adds. One member of her current staff is a former electrician who is now studying for the CIMA qualification. ‘CIMA fits in perfectly with the way we work here,’ she says. ‘So there’s plenty of scope for the staff to develop their skills further.’ Even before qualifying, CIMA’s approach to learning helps to develop skills that are directly transferable to the workplace.
‘The structure of the syllabus and the way the examinations are designed gives you a very good philosophy of learning,’ Diane explains. ‘To pass CIMA exams, you have to evaluate information rather than just absorb it. In the exams themselves, you aren’t spoon-fed. You have to think on your feet. Those skills never leave you and make you a very valuable person to have around.’
Diane’s clients are also benefiting from her CIMA expertise. ‘CIMA gives you a different outlook on doing accounts,’ she explains. ‘CIMA people look forwards rather than backwards, so you can become more of a business advisor than someone who just does the self-assessment and accounts. You have the skills to add value to the client’s business.’
Diane is the first to admit that flexible working doesn’t suit everybody but it has certainly given a new lease of life to her team. ‘We’ve had some people who’ve tried it out and found that there were too many distractions at home,’ she says. ‘But generally speaking, the work gets done more quickly and everyone is far happier. Personally, my family is everything to me. So to be able to fit in work around them is the best thing possible.’