Reading time 20 minutes

Why I believe businesses can use money to take us all to a better place

It's time to share my story.

I post regularly and connect with people though what I have not done enough of is explain what led me to set up Profit Impact. It feels right also to share more openly what I have seen since the launch of my business in 2020. You will also get to hear my experience as a female employee, female founder and working mum.

Over this story I hope you will be able to connect more deeply with me as I share events which led me from 13th October 1970 to where I am today.

Over this time I expect my vision for Profit Impact will make more sense. My vision for Profit Impact is for businesses to use money differently and take us all to a better place.

I'm a female finance professional with a lack of born privilege. I take full responsibility for my journey, my mistakes, my failures, and my progress.

What I will talk about is what I have seen through my lens - others will have different views and experiences. It might resonate with you now, or later. It may never resonate with you.

We need not have such a divisive world if we can slow down, and listen to others, especially to those who think differently from us.

I'd love to hear your views on any of the topics I raise - if you agree with me or not.

You are shaped by your childhood - the start you have in life shapes your future - until you are able to stop allowing it.

I thought it was perfectly normal for the man of the house to be in charge and dictate every single direction and decision. If you are in charge you know what you are doing, right?

I believed all children lived within a strict upbringing. It didn’t even cross my mind that most situations had nuance and usually needed debate or negotiation. Everything was black or white. Don’t we all just get on and do what we are told?

I thought all families would go round a supermarket each week with a basket and regularly add up what is going in - usually returning back to the shelf at least half of what we needed. I had absolutely no concept of treats or even that other families might be enjoying a life with financial freedom.

I had no idea of community and what that meant or any appreciation of the world around us. 

I thought everyone had pudding bowls put on their heads to guide their haircuts 😆

We had no money - the pursuit of money became the goal. I was well and truly part of the system. I knew I was going to work hard to keep money coming in, do exactly what I was told and just keep going.

I was completely unaware of my path ahead. 😥

My first money lesson.

I have worked from the age of 11 and I started by delivering newspapers every early morning and helping on the milk float on a Saturday.

I learnt from the other paper deliverers that at Christmas if you knocked on the door of your customers told them you were their paper deliverer and that you wanted to wish them a Merry Christmas you would get a Christmas Box.

I was an eleven-year-old, obedient, grateful paper girl with her pudding bowl haircut walking around Crouch End on my own in the dark.

It started incredibly well - I remember going to a small flat in a less salubrious part of Crouch End (they did exist back then!) and being given a five-pound note. I couldn't believe it. £5 in 1981 was a lot of money. Maybe I was thinking I could now get a new haircut 😂

Then I went to the big house where I delivered a huge stack of papers every Sunday. I delivered my message and the door got slammed in my face, I was mortified.

I still remember that evening today. I have no idea what was going on in the homes of both of these customers so I can never be sure but my intuition is telling me one person thought about the impact their decision was going to have and one didn't.

I now realise my lesson in this is more than money. It is harder to empathise with somebody if you have not had the same lived experience as them. Yet if we can slow down and think about what we do and how we can increase our positive impact or minimise our negative impact the world would be a better place.

Your decisions more often than not have an impact on something or someone somewhere - you just might not see it.

Did you lug those paper bags around back in the day?

Why I have a finance career.

“You’re good at maths, why don’t you become an accountant”

If you are following this story you may remember that we moved from Manchester to London for a better future. Sadly this did not transpire into my secondary education. There will be a number of reasons I did so badly at school and the only person who can take responsibility for that is me.

My abiding memory of school is my maths teacher skipping excitedly down the corridor to congratulate me because I’d got one of the highest Maths O level grades in the year.

I’d had extra tuition to help me. I got a B.

This was my one academic accolade.

(My children who grew up in the educational hot house town of Berkhamsted giggle nervously whenever I relay this story. I don’t think they believe me).

So a handful of O levels almost non existent A levels what next.

A B grade in Maths O level translates to I’m good at maths I’ll become an accountant. I applied for an accounts junior job I saw in the newspaper (yes I am that old) for a small accounting practice in Oxford Circus and got it. I was earning money. Exciting times.

Back in the day we’d have liquid lunches and long drinking sessions in the evening in the Phoenix pub. It was FUN. I worked in a small office with a smoker - I remember really not finding that fun.

It transpired that I was indeed good at maths and the lovely partners spotted my untapped talent and funded me to get my AAT qualification. I passed with flying colours in record time.

How did you get your first job? Do you think the way people choose their career path have improved?

You may well be thinking what on earth has Sarah’s life story got to do with taking us all to a happier place. You’re going to have to trust me.

The golden years.

1993 to 1999 were the golden years. After leaving the accounting practice in Oxford Circus as a qualified AAT member I wanted to branch out into something more exciting.

I decided that training to be a financial accountant for a flat pack furniture business was more exciting….🤔 and joined MFI based in Colindale, NW London. 

My happiest role by a country mile. It transpired that MFI would provide heavily discounted MDF furniture for the masses,  an in house comedy function as an employee benefit and marital access to the worlds most patient man (ever).

I was now on a mission to prove my accounting abilities were not matched by my Maths O Level Grade B. I fast tracked my ACCA exams in 2 years and started to manage people. I don’t think I was very good at that in this job, if you remember I grew up in an environment where people did exactly what they were told. It seemed they didn’t if they weren’t your child 

I became focused on my progress and my life. I had financial independence and had control over my own decisions.

The move from Manchester to London for a better life had finally paid off.

Unintended consequences started here.

The job where I started as one half of a DINKY and left as a Mum.

