Ashley Smith, owner of H M Williams, became an employee at the firm in 2007 after leaving his previous position in Cornwall. “I got a job here at H.M Williams. Hugh, (Ashley’s predecessor) was in his early sixties and Tim, his partner was only a year younger than Hugh. I took the job with the view that if I was good enough I would step up and go from there”.
“Because Hugh went to Eton, H.M Williams isn’t your normal ‘run of the mill’ small firm. As well as dealing with small businesses I have dealt with former cabinet ministers, large landed estates and Lloyds underwriters”.
Ashley bought the business from Hugh in January 2015, meaning that he had full control, and could get it on the track he wanted it to go down. “The biggest challenge since taking over has been making tweaks to the way is it run” Ashley tells us. For example, timesheets weren’t introduced until Ashley came on board- meaning that Ashley can analyse the performance of his staff members; and also review how long people are taking when preparing accounts.
“This enables us to have a discussion with either the staff member, if they need to use another approach, or the client if they need to tweak how they are processing their records”. This is especially important seeing as H.M Williams offer a fixed fee service.
In regards to our fees, when we give a quote; we sit down with the client and discuss how everything is put together, discuss their systems and how they use them- so our quote is tailored to their specific needs. Our philosophy has always been to let clients know what their fees are going to be before the work is started
Ashley tells us that when he first started, he would always say that it was the fixed fees that set them apart from competitors, but in recent years; this has become quite common practice. “I would love to think that we are a friendly, approachable group. If everyone gets on well together, it’s a friendly atmosphere and that gets relayed across to the clients”.
Ashley stresses the importance of being there to serve their clients; “If you’ve got a question, no matter how small you can pick up the phone and know that someone will be there to help you”.
“After being an employee and working my way up, there is a line you’re crossing and you sit there and think “I don’t want to fall out with anyone”- I needed to gain some respect. But it was easier than I expected because everyone’s like family here”.
“It’s important to have a good relationship with people. We’ve got clients here who came through with Iain- our Tax Manager, When Iain got married one of the clients got an invite as their relationship was so good!”
Of course, the main change since our last visit in 2016 is a complete relocation to their new premises in Ashleigh Way, Langage Business Park.
The first and main reason for the move is that it is the final step out of my predecessor’s shadow. That goes hand in hand with a new image for the firm and somewhere a little more professional
Ashley tells us that the firms previous premises on Valley Road, where H M Williams had been since 1999; also prompted the move. “It wasn’t an easy location to get to”.
Having moved into a new build, Ashley had a complete blank canvas to create their new office space. Local Office designers, Karris- met with Ashley and the team and came up with a complete scheme for the new location. “This office has exactly the same floor space as Valley Road- but you would never think it. Valley Road was full of corridors and small rooms; whereas this new building is completely open plan”. Ashley tells us that the firm could potentially double in size in the new premises, without having to do a great deal of moving around!
Ashley explains that they were lucky enough that the move coincided with the end of the major roadworks at Chaddlewood, so it worked out perfectly. “This office is easier to get too for our clients that come and visit; of course we also offer home visits for people that need that particular service”.
In regards to staff changes, there have been two replacements of former members in September last year. “We are currently looking for an assistant accountant to come in and manage a small portfolio of our clients. Trying to find the right person for the job can be hard because if they have good skills they get snapped up!”
“We look to train people up. We are potentially looking next month to take on another trainee to start on the AAT”. The AAT; or the Association of Accounting Technicians is a UK qualification and professional body for vocational accountants. “We’ve got the location now; we’ve got the client base; so if we can start building on staff then we will be set”.
During our visit last year, Ashley told us that the firm nominates a charity of choice, and in 2016 this was Jeremiah’s Journey.
This year, H M Williams are supporting St Luke’s, and Ashley tells us that four of the staff members; including himself are taking part in the Plymouth 10K
Ashley also stresses the importance of networking for the business, and tells us that he started out originally because it was something the firm never did.
“I got invited by Nash and Co Solicitors to attend Plymouth Albion one Christmas. I was sitting at the table, and bearing in mind that the practice had been going for 35 years; someone came up to me and said ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of H.M Williams, are you a new firm?”
That got the ball rolling for Ashley to become a member of numerous local networking events such as Plympton Chamber, BoB and Plymouth Business Network. “I find that Plymouth generally does business with Plymouth; so if you’re not on the radar then that isn’t going to be helpful. If I can pull myself out of bed in the mornings- obviously with kids that definitely doesn’t get easier! Then I really enjoy it, I like having a good business relationship with others”.
Looking to the future, we ask Ashley where he would like to see H.M Williams in the next few years. “I would like to get to the point where I consider bringing in a business partner. At the moment it’s quite good that whatever decision I make is the decision that happens; but there are points where I do get snowed under. If someone else was to come in, that enables workload to be spread and ultimately the practice gains more knowledge!”
“At the moment there’s myself at the top, then my two managers; Iain who deals with all the tax, and Sharon who deals with the accounts. We have great staff, we have a brand new location; now it’s just a case of finding someone that fits in and ultimately, is an asset to the team!”