How Lisa Curteis realised her entrepreneurial dreams with Rosemary Bookkeeping

A revelation in Piccadilly Circus made Lisa Curteis dedicate her life to Rosemary Bookkeeping and enabling people to get fulfilment out of their work

How Lisa Curteis realised her entrepreneurial dreams with Rosemary Bookkeeping

It’s not often TfL is credited with inspiring a major epiphany but seeing a London bus in heavy Piccadilly Circus traffic brought on perhaps one of the most pivotal realisations of Lisa Curteis’s life. “I was outside the tube station having a bit of a heated conversation with one of my then directors,” she says. “I thought: ‘if I got hit by that bus, have I done my best?'” Realising there was still a great deal she wanted to achieve with her life, she quit her job and this set her on a path that would eventually see her become director of Rosemary Bookkeeping, an outsourced bookkeeping franchise with 21 franchisees across the UK.

Curteis grew up in Bushey and attended the local comprehensive but doesn’t feel she was a natural academic. “I’ll never forget playing Scrabble with my dad and my older sister,” she says. “I scored about 20 points.” Despite this, she was incredibly determined and hard working, something evidenced by the fact that not long after leaving school she was snapped up for a role as PA to the personnel director of the Bank of England. However, after a few years, she began to feel that the City was not for her. “I was looking at people who had been there for 30 years and thinking ‘I don’t want that to be me’,” she says.

Part of this lack of enthusiasm was down to the fact that Curteis had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. “From my late teens, I’d wanted to run my own business,” she says. “I used to chat to a friend and ask: ‘what can we do to start our own company?'”

After leaving the Bank of England and spending several weeks travelling round the US, Curteis found a new role working for the Index Group, the consulting arm of CSC, a provider of next-generation technology solutions and services. But whilst this gave her experience of skills in disciplines such as marketing, finance, HR and operations, Curteis was still on the lookout for something that would allow her to flex her entrepreneurial muscles.

Fortunately this opportunity came when she was offered a position at the new venture Corven. Founded by three former colleagues at CSC, Corven provided management consultancy to FTSE 100 companies and gave Curteis her first real taste of the startup life. “It was very entrepreneurial,” she says. “I really got involved at the grassroots.”

Having been brought in at the ground floor, Curteis became a jack of all trades, heading up all of the fledgling company’s back office functions from recruitment to marketing. And over the course of the next decade, she saw it grow from a core team of four to a thriving business in the capital with over 50 employees. “From an initial $45,000 investment made by the partners, it developed into a £10m concern,” she says.

However, by this time, Curteis was beginning to get itchy feet. “Working with Corven was supposed to be part of my five-year plan and, by this point, ten years had passed,” she says. And after having her realisation in Piccadilly Circus, she knew that the time was right to make good her ambitions of owning her own business. “I started chatting to some friends of my sister who ran a local bookkeeping business,” she says. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It does seem this concerted effort has paid off. Not only has Rosemary Bookkeeping reached 21 territories but it has been nominated for a string of awards, something Curteis feels can prove invaluable in acknowledging employees’ and franchisees’ hard work. “It’s about the recognition it gives them when we put them forward,” she says. “People like receiving accolades for their efforts.” One example she gives is that of Steve Brown, the Rosemary Bookkeeping franchisee for Newbury, who recently received a nomination for Olderpreneur Franchisee of the Year at the bfa HSBC Franchisee of the Year Awards 2016. “They’ve had lots of challenges in their franchise and he’s worked very hard, so having that is huge for them,” she says.

In terms of Rosemary Bookkeeping’s plans for the future, Curteis shies away from putting a number on things. “When we started out, we had these great aspirations: ‘we’re going to have 50 by this stage’,” she says. “But with time you learn it’s not about the quantity of franchisees you sign: it’s about the quality.” With this in mind, Rosemary Bookkeeping is focusing its attention on securing the right candidates rather than just churning through as many as possible. “That’s my target: fewer leads with a better conversion rate,” she says.

But this isn’t Curteis’s only ambition for the future: she has personal goals she’s looking to fulfil too. “Entrepreneurship isn’t all about making money,” she says. “Giving back, in whatever form, helps you feel more fulfilled.” After Curteis’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, she began raising money for Cancer Research UK and a slew of other local and national charities, something that continues to this day.

On top of this, having acted as a mentor for the government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which helps young people between 18 and 30 to get a business idea off the ground, in 2014, Curteis is eager to continue helping the younger generation follow in her footsteps. “Those are my personal goals,” she concludes. “Supporting, sharing and moving forward.”

Josh Russell
Josh Russell