A helping hand is always welcome when you are busy growing a business. And who better than TV property queen and entrepreneur Sarah Beeny and accounting guru Bobby Lane?
The pair have been touring Britain as part of a campaign by accounting software expert QuickBooks to help small business owners prepare for the launch of the government’s new Making Tax Digital initiative. We caught up with them at innovative motorbike business RideTo.
Two wheels good: Sarah Beeny with RideTo founder James Beddows
In the two years since James Beddows founded his business RideTo in his bedroom, it’s raced ahead, going from a one-man band to a staff of 12, covering 30 cities across the UK from an office in south London. It’s been amazing growth, but Sarah Beeny isn’t surprised by Beddows’ success.
“He spotted a gap in the market and filled it,” she says. “Like all the best businesses, RideTo was born out of someone getting so fed up with something that they decided to take action.”
For Beddows, that frustration came when – after six years of being squashed commuting on the Central line in London – he decided to buy a scooter.
“Finding a training school to get my bike licence, buying my Vespa and everything I needed to go with it was a fragmented and difficult customer journey,” the 28-year-old recalls.
“The motorcycle industry is quite old-fashioned in some ways – there wasn’t much information online and the little available was scattered over many different places. I figured there had to be a better way, and I had the idea of pooling all that information on one website, providing a list of reputable training centres, for example. RideTo evolved from there to become a one-stop shop for all things motorcycle.”
Now the company helps people book motorbike training courses and get their licences, buy bikes and insurance, and even find delivery jobs when they’re up and running.
Looking to the future: Beddows (left) and some of his RideTo team
Beddows says they have got 5,000 new riders on the road in the past year alone. “I wish it had existed when I started out,” he adds.
In fact, Beddows began his business career aged just nine, in a cart laden with fruit and vegetables attached to his big sister’s bicycle as they sold their home-grown produce door to door.
“Rhubarb was popular, and we made enough money to buy a trampoline,” he laughs. Then, at university, he ran a bicycle hire company so, like Beeny, who developed her first property at just 19, he hit the ground running at a young age. They also share a common trait of the entrepreneur – brains constantly buzzing with ideas.
“I always have half a dozen spinning round in my mind,” says Beeny. “It’s called shiny object syndrome,” adds Beddows. “I think, ‘I’ve got a great idea – let’s do it!’ That can be a challenge when I need to focus on my current business rather than thinking about the next potential project.”
Beeny agrees: “You have to take risks and move forward, but understand that businesses evolve constantly too. They’re either growing or shrinking and if you take your eye off the ball, you might suddenly find you’re in decline. It’s all about getting the balance right.”
Backing you: QuickBooks insider tips
1 Stay on top of the numbers
It’s tempting to focus on the exciting parts of launching and running a business, but don’t neglect the financial side – especially when online accounting software can automate bookkeeping tasks.
2 Watch the cashflow
Cashflow management can make or break a business. Luckily, you don’t need to be a financial whiz to understand where your money is going. Look for accounting software that sorts your data and automatically produces a real-time dashboard of your cashflow. Use it to help make sound decisions for the future.
3 Spend time wisely
Did you know that online accounting software can save you up to ten hours a month? That’s extra time to create new products or services. The right tools can remove the headache from financial management and let you focus on what you enjoy most.
Shaun Shirazian, Head of Product UK, QuickBooks
For Beddows, the next step is European expansion – something that will bring with it fresh challenges, according to accounting expert Bobby Lane. “This is an exciting time for James and RideTo, and the business is growing in the right direction,” he says. “If he wants to expand abroad he’ll need to be up to speed on the different rules and regulations, and make sure potential clients understand the RideTo business model.
“But James should also consider whether there is more he could be doing within the UK market. I’d say there’s still lots of room for expansion here. He’s doing a brilliant job taking customers on a journey and they love the company because it really helps them get their bike licence. They are a captive and positive audience. What about creating a RideTo servicing team, RideTo insurance and maybe even a RideTo clothing range? There are so many possibilities.”
Beeny and Bobby Lane are helping to spread the word about the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative
And Lane warns Beddows not to get caught out by the changes being brought in on April 1 by the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative. It means all VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover over £85,000 are required, under the new Making Tax Digital rules, to keep records digitally. They must also use an HMRC-compliant online accounting platform, such as QuickBooks, to submit their VAT returns.
Making Tax Digital…everything you need to know
What’s it all about?
From April 2019, businesses with a turnover above the £85,000 VAT threshold will be required to keep digital records as well as file their VAT digitally to HMRC every three months through compliant software. They will no longer be able to log on to HMRC’s online service to submit VAT returns.
Why is it happening?
MTD aims to make tax admin simpler and more efficient. Ultimately, it could mean the end of the annual tax return and the frantic rush to get accounts in on time. Instead of one big return, eligible taxpayers and SMEs will submit digital summaries at least four times a year, so they will always stay on top of their accounts.
What do I need to do?
Simply sign up to an HMRC-approved MTD software solution, such as QuickBooks, to start filing directly to HMRC the compliant way.
“I’d heard about Making Tax Digital, but hadn’t paid much attention to it,” Beddows admits. But there’s no need for him to panic.
“There are some amazing new systems out there, such as QuickBooks, that work effortlessly and are a lot cheaper than ever before,” Lane explains. “Having the right online accountancy tool in place will also help as the business grows.”
Having the pair looking over his business plans has provided plenty of food for thought for Beddows.
“Bobby makes some really valid points,” he says. “I keep an eye on our accounts, but an online tool could make the work the accountants and I do much more collaborative. And hearing about Sarah’s different businesses over the years is quite inspirational.”
So, with Beeny and Lane’s advice and Beddows’ foot on the gas, RideTo really is in the fast lane towards a bright future.