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Derbyshire Booth: Family-run with a Lancashire focus

In 2003, Greg Heath and his wife Susan made the decision to set up their own financial advisory firm, Derbyshire Booth Financial Management, based in Leyland, Lancashire. Fiona Bond spoke to managing director Greg about the challenges of setting up a family-run business and where and how the firm sources new business

Adviser Business Review: What challenges did you face in starting your own business?

GH: While we had experience, we didn’t have the financial backing so initially we worked from home. Susan remained in her old job, doing admin for me on a part-time basis. It was a nail-biting time because I had the pressure of having to secure my own income and pay bills without the security of a steady salary. That said, other pressures such as office bureaucracy were removed and it was nice being my own boss.

Someone told me that if you survive the first two to three years you should be able to make it long-term, but you need to be very, very cautious in those first years. The best bit of advice I received was to build in a recurring income stream in everything I do. We started off at a time when it was commission-based and it would have been very easy to charge X for this and Y for that, but actually being sensible and having a steady trickle of regular income was much more effective and provided a safety net for us. We started off with 40 clients and within six months new clients had come on. Today we have just shy of 500, with around 200 core clients.

ABR: What was the appeal of creating a family-run business?

GH: My wife Susan and I had previously worked together and colleagues had remarked that they hadn’t even known we were married as we acted so professionally. Most people ask how we cope with working and living together but for us it really was a natural evolution. We were out for dinner one evening discussing our jobs and my wife said: “We should set up our own business.” For me it was a light bulb moment – why wouldn’t we do that? I had a whole list of clients, we both had experience, all that was missing was the financial backing.

A lot of people think family businesses can’t work, because one member might be tempted to take liberties, or indeed go the other way and feel that they have to prove themselves over and above everyone else, but this has never been the case with our set up. We have separate roles in the company; I am the adviser and Susan takes care of paraplanning and research. We also have a lady called Julia who does our administration and we are looking to bring on another administrator.

ABR: Is it difficult to separate work and family life?

GH: You need to have a certain level of honesty with each other and be careful that you don’t let the line between the two become blurred. It can be difficult if you’ve had a disagreement at home, not to let that affect you both at work but we have always been very careful not to let one encroach on the other and we have many years experience of working together. We have a rule in place that we never talk shop in the evenings or the weekend. The only time we make an allowance is on the anniversary of the company, when we usually go out for dinner to celebrate, and use that time to discuss our hopes and wants for the business and any ideas we might have.

ABR: How do you overcome business disagreements?

GH: Luckily we’re both on the same page most of the time. We have a shared outlook for the business and know what we want to achieve. That said, my wife and I are very different personalities. I’m certainly more of a dreamer, always thinking what we can do next, whereas Susan is the realist. She’s incredibly practical, sometimes a little too practical, but that helps temper me. I’ve always been someone who looks at strengths and pluses, while Susan looks at it from the angle of weaknesses and threats. Some ideas we will drop altogether, some I will manage to push through, but mostly we compromise.

ABR: How do you market your business?

GH: I spoke to a lot of people within marketing and business networks and knew the key to growth was to market ourselves properly. I found the easiest and most effective method for us was to market to our existing clients, so 12 months after we started the business we offered a referral incentive – vouchers for those who referred family members or friends to us. Every six months we send out a mailshot and it still remains the biggest source of new business for us.

We have also worked hard to position ourselves as a local expert, serving Leyland, Preston, Blackpool, Southport and the wider Lancashire region. I write for a local paper which has become our second biggest source of new clients and I also write a blog which I publish on social media. For me, social media is all about passing on information and coming across as a voice of authority.

ABR: Will you pass on Derbyshire Booth to family in the future?

GH: No. Setting up a business with my wife was never about passing it on to our children. I encourage our children to pursue their own career and paths in life and working for your parents is not always the best way to start as it wouldn’t be the same structure you would get from working elsewhere.

When we started, we did not set out to be a big business. Our clients deal with us precisely because we are small. Financial planning is a people game and we want to be able to personally focus on all our clients and provide them with the best possible service. I think eventually we will get to a stage where we will want to sell the business and take a different path in life.

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