From high-stress, fast-paced corporate life in a world financial capital, to working in jeans with her cat on her lap, meet Ann-Marie Kellaway, GCMA, and owner of AK Consulting. We're eager to learn how Ann-Marie ended a high-profile investment banking career to start a family, a business, and a new life in Canada.
K - In our initial conversation you mentioned your previous life abroad. Let's start there. Can you tell us about your life before AK Consulting?
AK - Life before AK Consulting was also life before Canada. I was in the investment banking world, working in London for six years with Merrill Lynch. Then I was in Edinburgh for a year, working for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The corporate environment—whether it's finance or otherwise—carries a certain amount of stress, and secondly, the companies that I was working for hired you because they believed that you are the best at what you do. So you had to work there firmly believing that you were the best.
There was a huge amount of pressure to prove that you are exceptional at what you do. You have to be committed, you have to work long hours, you have to constantly strive to prove and outperform others around you. It was a pretty high-stress environment.
I was managing a team of 20 people, big open office, presentations to executives in the boardroom—very different from now as I’m sitting in my home office wearing jeans with my cat on my lap!
It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. In that industry if you don't perform, well, you don't last long. On the positive side, because they only hire the best of the best, you end up working with some incredibly talented people. If they believe that you have potential, they will invest a lot of time and money into you. I was very lucky too, and was able to go into some amazing leadership training courses. You got trained on the systems, you got trained in emotional intelligence. They invest money into you because they want you to be the best.
I don't regret having worked in that industry for 10 years. I gained many skills and a lot of experience from some great people, and from working with different companies that were top notch. Nothing was ever done half-heartedly.
That was my corporate life; long hours, hard work, being in London and the culture there—it was a great time in my life. But I can't imagine living that lifestyle with a family. It just wouldn't work.
K - Building on that, what was the catalyst for you to first of all, get out of that environment, and secondly, to venture out on your own?
AK - The reason I left was really because my husband got a great job opportunity in in South Africa. My long term thinking was to have kids one day, and in doing all that, I gave up my career for the moment. I knew I didn't want to be in an environment where family was secondary. I wanted to be able to go to my kid's Halloween parade, or be home when my kids came in from school. At the same, I still wanted to be challenged, to use my brain, to make a contribution to society, to have a purpose other than packing lunches and doing laundry (which obviously is very important but also not very stimulating).
I knew that starting my own business would give me the best of both worlds. I can't control when my kids are sick, or their "party" days, holidays, and all those things, so it's nice to have the freedom to work when I want and play when I want. But it can also be difficult. If I want to go skiing, I go skiing, but then I know I have to make those hours up. Whereas if I had a job, I would have to be there at 8 or 9am, and leave at 5pm, and you can't really do anything in between. You lose a lot of your freedom.
K - It sounds like the positives are outweighing the negatives, though! So, what drives you to keep working, to keep going? What is your passion that drives you at this point?
AK - I get very excited about knowledge and information (provided it's something I'm interested in). And at the moment I am still learning and I can see a vision for my business. I can see that it can grow and I can take it far beyond where it is right now. Currently, I'm limited largely by time because I've got young children. But as they grow older I believe that I can really grow my business, massively. So that is a motivating factor for me—that I am not stagnant. That I can make it change. What I'm doing now is just a small step towards achieving a bigger goal.
In terms of who I am as a person, I like "newness." I like discovery. I like exploration—whether it's visiting somewhere I've never been or having a new experience. And every client I meet is a new experience. Capturing data is not particularly inspiring—the actual bookkeeping side of my business is, quite frankly, insanely dull. But you meet people and they might be running a business that you suddenly learn about, or just meeting the person themselves, presents its own challenges and is also something new, something different, something to learn from. That gives me motivation to keep going.
K - When you look at risks, you must also see obstacles. What would you say is the biggest thing you've had to overcome, or the biggest challenge that you've faced since starting your business?
AK - I would say that fear is really the biggest obstacle. Fear of not quite knowing enough. Fear of not having all the answers. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of having little or no support. If I worked for a company and my computer breaks I'd call the IT department and someone would come and fix it. Now, if my computer breaks, I have to fix it myself.
Even not having the answer is a challenge. I didn't grow up in Canada, so I have to learn all about the tax system. I don't have a manager or a boss where I can say; "I don't know how to do this, can you help me?" I have to find my own ways of answering those questions. But challenges lead to self-discovery. I've discovered that I am extremely resourceful.