By now we were living in Berkhamsted, which is a market town in Hertfordshire. I was so busy being busy that I didn't get involved in the community, this comes at a later stage of my story.

I joined BUPA in 1999 in their private hospital division. It was quite a transition - flat pack furniture to healthcare. I asked a lot of stupid questions - my colleagues were patient. I felt hugely valued and I progressed my career.

There was a thread which brought MFI and BUPA together and that was strong financial controls and planning. This is an important part of my story, so pop that in your memory bank.

Back to the new mum story.

I had a promised promotion pending, and a few weeks later I let my boss know my exciting news. Simon and I were going to be parents ♥ Lo and behold I found out inadvertently that my boss had decided the promotion was not going to be right for me and pulled the opportunity.

In hindsight the decision he made was the right one, I wouldn't have been able to cope. The thing is it wasn't his decision to make. I'd managed to extricate myself from an upbringing where a man was directing my every step and I wasn't expecting it to be a feature of my future....

Anyway, I sulkily let it ride went on maternity leave and became a Mum to the wonderful Freddie Whale.

I returned from mat leave and BUPA, who were genuinely sorry this had happened to me, bent over backwards to create a part-time role that they believed would work.

The commercial role, supporting bid tenders for the NHS was in London. Tight deadlines without hybrid working (which was not a thing back in the day) and managing the nursery runs for Freddie and Annie, who was now part of the family, between us were stressful.

During this time I had two miscarriages one of which saw me in hospital and a need for an extended break.

I realised if I wanted to enjoy my family and stay healthy and happy the writing was on the wall for a career in senior finance. Suddenly my life plan which was to work hard to keep money coming in, do exactly what I was told and just keep going was looking unachievable.

There was no way I was going to work in a senior finance role again.... It was a sad end to a happy job.

Fortunately, I had already set plans in motion to create the life I wanted for my family.

How did you manage the transition to being a parent?

Little Kickers ♥♥♥

Little Kickers is a business providing football classes for 2-7-year-olds and was set up as a franchise model.

Discovering Little Kickers at the time I did was fate. I was looking for a flexible opportunity, had dabbled in football when I was younger and had harboured a thought of running my own business for a while.

For a small franchise fee and a little set-up time I could see it was perfect for our family.

Simon and one of his closest friends John decided they would get their FA level 1 badges and run the first classes.

Our network of ante-natal friends stepped in and went into overdrive supporting us with local marketing.

In January 2006 we launched our first classes in Apsley. The coaches were naturals, the children loved it and so did the parents. It quickly became oversubscribed so we expanded to Berkhamsted.

We then opened in St Albans. Without our local cheerleader network, marketing was much harder, and I was starting to worry. Then the St Albans Observer kindly put to print a PR piece including the image of a cute football player.

The phone rang off the hook. It was like a modern-day equivalent of a Steven Bartlett LinkedIn post. This was my first lesson on the impact of marketing and advertising.

I underestimated the positive impact designed into this business, in fact thinking it through today I realise that this business was ahead of its time. Well done Christine Kelly 👏👏👏

The impact of this business was the clever yet simple model. The investment to get going was within reach for many and it allowed parents a home-based role. With 49-week classes a year it gave the coaches a regular income. Whilst the pricing set a new bar in the market it meant that coaches could be fairly paid, and we could afford the rental costs of sports halls and I could draw a salary.

Finally, it allowed a rare opportunity for Dads (and Mums) in the area to bond with their young children.

By the end of our time with Little Kickers we were coaching 600 young children in the area every week. Try as we might we couldn't switch the classes to midweek because most of the Dads were working. It meant we became squeezed over the weekend with a large team of coaches to manage.

It was a hectic time and our children were now wanting to do their activities, it was time to sell the business to a new family.

We were able to spend lots of time with our young family and be there for them for all the important school events. I still get a little warm feeling when I see a Little Kicker walking around Berkhamsted in their red and white kit.

I feel we need more solutions with positive impact integrated.

The darkest of times.

If you are following my story carefully you may be wondering why Little Kickers were not my golden years. Simon believes this was the moment all the planets aligned - he was right 🪐🪐🪐

Sadly this was also the period where we faced our deepest and darkest of times. I have no emotional energy to dig into this - I have to keep it locked away. Also it’s not just my story to tell. For this reason Little Kickers goes back into a locked box.

What I do want to say, and this is important, is that everyone faces struggles. Outside the wheels keep turning and unless you are lucky enough to be able to press pause and give yourself time to recover you have to carry on.

Business is only possible because of people. People are all that truly matters. Whether they are your boss, your supplier, your investor or your customer go gentle. Business doesn’t need to be a competition.

Can you relate to this?

All change please, all change.

By now we were the proud parents of 2 year old Nathan Whale. You will hear more about Mr Nate later on in my story, he’s taught me a lot about being your own person and adding soul to your local community.

& meanwhile, buoyed by his impressive ability to persuade 16 South West Hertfordshire 2 year olds to run around a sports hall whilst balancing football markers on their head’s, Simon decided to pursue a career in teaching.

If you remember back to my first post you may recall that I had committed to a life of working hard to keep money coming in, doing exactly what I was told and just keeping going. 

Its probably fair to say that I was not quite as naive as I was ten years earlier so doing exactly what I was told was not top of the agenda. This new found gumption was to come in handy for a volunteer phase I had just headed into. I have one or two more important stories to come before we talk about grassroots football.

I was though still focused on keeping the money coming in - well Simon was now a trainee teacher so that commitment had a renewed focus. This meant keeping going - I’d already said never again to finance so what next.

