Episode 168 – The Numbers Business with Della Hudson

Della HudsonThink you’re in a profession that doesn’t lend itself to writing a book? Della Hudson trained as a chemist and is now an accountant, but her book The Numbers Business: How to build a successful cloud accountancy practice was a winner at this year’s Business Book Awards. And even she, one of the world’s clearest thinkers, recommends writing a book as an exercise in clarity and an investment in your intellectual property assets: 

‘It’s a nice way to structure your thoughts. Just to think clearly because you’re structuring them for your readers. But you’re also structuring all that information to be used in a number of different ways in future.’



LINKS:

Della’s site: https://www.hudsonbusiness.co.uk/

Della on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DellaHudsonFCA

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Alison Jones:                        Hello and welcome to The Extraordinary Business Book Club. I’m here today with Della Hudson who is a chartered accountant – and we don’t often start a session like that – who ran a successful accounting business before selling it in 2017. And now she speaks throughout the country to inspire and inform and encourage business owners to take action. She’s also the author of the bestselling book, The Numbers Business: How to build a successful cloud accountancy practice, which won specialist book category at the 2009 Business Book Awards. Welcome to the show Della.

Della Hudson:                     Hello Alison.

Alison Jones:                        It’s really good to have you on Della, and congratulations on your Business Book Award success.

Della Hudson:                     Thank you.

Alison Jones:                        Tell us about winning. What was that like?

Della Hudson:                     It was quite unbelievable. I’ve always been a numbers person, although I did a certain amount of writing to promote the business and I’d write semi-technical articles. I only wrote the book really to capture everything that I know as part of selling the business. It was quite a personal thing, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was even a commercial book. I had a nice time. I was over the moon at being shortlisted. And as far as I was concerned, I was just getting to the final awards dinner just to celebrate that. It was quite amazing, and I’m still slightly shocked when I think about it.

Alison Jones:                        It still feels slightly unreal. You did have a very shocked look on your face, I have to say, when you went up to accept the award. It was quite funny.

Della Hudson:                     Yes. It’s always nice to get nice surprises. So many other fabulous books in the awards as well. Because I’ve got around to reading some of them now and yes…

Alison Jones:                        Yes. It was a really strong category. Your book is terrific. I mean, I don’t know why you’re so surprised, because it’s the sign of a tidy mind. I remember thinking as I was reading, I was like, “Wow, here’s somebody who knows exactly what they’re going to say. And it’s all in this book.” It just set out absolutely brilliantly. I wanted to talk to you about that because you clearly… You’ve actually got a degree in chemistry, haven’t you? You’ve got a science background, you’re a chartered accountant. It’s not the traditional background, it’s not the provenance of most writers. How was it sitting and writing the book? How did you approach it?

Della Hudson:                     I had a lot of information I just needed to get down, and I wasn’t sure if it was a commercial possibility. So I went and looked through the list of publishers that I knew, independent publishers, and went to see one of them. The very first conversation I said, “If this is just an ego trip, if I’m just capturing the information for myself, let me know and I’ll just write it and retain it for myself. If it’s limited commercial, let me know and I’ll just do it a cheap Amazon, get it out there. If it’s a proper thing of valuable information that people need, then we’ll go the whole way.” I trusted her at every stage to tell me was it an ego trip, or was it something useful.

Alison Jones:                        It’s so interesting that you use that phrase ‘ego trip’ because the word I wrote down reading your book was it feels like an impulse of generosity. It feels as though you’re supporting people in the way that you really wished you’d had this book when you were in that situation.

Della Hudson:                     That spark came out all the way through. And things people have said to me since is how useful it is. Somebody saying it would have saved them three years on setting up their own business, was quite incredible. I think had I had it right at the beginning, it would have saved me a year, three years, whatever, rather than figuring it out for myself.

Alison Jones:                        I don’t think that’s an ego trip at all. I mean, I think that does come… Well it reads as though it comes from an impulse of generosity, which is interesting. But I love also that you have a taxonomy even for your publishing strategy. It’s not just that the book is laid out beautifully. You were very clear about the different options with publishing and which route you should go down under which conditions, if:then.

