Nick Maynard is the founder of Practice, an accounting agency that is dedicated to connecting the dots between big ideas and the budgets that support them. Nick is a chartered accountant with degrees in English Literature and Art History. He’s worked for a decade across retail, e-commerce and tech and has a knack for getting creatives to feel excited about the finances behind their work.
Lindsay sat down with him to talk about why he fell into accounting in the first place, how he sees his own business as a creative endeavour, and his passion for bringing strategy and insight to creative business.
Lindsay Faller (LF): Why did you get into accounting for creative industries?
Nick Maynard (NM): I was a creative kid and spent my whole childhood drawing; I loved books, films, music and art, but the other hand I come from a big family of accountants, from my grandfather to my dad, uncles and cousins. While I was adamant I wasn’t going to be an accountant, destiny took hold.
LF: Why did you make the choice?
NM: There has always been a part of my brain that loves understanding how the nuts-and-bolts work. I got into building websites at school, just when the internet was in its infancy – I even built a hilariously shoddy social network site before Facebook existed for my class, which included cartoons and animations by me. It was terrible, but it was fun and creative. I loved the idea of being able to put your creativity online while understanding the mechanics of coding and how a web page is built. It was the intersection between creativity, and process, structure, numeracy and logic. Accountancy was a step into that logical world – but I knew I had to join the dots with the creative side of my brain. After qualifying and working with KPMG for a few years, I went back to university to study art history for a year at the Courtauld.
LF: Why did you then start Practice?
NM: After I finished at the Courtauld, I worked in museums and galleries for about 10 years, including the British Museum and in a COO style role at Art Fund, where my job involved working across finance, HR, IT/tech, strategy, compliance, and all aspects of the business. It was a brilliant place to be and an amazing education because I was able to build a holistic operations and strategic function for an incredible centuries-old organisation. I had one eye on the creative output of our charity, and another on the practical building blocks to get us there.
I realised that there are lots of emerging creative businesses that could benefit from this joined up thinking – but they don’t know how to access all these services. Practice is about taking elements of all those disciplines, distilling them into little vials of usefulness to help emerging organisations get the fundamentals right and operate with confidence.
The most common thing I see with creative businesses is there’s so many opportunities that people want to realise, but they don’t know if they can afford it, or the legislation is too complicated. A lot of what we do is being point of experience, laying out the options, explaining their position and helping them to make an informed decision.
LF: There is an assumption that an accountant will offer accurate advice, and then clients are surprised when the advice is actually a bit lukewarm. How is Practice different?
NM: There is a gap between what accountants do, what people think they do and what they’re paying for. People often think that an accountant that they pay £100 a month to, and who they never see, will be able to give them really targeted advice. But that’s not the offer.
We close that gap by working on business strategy with our clients, and really caring and investing in their creativity.
It’s so rewarding when a client suddenly understands the difference. You see their shoulders drop six inches, and they say, “This is exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to my previous accountant.” Suddenly, they’ve got visibility, order, and structure to all of their thoughts around the business and an end to the chaos.
LF: That’s a great way of putting it. You’re a few years in now, what have been some of the highlights so far?
NM: Building a business, building a proposition, building a team, and getting more word-of-mouth recommendations, which is always such an endorsement. It advocates for what you’ve been doing. Building the brand has been good fun, and we have so much more to do and more to come on that front. And getting some stationery printed quite soon. I’m irrationally excited about that.
LF: I get that – new stationery is exciting. What challenges have come up since founding Practice 4 years ago?
NM: Because we’re a remote business, one of the larger challenges has been building a team. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the hires that we’ve made, but working remotely makes it harder. You have to be much more structured and systematic in finding ways to share knowledge and making sure that people have the same sense of expectations and understand their roles.
LF: How have you built a remote team? So many people are debating how best to build a remote team that not only trusts each other but also feels like a team. How has Practice achieved it?
NM: We have a clear focus, a clear niche, and a really clear mission for the organisation. Knowing why you’re all there and what impact you want to create is essential. We want to help emerging creative businesses build the confidence to grow and have access to services that are traditionally difficult to access. The bigger picture is that we are helping to build a stronger creative industry.
Flexibility and balance is important to me. I’ve found that by prioritising that, I have attracted really motivated team members who appreciate that level of trust, and work hard to make everything work.
But that has to tally with the more mundane, but super important, parts of how you communicate what, when and why you want things to happen.
LF: How does creativity show up in your business?
NM: Creativity shows up in all aspects of our business. It starts with a clear visual and brand identity to mark us out against other accountants, it’s in how we talk to clients and how we come up with creative solutions for them. Every creative conversation has an operational and practical dimension to it. And that’s why we’re here really.
LF: Are your clients receptive to the idea that bringing in these processes, systems and structures will make a difference into their business?
NM: In the early days, it was very much about people looking for an accountant, which we’d do, then we’d gradually introduce the idea that we could that while also fixing a load of other problems. Nowadays, people are coming to us primarily for a business solution and accountancy as part of that, because they’ve heard about what impact we’ve had on someone else’s business.
LF: Last question for you is what does success look like for you?
NM: Making sure that we’re working on increasingly exciting creative projects, because that’s what gets everybody fired up. That’s been very organic – as our clients grow, so we work on increasingly exciting problems and solutions. Each member of my team joined Practice because they have an interest in the creative industries, and we try to pair our people with clients who are in the industry that the team member is passionate about.
But balance is key too. We see ourselves as a creative business, and to allow creativity to flourish in any industry you need some time and space to think, to allow your mind to wander and imagine the possibilities.
Find out more about Practice here.