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Profile: ‘People are quick to criticise small businesses’

Christopher Little & Co principal on how an active role in the local business community has helped his firm grow

Building up a client base from scratch is hard enough when you have known an area all your life, but doing it as a newcomer is a different ball game altogether.

Christopher Little & Co principal Tom Hatley runs an advice firm in the market town of Otley, near Leeds. But having been brought up near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, the locals were quick to spot he was not a native Yorkshireman when he moved there in 2010.

“When I came to work for Chris Little [former owner and founder of the business] I introduced myself to people and to them I had a funny accent,” he says.

“Building relationships as a financial adviser is about trust – if you have a strange accent you have to work a little bit harder to endear yourself and build up that trust. I think you should give something back to the local community before you can ask them for something.”

Hatley found that an effective way to do this was to get involved in the local business community. He introduced himself, handed out business cards to local firms, and joined the Otley and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

“I threw myself into that – I was president of the Otley Chamber of Trade and set up the Otley Business Awards two years ago. It’s a great feeling to stand on stage in front of 80 local businesses and hand out 12 awards, saying well done. People are quick to criticise small businesses but nobody thanks them for what they do,” he says.

Smaller advice firms less burdened by regulation challenges

Hatley is now preparing to take over as chairman of the Otley Business Improvement District in April. BIDs are partnerships between local authorities and local businesses aimed at improving the local trading environment.

“There are hundreds of BIDs in the county. It’s where businesses in towns and cities, or even streets, come together and decide they want to set up a structure where a pot of money is invested to improve the town,” he says. “It’s all based on business rates – businesses pay 1 per cent of their rateable value into the pot. In Otley, the likes of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s contribute thousands of pounds, but for smaller businesses it might be £30, £40, or £50 a year.”

Five questions

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
It might take time but be persistent and patient and you’ll do well.

What keeps you awake at night?
My two daughters, aged 10 months and two years.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
In respect of my own advice business, moving to the new office has had a big impact. It has elevated us in terms of our presence in town.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Visit financial advice firms and talk to some advisers.

Any advice for new advisers?
Find a good, honest financial planner to work for who puts clients first.

Getting involved in local business has enabled Hatley to put down roots and make friends out of colleagues, which in turn has helped his own business when people are looking for financial advice. “My mates joke that I’m the mayor of Otley, but I’m not,” he laughs.

Hatley’s interest in business started at a young age – at school he would sell samples of Calvin Klein fragrances that had been handed out free at a bar. By the time he was studying business and management at university, he was running an online confectionery business that had grown out of wanting to put the theory he was learning into practice. “My grandad ran a business in London. I was brought up in an environment where running a business and working for yourself wasn’t a big deal,” he says.

It was necessity that set him on the path to financial services. He was dating the daughter of a financial adviser and they could not afford a property in London when prices were at their peak in 2007, so they moved to Bradford, near her family.

“My then-girlfriend’s dad offered me a job as a paraplanner,” says Hatley. “His firm was built around investments; that was all he did. After three years, I started my exams and got qualified. I realised I’d run an advice business differently to what he was doing, so I looked for an opportunity to start out the way I thought it should be done.”

A compliance officer Hatley knew put him in touch with Chris Little, who had founded Christopher Little & Co in 1989.

“When I met Chris, he was in his early 70s and had an office above a solicitor’s practice. He took me into a back room full of filing cabinets and a computer that didn’t get used often. He said if I wanted to come in as a self-employed adviser and build up my own clients, I could run it as I wanted. He wasn’t advising at that point; he just wanted someone to come in and keep the business going,” he says.

Hatley knew that Little would retire at some point and when he did, in 2016, Hatley bought the firm. “Chris had kept to his word – I was self-employed and already running my own proposition, so it wasn’t daunting. All I effectively bought was the trading name,” he says.

Hatley has kept the original name but says his wife would like him to change it. “Before I bought the business I’d already convinced Chris we needed to rebrand.”

CV

2010-present: Financial adviser then principal, Christopher Little & Co

2007-2010: Investment paraplanner, Axel Investments

Getting the best from rebranding your firm

That said, time and money was spent on building a website and talking to new clients, so Hatley felt it did not make sense to undo that hard work and start again.

Hatley also wants to avoid naming the business after himself because his paraplanner, Ryan Spence, is working towards qualifying as an adviser with a view to buying into it. “If the business is called something that is not personal to me we can work well under that name,” he says.

On 1 January, Christopher Little & Co moved into a new office on the high street and Hatley is already reaping the rewards of having his own shop front. “We’ve got more enquiries from walk-ins and our web presence in January than we did for the whole of last year,” he says.

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