Della Hudson:                     Yes, I was so pleased with my publisher. I certainly couldn’t have won the award without her. I had a lot of information, a lot of content in my mind, but I had no problem vomiting into my Word document. But she took it, and coached me throughout the process. I’d submit about three chapters, and she was always really, really lovely coming back and saying, “Oh, I like this. And I like that structure. Perhaps we could have that through every chapter.” Rather than pointing out the bits that weren’t so good. And what I had at the end I was really pleased with and I thought, “Yes that looks like a book that I would buy.”

Alison Jones:                        That’s the lovely Sue, isn’t it? Sue Richardson, I must get her on the podcast because she is terrific.

Della Hudson:                     She is so wonderful and she specialises in business books as well. So yes she’s easy to work with. And it’s a real partnership, and that why I’m quite happy to share the credit with her. It couldn’t just have been my words. My words would have just come out all in one go. She structured them.

Alison Jones:                        Right. Did you just do the vomiting onto the page? Because again, that just don’t strike me as the vomiting onto the page kind of. I’m pretty sure you must have had a structure in your mind.

Della Hudson:                     Well I started off with an Excel spreadsheet, which is completely not what authors do. I had…

Alison Jones:                        Of course you did, how else would you start?

Della Hudson:                     I’m an accountant, I love my Excel. I came up with about 20 chapter headings, roughly in chronological order, of how I’d come across the issues as I started my business. A lot of them there was either a talk, script, or some blogs I’d done, not for accountants, but for generic businesses. Some of them, half of it was written a bit in a different format. I had my spreadsheet, and I kept a word count all the way through. When I sat down with Sue, we talked about how long would the book be? And I pointed to a book and said how many words in that, she said 40,000. I kept my spreadsheet going towards my 40,000 words target. And one point it went over, and I edited it back well below. I think it ended up almost exactly 40,000 words. I run the claim.

Alison Jones:                        Well then I’m not surprised.

Della Hudson:                     It was an arbitrary target. It’s interesting to see they come out. You’re trying to set 2,000 words per chapter, and some of them about 1,600 some are 3,500. It’s just how it is in the real world. Some subjects it was more to talk about than others.

Alison Jones:                        What’s interesting as well is it’s instructional in a good way. You’ve got all the bullet points and so on, and it is very much telling you what you need to think about, what you need to do. But you weave in your own story. That is actually quite a trick, because it can be all about me. Some authors feel the need to share every detail of their journey. I think you did really well reigning yourself back and the real… I mean it is fascinating, your own story. It sheds a lot of light on the instructions given how it plays out in a company. But you only really talk about stuff that’s really relevant to the reader. Were you conscious of weighing everything and going, “What’s the reason for putting this in?” Or was it just a bit of an exercise in reviewing your history?

Della Hudson:                     I had two different types of reader in mind. I sort of, as with any marketing thing, you have your avatars who you’re speaking to. And they have different personalities, different objectives in their businesses. I wrote for these two people. By the end of the process I could almost see the look they gave me if I was spouting nonsense.

Alison Jones:                        Oh, I love that. Were they people that you knew? I mean did you actually have real people in mind? Or you just created them so really that they felt real to you?

Della Hudson:                     They wear vaguely based on two different types of people I knew. One of them was an accounting expert…

Alison Jones:                        Interesting. That’s another point, isn’t it? It says up front it’s a book for setting up a cloud accountancy practice, but actually most of it is pretty relevant for pretty much any business.

Della Hudson:                     Yes. I’ve had former clients and others who’ve read it and have said much the same thing. So I’m writing a second book, which is possibly about 70% of the same for any type of business. I’m starting to add in some bits about basic bookkeeping, how you use your accounts. And I think there’s 50 questions you’d like to ask your accountant but you’re scared to ask and things like that. It’s a rewrite of some, and fresh stuff for other stuff.

Alison Jones:                        Because that of course is the one thing you don’t need to write about in a book for accountants.

Della Hudson:                     I hope they know how to do their bookkeeping and how to read their accounts.

Alison Jones:                        Funny. Actually one top tip that I loved in your book, and I thought it was really super smart was the way that you offered training to clients, but also made it open for non-clients. You charged the people who weren’t already clients. So in the course of those sessions, of course your clients are basically marketing to your non-clients telling them how great you are, which I thought was a really smart system.

