Inside Track Q&A: Larissa Feeney, founder of Accountantonline.ie
Online accountancy and book-keeping service delivers cost-effective solutions to clients
Accountantonline.ie founder Larissa Feeney: “The business has grown 20 per cent since we started and we are aiming for growth of 30 per cent in 2016. Also, we have a 99 per cent client retention rate.”
Letterkenny-based online accountancy and book-keeping service, Accountantonline.ie, is using technology to service clients all over the world.
What is special about your business?
We’re an online accountancy and book-keeping service using the latest technology to deliver simpler and more cost-effective accounting solutions to clients. We’re based in Letterkenny and are surrounded by entrepreneurs and start-ups so we know what they need from an accounting and book-keeping service.
What sets your business apart in your sector?
Traditionally, accountants have been restricted by their location. This is not the case for us. We have clients all over the world who have an Irish or UK compliance requirement. Skype, VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) and online communication have changed the interaction with clients making face-to-face meetings no longer necessary. This helps us provide a more-cost effective service.
What has been your biggest challenge?
We established the business in 2010 so effectively we were a recession start-up, which wasn’t easy. However, we’ve changed with the changing circumstances and now employ seven people. Having a well-designed website and a pool of in-house expertise were also instrumental in overcoming the challenge of setting up in a downturn.
Did you plan on being an online business from the outset?
No. Initially I set up two websites one for a traditional accountancy practice and one for an online service. Within a few days, we got our first web enquiry and things took off from there.
Rural businesses can struggle to find staff. Did you have this problem?
No. We were able to attract experienced professional staff who wanted the quality of life that living in the northwest can offer. There was also the attraction of working with a broad base of clients in Ireland and abroad.
Was broadband an issue when setting up your business?
Yes, it was a nightmare and we had to move because of it. We were in a very rural area initially with no access to land broadband. This meant we had to use a satellite service and it was very unreliable. On the days when we had no service, I had an office full of people unable to work. We were fortunate because we were able to move and no longer have issues with broadband. But many other businesses in Donegal with the same problem are not in that fortunate position.
What has been your biggest success?
The business has grown 20 per cent since we started and we are aiming for growth of 30 per cent in 2016. Also, we have a 99 per cent client retention rate.
What advice would you give someone starting a business?
Listen to others who have been there. Ask for advice. Seek out the support that is available. Do not sell yourself short.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
Margot Slattery, country president of Sodexo Ireland. I met Margot while on Continuing the Momentum, a follow-on from the Going for Growth programme for women entrepreneurs. Margot works in a very busy, high-pressured role but she was always 100 per cent engaged during our group meetings and very calm and supportive.
Do you think programmes for female entrepreneurs are worth doing?
Definitely. The support I received helped me make some fundamental changes to my business for the better. Getting objective feedback can be very difficult when you’re starting out, but these women had no vested interest so they were very candid. I ended up ditching one half of my original idea (for a traditional practice) as a result and it was a very good decision.
What could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?
Without a doubt, broadband has to be improved, especially in areas outside Dublin. There should be a special tax rate for start-ups with no employees – at least for the first couple of years until they begin to get established and take on staff. Thirdly, a levelling of the playing field between the employed and the self-employed in terms of taxes and social welfare entitlements is desirable.
In your experience, are banks lending to SMEs?
Up until very recently I would have said no, but that is changing quickly.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I should have sought help and advice earlier. I had always referred clients to the local enterprise office but never thought about using it for my own business until about two years ago. When I did, we were able to avail of mentoring and also received funding for employment and marketing.
What is the most frustrating part of running an SME?
The cost of doing business. Employment costs, VAT rates and rent are all very high in this country and need to be addressed.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
Our turnover is now approximately €300,000 and I have no plans to sell it.