It’s a busy time at H.M. Williams – Ashley has gone from employee, to business partner, to owner of the accountancy firm since he joined in 2007. He’s been making a few changes while gaining and maintaining the respect of his loyal team, and the future looks good.
Ashley started out working in a petrol station after he completed his A Levels, and found an advert for a trainee accountant in his local paper where he lived in Cornwall. Having helped his self-employed dad with his books growing up, he was already good at maths and thought, “Why not?”
“So I found myself just before the really busy tax return season – I joined at the end of November – going to this little village practice. The boss was already playing catch-up during a really busy time due to one of his employees being off work, and there were only two people at the practice.”
“I rolled up and he sat me down and explained how it all worked. The role encompassed reception as well as taking bookings for the upstairs practice which was a natural health clinic, which is a little bit different. It was quite useful to head up there the day after the Christmas party!”
Although Ashley had done bookkeeping before, he learnt a lot on the job. His first learning curve was to understand the handwriting of an accountant, which is typically a bumpy scrawl across the page.
“It was like learning another language, but after six years there I could read it perfectly.”
Being based in Cornwall, the location occasionally proved difficult. “We were at a particular location in Cornwall on a hill, where if there was heavy rain the leaves would clog up the drains in the car park. The neighbours would help to try and unblock the drains whilst I was in the office trying to block the water from coming in!”
Over time, Ashley worked on more accounts with more responsibility, and found himself looking elsewhere for a new challenge.
“I walked into the office to the same faces and realised that I wanted something more interesting, which is what led me to a bigger firm in Truro. I was there for three years and I dealt with bigger clients and started going out to their premises.”
By this point, Ashley had decided that he’d like to run his own firm one day and, not ready to get comfortable, he checked out the commute from his Cornwall home into Plymouth – it would take the same amount of time as his commute to Truro. He started looking into accountancy firms in the city and landed himself a new role in 2007.
“I got a job here at H.M. Williams. Hugh [business partner] was in his early sixties and Tim, the other 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.”
Ashley commuted across the Tamar Bridge for a few months, but anyone who regularly makes that journey will know how tiring and mundane it can become. His wife found herself a job in Plymouth and they commuted together for a while before deciding to move into the city.
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.
Hugh started the firm after buying a farm near Tavistock. He started to help a woman there with her taxes, as well as assisting his family members, and over time learnt enough to enable him to open H.M. Williams in 1973.
Much later, his business partner, Tim, retired in 2013 and Ashley took his place as partner with Hugh. Hugh then went on to retirement and Ashley bought the business to take on as his own. He’s proud of the ethos behind the company and plans to continue its growth.
“The practice has always been a case of trying to look after the clients – we’ve got a couple of consultants which enable us to deal with cases much bigger than you would find in a normal practice of our size – but it’s trying to be a friendly and approachable bunch of people that build up a relationship with clients.”
“Our philosophy has always been to let our clients know what the fees are going to be.”
Ashley is keen to network in Plymouth to secure new business. “It’s quite nice that clients have come through referrals and have stayed with us and don’t change accountants. Now it’s a case of getting out and about.”
A few things have changed since Ashley took the reins. Hugh didn’t work on a Friday, but Ashley ensures that even if he isn’t in while the office is open he can be contacted via his mobile or email, and there were no timesheets to keep track of the work load. He’s recently introduced these after spotting the need for it while he was an employee, but his main concern was getting on well with the team.
“After being an employee and working my way up there is the 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’s been easier than expected because everyone’s like a family here.”
Ashley also cares a lot about supporting local charities. Their nominated charity of the year is Jeremiah’s Journey, so they do what they can to raise funds and awareness for them, and he also works with Twelves Company in Plymouth. Ashley is also a trustee of the Plymouth Round Table charity, which has helped a number of local people – for example, a child who had cancer was being looked after at hospital in Bristol, so they offered money to the parents to help them cover their travel from Plymouth. They were incredibly thankful.
Ashley also joined the Plymouth Round Table, of which he is the current chairman, after meeting someone involved with it whilst playing golf. The organisation raises money for local charities and gets members involved with a lot of social events, including two 10K races a year in Plympton and travelling around on the Santa Sleigh at Christmas to collect donations, plus he has also managed to squeeze in a few trips abroad with them, one being the Venice carnival in 2015.
For now, Ashley is looking to progress the business further and push the H.M. Williams name. This seems to be going well for him so far, after being listed on this year’s The Times Top 200 Accountants in the UK. This is down to great reviews left by his clients on the website VouchedFor.co.uk.
“You build strong relationships and it pays off!”
“I think it’s all about raising a profile, although we’re a small firm we do things properly,” Ashley explains.
We hope that things continue to move forward for him, in the same way that his career has progressed over the years. He plans to network as much as he can to meet other business owners and potential clients, because, after all, “Plymouth does business with Plymouth.”
Call Ashley and the team at H.M. Williams on: 01752 334950
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Visit: www.hmwilliams.co.uk
They’re based at: Valley House, 53 Valley Road, Plymouth, Devon, PL7 1RF