Della Hudson:                     It turned out to be smarter actually. It was just extended to… We had so many business owners who didn’t know how to do their accounts, the basic bookkeeping. So I was showing them one-to-one how to do this. Which then evolved into a course of half a dozen, and then it’s, “There must be other people who need to know this.” We charged them, and then it turned out to be a great marketing thing as well.

Alison Jones:                        It’s just a great example, isn’t it? The evolutionary strategy and doing things and seeing that they’re working and scaling them out.

Della Hudson:                     Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t have predicted that, but now I know it’s something I’d do similar things should that arise in future.

Alison Jones:                        Absolutely. What does the link with your business now look like? How does the book play out in what you do every day?

Della Hudson:                     I have a mixture of things that I do. Every so often I’m asked to come and speak on one of the chapters in the book, depends what the event organiser wants. Some of that is paid, some of it is I have the opportunity to promote the book. The other thing I do, is the book has formed the basis for an online course.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant.

Della Hudson:                     Which people can have with or without the coaching. The cheap way of course is the course, which is like sharing of information and a little live Q and A so people can apply it to their business. Then there is the additional option of the one-to-one coaching, which is what I really love. I really like to get involved with people’s businesses too. It’s a two-way process whereas the book is on the speaking or just me providing information, and I have no idea whether it’s helping people or not. Whereas the coaching I get constant feedback, and we can tweak what people are doing.

Alison Jones:                        Yes. You are just speaking into the void if you haven’t got the feedback aren’t you, which is a bit unnerving, but… When you said about when you first thought about writing the book and you had the anxiety about, “Well is it an ego trip? Is it just me writing for me?” At some point, that whole piece must have evolved of not just the book, but the coaching, the online course. Just talk us through how that happened. Was it a circular thing where it just keeps building on it, each thing builds on the next or was there a clear strategy right from the start?

Della Hudson:                     I’ve always done an element of coaching, and let’s say that’s where my real passion lies helping people on the one-to-one. But I had this really useful information that I just wanted to get out there so it was, let’s just try recording a few webinars and see if anyone’s interested. Of course, it turns out they are and that makes it much more accessible. So there’s a very cheap book to buy or they can have a relatively cheap course or they can have the top level one-to-one. But this is something for everyone, I can help everybody in a different way. They don’t have to pay for the one-to-one.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, it’s brilliant. But how far along with writing the book were you before that all fell into place?

Della Hudson:                     I was probably… I wrote the book fairly quickly, now the publishing process took much longer, but for me to finish my bit it probably came up as an idea while I was writing. But I didn’t actually start to structure it and get my thoughts clear until after the book was with the publisher. So it was always on my mind as she bounced back for different feedback. But I was able to move on with my own thoughts as to what I would do with it.

Alison Jones:                        Yes. It’s a lovely demonstration. I’m picking up on the detail, but I think it’s so common a theme in this podcast. It’s that evolutionary writing a book for one purpose, but actually it turns out that I’m pulling in stuff that I’d done before and this takes me in a different direction. And it’s such an interesting way of moving you forward isn’t it? And seeing new opportunities open up because as you write the book, you almost become a different person.

Della Hudson:                     Yes, the walls are… Having sold the business, I could then capture that and move on. And then to find that actually what I’d captured was the resource for a second business, a whole methodology that I could turn into a different format with the webinars. Like you, I’m fascinated by the process and how it evolves.

Alison Jones:                        You wouldn’t have seen that coming would you five years ago?

Della Hudson:                     Absolutely not. No, it was… I think I had to purge the book from my system, but then to find that I have something that could be useful was… It’s fascinating, I love the way that one business is rolled into another. It was quite good fun.

Alison Jones:                        It is. It’s brilliant. And it’s one of those things people know why or they think they know why they want to write a book anyway. To build their business or to find new clients or just in this scale, whatever it is. But almost always once they’ve written the book, something shifts or some opportunity opens up that they hadn’t foreseen. Or even just, as you say that methodology that came out of the discipline of writing it enables something else. So yes, you can’t predict those things, but I was always fascinated to see them play out for authors. It’s great.

Della Hudson:                     Yes. It’s just a nice way to structure your thoughts. Just to think clearly because you’re structuring them for your readers. But you’re also structuring all that information to be used in a number of different ways in future.