There are always methods to finding answers, whether it's a phone call to CRA or an accountant. But what happens is that you start to build a relationship with an accountant, or one of your clients' accountants, and by building relationships and referring clients to them, they're happier and more likely to give you advice, creating a reciprocal effort.
I've also connected and shared answers with other bookkeepers, other financial people. Or online you can access FREE webinars, Kashoo being a perfect example. You know, you can train yourself without it costing much money, just by being proactive and by being prepared to put in the time and the effort, because obviously that is what it boils down to. You do have to put in the time. And because of that, a lot of the fear has subsided. While on a call I'll now say; "Of course I can do that, no problem." And I hang up the phone thinking, "Well, I don't know how to do that, but I will find a way. I WILL FIGURE IT OUT!"
K - Figuring it out, that's a great lead-in to my next question, but also staying in line with challenges. We know some people struggle with figuring out a work-life balance, be it with their own business or a corporate job. You now have a family life, you have a home life, you have a business life. How do you balance those three lives? What is it you do to ensure one doesn't overtake the other?
AK - That's probably ony of my biggest challenges now. Fear is an obstacle I have overcome, but probably the biggest challenge I think for anyone working from home is being able to keep that work-life balance. And it's difficult to create the boundaries when you work from home, because it's easy to end up working every spare second you have because your work is always right there.
That could mean I'm preparing dinner and put something on the stove and then think, "While it's cooking I'll just go and quickly run a few reports." The important thing for me is to stay mindful of how my working habits affect my family and other areas in my life.
If I find myself saying "no" more often to questions like; "Mum, will you come read me a book?" or "do you want to go skiing?", if those "no" answers start spiralling out of control, then I try and regain perspective and go back to the basics of why I started my own business. As much as I want to provide an amazing service, well— I'm only human—so I might not be able to provide that amazing service within the given time that I've set for myself. And I have great clients whom I know will understand if I take a couple of days longer. You need to take time for yourself; watch TV, read a book, or just stare at the walls, just do nothing. You don't have to be doing something all the time.
K - That's a great way of looking at it Ann-Marie. Okay, switching gears for our final question; What does 2017 hold for AK Consulting?
AK - At the moment I have actually found someone to start helping me with the data-capturing, which is obviously wonderful. I just handed her the "box of receipts." So that will free up time to allow me to focus on getting more clients, because that is ultimately what you have to do if you want to grow your business.
I'm also planning to concentrate on the financial management side more, like budgets, forecasts, and the actual analysis of financial statements. But then what I would really like to do, and I'm starting to think about it now, is to actually go into the coaching side.
Coaching is about helping that person come up with the answers themselves because you, as their coach, believe they have the answers within. That's something that I would really like to work on, because I am inclined to impart all my knowledge, and sometimes, people don't know what they don't know.
My whole life I was going to be a veterinarian until three weeks before I went to University. I had the opportunity to actually work in a Veterinary Clinic, and I was like, oh, this is awful, I don't wanna be a vet anymore!
That was paralyzing because all the psychometric tests that I had ever had or anything that was asked it was all animals, nature, helping, saving. I was gonna save the world. I was gonna go out and somehow, you know, stop poaching and stop all these bad things. And then suddenly I was in a situation where I was like, holy cow, I don't know what to do now! So my dad said, "Go into business. You can't go wrong. It's a safe bet." So I did. Purely because I had no idea what else to do at that point in time.
Initially, I struggled to be motivated by the whole thing, because I didn't really care about economics, or supply and demand. And then I started working in the industry. When you're young you don't realize that you don't have to do the same thing for the rest of your life. You can actually change at some later point in time.
What is even more wonderful is now I have the elements where I can help people, inspire them, coach and teach them through my own knowledge and experience.
Being an entrepreneur is such a rewarding thing, and I feel everyone has it within theselves to branch out and take a risk. Which again is why coaching is so great. Coaches by their nature are supposed to challenge you. They are supposed to push you. You know you need people to support you, but in your business life you need someone to push you, to keep challenging you.
If you're working by yourself and for yourself, it's very easy to just find the comfort zone and simply stay there because it's safe, you know what to expect, you know how to do it. But if you want to keep moving upward and onward, that means you have to take risks. You have to push yourself!
We'd like to thank Ann-Marie for taking the time for this interview and wish her nothing but future success. You can learn more about Ann-Marie's business, AK Consulting, by visiting her website.
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