My business story… Westside IFA

Westside IFA

October 19, 2016

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Matt Lee talks us through how he founded Westside IFA, and how a near death experience changed his business practice. Tell us the Westside IFA story...

I always knew I was going to be self employed. Early in my career I got really good training in various sectors of the financial industry, but I wanted to give a better service to clients than the companies I worked for.

I come from a family of self-employed people – my father opened his own newsagents when he left the RAF, which developed into the biggest independent newsagents in Sheffield. I’ve always just done what I’ve wanted to do and it just so happens that love what I do now.

How long have you been running Westside IFA story

I started Westside Financial Advisers in 1997, and advised on mortgages pension and Investments with MGM Assurance before changing to Westside Independent Financial Services in 2000. We became an LLP in 2004.

Have you run any previous businesses?

I run a lettings management service, Westside Lettings, alongside the financial advice business. A lot of our clients have properties that need managing, so it’s a natural fit.

What was your first job?

I started my first job on my 18th birthday at Bradford & Bingley in Sheffield. I turned up with birthday buns, in my new suit and was immediately told to clean the stockroom. And then the toilets. I didn’t mind doing it and I have no problem with telling someone else to do the same as that’s how I started.

It was actually the first job I applied for and I loved it. The finance industry is the second best in the world after healthcare. I might not be fixing people’s bodies, but I am helping them create financial security, helping make their aspirations a reality. Dare I say it, making dreams come true.

What motivated you to start the business?

I’m a difficult person to manage anyway and I thought I could do a lot better than the companies I had been working for. Everybody told me that starting my own business is hard, but I don’t think it is. I just get on with it. Put yourself on the treadmill of life and don’t be afraid.

How did you fund your business in the beginning?

With savings and careful management of money.

What was the biggest hurdle in the early days?

There are no hurdles. Just challenges that you’ve got to use your grey matter to get around. You can spend ages knocking on a door for it not to open, but what for? It’s wasted energy, there’s a reason that door isn’t opening so go and find another one!

What is the hardest part of running a business?

My accountant, who retired after 17 years of working with me, said that when you run a business you’ll never sleep quite as well. It’s true. You don’t.

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

I had a near death experience in 2002. I was mountain biking on Helvellyn, a mountain in the Lake District, and as I was doing 30mph jumping rocks up in the air when my front wheel came off my bike.

I fell headfirst onto rocks. In a series of fortunate events, two of my party were doctors, one was an outward-bound pursuits leader who knew where there was a telephone nearby, another was a priest. It also just happened that a mountain air rescue helicopter was already in the area and got to me within 10 minutes, so I had all bases covered. 51 minutes later I was on life support in hospital. I shouldn’t have survived it, but I did.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It pointed me towards what I really should be doing, which is teaching people how to be better with money. Where previously I had been shallow, living life at 200 miles an hour, I now had a mission and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

How important is customer service to your business?

Very. Everybody in the world is challenging the financial services industry – even supermarkets are offering packages and services. Offering exceptional customer service is what sets you apart. Which is why I decided to work with Moneypenny – I wanted to be represented by the best.

At what point did you decide you needed an answering service?

Very early on. I didn’t have a PA but wanted to make sure the phone was always answered and answered properly.

Best business move?

Working for myself and doing what I believe in.

Worst business move?

I was offered a large amount of money for part of the business and I turned it down as I thought I could do better. I couldn’t, ego had got the better of me. It’s making me work harder now.

What is your plan for the next few years?

To create a wills and asset protection business.

If you did it again, what would you do differently?

There isn’t a thing I’d do differently. My biggest strength is knowing what all my weaknesses are. For this reason I’ll fail less today than I did yesterday.

What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?

Do it.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running Westside IFA, I would be…

A counsellor.