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A gamble that brought success

An early career gamble brought go-getter Mark to Norfolk and saw him help build a prosperous company from scratch. Here Mark tells us how a school test predicted his career future, how Thrive connections really paid off and how he still dreams of giving Nick Faldo a run for his money!

Thrive: Hi Mark, please give us your business pitch

Mark: My role is to work with clients who are owner managers or in family-run SMEs. These are people running their own business and who need accounts and tax returns done, but also want more than just that. We offer an all-encompassing service and get involved with all types of business and financial decisions with our clients. We’re proactive in helping them make the most of their money.

Thrive: So developing strong connections with your clients is key?

Mark: Yes, absolutely. You know you have got there with a client when they ring up just to tell you they are thinking about doing something, such as leasing a new car or such like, and they want to sound it out to you first. It’s all about building that relationship and the better I know my clients, the better the advice I can give them is. It’s good to be able to help people in so many different aspects of their financial decision-making and they seem to really appreciate it.

Thrive: Do you think you were always destined to be in this line of work?

Mark: I remember being in school and we did a career advice test. It was a big survey where you had to use black pen to mark against various questions. It was all very simple and some dot matrix thing read it! Anyway, my top ten jobs included things like tax inspector, accounting, selling insurance etc. So when I went to university, I had that in the back of my mind and so I did economics. After I graduated, I found out about all the training I needed to do to become an accountant and that’s when I got really serious about it.

Thrive: So what led you to start Argents Chartered Accountants?

Mark: I was working in Kent after qualifying there and I was with a firm that was full of good people but I could see those around me weren’t moving on. I wanted progression so I started looking around just at the same time one of the guys in my firm, Grahame announced he was leaving to start a new business in Norwich. It sounded quite exciting to me and he was looking for someone like myself to come in with him. So we jumped and emigrated to Norfolk!

Thrive: That sounds like a big gamble. Was it hard work?

Mark: Yes! In 1996 we rented an office at the top end of Prince Of Wales Road. There was me, Grahame – who is still my business partner today, a secretary and a couple of juniors. We started with one filing cabinet’s worth of files and nothing else! It was exciting and Graham says now that, looking back, he can’t believe we got the go-ahead for it. The work we had in that filing cabinet wasn’t even covering our salaries.

Thrive: So how did you make it work?

Mark: The pressure to get more work was on from day one. I had some contacts from our existing customer base but we had to go out there and get networking. We networked pretty heavily in those days and got in with the banks, lawyers and gradually built it up. Within two years the company was sustainable as a small office. We were lucky, we got in at the right time.

Thrive: So networking was always part of your strategy. So how does Thrive benefit you now?

Mark: After I’d settled in and got the business going, I stopped networking so much. I felt like I wasn’t a natural at it. But one day Lorna’s husband John called me to tell me about this new group they were starting and that it take place at The Maid’s Head Hotel, which is next door to my office. There was no way I could say no! I’ve been coming along ever since. I like Thrive because it’s not a pushy environment and that means quality work gets passed around. Thrive is all about relationships and getting contacts from the other members, which I really like.

Thrive: What’s the most useful connection you’ve made at Thrive?

Mark: I got a contract with the Norfolk Business Improvement District, which is a government initiative run by businesses for businesses. It is designed to improve the trading environment and bring more people into the city centre. Through a contact at Thrive I was able to get in front of the right people to pitch to them and it is a fixed five-year contract. I wouldn’t have got it without Thrive!

Thrive: We know you work incredibly hard so what would you have liked to excel at if you hadn’t gone into accountancy?

Mark: I would love to be a professional golfer! I was pretty good when I was young and I picked up a club – like many people in Scotland do – when I was quite small. By 14, I was pretty good! But then life got in the way when I went to uni and then started working and had a family. But now I play once a week and I’d love to play more often. What’s annoying is I have never got back to that standard I achieved when I was younger. I know there is extra potential there but I’d need to play a lot more often. Playing golf three times a week or more as well as running my business? No chance!

Thrive Face Of The Fortnight  

Mark Johnstone, director at Argents Chartered Accountants

Kate White – Front Page Media

Networking puts you in the position to connect with people with whom you want to do business and allows you to gain and grow good business relationships from the beginning. Networking isn’t just about making contacts and connections, it’s about making the right ones. Thrive is a forwarding thinking group of like-minded people who appreciate staying connected and helping each other.