I decided to launch a business. I mean how difficult could it be? I put a portion of our hard earned Little Kickers proceeds into the venture and off I went. Sorted.

It failed, quite impressively. Nice one Sarah. 

Poor research, not well networked, clueless really. Another life lesson.

It was time to scramble.

I best dust off my Maths O Level Grade B certificate and go back to finance. I'll do a bit of finance work with the sme community. I mean how difficult could it be. There is a theme here, I see this now. Am I learning my lessons?

What's the biggest life lesson you have refused to learn - I’d love to hear…please share as it would make me feel better. 

We’re now 75% of the way through my life and 30% through my story. We’re starting to move into stories of business and society through my lens. Its quite uncomfortable in parts if we really stop to think about this.

The Shining phase

I make light of this phase not because it's that funny but because on reflection I am starting to understand why we are where we are and it's nervous laughter.

These anecdotes of my life story are not really about me or my family. I attempt in this series to link the impact of all of our decisions to all of our lives.

Back to the story.

Simon has now moved into teaching, I have a failed business venture and any savings have gone down the drain. We decided I must start working again to top up the trainee teacher pay - I should find some part-time finance work to fit in around the children.

I found 2 roles that could co-exist nicely together with a small element of childcare costs to pay out. It sounded workable.

In the first week of the first job, a young employee came up to me and nervously told me she had concerns about the way the business was being run. I decided to press on - I'm sure I could handle it.

Within a few weeks, I noticed the smell of alcohol wafting from about 9 am. I was then offered, by one of the board advisers who had helicoptered in for the day, a fantastic opportunity to invest in the business 👀 which after careful consideration of my bank balance I politely declined. Shortly afterwards, and before my first paycheck, the company went "under" (it didn't as I checked online last night) it has just been relabelled and relocated. I never got paid. My childminder did obviously.

At least I had the other job.

I was the only person working alongside this business owner in his distribution business on a day-to-day basis. He liked to be in control so did most things himself - apart from the finances. Nice enough chap - quite animated.

One particular day he was getting agitated about cash flow and I turned round and there he was waving a shiny knife around saying he kept this for when people messed him around. I don't believe this knife-wielding display was aimed at me but I was on my own in a warehouse with him and thinking about how quickly could I get out without increasing his agitation levels.

I went out to get a sandwich never to return. I didn't get paid for that job either. My childminder did obviously.

We now had less money than we started with. Excellent.

My reflections are:

1. I expect both these business owners were capable and decent people when they started. They had both built businesses but something has happened with money to change their approach.

2. I read and hear people saying that SMEs need less regulation and not more, I have to say I am not convinced.

I feel this one needs a discussion - what do you think about my reflections - do you agree or disagree?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T that's what football means to me.

Football continued to play a part a of our family life when Freddie joined Berkhamsted Raiders when he turned 8. Raiders is a fab community football club with hundreds of children playing football every week,

As with all community groups it couldn’t function without volunteers. I joined as the Club Welfare Officer and a little later Simon volunteered to manage the U9 girls team of which Annie and her BFF Erin were a part of.

I walked a little bit into this one, not really knowing what I was doing but quickly found my feet. In fact this is where I had my biggest career success EVER by persuading many Berkhamsted parents to accept a promotion to being a Match Day Delegate and wear a luminous yellow bib on the touchline. They especially liked these nylon bibs.

These parents were brilliant, manning the touchline keeping the atmosphere as positive as they could for the children.

I shall always remember my first ever presentation to a room of team managers talking about how we need to encourage a positive environment. I was so nervous, it turned out I was preaching to a vast majority of already converted people and we kicked off the RESPECT programme.

The volunteer managers came from all kinds of backgrounds, some were keen footballers or other sports people but some were just there to be part of the community and support their children.

Standards improved but nowhere near to the level I was expecting.

There were a handful of genuinely shocking incidents but mainly issues were constant criticism of the officials and coaching their son or daughter from the side. I learnt that it is possible for people to be perfectly reasonable away from a touchline but get them near a football pitch and they change behaviours with no regard to the impact they are having on the people around them. Its cultural, tribal and its embedded in mindset. Its hard to break.

It feels similar to the singular focus on profit maximisation.

We need lots of patience, education and a team to make change.

Finally….. stability.

After a few false dawns of trying to make things work we gave up on the teaching and part-time work combo - it was almost impossible. Instead Simon became a part-time working from home Dad and I worked full-time.

I had one role in a business which scaled spectacularly well - the excitement of the growth was palpable. Financials were under control and cash flow management wasn’t stressful. Looking back now I can see that if we’d looked at the impact on society and the environment we wouldn’t have been quite so excited. This job is why you will hear me say - no business should be scaling without an impact plan.

The second job was at The Economist. I stayed there for a year to cover mat leave. I worked in the Economist Intelligence Unit, it was full to the brim with very clever people.  I was there the day after the EU referendum result came out and there was lots of glum people being very quiet. Its funny the moments in life you remember. 

It was a respectful environment, well staffed financial teams and full control. There were very few surprises. Again we never spoke about Society or the Planet, it was all about the financials.

The 4 hour round trip 5 days a week over to Canary Wharf almost finished me off and made me miserable - so much lost time away from my children..

I hope that there is hybrid working at the Economist now and I also hope they are leading the way on the sustainable development goals - they have the insights, the team and the funds to do it. Maybe if I’d been more informed I could have stayed there and driven change from that angle.

