Leading Honiton Accountants, outline the path to business success and longevity

Devon Business was pleased to interview Dean and Claire Barrow, owners of Honiton Accountants, Simon A Martin, to find out why so many local companies are turning to them for support in their entrepreneurial journey.

In addition to being an accountant for many years, Dean is known for his role in Local Government and commitment to community service. Claire is a Chartered Tax Adviser and together they oversee a growing team. Simon A Martin positions itself as ‘more than just accountants’ and we were keen to find out why…

Devon Business: With your combined financial and tax skillset you speak to local businesspeople every day, what is the general feeling regarding the current financial climate in Devon? And do you have any pearls of wisdom to share for businesses in Honiton?

Dean Barrow: Most business sectors seem to be doing okay at the moment. Yes, the local hospitality industry has taken a knock and some of our retails clients have struggled, but things are improving seeing that COVID is behind us and the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine are starting to ease. 

The reality is that earning money isn’t that difficult, it’s keeping hold of it that is the problem. The more you can keep hold of the better off you will be. As we all know, ‘Cash is King!’

There are always going to be those unexpected challenges which is why every business needs a reserve fund. It’s not rocket science, it’s about being disciplined, choosing to put some of your income away each month so you have a buffer to fall back on.

Claire Barrow: We work with many highly successful clients, but in order for them to stay successful, they need sufficient financial resources. At Simon A Martin our team has a wealth of experience in understanding all types of businesses and what companies need to be doing to achieve optimum results. We strive to assist our clients to maintain steady growth while helping to identify potential holes that need to be plugged. 

Devon Business: So, you work with businesses of all sizes including startups?

Dean Barrow: Yes, we find that very often people are thrown into running a business. They begin as a ‘one man band’ and suddenly find themselves responsible for half a dozen people or more. They’ve grown because they are good at what they do, but they may not have financial planning in their skillset. We help them develop a long-term plan.

In tough times, everyone faces financial constraints so it’s important to look after one’s money. Our team offers helpful advice and guides businesses towards developing the good habits that lead to sustainable growth.

Claire Barrow: Conversely, we have quite a lot of clients who are taking the next step in their business growth. For example, they are becoming a limited company or registering for VAT. We help them on that journey and ensure all compliance is in place so they can continue doing whatever they’re good at.

Devon Business: So, it’s not just about year-end returns and personal income tax? What makes you different from other Honiton accountants or firms in the UK?

Claire Barrow: We do all that and more! Compliance with Companies House and HMRC is hugely important, but we also help our clients plan ahead. Dean is excellent at strategy, understanding what’s going on behind the scenes and what can be done to make things work better. Tax is where I come in, especially when dealing with complex issues and I am pleased to say that we have secured significant savings for many clients.

One of the things that makes us stand out is that we offer a fixed fee monthly service which is still quite unusual for UK-based accountants. This means our clients don’t get a shock bill once a year. Our fees are swallowed into their monthly budget and can include accounting software and other monthly benefits.

Devon Business: That makes sense. So, one doesn’t have to find the money for your tax bill at the same time as paying your accountant! How else do you help businesses beyond accountancy?

Dean Barrow: I’ve been told I’m good with people and can explain financial terms in a way that anyone can understand. We are also committed to ensuring all financial reporting is done on time. Some clients are better than others at providing the information we need and we try to establish a workable routine.

A client may be good at providing a product or service, but finance and admin is not their thing and they invariably leave it to the last minute. However when our clients start using our Sage Accounting Software linked to their bank account that is a game changer. It speeds up the process by enabling us to provide the most up-to-date advice.

Helping organisations to succeed is what we do and at a cost-effective rate. At Simon A Martin we believe that running a business isn’t just about making money. We all have a social responsibility. That means looking after one’s staff as well as supporting the community in which you work.

Devon Business: You’ve been very involved in civic affairs?

Dean Barrow: Yes, I was a local district councillor for eight years. However, I had to step away from it due to our growing business. In those eight years we opened three offices, started to employ 10 staff members, and were taking on more clients, with increased responsibility. I may go back to being a councillor but right now, I’m focused on our business. Nevertheless, Claire and I believe that as businesspeople we have a duty to support others where possible, especially when a business reaches a certain size. This is something that comes naturally to us as part of our Christian faith. It’s who we are.

Devon Business: How did you get involved in accountancy Dean? And, where did you meet Claire?

Dean Barrow: I was good at maths as a child and loved puzzles and calculators, or adding machines at that point! I considered becoming a chef, but my aunt had an accountancy practice in West Yorkshire and she asked me to join the company. 40 years on I’m still in accountancy!

