It’s nearly nine in the morning and Break Time News is currently stuck in Plymouth rush hour. We’re keen not to be late. We’ve already spoken with Martin Caruana, Director of Beverston Accountants, to let him know traffic is bad today. Really bad.
Martin’s response is wonderfully relaxed. In fact, he asks if we’ll want tea or coffee? And would we like milk? And sugar? This is a good start. It turns out he’s been in the office since well before seven. Business is good.
By the way, you may have noticed the whole tea and coffee thing is an emerging theme running through most of BTN’s current articles. The loosening of Covid restrictions means it’s great that we’re finally able to meet people over a socially distanced brew.
This is because, for us, having a chat over a cuppa really helps to ‘oil the wheels’ of any interview. Plus today is cold. Brass monkeys. The traffic’s been non-stop. The drive thru was busting with commuters needing their own caffeine fix. For us, coffee is much needed.
We arrive (just) on time. Not bad. Not ideal, but, even so, it’s not a disaster. Martin greets us and we head up to the first floor office suite at Cattedown’s Neptune Park.
The first thing which hits BTN is the view. It’s stunning. The office overlooks the waterfront and is directly opposite Turnchapel Wharf and Mount Batten. It would be a cliché to say the sun was dancing on the ripples of the water. But, today, it really was.
Martin is a joint director with Sue Williams, who is busy on the phone as BTN takes a seat at a conference table.
There’s a gentle tapping of keyboards as the team of four settle into their day. Martin joins us with two mugs of (much needed) brain juice.
Steam whooshes upwards. It carries the gentle aroma of coffee beans which helps me to further warm to Martin as he finishes quoting bits from Monty Python’s ‘Lion Taming’ sketch.
For the uninitiated, this is the one where Michael Palin plays the role of an accountant who wants to do something more interesting with his life. He’s decided numbers, charts and maths is all really rather dull. His answer? To become a lion tamer.
The big problem is that the interviewer (John Cleese) can only see Palin’s character as being one dimensional, boring, and, as such, very ill-suited to anything exciting. And so, accountancy it is.
Martin playfully issues a challenge to BTN to make accountancy sound exciting. I suggest he should provide us with a photo of him in a top hat. How we laughed.
On the upside, I know quite a few accountants and I genuinely find them to be interesting people.
That said, I can see his point. Afterall, a chat about tax returns, HMRC, ledgers, self-assessments, VAT would have most people reaching for the smelling salts. Not BTN. We’re made of stronger stuff. We say: Bring it on!
And so, we head straight into a conversation designed to bring out some interesting little-known factoids about ‘Martin: The Man.’
His favourite film is The Jerk with Steve Martin and the name of the office plant is Audrey. She’s so-called after the carnivorous herbage in another Steve Martin movie, The Little Shop of Horrors (I later discover that a client bestowed her to the team as an office warming gift).
Martin is also proudly Plymouthian. He is a corporate sponsor for both the Theatre Royal Plymouth and also the city’s basketball team, the Plymouth Patriots.
And with all the banter now over, BTN turns its attention to the more serious aspects of what Beverston does.
The past 18 months have, obviously, been tough for anyone in the business sector and accountants have been key players in helping steer sole traders and firms through some very choppy waters.
‘There was much about adapting mind-sets,’ says Martin. ‘People may have had a plan at the start of 2020 for how they thought they business could grow but that sadly went into the bin as soon as the pandemic hit.’
‘Husband and wife teams suddenly had their livelihoods threatened. If they couldn’t work and they weren’t covered by the furlough scheme then what could they do?’
‘We felt we could help as we understand that just thinking things through with someone can make a big difference, especially as we could also offer practical advice.’
‘Decisions are often a two way street and if you make one which doesn’t work out then you pivot and change your direction.’
Beverston also set up regular communication emails to their clients to keep them informed about what was happening and a breakdown of key news points about the financial assistance available to the freelance sector.
‘Good communication is key. One client told us he was reassured that we were there providing him with good information, and he felt we were covering his back. We have an ongoing relationship with all of our clients to help them through these difficult times.’
A lot of businesses had to quickly adapt to the new set of circumstance to ensure they could survive during the pandemic.
Martin provides me with an analogy of a jet skier who is agile and so can quickly respond to any situation. Beverston’s own ability to quickly adapt has certainly been a key to its success.
‘I started by myself in the garage at home. That was in 2017. Sue came on board the same year. Within six months, we had moved from the garage to the City Business Park and from there to here.’
I’m nearing the end of my hour and the coffee is long finished. It’s incredible to think a business, created three years ago in a garage, is now in a plush set of offices with more than 300 clients to its name. Could Martin have foreseen this level of success?
‘I thought it would be just me looking after a small portfolio and I was quite happy with that notion. But as the numbers increased so a wonderful team of people came together to help further its growth to the benefit of the people we look after.’
‘Networking and drawing on connections meant we quickly built up that all important strong base of customers.’
‘I think the city’s business community can relate to the spirit of adventure. Of starting with nothing and building on it.’
Typing up my notes on Thanksgiving Day made me think about the Founding Fathers setting sail from Plymouth and how the city itself has always had that spirit of adventure. Scott of Antarctica was born here.
One of the first photographers, Linnaeus Tripe, also harked from the city. He took some of the earliest images of Burma and India.
Perhaps the spirit of adventure is not just inseparable from the city’s DNA but also from the entrepreneurs which make the place so special, a place where lion taming doesn’t need to be.