Alison Jones:                        If you’re doing it right, you are, yes. Just writing a book does not guarantee this, but certainly the way you’ve done it is yes, really interesting. I’m sure people would have got a lot from that anyway, but if I was to ask you what your best tip for a first time business book writer who’s perhaps not progressing as well as they might hope is, what would that be?

Della Hudson:                     I’ve got a number of friends who are writers, mainly fiction and I know that’s a completely different thought process. But the one thing I would say is write first, edit second. Don’t try and edit as you’re going along. Just get it out of your brain, onto the paper, the computer, whatever. Then you can go back and tweak it. I find I can sit down and write for two hours solid and then my brain starts to dry up. If I stop to edit, I do about five minutes and then the creative process would stop. I think that is of two processes, the creative process of writing and then the logical tidying up process of editing. And my brain can’t switch between the two. I need to do one and do the other. I think a lot of people are the same. So just get it done there and then come back the next day and see how it looks.

Alison Jones:                        Yes. I think that’s brilliant advice, I’d go further I’d say, I think every brain works like that. There are different modes aren’t they? When you’re in that expansive creative mode, as soon as you introduce that more reductive critical thinking, it just kills your momentum.

Della Hudson:                     Yes, absolutely. And you see it with children as well. They are so imaginative, so creative and then somebody makes them stop and think. Which they have to, but it always a balance to create and to structure at the same time. It’s a lot easier to try and do them separately.

Alison Jones:                        It is. Also, I think when you have set aside the time to do the editing, the critical and the more thoughtful, engaging the brain rather than get into the creative expansive stuff. You can always give your child permission to carry on playing because you know that there will be a point where you come back and edit this. You’re not going to send it off to the publisher as it is. It gives you permission to be in flow and see what comes out. I often… I don’t know about you, but I often find when I do that, when I start writing for a period of time, the first bit it’s like yes that’s fine, but it’s only when you’ve been writing for about 10, 15 minutes, you suddenly tap into the seam of gold. And there’s like a direct connection between your brain and your hand and things that you hadn’t even really understood that you understand keep flowing out. It’s amazing.

Della Hudson:                     Yes, somebody came up with the expression, you’re vomiting onto the page and it really does feel like that sometimes when you’re in flow you can’t stop it. So why try and stop it? Just get everything out there. And then work out what’s the good stuff what’s not. It tends to be, if you’re in the flow, you do find there is more good stuff. Or at least I do.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, yes there is. And it’s stuff that you might not have expected to see. I think that’s the other thing is that it brings out stuff that you wouldn’t have been able to articulate had somebody just asked you the question cold.

Della Hudson:                     Yes. It evolves as you’re doing it.

Alison Jones:                        Yes. And again, for me that’s one of the big reasons to write a book, it’s to unearth this stuff it is pure gold and it just takes you to a deeper level of thinking. It’s brilliant. And apart from your book obviously, is there a business book or frankly any book that you think someone in business should read that perhaps one that’s helped you.

Della Hudson:                     There are two that I found very useful, I suspect most business people have heard the E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

Alison Jones:                        You reference that in the book of course, don’t you?

Della Hudson:                     Yes. And then the other one which brought in so much value is perhaps not quite so well known. That’s Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, I’m a big fun of Bryony Thomas as well. In fact both of them are guests on this podcast.

Della Hudson:                     Oh excellent. So you knew all about Bryony, and she takes a very fluffy subject and puts it into a logical system, which is perfect for people like me.

Alison Jones:                        Of course, I could see you two getting on like a house on fire. There’s no fluff around Bryony no.

Della Hudson:                     No. She’s direct and to the point and so is her book. I just find it really useful way to structure my own marketing for my business and for the book as well.

Alison Jones:                        That’s brilliant. I should put both those books up. Well you can view the whole transcript of course of this conversation at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. But yes, it’s solid endorsement from me there for those two recommendations from Della. Thank you. And Della if you’d want to find out more about you, more about the book more, more about what you do now where could they go?

Della Hudson:                     The book is on Amazon or via the SRA books website. The information about what I’m doing, it’s on hudsonbusiness.co.uk.

Alison Jones:                        Fantastic, I’ll put that link up on the show notes. Thank you so much for your time today Della that was brilliant.

Della Hudson:                     Thank you. It’s been lovely speaking.

 

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