Looking back I do remember getting bored, I bought a shiny blue bell to liven things up. I used to ring the bell whenever we had some good news. My second claim to fame for being a bit weird was sending a reply all joke to the whole of The Economist rather than my colleague - fortunately it was one of my better jokes.

I’m veering off here.

My point about this post is that both businesses had fantastic control, decisions were more considered and the brands were strong. Neither business considered their social or environmental impact and to be fair neither did I. 

Strong brands - Strong financials - Strong reputation.

How did we all miss the lack of broader perspective - all those intelligent people and yet impact was never discussed or if it was I wasn’t aware.

The lack of drama at the EIU set me up nicely for some more naivety as I headed into my next contract.

We need to go back to 1971 briefly.

An important part of my story is my sister Lisa who is one year and three days older than me.

She was always pushing me around the back garden in my walker. I forgot to mention that my parents were told I would never walk and I spent a lot of time in that walker. I think I did eventually get going at 3 years old.

Lisa has always looked after me. 

If you think back to my first story where I talked about being shaped by your childhood - I pledged to work hard to keep money coming in, do exactly what I was told and just keep going.

Lisa, despite an identical upbringing, pledged to spend her life working hard to care for people, do exactly what she was told and just keep going. 

You won't find Lisa on LinkedIn, you'll find her racing around looking after those who need kindness and practical support. It is no exaggeration to say that she deserves an OBE so if anyone has friends in high places please put a word in.

You'll meet Lisa again in towards the end of the blog.

Who is the one person in your life you have learned the most from?

We're now halfway through the Digital "Sarah Whale, This Is Your Life" and it feels time for a recap.

I promised at the beginning to share what I have seen through my lens - acknowledging that it might resonate with you now, or later. It may never resonate with you.

The key moments so far….

My start in life was short of cash but awash with male control.

At aged 10 we moved from Manchester to London for a better life.

I pledged to spend my life working hard to keep money coming in, do exactly what I was told and just keep going. 

Interestingly my sister pledged to spend her life working hard to care for people, do exactly what she was told and just keep going. 

I started working at age 11 and learnt my first money lesson in Crouch End from an over-enthusiastic door slammer.

I bombed impressively at school, although I did get a Maths O Level Grade B.

This started a career in accountancy which led to flat-pack furniture accounting and a witty and extremely patient husband. 1993-1999 were my Golden Years.

I then started to navigate the emotional, and painful,  journey of becoming a Mum.

Football markers and pop-up pugg goals became a feature of our lives and we became part of our local community.

I started a business and it failed. Our cash reserves were empty.

I was offered the generous opportunity to invest in a failing business and had a close encounter with Jack Torrance.

I persuaded some of the fashion set of Berkhamsted to wear luminous yellow nylon bibs and parade the grassroots football touchlines like they were Mary Poppins.

I had two roles, surrounding by clever colleagues, where we all missed opportunities to stop the bad stuff and grow the good stuff.

By now I have 3 wonderful children keeping me entertained. We're now 87% through my life and 50% of the way through my story.

I've had many nights of broken sleep stressing over the over-share. We're 46 years in and I haven't yet mentioned trees.

Thanks for sticking with me - just another 14 stories to go. Though I could get used to this newfound authentic content creation if I can fix the broken sleep.

#doingitforthekids #everyoneskids

My second money lesson.

After leaving the Economist a new FD contract role was offered to me. Nearer to home, with newly appointed board members, a trusted external accounting practice, and an advisory team. It was preparing for growth.

The business had around 300 employees. The interview with the CEO went well, I drove home happy. I was offered the job shortly afterwards. The CEO was keen to get me in as quickly as possible.

I met the team "ah another Finance Director, good luck" .

Interesting greeting. I seem to recall the CEO mentioning the previous 9 FDs had all been rubbish but I'd glossed over that vital bit of info.....

Within days the cash flow challenges became apparent - I spent 60% of my time working out what money to take from Peter to give to Paul.

It was a good product but it was not a profitable business model. The only way to make it profitable was to significantly scale the volume in an unidentified market and invest in v. expensive infrastructure.

You can’t scale without cash so the remaining 40% of my time was spent strategising about how we could create a financial model that painted a good enough picture to get a loan to pay Peter everything we’d avoided paying him and strengthen the financial outlook for further investment.

The thing is the CEO had already fully remortgaged his family home, he’d been trying to make this business work for 20 years.

Someone had advised him that billing clients a year in advance would sort his cash flow issues out. What is amazing about this is that the clients did this - the product was that good.

Reminder → It was a good product but it was not a profitable business model. It was never going to be - it was a pipedream.

I recognised the 9 am alcohol waft. A new one for me though was the stalling of payroll payments. The staff of this business were often part-time, with young families. The phone would start to ring from payday.

I found this hard. It became clear at 46 years old I still had a lot to learn.

When I was instructed not to make the Christmas payroll run that was the start of the end. The final day saw an instruction to falsify accounts for investment. Desperate times.

I did whistleblow but it did not generate a discussion.

I have reflected that many external people did well out of this financially - recruiters, accountants, brokers, loan houses, advisers.

The CEO and his family, the employees and their families, the suppliers and their families not so well.

Why do you think this might be?

I was still oblivious to the environment at this stage. It’s a good job, there would've been more chance of landing on the moon than finding time to calculate emissions. If we had, the fallout on this one wouldn't have been good either.

This job is not on my LinkedIn profile.

That time Berkhamsted achieved the impossible

It was a warm spring evening in 2015 at a Berkhamsted Raiders committee meeting and we were sat outside. I was beginning to feel like we'd reach the limit of the progress we could make on the touchline -   it was in this volunteer role that I learnt to fully appreciate the quote never let the great get in the way of the good.

