Specialist R&D Tax & Grant Funding Advisors

How We Increased Sales by 20% in a Pandemic

Myriad Associates managed to grow by 20% and break the £2million turnover barrier during a turbulent year. Our CEO reveals the secret behind Myriad Associates success.

A global pandemic, a stock market crash and the uncertainty of Brexit meant that 2020 went down as one of the toughest years in history.

Despite all this, the end of the financial year gave Myriad Associates something to celebrate. We managed to grow by 20% and break the £2million turnover barrier.

How did we do it? What’s our secret to success?

I sat down with our CEO Barrie Dowsett, who singlehandedly started Myriad Associates over nine years ago, to find out.

Barrie, a qualified accountant by trade, is a self-confessed petrol head and gadget lover, with an infectious passion for innovation and market disruption (which we know is a rare breed!).

So, where did the idea of creating an R&D tax & grant consultancy business come from?

“I’d always wanted to build a business from the ground-up, and I’d always wanted to do it by the age of 40…”

As I’m a qualified accountant I knew I wanted to start a business that was finance-related, in the service sector. But I didn’t just want to do general compliance work like bookkeeping, management accounts, self-assessments, VAT returns etc.  You can make a living from doing that type of thing, but because everyone’s doing it, it’s hard work, and it just wasn’t exciting enough.

Before I started Myriad Associates, I was a Group Finance Director for a large manufacturing business. I was responsible for the finance function, the IT function, the HR function and some client and commercial aspects as well. It gave me a very broad knowledge about all aspects of running a successful business.

One of the things I did as a Group Finance Director, was to make R&D tax claims. For the first few years, we used R&D tax consultants. But I found them lacking. They didn’t know our business and they wanted a big cut for doing very little. We ended up doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to making a claim, and even had to defend ourselves in a full-blown HMRC audit.

So, I got rid of them.

“But my experience with these tax consultants planted a seed: I thought, I know! I’ll get involved in R&D tax.”

I love innovation, so starting an R&D tax consultancy felt like a natural fit. I was able to utilise my accounting brain and experience and apply it to an area I was incredibly passionate about: innovative businesses!

However, the real secret behind starting Myriad Associates was making the decision to go for a niche market. I could’ve followed the masses and started an Accountancy Practice. But no, I wanted to create a business that could add value. One that, at the end of the process, could give government funding to the innovative businesses that needed it. The client gets a buzz when they receive funding, and I get a buzz from seeing a smile on their face.

What sort of culture did you want to build at the beginning? Has it turned out the way you thought it would?

I’ve always believed that business growth is simply a by-product of doing a first-class job, thinking outside the box and having a great team.

At Myriad we never say we must increase turnover by X amount in X number of years. That’s never been the case. We just focus on employing highly talented people and disrupting traditional business models by digitalising services.

What was key to me, in terms of the culture and to make us stand apart, was to provide a fantastic service. To go above and beyond client expectations. To provide not a five-star service, but a seven-star service.

This approach was there right from the beginning, even when I was doing everything by myself. It was absolutely key to deliver superb service. From that came recommendations, referrals and then growth.

“The by-product of doing things right, offering a seven-star service, and also being innovative in our approach, was organic business growth.”

Since then, we’ve grown at a steady, comfortable rate of about 20% year on year. It’s controlled growth which also makes the business a nice place to work.

So many people focus on growth in terms of sales, but in actual fact, it’s about having a happy, talented team that like to innovate.

We make sure that no one feels like they’ve got too much on, that they’re happy, are able to perform and that they also enjoy working for Myriad.

We support each other and that’s what it’s all about.

There’s no rush. As I said, our growth is the by-product of a happy team who give great service.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when building up the company, and how did you overcome it?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge was (and still is) finding team members. Recruiting talented people that have a passion for the business.

Nine years after I started the company, I’m proud to say that we are now an incredibly strong team of 17. But it wasn’t an easy journey. As the business grew and developed organically, the hardest challenge I faced was finding and hiring talented people that shared my passion and drive and cared enough to deliver that seven-star service. They’re difficult people to find.

“But, as a partly distributed company, we’re very lucky in that we can go pretty much anywhere to recruit the right people. The pool we can fish in is huge.”

At the end of the day, we’re a people business. We deliver our service through the expertise we have. That’s our greatest asset.

So, I spend a great deal of time searching for and reaching out to people directly on LinkedIn. I don’t want to leave it in the hands of a recruitment consultant. I know exactly what we’re looking for, and it isn’t just about experience and qualifications, it’s also about personality.

LinkedIn was, and still is, our headhunting tool.

Why do you think Myriad Associates has been so successful?

Aside from our fantastic, seven-star service and innovative approach to R&D tax consultancy, when you speak to someone at Myriad, you’re not speaking to a salesperson who just wants to close a deal, you’re speaking to an expert.

We’re awarded business through the knowledge, know-how and advice we give our clients.

This is what sets us apart from the competition.

What are your thoughts on the current public funding landscape?

In terms of innovation funding, I know for a fact that the R&D tax scheme in the UK is currently at the maximum entitlement that’s allowed under EU state notified funding rules.

“I believe that we’ll see the UK government increase innovation incentives, whether that’s through R&D tax incentives, Innovate UK grants or more regionalised support.”

