Business Interview: Karen McGuinness, Chartered Accountant

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Photography by: Jody Neville

Karen knows what it takes to start up and maintain a successful business, helping fledging and established companies to grow with a holistic approach to accountancy and finance – the vital nuts and bolts of a company. She is a champion of SMEs and women in business, and is currently Vice President of Network Ireland Limerick branch.

How long have you been in the accounting and finance industry?
I have been in the industry for about 15 years. Having graduated with my BBS (Accounting and Finance) degree from the University of Limerick in 2000, I accepted a chartered accounting training contract with one of the top four accountancy firms worldwide. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2004 and remained with the firm for a further five years. During that time I gained extensive experience as an audit manager for a wide range of companies, from small to medium Irish indigenous businesses to large multinationals. Then I established Karen McGuinness Chartered Accountants, almost five years ago now.

Did you always see yourself as someone who would start their own business?
Yes, I find it very rewarding to be able to assist clients and see them succeed. The founding ethos of the firm is that we provide a highly personal approach which is tailored to suit each client’s specific needs. I really enjoy the varied nature of the work. It is such a dynamic profession, constantly changing and adapting to what is happening in the business environment.

Tell us a bit about your business, what makes it unique?
The firm offers a comprehensive range of accounting and business advisory services to individuals, sole traders, partnerships and small to medium sized enterprises. We combine the technical expertise of a larger firm with the intimate approach of a smaller practice – thereby clients benefit from an approach that is highly efficient and personal. By working closely with clients to understand their business goals, we can develop customised solutions to help them achieve these goals. As mentioned earlier our founding ethos centres around ensuring all clients experience a high level of service and personal attention.

What do you like the most about working with SMEs and start ups?
I find that the enthusiasm and level of commitment shown by individuals within this sector is infectious. I have the unique opportunity of being able to experience the journey with my clients from the initial concept to seeing their businesses evolve and grow from strength to strength. I never fail to be impressed by the innovative qualities of businesses operating locally. Working so closely with companies in this sector has given me the opportunity over the last number of years to build up a comprehensive working knowledge of the various support networks for start ups and SMEs. It has also assisted the practice in establishing ways to combat the key issues facing early stage and newly developing businesses.

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What advice would you give to people starting out in business?
Setting up your own business is both exciting and challenging. You need to be open to constantly learning new skills and developing your knowledge of all aspects of the business. There is a lot of hard work involved but the rewards are worth it. Understandably my first piece of advice would be to get a good accountant from the very start! I cannot stress how important it is to have a strong, clear and concise business plan and prepare realistic cash-flow projections.

Ensure that you stay focused but flexible no matter what obstacles cross your path and beprepared to adjust your plan to enable you to work around any obstacles. You should review and revise your business plan on a regular basis as it is a living document that evolves with time to ensure that your business keeps pace with changes in the marketplace. Regardless of your industry, the marketplace changes all the time, and you cannot afford to stick to the same plan from which your business grew.

Tell us about the business community in Limerick, what kind of support is there?
Limerick has fantastic support mechanisms within the local business community. There are numerous resources which provide sources of funding, structured training courses and mentoring programs, as well as many networking groups. I believe it is very important for both new start ups as well as established businesses to make themselves aware of what supports are available and to take full advantage of them. There is a wealth of knowledge within the local business community that can be tapped into through collaborating, sharing information and learning from the experiences of others. Networking has played a very big part in the development of my business. I believe it is vital for increasing awareness of the firm’s brand and what it stands for. It is very important that prospective clients get to know me as a person and understand what I offer. On a personal level I have found that there is an endless wealth of knowledge and support available within the networking groups around Limerick. I have benefited from very valuable advice from people who have already set up successful businesses and have been able to develop and share ideas with them.
I am currently Vice President of Network Ireland Limerick Branch and look forward to succeeding Louise Lawlor of Blink Design as president next year. As a group our aim is to have inspiring, engaging and motivational speakers at our meetings who we can really learn from. It is so inspiring to meet like-minded people and to see members develop close working relationships as well as supportive friendships.

What keeps you motivated and focused?
Personally, it helps to have set out the key long-term goals that are most important to me as an individual as well as professionally. I have broken down these goals into a number of smaller short term tasks which keep me constantly motivated. Each short term task feels achievable and all build towards my long term goals.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think it is very important to maintain a healthy work/life balance especially when operating your own business. In the initial set up stages and equally during future transition periods for your firm it is easy for your every waking thought to become consumed by your business.
There are definitely benefits to keeping fit and healthy and to taking time to completely switch off from business life. I am involved in a lot of activities outside of work. I regularly take part in running and cycling events locally. I also enjoy surfing, attending rugby matches and the occasional gin and tonic!

Who or what inspires you most?
When thinking about who has inspired me and who I’d look up to, I would have to credit my parents for nurturing a belief in me that anything is possible and that you should take all opportunities that come along. They instilled in me the importance of working hard and giving everything my best effort. So the mantra I would apply to all aspects of my life both professionally and personally would be Work Hard Dream Big. I have had amazing support from my family and friends over the last few years while establishing my practice. Their encouragement and advice has been invaluable.

Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: Jody Neville

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