I felt it was time to step back,  by this time I was working at The Economist during my four hour round trip to Canary Wharf. 

During this meeting we discussed the failing girls' football section.  Try as we might over a number of seasons we could not get the girls football  stabilised. t was a It risk a folding.

I knew that Annie and Erin were enjoying their football and Simon was loving the managing. I could also see there was very little team sports for girls in the town at that time, I suggested stepping back from the club welfare officer role and taking the lead in driving the girls' football section. Most thought that was a good idea but perhaps one or two people did not quite think through the implications of what this was going to mean for the club.

From the moment that decision was made and we started to market the girl's football to our school networks,  siblings of existing players and the managers and coaches in the club it took off.

What it needed was a monumental team push and that is exactly what it got.

We were able to persuade a number of fab women to step forward and manage some of the teams to give the girls role models.

The remaining volunteers were male - local Dads shoulder to shoulder with us using all their influence, stakeholder management skills and drive to make sure the girls got what they needed and what they deserved.

Raiders were now the proud owners of a football shed stocked with sanitary towels, biscuits and a massive mirror. That felt like a moment.

It was another aligning of the planets

Pitch allocation, training slots and specialist coaching for the girls became a topic of discussion at committee meetings  - trying to get them on a level playing field became the goal. It seems whatever the situation with females fair allocation of resource is not to be taken for granted. 

This was made harder than it needed to be. There are no HR functions in grassroots football clubs but in the end it didn’t matter and with the sheer weight of influence behind this initiative the impossible has now been achieved.

Raiders is now one of, if not the, biggest girls community football club in the UK.

Berkhamsted take a bow.

My reflections on this story is that if you have a vision to make the world better and you surround yourself with people that share your vision brilliant things can happen.

My time at Raiders came to an abrupt end - squeezed by difficult parents and another career development opportunity which you’ll hear about next.

How much do you understand the term M&A?

M&A holds weight and kudos in the business world. There is a lot of money in M&A. In another life, I might have been tempted but I don't think my Maths O-level Grade B would have cut the mustard.

Another often-used phrase is exit.

Exit is something many founders are striving for. It means your business will be bought by another business or investor. It's your reward for all your efforts and taking on financial risk.

This is often referred to as an M&A transaction (M&A means mergers and acquisitions).

The main talking point at exit is around the business valuation. You are reliant on professional due diligence to check the numbers and the financial statements to support suggested valuations.

When due diligence is done poorly it can have significant knock-on effects on everyone. Apart of course from the owners who have exited with their payment and the due diligence firm who have sailed into the night with their fees.

An obvious risk of weak due diligence is that profit is over-valued right from the outset.

When the errors in the due diligence are discovered you may have to restate all your projections meaning the profit the acquirer is expecting is miles away from the projection. This difference could run into £M+++s.

Pressure rises on business operations and the leadership team. The auditors can become compromised.

If you are an acquirer, a couple of ways to avoid this happening are;

- avoid due diligence being purely a data room exercise (AI is best avoided)

- check the culture of the acquiring finance team do you sense they feel listened to and trusted? Don't leave this culture check until afterwards.

If you don't approach this with deep levels of care you are inviting long-term problems. This may well become your main focus, your aspirations and goals for your new business may need to be shelved for the time being.

Further down the line, you may be putting your investment at risk as the investment value in your balance sheet is significantly higher than the future predicted long-term profits of your business. You'll then have a new word in your vocabulary and that is impairment, ie a P&L write-off.

Get your acquisition wrong and it's a car crash waiting to happen.

If you're the seller do your level best to get those numbers to reflect your business performance - it's good for your reputation. I am led to believe those picking up the mess rarely forget all that time away from their families.

Have you been through an M&A? Is there anything you would have done differently?

How Personal Development saved me

In my final employed role I was lucky to have 2 fab bosses. The first who showed the ultimate professionalism in times of intense pressure. I learnt a lot from him. The second created opportunities for my development and is the reason Profit Impact exists.

It started with a strengths assessment : 

Natural strengths: Humour - resilience - strategic thinking

Learned strength: Persuasion

Main weakness: Listening.

It felt like a solid start.

I was then placed on a 4 month High Performance Leadership programme at Cranfield. A group of 18 people from all sorts of backgrounds came together uncertain what lay ahead.

It started with us pairing off and we were asked to draw a line which represented the highs and lows of our life. I was paired with a funny and kind chap, lets call him JIm, who was growing increasingly open eyed as I talked him through my line which resembled the Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Jim then shared his line, it looked like he’d spent his life on a sun lounger, He did have a small bump - he explained this was when he had a longer commute after he’d moved house. We bonded over that 15 minutes.

The course was full of guided visualisations and team exercises, being a practical do-er I was starting to wonder where this was going.

On the final day we had a day of everyone acting out their line and finishing with what your visualisations had taught you about what you really wanted in life. I realised that somewhere deep within my goal was to give my children the start in life I didn’t have - emotional and financial stability.

Every person on that day had an emotional act-out, lots of tears. My ‘act out’ was the last of the day. I got to the end of my line and I was greeted by my closest peers acting as my 3 children as adults, happy and financially secure.  Amongst the tears I said that's my goal for the future but I think I’ve already achieved that. Somehow we’d made it through the rollercoaster.

When I drove home that evening I thought everyone has trauma and issues deep within they are dealing with. Most put a smile on their face and push on.

