The interview

Charles Carter

Director Regions, ICAEW

Q. Who are you and what do you do?

A. I am Charles Carter, the Director Regions at ICAEW helping to support our members in business and practice.

Q. What is it about the Pitch that made you want to get involved with the event?

A. ICAEW Chartered Accountants are financial experts who are well positioned to give businesses guidance they can rely on to help them to make the best decisions and understand how the latest regulations affect them and their business. Our ICAEW Business Advice Service was launched to offer a helping hand to SMEs offering a free initial business advice session on how to overcome challenges facing start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses.

On a personal level I enjoy meeting all the businesses that enter The Pitch and hearing about their entrepreneurial skills.

Q. What expertise can you offer to entrants of The Pitch?

A. I have experience of running an SME as a general manager in the early 90s. I also believe that listening to and talking with companies on my daily visits to see ICAEW members gives me insight into how small businesses are coping in today’s challenging economic environment. Quite often the financial elements of a company are ignored in the enthusiasm to develop a product.  Our members in practice are asked to help; frequently late to help formulate plans, develop cash flows (the banks are normally the catalyst to the request to help) and to give cash flow advice to meet bills. Failing to pay HMRC is a cardinal sin and the death of any company!

Q. If you had to give three tips on making a successful pitch, what would you choose?

A. My three tips would be:

1) Know your objective

This needs to be thought through thoroughly and take into account your precise audience. If you’re not absolutely clear in your own mind what you’re aiming for, no one else is going to be.

2) Be clear and concise

Having established a clear objective, keep your presentation structure clear, simple and clean so that the audience clearly understands your business proposition, why your business is different and how it’s going to be successful.

3) Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Don’t even think about reading from a script. It’s fine to have a few notes, but only as prompts to keep you on track. Write your presentation using simple everyday words. Then, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Know it inside and out.

Q. How important is it for your company to engage with SMEs and new businesses?

A. Extremely important. SMEs and entrepreneurs drive economic recovery and growth, yet their size means they often lack the financial expertise needed to get off the ground, raise finance and grow. ICAEW Chartered Accountants are the biggest source of business advice, reaching over 1.5m businesses from more than 20,000 offices across the UK. The ICAEW Business Advice Service (BAS) is playing a vital role in the business support landscape, offering a free consultation to SMEs and start-ups in thousands of locations across the UK.

Q. It’s clear that Pitch attendees and those pitching themselves can learn a lot from the event, but what about larger companies like yours – what do you hope to gain from being part of The Pitch?

A. ICAEW Chartered Accountants offer business advice on how to overcome challenges facing SMEs, so being part of the Pitch we learn first-hand what support ICAEW Chartered Accountants can give to SMEs, either as an ICAEW staff member or as a business advisor from one of our member firms.

Q. What are the common accountancy mistakes you see in new businesses?

A. Not managing cash flow and failing to get advice early enough are some of the common mistakes. Good financial management is critical to the success of any business. Without it, a business can be set for failure from the start. Around 500,000 new businesses start up in the UK annually, but one third of start-ups cease trading within three years.

Q. Can you outline any of the work you’ve done in the small, new, or growing business space?

A. I ran a small business in the South Wales area. I managed to refinance it - they had not managed their cash flow.  Great ideas but no plans! The company specialised in using, what was then, emerging computer technology to provide graphic simulation for ships and cars. A small company in the South West, it lacked sound financial control and consequently was making errors in hiring staff, developing new ideas and taking the advantage of its unique place in the market.  It had borrowed too much money, including personal finance from the owner.  We went to the Welsh Development Agency and to the banks, approached venture capitalists and refinanced the whole operation. The owner slept through the night for the first time in many years! In each case the investor wanted to know who was going to manage the process.

Q. What’s the key piece of accounting advice you can give to a small business or an individual starting out?

A. Get advice from a professionally qualified accountant as early as possible. ICAEW Chartered Accountants see many start-up businesses and have experience in helping them start up and grow. Questions such as ‘have I got enough finance to start a business?’ and ‘what business format suits my circumstances?’ are often addressed by financial experts even before you commit to starting your business.

More advice from ICAEW, supporter of The Pitch

  • An entrepreneur’s guide to crowdfunding success
  • Choosing the right legal status for your business
  • Don’t let holidays give your business the blues