Starting your own business - Martyn Cheney and Samantha Mann

21 March 2021

Professional magazine asked payroll professionals Martyn Cheney BA (Hons) ChFCIPPdip and Samantha Mann MAAT MCIPPdip to answer various questions about moving into and coping with being in business for themselves

What motivated you to set up as self-employed and/or to incorporate?

Martyn Cheney: Having worked within the industry for 27 years and then suddenly being made redundant, I wanted to use my experience to offer a slightly different service to businesses. I knew that doing things a little differently would allow businesses to save both time and money. 

An agent suggested that I give self-employment a go, so I accepted a six-week contract. Six years later and Cheney Payroll Services is still going strong.

Samantha Mann: It was 2003, and I had recently resigned from a long-standing job, in which I had progressed from working with financial accounts and bookkeeping, with occasional payroll support delivery and training, to starting up and growing a payroll bureau that delivered a wide range of payroll services (pay processing, helpline, training and emergency cover) to charities and voluntary groups in the Midlands. I confess that payroll was very much in my blood, and the thought of doing anything else never crossed my mind. However, my ‘motivation’ to become self-employed happened quite by accident when requests for payroll support came my way.

I remained a sole trader (in other words, unincorporated) throughout the time of running my business.


...adapting to emerging opportunities comes naturally once you have committed to a career in payroll...


What services are offered?

MC: As a payroll consultant, I work with businesses, small or large, that are looking to implement a new payroll system or improve their existing system, whether a full or partial rebuild, or to streamline processes, calculations, and elements. I also offer an outsourced payroll solution to small- and medium-sized businesses.

There are many facets to the role, with every new job being different from the last. These can include the configuration of new payroll software, advising businesses on how to get the best out of their existing payroll software by looking at the process and procedures, reporting, updating the mechanics of an existing payroll system to meet current business needs.

SM: The core service was payroll delivery. All pay periods were covered which ensured employers maintained accurate payroll records, including all essential pay records. I provided gross to net pay calculations, leaving the employer only to pay over net pay to employees and remittances to HM Revenue & Customs.

I also delivered a helpline, training and consultancy service.


Did you identify a gap and/or a demand in services that you wanted to fill/exploit? And how important do you think it is to adapt to emerging opportunities or to focus on your original intended services?

MC: There is a lack of expertise within the marketplace for certain system specialists, and I fill that gap.

Adapting is hugely important, especially given the recent pandemic and how much everyone has had to adapt.

It can be difficult, but every opportunity has its merits, and none should be shunned immediately.

SM: The one constant in payroll is change, and so adapting to emerging opportunities comes naturally once you have committed to a career in payroll. If we look back over the last twenty years, so much has changed in payroll, whilst in essence still remaining much the same.

The UK government recognises the value that employers can provide through their payroll services. Once online submissions became accepted practice, an opportunity developed to make greater use of technology through real time information, which has really opened the door to further expansion and specialisms within payroll service.

In addition, the gradual launch of automatic enrolment had employers of all shapes, sizes and complexities seeking out payroll specialists and technology that could help them navigate increasingly choppy waters of compliance.


Are there any specific things you did which proved crucial to your success?

MC: Yes, my experience in the payroll industry and the challenges I faced set me on the path for success as a consultant. Also, completing my CIPP degree and attaining Chartered Member status were key. This has also helped me move with the changing role of the payroll professional and to push me to keep up to date with the ever-changing rules and regulations.

Working with a life coach to develop aspects of my life and personality has made me a better person and able to adapt quickly.

SM: The ability to network is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. There are many networking opportunities, accessed in different ways, and you must harness their power. And then, when you begin to secure your customer base – don’t forget the increasingly old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – good customer service, very often, costs nothing to deliver, but will reap its own rewards. careful and research fully any offers of work that come in


What particular skills/qualifications/competencies do you consider essential for anyone contemplating a move to self-employed or setting up their own business? If a person does not have these skills how can they obtain them?

MC: It is vital to believe in yourself and the services you are offering. If you shine, your clients will picture themselves shining alongside you. You need to be confident in your abilities and knowledge, and have a willingness to listen and adapt to the different needs of each client.

When running a business, you also need to be resilient. Things change, a lot, and knowing how to adapt to changes without crumbling is key to success. Sure, times can be hard, but it’s how you deal with the challenges that counts.

Another major skill is to be good at project management and organisation.

SM: I believe it is essential that payroll professionals who have chosen payroll as the focus of their career study for and hold a qualification that is appropriate to their role and ambitions.

When I first began to explore gaining a qualification, my employer focussed on accountancy – hence I studied for three years to become an accounting technician with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). That was great, but by then I had chosen to specialise solely in payroll. After much negotiation, I began to study for the CIPP Diploma in Payroll Management – a step I have never regretted.

But qualifications are only one aspect. Experience, ideally gathered from working with subject matter experts, and continued development and learning have to follow to maintain their practical use.

Running your business, however, requires more than technical qualifications – it requires a much broader knowledge base, to include skills enabling you to: account for your own taxes – which may not be PAYE; register with Companies House – if that is a direction you wish to go in; and operate the technology you need to deliver your services – which may be different to that you have previously used.

Credit control, bookkeeping and accountancy are the minimum additional skills you may need. In the early days you may be the only person in your business, which means you are responsible for completing all the jobs that previously may have been dealt with by colleagues.


Is there anything you wish you had known more about before making the move?

MC: I wish I’d learnt more about the business taxation side of things, and how to go about setting up things.

SM: Yes – if I were to start again, I would look to enter into business in partnership. I don’t make a good boss for myself – I’m a team player.

There are challenges to complying with money laundering regulations (MLR) when you are a one-man band, as you have no-one to report your concerns to and upwardly delegate to. This is an area that you need to keep a spotlight on when delivering services to clients. Maintaining due diligence and record keeping when taking on new clients was a lot more challenging and time-consuming when the MLR came in. My AAT membership was invaluable here.


Has any part of your move turned out different to what you expected?

MC: All of it. I have surprised myself with the way I have been able to adapt to different circumstances.

SM: No, not really. I fell into self-employment in much the same way as I fell into a career in payroll, and so had no expectations. For the time I ran my business I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I went on to find something I enjoyed even more.


Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

MC: I would have made the break sooner had the opportunity presented itself, and looked to create the bureau option at the same time as starting the company rather than waiting. But despite this, I am still proud to say that it’s been a successful and fun journey so far.

SM: I think a good business partner (see above answer) might have motivated me to be more competitive.


What are the most important issues and the lessons you have learned?

MC: That the payroll profession continues to be underrepresented and undervalued, and we need to work together to raise awareness of the importance of our role.

From a business point of view, I’ve learnt to be careful and research fully any offers of work that come in. The more you know about a business and the opportunities, the better. It can be tempting in the early days to undersell yourself and accept jobs that don’t feel right, but in the long run, it’s better to do your research and ensure it’s the right fit for you.

SM: I am not motivated by profit, but by delivering a service well and constantly learning. I have also learned that I am not my own best boss!


What advice would you give to anyone contemplating becoming self-employed/consultant?

MC: Do it. Research your market and go for it. Companies need a flexible workforce who can come in deliver the requirements and then leave again. 

Featured in the April 2021 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.