Then I thought if we have created a life we wanted for our children why am I still feeling unsettled.

More on that to follow.

My deep and meaningful question for you is, if your life is a fun fair ride what would you be?

What happened when I stopped busily being busy.

After leaving my final employed finance role I took myself off for a yoga and walking retreat in Spain. My first ever break away on my own. I don't remember any deep revelations to share but I do remember appreciating the mountains, the sea and the blue sky.

When I returned I found a fabulous executive coach - Ruby. Through intense 1-2-1 sessions over a period of 3 months, Ruby was able to draw out of me why I felt like a round peg in a square hole.

The ten sessions with Ruby identified; that I am an empath, I have money issues, I am driven, I am not good at negotiating, I have amazing relationships with loyal friends and family, I don't always plan ahead, I believe finance and governance is broken, I have an entrepreneurial approach, I'm self-deprecating.

Ruby's parting words at the end of our time together were that she still has a lot of work to do with me 😆 - she's right and I haven't forgotten.

During this time I applied for an FD role at a B Corp certified organisation. I didn't get the job, they were looking for someone who'd raised investment. I was disappointed but understood the decision. Now my eyes had been opened - I couldn't believe that this way of operating exists. I'd been so busy at work I hadn't looked up.

I realised statistically, as a 49-year-old woman with a Big Dipper CV, I had a less than 1% chance of finding (and securing) a finance leader role in a business which looked more broadly than its profit.

The conclusion led me to buy some shares in the business which had rejected me and research some options to set up my own business. I enrolled with the London Business School for a 12-week programme for wannabe entrepreneurs. It was excellent and the facilitator is still watching my business today to see if I am going to manage to retire before I am 80. Thank you 😅.

By now it was May 2020 and I am gearing up to launch my business. I felt privileged to be able to do all this research and see how having money behind you changes the decisions you can make for your life. I will talk about this later on in my story.

What is the one job you really really wanted but didn't get?

I have an important question for you

I hadn't intended this story as part of my blog but I think it might help us.

In my career from 1989-2019, I worked in 9 businesses: 4 blue chips, 1 scale-up and 4 SMEs. I have the following stats for you on these businesses:

Those with a significant negative environmental impact 67%

Those with a significant negative social impact 67%

Those with a positive environmental impact 0%

Those with a positive social impact 33%

Those with integrated governance 0%

Those with strong financial control 57%

Those with a positive profit impact 57%

Those with leaders and finance teams who were decent people who cared about other people 100%

My question for us all to consider is why all these people who cared did not at the very least recognise their negative social and environmental impact?

It was a cold and dark evening in December 2022 when I met Sadie

I want to tell you about Sadieas Sadie is the person who has had the biggest emotional impact on me.

Once I had stopped employed work and started my voyage of discovery I pledged to spend more time with Lisa.You may remember that Lisa is my sister who is one year and 3 days older than me.

One sister pledged to work hard to keep money coming in, do exactly what she was told and just keep going.

The older sister (Lisa) despite an identical upbringing, pledged to spend her life working hard to care for people, do exactly what she was told and just keep going.

After a few months of playing around with the value proposition of Profit Impact and long sunny walks around Ashridge, I realised that Lisa needed some practical support. She'd personally over-committed to helping local families who were finding it very hard to cope with the conditions we all found ourselves in. We quickly formed a Trust with local governors and headteachers.

The Trust began as a small-scale operation to ask for and distribute donations of food and household items, ensuring that anyone who needed help had somewhere to go to ask for it.In December 2022 Nathan, Annie and I drove to Hatfield to support the creation and delivery of food parcels for Christmas.

Our first delivery was to Sadie. As I pulled into the road to deliver Sadie's Christmas food parcel, this dark cold evening, there were no lights on in the entire road. I assumed it was a power cut. It wasn't. The families could not afford their energy bills. We found Sadie's house and knocked on the door.

Eventually, Sadie opened the door whilst searching for the light switch. Sadie was heavily pregnant and had two young children holding onto her legs.Sadie was very grateful for the parcel.

Last year the Trust became completely overrun, so much so we couldn't cope with the demand. The escalation of the energy crisis was the final straw. We were running fast to keep still. There were now far too many people in the Birchwood community who were unable to afford the basics. We felt we couldn't help our community to come out of its problems, the issues they faced are systemic and run deep.

We passed across the operation to Trussell Trust Hatfield who have a bank of 40 volunteers, access to storage and pick and pack facilities plus corporate donations. More than 50% of our community was working FULL-TIME. We have more food banks in the UK than McDonalds.

This feels like an insurmountable problem. I think of Sadie often. My bad days, we all have them, will not be a patch on what Sadie faces every single day. Why do you think we find ourselves in a place where significant numbers of people in the UK are struggling to make ends meet?

Today I want to talk about mental health.

Every day in the UK we lose 17 people to suicide according to The Jordan Legacy.

74% of suicides in the UK involve men (source ONS).

Many millions are suffering and according to Mind in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week.

That is 1 in 6 people who read this post today.

Affected family and friends share personal stories and these people need to know it's making a difference - they will have saved many lives. I know that parents will be forever grateful for their bravery and resilience at a time when they may well have wanted to just hide away.

This is such a tough subject to discuss, and something that I have no trained medical background in but it's affecting all of us, especially our younger people.

There has been a steady climb over recent years and yes I do think some of it will be because the stigma has been removed but I believe the underlying trend of mental illness is rising.

Many families, charities and businesses are working hard to support those suffering as well as work out the issues driving this upward trend. I feel we have to do more as a wider society to support these groups to understand why this is increasing.

