Writing his own rulebook – Nick Hunt


Research by Enterprise Nation last year suggested that a third of all the adults in the UK think about starting their own business. That’s a huge proportion of the population dreaming of ‘chucking in the day job’ and setting up on their own. Following a number of recent town business awards, editor Laura Hitchcock spoke to the overall Best Business winners from Sherborne, Shaftesbury, and Gillingham in the Local Business Awards to find out what drove the owners to make that leap and start their own business. What do they love (or loathe) about it… and what have they learned along the way? From an accountant with 30 years experience to a bridal dress shop which opened just last year, there are some unmissable similarities in their collective wisdom…

Nick Hunt

Nick Hunt is a quiet, warm man with a dry sense of humour, disarming kindness and a direct manner which small business owners can only find reassuring and easy to understand – both essential characteristics for any accountant. He started running his own business in Yeovil almost 30 years ago, moving to Sherborne as Hunts Accountants in 2003. ‘I went straight from GCSEs into an apprenticeship at 16. It’s a less common route now, most people do a degree or at least A Levels first and skip some of the apprenticeship levels, but I knew what I wanted. Starting at 16, it’s a seven year qualification – which meant I was a qualified accountant at the age of 23.
‘But then I hit a major issue – I knew I wanted to be my own boss, running my own business in the way I wanted to run it. But who on earth would hire a 23 year old accountant?
‘So I started out by selling SAGE – this was the early 90s, and at the time it was ground-breaking new accountancy software. It was incredibly intuitive to use to my young brain, but was much harder to the many people in finance departments and business owners still working with hand-written ledgers. Even spreadsheets were a new thing for them.
‘So I had some business cards created, and spent my Sundays walking round Yeovil’s trading estates, just dropping cards through doors. It was a slow start – I had to invest in my SAGE training, which also happened to be in Newcastle, so that was more cost. Plus I had to buy the dealership to be able to re-sell the software. I also rented a single room office in Yeovil, because back then you had to have premises, a door to have your name beside, even to be considered a professional. It was a full time day job, but I was working evenings and weekends in a pub just to pay the bills.
‘After 18 months doing what every new business owner does and working every hour I could, I had a steady list of clients. I would sign them up for SAGE training, and while there I’d offer accounts advice or suggestions. Inevitably they wondered how I knew so much, and I would point out I was a qualified accountant. Having earned their trust, they would often move their entire business accounts to me.

Common misunderstandings
‘My first member of staff was my cousin, who I employed part time once I simply couldn’t handle the workload alone. I currently have a team of 14.
‘As well as my own experience, I’ve obviously spent my entire adult life with other business owners. And the overriding factor of success, I would say, is that they must really really want it. Starting and running your own business is incredibly hard work. I was driven very much by my desire to do my own thing. But I had to want it enough to make sacrifices for it.
‘And it always takes more money and more time than anyone expects. The time factor is huge – in my experience, most small businesses fail not because they’re a bad idea, but because they simply run out of time.
‘Also, the business doesn’t owe you anything but what you’ve earned. Clients will come and see me and say ‘the business owes me £2k a month’ – well, no, it doesn’t. There’s no value on time and effort and input, and you get out what you create. If it’s not enough, then work out how to make it better.
It’s a bit brutal, but it’s true. You want to be a business owner?
Take ownership.
‘Resilience is probably the biggest skill any business owner can have. You must accept whatever comes up – because it’s on YOU to solve it. This is as true today as it was when I learnt it 28 years ago.

Nick Hunt, second left, with some of his team

Love it or loathe it?
‘I do love running my own business – and it’s not about the money (which, I know, sounds like nonsense, especially from an accountant). I love the freedom that it gives. If you don’t like your working week, YOU can change it. Businesses are like boats – the smaller they are, the more nimble they are, and that exciting flexibility can be their biggest asset.
‘If things aren’t going well – well, that’s your fault, and you can find the solution.
And if it’s good? Well, hey! YOU did that!
‘And it’s about your whole life, not the numbers in the business account. I’ve managed to also be the husband and the father that I want to be. I haven’t been in the office on the weekend since my oldest child was born 18 years ago.
‘But at the same time the business is fundamentally mine, and whatever it takes to achieve my version of success, I do it. You don’t even question that when it’s yours. If there’s a challenge, it’s on you to solve it. I like that.
‘It scares the hell out of a lot of people. But a certain type of person will just back themselves, and take the risk.
‘The down side is that exact same responsibility; it has a flip side, and the neverending turning of it can become a grind. It’s great on a good month, but some months it can feel like a noose.
‘My ultimate aim is to retire and become an absolute irresponsible flake. I love the idea of that. Finally being able to enjoy my turn at being an unreliable idiot.’


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