Growth Story: How Rich Sykes grows his practice without using social media to win work

Rich Sykes started his practice knowing there was a better way to grow. So he broke all the rules to make it happen.

In the heart of Leeds city centre, Rich Sykes runs Cloud CFO, an innovative Yorkshire accounting firm supporting hospitality and start-up clients. Never really a follower, Rich was determined to grow and scale the business his way. He set about breaking all the rules to grow his firm to over £250k in five years… without a social media presence and, until recently, with a fully offshore team. A few months ago, he shared his journey so far with Heather.

In this Growth Story, you’ll discover how Rich has:

  • Grown his practice to £250+ in turnover in five years without using social media
  • Built up a strong offshore team (and what he has learnt in the process)
  • Sold FD and business coaching services to his clients.

If you’d like to listen to or watch the conversation, click below for the YouTube video of Rich’s chat with Heather. 


About Rich

In his words, Rich is a “former rock-and-roll star (almost), now a Chartered Accountant with nearly a decade’s experience of counting and making money.” His accounting career started as an audit trainee at KPMG, before swapping suits and skyscrapers for ping pong tables and bean bags in the East London tech start-up scene. He is now on a mission to change lives and create a better world, one small business at a time.

Setting up the business (and breaking the rules)

The seed of Cloud CFO initially took root as Create Finance, when Rich was between freelance gigs and took some time off to decorate his home. An S.O.S. call from some friends who “who'd all had a bit of a midlife crisis and decided to start their own restaurant” earlier that year. They were really busy, but it didn’t feel like they were making any money. In their eyes, no accountant up to that point was able to help them sort out their cash flow, so could Rich help them? This was more than a compliance job and Rich was keen to help his mates. The next Monday morning he was off to work.

Rich has a knack for getting to the bottom of a client’s problem through old-fashioned curiosity. An FD needs to know how business works — not just the numbers, but from the owners’ perspectives.

From helping his friends, Rich discovered his calling: to give small business owners access to a virtual finance function that helps them lead a more fulfilling life and run a thriving business. As luck would have it, cloud technology was innovating in a big way at the same time. This enabled Rich to work anywhere with his laptop, using a robust tech stack to automate and offshore what can be affordably-priced service for smaller businesses to have a ‘Virtual FD’ style service.

Want to know VAT liability? Tick. How much labour costs per hour? Tick. Is there room in the budget to buy new restaurant crockery? Tick.

Five years on and many tick marks later, the practice now operates as Cloud CFO, with three revenue streams:

  • Create - Rock and roll accountancy for owner-managed hospitality businesses
  • Accelerate - Virtual finance teams for purpose-driven start-ups
  • Zen Bookkeeping - Stress-free financial admin for freelancers and solopreneurs

While the preference would have been to simply provide an exceptional FD service, that needs regular and accurate data processing and quality information. For Rich, this meant delivering the bookkeeping and reporting services in-house, which meant the foundations needed to be built alongside. To achieve exceptional client service, Rich is currently supported by a local team member as well as an offshore team of nine in the Philippines.


Committing to growth

Rich has always paved his own path and he is the first to admit that he could have grown the business quicker had the focus been on client acquisition and hiring staff to support that. But he knew the way forward was to build solid systems and processes that would accommodate the quality of service he wanted to (and does) provide. In order to do this some ‘rules’ needed to be broken, even if it meant going against conventional wisdom or industry norms.

“One of our core values is that we dare to be different. So if I see that everyone else is doing something, I'm the kind of person who will do the exact opposite.”

  1. No social media presence: As much as Rich uses tech to support his clients and grow his business, one area of digital he will not touch is social media. For him, it’s marketing noise, and hasn’t hindered finding new clients through a robust website and continuous referrals. When it comes time to scale, a bigger focus will be on marketing, but it won’t be on social media.
  2. Running a mostly offshore team: Until recently, and through the brilliance of cloud technology, Rich’s team was fully offshore in the Philippines. With a goal in mind to eventually remove himself from the day-to-day, Rich made the leap to hire a local qualified accountant in late 2022 and plans to hire two more local team members in Leeds.
  3. Multiple niches: If you’ve been around us for a while, you’ll know that we are a big fan of nailing down your niche. Because of the three strands of his business, Rich has multiple niches: owner-managed hospitality businesses, start-ups and sole traders/freelancers. This might muddy the waters for others, but it works for the Cloud CFO team through tailored messaging.
  4. Selling FD work with business coaching: Accountants offering business coaching? It’s not as odd as you might think. Rich isn’t breaking the rules so much as rewriting the playbook, as many good Virtual FDs do. He knows that he is the numbers guide, not taskmaster. Lecturing someone on how they should run their business doesn’t work; helping them make their own decisions is where the magic happens. Rich believes there is an opportunity to do more for clients so they can make more money and have more free time. This means taking the financial admin away from them to reduce their stress levels and increase the enjoyment of running their business.


Getting through the hard times

We all know the pandemic was hard on small businesses, in particular the hospitality industry. Lockdowns followed by subsequent inflation and cost-of-living concerns made accurate financial data imperative for survival. Clients will always need to know their numbers, which means referrals and providing outstanding service have helped Cloud CFO grow, but that has brought about its own challenge.

Growing an outsourced finance team from the ground up and across the world

Virtual team speaking on a video call to represent Rich Sykes Growth StoryOver the course of the last few years, Rich has built a solid back office team in the Philippines with the help of key staffing and accounting partners. Though they are all freelancers and subcontractors, the team are treated as employees in all but name.

You might ask what prompted Rich to go about this route, and you wouldn’t be the first. The primary reasons he chose to nurture a team on the other side of the globe are:

  • The desire for low cost way but quality to get things done
  • Free up capacity; deeded doers rather than thinkers in the early days
  • Generally a wider pool of talent available
  • Time zone difference enables the team to get work done before clients (and Rich) have woken up

There are always some pain points when growing any team. To maintain control of the workload and ensure nothing is missed, Rich and the team make quality use of workflow management tools and Google Calendar, as well as making sure each team member is trained up well and given ownership of their tasks.

With the Philippines team ticking along, Rich’s focus has shifted to building the UK team. He looks to take himself out of the day-to-day in the next year and that means hiring a few more local resources to work from the new office in Leeds.


Lessons learned: key takeaways from the journey so far

Line chart to represent Rich Sykes Growth Story

Lessons Rich has learned on his business growth journey so far:

  • Not everything you try will work, and that’s okay
  • It’s always the last thing you try that seems to be the thing that works!
  • Never stop learning and improving
  • Training is everything; never assume your resources know how you want things done



What’s next?

We’re sure you’ve gleaned by now that Rich is very clear in his purpose and mission. Finding the right team has taken time, as did sourcing the tech, but building the systems and processes to scale the business is a constant work in progress (and he’s almost there!). Rich looks forward to growing the UK team and has an aim to hit £360k in turnover by the end of 2023. We look forward to seeing what comes next!

** Cloud CFO is an innovative and versatile accounting practice in Leeds. If you want to get in touch with Lynne to learn more about his journey and/or to pick his brain, you can contact him here. **


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