So I have another why question. Why do you think so many people are struggling with their mental health?

What I have learned about brownies.

By now it was February 2023 (hang in there - we're getting closer!) and I'd emerged from another loop-the-loop. This loop reaffirmed that I was on the right track with my theory.

My youngest child, Nathan, decided he wanted to expand his baking business and start selling at Berkhamsted Market. He'd started to sell his bakes during Covid to his neighbours who kept coming back for more.

The thing you need to know about Nathan is he is relentless. Once he gets an idea in his head there is no stopping him and he would not let this idea drop until I had tracked down Mike who ran the market stalls.

I couldn't find Mike.

I went to LinkedIn which Simon thought was a complete waste of time. It has been one of my most viral posts to date. We found Mike! Finally, my LinkedIn posting was delivering tangible results.

What I have learnt about this experience:

1. It's easier to sell brownies than services which take a business to a better place (something about short-term pleasure here I think).

2. Getting teenagers away from their phones and talking to people is one of the best things for them and the community (the community love him).

3. It would be mathematically very hard to produce and sell quality brownies at enough volume to sustain a family (more than 6,000 hospitality venues closed in 2023, new openings in the sector have reduced for the third year in a row.).

I have an important question for you, what is your favourite bake?

What happened at Westminster?

In August 2023 I visited Westminster to speak to my MP about the Better Business Act which is a proposed change in the UK law to ensure every company in the UK aligns their interests with those of wider society and the environment.

The conversation went well and there was a promise to discuss it with colleagues.

Sustainability, impact, purpose, ESG whatever you want to call it has to some extent been politicised.

For quite a while I have held a belief that there is one glaring thing that most people are not discussing, and that is maths.

It's mathematically impossible to make decisions on profit over the long term and not erode natural resources and materially impact society.

If we carry on measuring our success based solely on profit we will run out of resources and society will become marginalised.

It is not mathematically possible for there to be winners and losers.

Eventually, there will only ever be losers.

This is simple maths.

I asked my MP his view on the 300 million businesses around the world focusing on profit and what he thought of my maths theory.

He smiled and told me that is why charities exist.

I found myself smiling back and thanking him for his time rather than talking through what I see that supports my theory. Don't ask me why...........

I don't have all the answers on our future but I am sure the charities are not capable of stemming the tide. We are in a global reset moment.

I am convinced I am onto something here and have been sitting waiting for people to say it but no one says it in a way that speaks to me as a finance professional.

My question is, do you understand my maths theory and if so do you agree or disagree?

What actually is finance?

In March 2023 I needed to inject cash flow into my business, so I took on a 3-day-a-week finance contract role. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the team and it was fun to get back into London a few days a week.

The team was completely swamped, with far too much time spent chasing invoices around the business and dealing with disgruntled teams. Everything was urgent (3 weeks ago urgent) and I started to suffer from dejavu. Why we have not been able to fix this issue yet given all the fintech growth?

For suppliers' cash flow planning is hard and then for the finance teams, you are not focusing on the value-add work - planning, analysis, risk management and control.

You will be less profitable if you do not have the right controls.

I left this stellar creative business, in December, thinking two things:

1. I wish I could have recruited half of the finance team to work with me on Profit Impact.

2. If this business can do more social or planetary creativity its potential for financial growth is high (and we'd all win too).

We are never too old to learn and in 2023 I finally had my eyes opened to what many people outside finance believe finance is.

I had numerous conversations with people about how we can help SMEs take on loans or other forms of investment so they can 'become green'.

This is not the question.

We need to work out what the business needs over the long term (ie a sustainability strategy) then look at the financial model and see what the business might need regarding any capital injection.

My takeaway from this (and other conversations) is that many understand finance as investment either debt or equity.

This is only part of the puzzle.

You should not take on any debt or equity (to 'go green' or otherwise) until you are sure your starting point is accurate (controls) and you have carefully tested forecast scenarios.

SMEs are not getting sufficient advice about controls, planning & analysis. This feels unfair on the leaders as well as a huge missed opportunity for the business, the economy and society.

Finance in business is controlling and managing what you have coming in and out of your business, reporting, analysing and planning for decisions, governance and managing risk.

Debt and equity decisions come after these things are done - to a level you are confident in.

What do you think?

My experience of being a founder.

I have completely underestimated how long it takes to do anything, this is even with everyone saying to me it will take a long time.

I've made so many mistakes. I'm almost 4 years in and think I am on website version 5. I've not yet won a customer through my website 😂

All these people help in one way or another -> Terry, James, Ed, Aidan, Zahid, Asad, Ray, Johnny, Andy, Steve, Simon, Bill, Toby, Rory, David, Sukhendu, Adam

Notice anything about these names 👆👆👆 yes they are all men. They go out of their way to support me. Whether that's a possible tender suggestion, a positive pick-me-up on WhatsApp, a cup of coffee whilst I'm battling with tech, a share of my socials, a free tech stack review, booking a call to just check how it's going or a referral. I see you and I appreciate you.

I have not quite worked out how to sell something that 99% of businesses don't understand is going to give them the best financial return on investment than pretty much anything else they can spend their money on. 🙄😂

My saddest time, so far, was having to say goodbye to Emma because we didn't have enough billable work.

I haven't considered investment yet. I want to see more traction, and proof of impact and validate my financial model to be confident I am using money effectively. I am nervous about fundraising based on what I hear about female founders' success rates.

I've met so many people who want to work for my business. The supply of quality talent is there. I have been lucky enough to have 4 women in particular who have supported me -> Micarla, Vic, Laura & Natasha.

