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Adviser Workshop: How to start a business within a business

Chris Daems (pictured), Keith Churchouse and Ray Adams discuss how they went about starting a new business while running their existing firm

Adviser Workshop: How to start a business within a business

Chris Daems (pictured above), Keith Churchouse and Ray Adams discuss how they went about starting a new business while running their existing firm.

Chris Daems

Director, Cervello Financial Planning

I am a director of auto-enrolment advisory group AE in a Box, which is a collaborative project and sits in its own limited company. The venture helps employers develop auto-enrolment propositions.

Research your market

There are always obstacles when launching new propositions. You need to understand the market and how to make the service you deliver support your target market. Once you have launched, you need to be as nimble as possible when changing the service to suit your target market.

One of the greatest challenges, and it is the same for most business owners, is efficiently using your time, especially when wearing several different hats. I delegate and focus on my key skills, although this is an area I am still working on.

Focus your efforts

You must be careful not to lose focus on your core business. Developing a new project can be exciting, but it can be a distraction if you are not disciplined.

We did a good amount of market research, questioning our own team, as well as other professionals and employers. This feedback helped us in the development process. However, there is no better experience than building and developing a product, releasing it into the marketplace and learning lessons along the way.

AE in a Box was the first time we developed a service independent of our consultancy service, but it will not be the last. We are thinking about how we can diversify into complementary services.

Keith Churchouse

Director, Chapters Financial

We run a separate online planning business within Chapters Financial called SaidSo. It was set up around two-and-a-half years ago.

We created it as a separate business because we wanted to start with the end in mind. The end would be to eventually sell that separate business.

Play the name game

When setting up SaidSo, we looked at whether the name was available. First, we needed to see if someone else had a trademark for it. Second, we checked whether someone else had a limited company for that name.

Third, we checked whether it was on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register and, finally, we searched to see if someone else had a website with the same name. These are four points any new business will need to check.

Stay separate

We set up SaidSo as a separate entity because we did not want to dilute the current business.

Suppose you were to run Chapters online as a low-cost version of Chapters high-street. People might decide to just go online to get the service. You will get less money and they will get less service. You will be shooting yourself in the foot.

Make sure all your bases are covered, as running a business requires a lot of energy. You need that level of energy running through both strands of your businesses or you must have a team that buys into both brands, and whose time is allocated accordingly.

Ray Adams

Director, Niche Independent Financial Advisers

Setting up separate cashflow modelling business CashCalc happened by accident. Part of the reason it is separate to our advice firm is for tax reasons.

Work done by an IFA as an intermediary between a product and advice is counted as a VAT-exempt transaction. If it is general advice, I can charge fees. If turnover is more than £85,000 I will have to charge VAT as well.

If I am selling a computer programme, such as CashCalc, that turns over £100,000, this is liable to VAT because it exceeds the VAT-free turnover limit. This either means the entire business becomes VAT-liable or you must split your business in two.

Keep it independent

A new business must stand on its own two feet. It is harder to assess its performance if expenses are being absorbed somewhere else.

If you lend a member of staff to help with something, someone else is now subsidising the business. It is not a problem, but you need to keep good records of staff time.

Know your field

If you have another source of income that is non-regulated, you will want to keep that separate. Otherwise you are paying extra fees for your professional indemnity insurance when you should not be.

These are all just processes. It is important to stick to what you know. CashCalc is in an area I know well because I am selling a service I use myself to other financial advisers.


  • Chris Daems: Manage your time better by delegating tasks to staff with the relevant skills.
  • Keith Churchouse: Make sure you have the energy to run the second business with as much energy as the first.
  • Ray Adams: Keep the businesses separate for accounting and VAT purposes, and to see if it is profitable.

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