Becky Lodge Founder of Little Kanga Ltd and StartUp Disruptors (a business club and community for start-ups and small business owners) interviews Rachel Okiy, start-up business owner of Bright Bookkeeping Services in Portsmouth. This is the second article in a new series exploring the impact of Covid-19 on local businesses and start-ups in Portsmouth.
Rachel is a degree qualified business and finance professional. She runs her own business from Copnor currently alongside her part-time ‘day job’ to enable the business to grow steadily and sustainably. Her husband is originally from Nigeria. Owning a computer repair shop and bookkeeping business makes for a busy household with multiple challenges for the family. However, Rachel is a positive force in the local business community and is seeking to challenge the perceptions of the finance sector by providing a service tailored to helping local businesses to thrive through better understanding their finances.
Becky Lodge: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
Rachel Okiy: I am 30 years old, married with two children (aged ten and four years) and I live in Copnor, Portsmouth. I have a Business Management degree and I have been in bookkeeping and finance for a long time, but I decided to make an ‘actual business’ from it last year and started it from the living room at home. I had previously worked within the finance sector for some time and my first business idea that I tried was graphic design, but I soon found out when I worked with numbers that time flew and graphic design just wasn’t for me, so I changed the business model to help people with bookkeeping and finance, firstly starting to help friends and family and it grew from there.
I think it makes a world of difference to do something that you love and enjoy and to have conversations with people that need your service is just great.
What have been the challenges for you as a mother and as a female business owner?
I wanted to have something that fitted around the family, as I had a part-time job already and then I can be there for assemblies and school ‘stuff’. I work mostly with other women in business, I haven’t found that I have faced any negativity as yet [with regard to being a woman in finance] and most of the networks that I am in are very positive, inclusive and female-orientated, so that may be why.
I think that the networks that I have chosen have been amazingly supportive and they are all online. A lot of these networks are on Facebook and I have never been to a physical ‘face to face’ networking event but I’d love to go to one in the future. It’s a question of time and priorities and I find that online networking and Facebook groups are a great place to gain the knowledge and support that you need both locally and nationally.
How did you feel about the COVID 19 pandemic?
My part-time employer was ahead of the game and it was all a little bit crazy. I was able to sort out working from home and also carried on with building the business from my dinner table in the living room as well as looking after the children.
When the schools closed because of COVID, my eldest child had so much work to do that it was really overwhelming. I have discovered that I ‘cannot do it all at once’. I was always trying to concentrate on their well being during the lockdown, run the home, home-school my children, cook and so much more. People then started coming to me for business help and support with their ‘books’ and I was doing everything I could to hold down my part-time job, look after the family and keep my current customer base happy.
The first few weeks I was terrified about the impact of COVID, as everyone was talking about the death rates and I stopped paying attention to the news and the media. At that time, we were all at home and limited what we did outside of the home and inside the home. I was conscious of letting the children hear things on TV as they were out of routine and I needed to support them. It was a challenging time for everyone and we wanted to make sure that we had some balance so that our mental health wasn’t affected.
What helped you as a small business during COVID lockdown?
Knowing that I wasn’t alone was key via the support of my online business communities and my customers were having conversations with me, so I knew there was support out there. I think it was very stressful having to try and balance so many conflicting priorities. It will be great to return back to some level of normality in September and I am working towards getting the normal routines back in place in the household.
Having online support was key. My living room was taken over by the business during lockdown and the room is completely cramped with furniture and having some separation [was hard]. The lack of routine had an impact on the business as it was all so reactive in terms of looking after the children; having to speak to customers at the same time can be tricky and you have to be careful as it can affect your mental health. There was help available in the form of government grants and these were helpful during this time and helped us to feel more secure that this was a short term thing.
What do you think will happen in the next 6 months with your business?
I am hoping to grow the business in the next 6 months. April is a very busy time for me and I will be stacked out with work and tax returns. I am seeking to take on more customers and have put my prices up having on-boarded four customers in the past 2 weeks, and the monthly ‘pay as you go’ bookkeeping service that I offer has been extremely popular.
Once I reach full capacity with my own time, I would like to take on a business apprentice. In this case, I may need to take up an office or premises to employ someone and this is my next goal. To help put the apprentice through the AAT would be brilliant and to start to build a team of people.
Some customers come to me right at the beginning and ask for advice and then we can make sure that they are set up correctly. Customers may just want advice on the tax side of things, so it is a mix of people and situations and for £49 a month, it’s a cost-effective way of dealing with your finances.
I’ve met countless people that have set up limited companies and they don’t necessarily need them. I don’t charge a fee for basic information that people could access on the internet, that’s not something I am going to charge people for. It’s important to speak to someone that knows what they are doing from day one and I am looking forward to the coming year, knowing that it will be a positive time for business growth for the company as people seek local people to help them with their finances.
What’s the next move then both for you and the business?
In terms of the business, I am looking at expansion and at the moment, I am thinking about the autumn. COVID has allowed us to become closer as a family, but I am looking forward to the children going back to school. I would also like to buy a house which would be our first ‘home’ together, we have been married for a decade and this is something that we are working towards. My husband is also self-employed and owns a computer shop in Portsmouth, so we are well aware of the world of self-employment and we have been well supported by the government support and grants during this time.
I am looking forward to having some separation again for sure at home, as the living room had so many functions during lockdown: as a school for the children as well as being a place to run two businesses from, busy was an understatement!
How have you found starting up a business in Portsmouth?
Because of the nature of the work that I do, it’s all remote, so location isn’t a barrier.
My business is all online and not ‘in person’, so the business can be built and have scope outside just the immediate local area. Portsmouth is a lovely city and there is a lot of opportunity out there for people that want to take it up in business.
One thing that could have helped more would have been the COVID-19 discretionary government grant should have been available locally for people sooner. National small business policy needs looking at and there should be more allowances for parental benefits, especially around maternity allowances for people, this affects whole families. Business rates make it almost impossible for start-ups to get premises early enough and this is impacting on the bottom line of small business owners that have to generate so much income to cover expenses, before perhaps even paying themselves.
I would hope national and local government would do more to encourage small and independent business owners onto the high street by helping with incentives to ensure start-up and small business survival.
Were there any periods in the last few years that were challenging for the business?
Starting up last year was a huge challenge.
There’s a great deal of ‘imposter syndrome’ when you start a business and a great deal of self-doubt. You will always be your biggest critic and it’s important to be connected to people and this is where groups and online communities like ‘StartUp Disruptors’ are really important to helping support people when they start out.
Nowadays, you really can do anything with technology and the resources that we have for start-up online are phenomenal, meaning that the barriers to market entry are lower, but competition will increase because of this. I create business connections online across the whole of the UK and the internet has created a level playing field for business owners. There is a lot of opportunity around Facebook via businesses taking payments and being able to provide a one stop shop for small business owners that simply didn’t exist in the past. Those people that understand how to use this technology will have an advantage in the future for sure.
You can find out more about StartUp Disruptors and how to join them, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and you can follow Becky Lodge over at LinkedIn. You can also telephone: 0333 444 0364 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.