I have learnt the most from Emmie and the members of Female Founders Rise about collaborating with your network, being authentic and being consistent. This has been a game-changer for me.

I will always remember fondly the kickstarters who worked with me in year 2.

I don't hustle and burn the candle at both ends. I don't believe this is the right approach for me, my business or my family over the long term.

I don't earn much (I understand the link to the point above but I've finally changed).

I have some fantastic partnerships developing and I'm excited about the impact and fun these will bring.

The most frustrating thing I deal with is ghosting. But compared to what Sadie copes with every day it's not a biggie.

I enjoy it so much and have never been happier.

What actually is sustainability?

It's not a topic, it's not going green and it's not popping the word responsible into your business strapline.

It is playing your part in securing the long-term future of your business, our society and the wider world.

It's an area which is transitioning to being the core strategy of every organisation whether that's a government, a charity, a business or an individual.

The maths are indisputable.

Unfortunately, we have hugely overcomplicated it and many are frozen into inaction.

It's a multi (£trillion??) industry which is battling against current systems.

It's an industry that doesn’t attract much diversity which is narrowing the lens and if you look closely you see far more focus on the planet than on the large swathes of society that are struggling.

Some fabulous people are working in this space, plenty of whom I am lucky enough to learn from.

Unfortunately, many accountants and industry finance professionals are behind the curve. They are busy being busy (I've been there) or waiting for cold hard facts proven over a long time frame (we’ll never prove long-term stats if we don’t start). This lack of financial representation means the heart of the issue is not being addressed head-on.

The heart of the issue is decision-making around financials and risks.

Also referred to as governance.

I would love to see many more finance people at the plethora of sustainability festivals and events that are on offer. We are working with one hand tied behind our backs without you.

My simple view of a sustainability strategy is that it means you are maximising your positive impacts and reducing your negative impact - both internally and externally - over time.

Ultimately it will make the world a more prosperous, happier and safer place to live.

What does sustainability mean to you?

October 15th, 2023

It's time to bring Lisa back into the story.

Lisa is the one who has spent all her life looking after others. Those people who do that, when they start with limited means, usually remain with limited means.

Lisa came over on this particular day to celebrate our birthdays. One of the things inherited in the genes of our family is humour. Lisa is funny. Though not as funny as me.

We always have fun together. I was horrified to look up and see her crying. I asked her what was the matter.

Lisa explained that she feels she can do no more to help her children or her community it's all gone too far for her and she now needs to look after herself.

Inside I'm thinking - this is really bad news. I have let Lisa care her socks off for 35 years and now she feels defeated.

I'm also thinking I have pulled the drawbridge up for myself and protected my children but have not done enough for hers.

Then I realise that it gets worse.

In my quest to keep bringing money in through my life, I have contributed to the problems by working for businesses that have not properly considered their impact on society.

Then I think, !*!*, I can't explain that the science on the planet is not looking good either so actually none of our children or future grandchildren have been protected. I don’t think that news is going to help lift the mood.

Lisa being Lisa then asks me how my business is going.

Oh you know, coming together... But why so slow Sarah? I don't know Lisa people tell me it's because business people don't care but I know that's not true. Well, not true for the vast majority anyway.

I explain I'm going to have to step up my marketing and explanations about how finance and governance can unlock happiness. When we can get 10% of 300 million businesses making broader decisions the world will be a much happier place.

Lisa said I hope people can get a move on because that sounds like much more fun.

100% through my life and 100% through my story (so far).

When I launched Profit Impact I vowed to spend the final stage of my career doing something that spoke to my values, have fun and make an impact.

I am now sure that I don't want to spend any more of my working career helping businesses that don’t have any curiosity to build a plan to reverse and make up for any damage.

I understand the maths of sustainability. The upside of pursuing it & the downside of not. This is not activism or tree hugging in fact it has nothing to do with trees. It’s about 300 million businesses all making decisions with the same sole goal…making profit.

I will be doing much more work to simplify this explanation. Here are some data points for you for now:

72% of insurers are worried about climate risk, some have started not to cover this in policies.

We have more food banks than McDonald's in the UK, often used by full-time workers.

1 in 6 have mental health challenges for a whole raft of reasons but climate & financial anxiety play a part.

Product businesses are struggling with rising costs driven by climate, property & staffing costs. You only have to look at failing high streets and hospitality to see this.

75%+ of people want businesses to look at their social & environmental impact.

40% of Corporate CEOs do not believe their business will survive the transition.

This means at least 40% of SMEs will be impacted.

Today I have a small but highly performing happy group of clients. They are doing so well that I might have to put my prices up [only joking team].

We specialise in supporting SMEs - especially B2B with 10-300 employees.

We can't protect small and medium-sized businesses or make a positive dent in society with what I and a small handful of others have.

We want the finance advisory community to come with us. Behind the scenes we’re building capacity with other progressive finance partners- if you’re interested in finding out more please get in touch.

By flipping financial advisory on its head we will live in a happier, safer and more prosperous world.

We need an ambition to make this happen for my children, your children and everyone's children.

With that in mind I’m going all in. I hope you will consider contributing to the journey.

If you'd like to have a chat with me about my story you can find a time which works for you here.

Written by:
Sarah Whale, FCCA
Sarah is the founder of Profit Impact, which guides businesses to measure and grwo long-term positive social, environmental and financial impacts. Sarah has over 20 years experience as a senior financial professional as well as a qualified in Cambridge Institute Sustainability Leadership and B Corp Leader.