They’ve already increased tax credits for large companies, that’s now at 13% gross, but it hasn’t moved for SMEs for a number of years now, as they haven’t been allowed to increase it under the EU rules.

So, I think that’s great.

I also think we’ll see more grant money for SMEs coming through to the UK. From an SME perspective, we’re no longer receiving contributions from Horizon Europe, which is the biggest pot of funding money at a European level. So, I think they’ll increase Innovate UK funding to counterbalance that.

The Brexit situation creates a little more competition between Europe and the UK, and we want to remain competitive. I think the government recognizes that innovation plays an important part in this and that we can’t stand still. We want to be at the cutting edge of things like artificial intelligence, data economy, clean growth, mobility and health.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

Five years is a long time and things can change so rapidly.

“But I do feel there’s an opportunity in the grants world for us to create a product that once again disrupts the traditional consultancy offering, like we did with Tax Cloud.”

With Tax Cloud, we were the first to offer a guided online tool to help customers through the R&D tax credits claim process.

The accountancy and professional service delivery industry is ripe for disruption with technology, and I believe that we’re the ones to do it.

What’s your next big goal for Myriad Associates?

We’re about to launch Myriad Associates in France. We’ll start by offering our seven-star R&D tax and grant consultancy service. Then, after that’s been established, we’ll look to introduce our French clients to Tax Cloud.

What do you love the most about the company you’ve built?

Two things.

One is the people. I absolutely love the team. They share my passion for delivering client excellence, which is great.

Two is the buzz I get from meeting interesting people in this line of work. You learn a huge amount about the latest innovations, you’re exposed to different perspectives and you get to uncover new and exciting insights.

“Anyone who’s involved in innovation, while I wouldn’t say they’re mad professors, they do have very different views on life! Which is fantastic!”

What’s been your proudest achievement so far with Myriad Associates?

Tax Cloud. Being able to take a traditional, consultancy-based service and simplify it to enable other businesses to do it themselves with technology is just brilliant.

How did you come up with the idea to build Tax Cloud?

I wanted to disrupt the market. The traditional consultancy approach is very old and tired, and clients often end up doing all the work, which is just crazy.

We also wanted to give smaller businesses, I’m talking businesses with up to 50 people, an opportunity to make a claim for R&D tax credits. Traditionally, a lot of R&D tax consultancy services would say “sorry, we can’t work with you, you’re too small” and refuse to work with them in favour of the bigger businesses.

But if anything, it’s these smaller businesses that need that support and additional money to help them continue with their development activities.

“Tax Cloud was our offering to help small businesses and disrupt the lazy, traditional consultancy market.”

What makes Tax Cloud different to other self-service R&D tax relief tools?

It’s a hybrid model. The platform is end-to-end, every stage of the claims process is covered, and the output is the report that’s required for HMRC.

But the hybrid model means that we make sure that every claim is up to our standard.

“Every Tax Cloud client gets a technical expert and a costings and tax expert that they can communicate with throughout the entire claims process.”

We make sure they’re on track from the beginning, and we also approve the final report, before it goes to HMRC.

This level of support is definitely needed. I’ve spoken to clients who’ve used other R&D portals that are software only, with no consultancy advice, and they’ve struggled to know if they’re claiming enough - there’s no additional support or guidance.

If you could go back to when you first started the company, what advice would you give yourself?

Ha! Good question.

“I think, be confident, believe in yourself and you should have done it five years earlier!”

Look for the niche market and don’t go to where the masses are, or you’ll be working very hard for very little.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A successful business owner or something else?

I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to be a business owner.

That was when I realised that my dream of becoming a professional footballer wasn’t going to happen (I spent most of my time on the subs bench at my local team).  

Luckily, I realised this early on and it was all very planned from there.

I didn’t do A-levels. They were too specific, and I wanted a rounder qualification. So, I did a Business and Finance B-Tech instead.

And I didn’t do University either.

“I didn’t want to spend three years reading books and getting drunk. I didn’t have time for that!”

I went straight into work as a trainee management accountant, completed my CIMA qualification, and that was it! I was off!

It’s all about choosing a path that’s right for you and not feeling like you have to follow the traditional school routes like everyone else.

If you do something you enjoy and it’s not forced, you’ll be a happier person.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I have two.

The first is my Grandad. Grandad Fred was a model family man. He was so giving and supportive but never wanted anything in return. He was incredible. I remember him saying to me before he passed away aged 97; “I’ve had a good innings. I’m happy because everyone else is happy.”

“And that was him. He always had a smile on his face, and he always gave so much without ever expecting anything back. I have so much admiration for him.”

The second is serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and former Dragon James Caan, CBE. He inspired me because he wrote a book about how he built up an executive headhunting business from scratch. It was fascinating.

He built it from the ground up and was hugely successful. He was a man against the odds who believed in delivering great service.

“He just makes a lot of sense and seems like a really nice man. I’d love to meet him at some point!”

And finally, what do you think is your secret to success?

People. It’s the people within the business that makes it a success. It’s as simple as that.

This business is growing because we get such great client responses. To get those great responses, we recruit happy, talented people. If we can keep doing that, we will continue to grow.

“Employ great people who share your passion and are willing to listen, learn and enjoy the journey.”

Click here to find out more about Barrie and his team of specialist R&D tax & grant funding advisors at Myriad Associates.

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