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Featured Business: FCS Services
Name: Anna Holland, Managing Director/Owner of FCS Services, a provider of corporate governance, compliance and company secretarial services
Employees: One – but looking to recruit in near future
Since: January 2012
When Anna Holland says that she’s a chartered secretary, most people picture her business as providing typing services.
The work of a chartered or company secretary is a world away; at a basic level, it’s carrying out corporate governance and compliance with company law. Under Irish company law, all companies are required to have a company secretary.
Many companies see this as a box-ticking exercise and see the key role of the company secretary as filing the annual return and accounts – and generally get their accountant to do that, says Anna.
The role of a company secretary varies greatly between small companies, larger companies and listed entities. It can involve everything from law, understanding of finance/accounting, corporate governance, internal control and IT to business processes.
Anna is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, the internationally recognised authority on corporate governance and compliance. She gained the majority of her experience in large international groups and listed companies in London, while studying for her professional qualification by night.
Originally from Sligo, Anna moved to London straight after her Leaving Certificate and had long held the dream to move back home. On returning with her husband and daughter in 2010, she knew the opportunities for her experience were limited in the West of Ireland.
Based on research she had done before she moved back, she recognised a gap in the market for company secretarial services outside of Dublin, which is dominated by law and audit/accountancy firms.
The benefit of a company secretary to a start-up for example, she says, is to get good company processes in place so that the company is investor-ready. “They will want to know that you know what your responsibilities are as a director; that there are good internal controls and processes in place; there is good governance in place. We can do this very simply from the very beginning – so that, by the time you get there, it’s natural.”
Anna keeps up to date on company law and regulations and helps ensure company directors meet their company law and regulatory requirements, for example, by assisting directors with full reporting/disclosure, board meetings, etc – starting with very simple/basic processes, which are enhanced to meet a growing business' requirements and stakeholder needs.
She also works as a support to in-house company secretarial functions – support she found difficult herself to source in London. In essence, someone senior enough to come in and hit the ground running and be up to date.
In 2013 she won the New Business woman category for Network Galway, a regional branch of Network Ireland. In the overall Network Ireland awards she was awarded “Highly Commended” in the New Business category.
Interview with Anna Holland
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I am a company secretary. I was in London for 20 years and I always wanted to come back home. It came to 2010 and it was now or never. Myself and my husband are both from the West of Ireland, so we wanted to move back to the West. I knew I wouldn’t get listed company work in the West. This is what I enjoy doing; I’m told I’m good at it. I’d hate to lose all those years of hard work, experience and study; so I thought, let me see if I can go out on my own and set up a business in the West.
How did you initially fund your business?
I came back to Ireland knowing we’d have to fund ourselves for a certain amount of time with personal funds. Since January 2012, it is self-funding.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
No, I’m focusing on company secretarial. I’m still working through whether I can keep it wide and varied, or do I specialise?
What have been the highlights to date?
Last year was particularly good. In late 2012 I took my first office in Galway, and in 2013 I moved into an office in Galway Technology Centre. I had been very isolated in a self-contained unit on my own. It gave me a business address; it was the first stepping stone. The latest move means I’m right in the middle of other businesses; I’m in a recognised business area in Galway. In 2013 I won the New Business woman category for Network Galway. In the 2013 Network Ireland awards, I was awarded “Highly Commended” in the New Business category.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
You do get a real sense of achievement when you’re doing something for yourself; seeing it grow. A lot of people say having your own business is a bit like having a child or a baby. I’m beginning to relate to that very much.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I thought I was coming back to Ireland for a relaxed lifestyle. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. It is very much a juggling act, I have to say. In some regards it’s easier [being self employed] in that you do have flexibility once you can keep your clients happy. Yet it’s harder, because if you have long hours as an employee you can switch off at weekends or when you go on holidays; it’s hard to do so when you are working for yourself.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I’m still very much learning. I have to say I’m inspired by the ideas of Irish people from going to the various networking events such as the Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Board events. Irish people have great get up and go since the downturn in 2008/9. They are prepared to try anything. I find it inspiring.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
The internet as a whole is a key tool for me. There are so many changes in law and regulation going on at the moment. It’s fantastic – they’re at your finger tips. Five or 10 years ago you’d be waiting for an update to come out in a publication. That’s how I can benefit my customers: “Are you aware of this? These are changes coming in. This is something we need to be thinking about.”
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I am still trying to scope my customer base.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The education point: getting businesses to understand the importance of the company secretarial role in their business and the value it can bring to their business going forward – and the sales and marketing of that. The real challenge is educating the market.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Ireland’s been through a particularly tough time since 2008/9. It has accepted its faults and its failings, but I think from a business and transparency perspective there’s still a lot of work required in repairing, building and enhancing Ireland’s business reputation.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
The whole admin, processes, procedures and planning side comes naturally to me. I see that as key to my service offering.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
I think it’s the fact I am still here – I do have my own business and I am still operational.
How did you scale/grow your business?
I’ve done it very slowly. I see myself and how I operate as my key marketing tool. The one thing I do know is that if you let a client down, repairing reputation is very hard. In scaling and growing the business, one of the key things for me is not to over commit and to know what your limitations are. That has limited my growth, but has determined my growth.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The lack of knowledge or awareness of the company secretarial role and of what good company secretarial/corporate governance can bring to a business.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I feed very much off talking to people; I’m trying to go to as many networking events as I can and get into the small/medium business networking environment. When you tell people what your business is, taking on board their views. Also, seeing what changes are going on in the industry.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I’ve got the taste for it. I really want to see it succeed and I really want to create a company secretarial industry outside of Dublin. People have said: “You picked the worst time to come back to Ireland.” On the other hand, I think it may have worked in my favour because Ireland has really woken up to the necessity for improved corporate governance practices.
What’s your vision for the future?
I’d love to have a corporate governance/company secretarial company based here in Galway, servicing the West of Ireland and beyond. Already I am providing services to larger companies in Dublin. I’d love to think in five years time that FCS Services will be a recognised name, definitely here and throughout Ireland as well.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
It’s one of the tasks on my “to do” list. There are so many things to do and so many areas to focus on, I feel I could do with someone sitting me down and guiding me to do that. I really do see the benefits of it.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Believe in yourself and your business and you’ll succeed. If you really believe in your business, you portray a confidence and inspire confidence in people you’re speaking to. It is one of the hardest things to do – to have that confidence in yourself.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
I came back to Ireland thinking I had to do it all myself. People said, “I could give you a name for that”, “I could give you a contact for that”. I thought, I can’t really impose on them; I should be able to do everything myself. I’m now realising that I need to take up every little bit of assistance, advice, contacts. Don’t be afraid to do that – to go back to the person and say: “You said you’d give me a contact. Can you introduce me, please?” The hardest thing for me having to come back and not having any business contacts is getting to meet people face to face and getting to talk to people. That’s the way business is conducted here in Ireland. I was naïve in thinking of doing it by myself, actually.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
At the Network Ireland Awards, Miriam O’Callaghan was the MC. She said something that her dad had said: “You go out there and don’t be afraid of them [your colleagues, peers, etc] – let them be afraid of you.”
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I’m not sure if this would even have been possible, but if I had been back here and had worked in-house somewhere and had an understanding of how business operates in Ireland – to gain business contacts. Even enough to say, “Anna, despite your experience, you need a bit of training or education to start a business yourself and to have that confidence to take those first steps.” The biggest priority for me was to move back to Ireland and, I thought, I know how businesses operate; I’ll be able to set up a business myself and it will run from there. It’s not like that. If you can somehow get that little bit of motivational, confidence-boosting training in place beforehand; or good contacts to start talking to.
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