On the eve of 360’s thirteenth birthday on 1st February we asked our Chair Andy Steele what the low-points and highlights of the journey so far have been.
Q1 What do you remember about your first day as a business owner?
Leaving an established, well known, mid-tier firm of Chartered Accountants to start up on my own was pretty scary. Our serviced offices (which were 10.0 miles away from my previous partnership!) were very different to the large, plush (if a little stuffy) building I’d spent the previous 20 years and we were relying on what was at the time a fairly experimental and ground breaking cloud based IT system. I had a few clients who said they’d follow me to my new practice but until they sign on the dotted line you’re never really sure that they will.
By the end of day one we’d signed a couple of clients up and managed to get the printer working so pretty successful in my eyes.
Q2 What has been the hardest thing about building 360 into what it is today?
It’s difficult to point to just one thing really. We operate in a highly regulated environment so we have loads of red tape to comply with. Our unqualified competitors (many people don’t realise absolutely anyone can call themselves an accountant as the description isn’t protected like it is in the medical and legal sectors) can cut corners which gives them a price advantage so demonstrating how our service is superior to theirs (and therefore more costly) can be a challenge.
Building a value aligned team has also been difficult and we’ve had to give the tree a good shake on a few occasions over the course of the last 10 years or so. Also, as a result of Hull’s geographical location, we’ve had to ‘make our own’ accountants and develop an industry leading apprentice programme which on the whole has been very successful.
Like many expanding businesses our systems have creaked on a few occasions and needed updating / improving and this can be a painful process to go through. What we can do though on the back of this is help our clients that are going through similar growing pains.
Q3 What was the low-point of your journey so far?
That’s easy, 16th March 2020 when Boris Johnson announced we were going into lockdown thanks to Covid 19. I think everyone in the UK found that speech pretty scary but for business owners in particular that was a spanner in the works nobody could have predicted. How long would it last? Would our IT cope? Would we be able to go from 90% to 100% paperless overnight? Would any of our staff fall ill? Will our clients survive? Will our cash flow dry up?
Thankfully Armageddon didn’t happen and we were actually able to take a few positives from lockdown one. We went entirely paperless overnight, started using video conferencing much more effectively, reduced motor and travelling costs (probably forever) and won lots of new business on the back of the fact none of the team were furloughed during our clients’ hours of need and the Covid support we introduced for businesses all over the UK (not just our clients). All of the team mucked in whether it be helping our payroll bureau with furlough claims for clients, answering Live Chat and Whats App queries until the small hours or watching the daily briefings and producing daily updates for the blog. As is usually the case at 360 we managed to turn a real negative into a positive.
Q4 What are you most proud of?
This is another difficult question as there are so many. In chronological order, the main ones are:
a) Buying our first offices on Albion Street in Hull City Centre which was a real labour of love as it is grade 2 listed and needed a hell of a lot of work doing to it before we could move in. The launch party on a balmy June evening back in 2015 was attended by over 100 guests and the celebrations continued long into the night. We bought the building next door a few years later as the team grew. It was great to have the security of our own building and somewhere we could put our own stamp on.
b) Opening the office in York in January 2022 was a proud moment as it’s something we’ve wanted to do for some time thanks to our large client base there but never had the time or resources to do so. We’ve opened a further office in Wakefield recently and have plans for one further geographical expansion in 2024. More news on that later in the year!
c) The appointment of our very first apprentice Sophie Holmes as Client Services director in February 2022 which was a real testament to both Sophie’s hard work and commitment but also the 360 Apprenticeship Programme which encourages our young talent to step outside their comfort zone from a very early stage of their career.
d) The creation of the 360 Grassroots Sport Foundation towards the end of 2022. The aim of our registered charity is to raise funds to help financially disadvantaged young people residing in HU1 to HU9 that are at risk of dropping out of (or unable to access) grassroots sport. I love helping clients achieve their business goals and objectives but getting a boy or girl back out onto the football or rugby pitch tops even that.
Q5 So what’s next?
2023 will be a year of consolidation as we bed in the new members of the team and help our clients navigate the choppy waters that will inevitably lie ahead for some of them. We are also beginning tentative steps to find our ‘forever home’ which will ideally be near our Albion Square roots but all options are open presently. We love our current HQ but it is over 230 years old and difficult to maintain and develop thanks to its listed status. We need an open plan, modern, eco-friendly facility to collaborate with each other and our clients. We also have exciting plans for the foundation which will need space and facilities our current home simply does not have.
The next 13 years are likely to be as exciting as the first!