Innes Chalmers CA on using his CA skills to serve the business community
Innes Chalmers CA sees himself as a ‘numerate friend’ providing cost-effective solutions to business people who need high-level financial expertise but lack the resources for a full-time CFO. Julie Burniston hears how
Being your own boss can be both exhilarating and challenging. It means the freedom to work on projects which inspire and excite, but also the responsibility for every aspect of the business, from managing workload to maintaining a competitive edge. When your clients are also entrepreneurs, your knowledge can be invaluable, especially during times such as these, when we all face unforeseen challenges.
Innes Chalmers, a freelance FD at Covenant Financial, works with a huge range of clients from various industries. With 30 years’ experience in all matters finance and accounting, he has developed a reputation for delivering effective financial strategies and solutions for his clients.
Being intimately familiar with the struggles that come with building and growing a business, and understanding the importance of taking calculated risks, means Innes has been able to help his clients navigate the future with confidence. Being a CA is integral to his approach.
“I wanted to be the best I could be and get a qualification that would give me a long and interesting career in business,” he says. “CA training ingrains a commitment to precision and high standards – refusing to accept answers that are lazy, casual or unethical. It means seeking evidence for opinions and evaluating information before recommending a decision.”
Innes’ career began with Coopers & Lybrand (now Deloitte). “I was one of a small group of Scottish CA students who trained in London, qualifying in 1996 and working in the financial management and business advisory division of consulting, specialising in cost reduction and major systems projects,” he says. “I later moved to Dell as a Finance Analyst and then to Abbey Business Centres as Finance Director.”
It was in 2011 that Innes launched Covenant Financial – named after Thomas Covenant, a character in a series of fantasy books he’d enjoyed as a boy. “I was concluding my FD position with Abbey and considering my next job,” he says. “It struck me this might not be a full-time permanent post, and I could work as a freelance adviser instead. I set up the company more in expectation than in pursuit of a plan.”
His first client was Tracy Trotter of Scott Group. “Tracy and I had become friends at finance director events, and she asked me to help her with some projects, including an acquisition,” he explains. “I’ve worked for her twice in the last decade and it has never been dull – she’s relentlessly inquisitive!”
Since then, the company’s client base has grown almost entirely by word of mouth. “Julie, my MD at Abbey Business Centres, has hired me twice and recommended me to people. Chris Stewart introduced me to my first long-term client, the Bon Vivant Group. Chris had invested in the group and wanted the assurance of a CA’s oversight.”
Lean on me
The advice Innes gives clients varies widely. “In some cases, it’s a straightforward forecast for a bank or fund raise,” he says. “In others, there’s system work needed as I pull together management accounts. I’ve been around a while now and my advice strays into general management issues – being an entrepreneur can be lonely and I describe myself as a numerate friend.
“I recently took a call from a client who was asking if he could afford to hire three staff instead of one. I said yes. The conversation lasted no more than three minutes. He later messaged me to say how much he valued the peace of mind that call had given him.”
Providing reassurance and support is nothing new to Innes who, during the pandemic, sought to comfort and advise clients on coping with an unprecedented time. The lessons learned have shaped his approach to business ever since.
“Despite being freelance, I used to say I never wanted to be at home more than one day a week. Then we all spent five days a week at home and that loneliness was amplified. As we came out of lockdown, I’ve rediscovered the joy (and necessity) of being in the room with people. I don’t do much formal networking, but I like to stay friends with people and try to find interesting things to post on LinkedIn that show some of my more personal side,” he says.
Innes’ services have become even more valued post-Covid as small firms grapple with multiple challenges. “There are a lot of businesses still pulling themselves together after Covid,” he admits. “But I’ve seen tremendous resilience too – and hope. I’ve also been encouraged by how many clients have been quick to offer their staff more money.”
Perhaps as a hangover of Covid, Innes prioritises a work-life balance, enjoying time with his teenage children. At 50, he joined Linlithgow Athletics Club and has started competing in road races, cross-country and triathlons. He recently ran a half-marathon across a frozen lake in Sweden and is chaplain to Bo’ness Rugby Club and the Scotland Wheelchair Rugby League team.
“I don’t tend to plan far ahead and prefer to see what providence has in store for me,” he smiles. “My desire is to keep serving the business community, doing interesting work. And hopefully to retire someday.”