In the early days I was a rather rough guy. My life revolved around playing pool and drinking. My brother told me he had been praying for me for years and I finally started  to realise the importance of God in my life. I began to attend church but nothing really changed until I moved to Weymouth where he was living. Away from my drinking buddies, I was able to break with my old life.

My new life included working in various jobs while I continued with my accountancy training in various towns in the Southwest. Then I met Claire at work.  She was at head office in Taunton, while I was based in Yeovil at the time. Ultimately, we got married and ended up here in East Devon.

At one time I ran Vernon Barrow Limited and then in 2018 I bought an accountancy and tax firm in Bridport, Elson Frampton. Then three years ago we purchased our current business from Simon Martin who has been one of the leading Honiton accountants for years. We are slowly merging all our offices into one.

Devon Business: That’s an interesting example of company growth. Would you recommend buying other businesses to your clients?

Dean Barrow: Well, there’s two ways to grow a business. You either grow organically over time or you buy other businesses when they come up for sale and then you merge. That’s the quicker option. You may lose some clients, that just goes with being in business, but if you do a good job, most will stay.

Devon Business: Many couples run businesses together, is that a business model that works?

Dean Barrow: It’s challenging if all you do is talk about the business. Claire and I find that it only works because we are in different offices. We certainly couldn’t work together in the same room!

Claire Barrow: We don’t talk about the office during the day because we’re separate, Dean is upstairs running the business and I am downstairs working in the business.

Dean Barrow: I have been building up the business for many years, Claire was able to join us a few years ago when an opening for her skillset became available. She is the best tax person I know and has a vast knowledge. This is particularly helpful when clients have issues that are outside the general realm of tax.  Then you need an expert and that is what Claire is.

Devon Business. So, what do you do as a couple to connect outside of business?

Claire Barrow: We both love quizzes. It’s also a good way to connect with others and can be a great team builder for our staff. I personally love cycling and Dean and I both attend fit20 in Exeter and I’m loving it. It has really improved my core strength.

Dean Barrow: One of my clients commented that I was looking trimmer and I think my posture is improving. So, I think fit20 has helped me massively. We have a great trainer and I’m getting stronger of course.

Devon Business: In a similar way you are helping businesses get stronger… tell us more about developing those good habits?

Dean Barrow:
We try to help our clients develop good habits not only around cashflow, but also regarding VAT. This has to be paid each quarter and if they aren’t putting sufficient money away for that each month things can get really scary. They can’t just look at the ‘surplus’ in their bank account, and say, “I think I’ll buy that new piece of equipment or whatever…” One has to develop a different mindset. Many business owners don’t have this at the start of their VAT registration and so we take them on that learning curve.

Claire Barrow: The good thing about being VAT registered though is that we get to work with our clients in a much more contemporaneous way. As it’s happening, rather than waiting until the end of the year. This is especially easier with the Sage Software we provide as part of our monthly offering.

Devon Business:  Tell us about the accountancy software you work with…

Dean Barrow: We work with all types including Xero and QuickBooks, however we offer each client a Partner Edition of Sage Business Cloud. We’ve got a good relationship with Sage and as a firm, will see more benefits year on year.

Devon Business: It’s a no brainer to take advantage of discounted software.

Dean Barrow: Yes, more and more clients are coming on board. This is helpful as the biggest issue, within accountancy historically, is getting bank statements from a client in time. As Sage links to your bankfeed we can get draft accounts done more quickly. It’s been a year since we started this and many clients now have a full 12 months of electronic accounts available which is really helpful.

Devon Business: Finally, what about businesses that are really struggling?

Dean Barrow: We’re helping a couple of hospitality businesses through a difficult period right now. They have had very little chance of making a profit and still have COVID loans to repay. While it is possible, it’s not easy to trade out of financial difficulty.

Sometimes the best advice may be to close a company and start again. Having a good accountant in such a case is crucial as they can be an unbiased sounding board, but we can also guide clients through the necessary steps to close a business in the best possible way.

Devon Business: From what you have shared one can see how Simon A Martin is taking a lead amongst other Honiton accountants to help businesses thrive. Any concluding advice?

Dean Barrow: Business comes in peaks and troughs. People retire, staff and clients move on. There’s no guarantee the people around you now will continue into your next season. Be ready to take a hit when that downturn comes, or you lose a big client. If you have put something away in reserve, you can work through those difficult times. Also feel free to get in touch if we can assist you on your business journey.

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