As business owners, many of us have suffered personally in different ways as a result of the impact of Covid-19. A common theme that has come out of the global pandemic is the real sense of people wanting to help each other – whether that is through supporting local businesses, volunteering in your local community or giving peer support to other businesses.

Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online’s CEO believes deeply in community volunteering, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship, and has been involved in a number of development programmes designed to support Irish businesses for many years.

Having grown her award-winning company from a small business practitioner to an award-winning Chartered Accountancy firm serving over 2,000 clients mainly in the tech, software and consulting sectors, Larissa is well placed to offer support and guidance to those starting out.

Leading a team of accounting professionals who are based at offices in Dublin, Derry and Letterkenny as well as remotely in Ireland and overseas, Larissa knows the challenges and high points of managing a large and diverse team.

Larissa is also an innovator. A pioneer in using cloud technology in accountancy, Accountant Online has won many awards under Larissa’s leadership — most recently the 2021 Xero Partner of the Year award and the Irish Accountancy Awards for ‘Medium Practice of the Year’ and overall ‘Practice of the Year’ in 2020.

“Starting a business can be exciting and daunting – my top advice would be to seek support to help you on your journey,” says Larissa. “This support will be invaluable in giving you the tools you need to grow your business, helping you to overcome the inevitable challenges you will meet.” Larissa is on the mentor panel of both Donegal LEO and Enterprise Ireland.

One of the programmes that Larissa supports is ACORNS. The programme supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural areas.

My top advice would be to seek support to help you on your journey.

The programme, which is now in its 7th year, is free for participants and centred on interactive round-table sessions facilitated by successful female entrepreneurs who, like Larissa, have started and grown businesses in rural Ireland.

Last year, the combined turnover of the overall ACORNS group doubled from €1.8 million to €3.6 million over the six months of the programme and 29 new jobs were created.

The highly-successful development initiative is based around the concept of peer-to-peer learning where successful business owners — called ‘Lead Entrepreneurs’ — give their time free of charge to encourage and support the new business owners. Larissa has been one of the Lead Entrepreneurs on the programme for the past two years.

Acting in a voluntary capacity, these Lead Entrepreneurs share their insights and experience with the group and help the participants to address the issues and challenges they face in starting and progressing their businesses.  They also act as role models, illustrating by their actions that it is possible to start and grow a successful business in rural Ireland.

Larissa says: “Starting a new business can be lonely, but it’s important to realise that you are not alone in the challenges that you are facing as an early-stage entrepreneur and that your problems are not unique. ACORNS really helps with building confidence, motivation and sharing insights. While the businesses are all different, the issues that they encounter are often similar.”

While the businesses are all different, the issues that they encounter are often similar.

Larissa knows how important giving back is as she herself is a previous participant on Going for Growth – a separate development programme designed to support ambitious female entrepreneurs who are focused on growth.

“The support I received helped me make some fundamental changes to my business for the better. Getting objective feedback can be very difficult when you’re starting out, but the women I met while taking part in Going for Growth had no vested interest, so they were very candid. I ended up ditching one half of my original idea (for a traditional practice) as a result, and it was a very good decision. It feels great to have the opportunity to help others who are starting out just as I did in the past.”

The Going for Growth initiative is also based on interactive round-table sessions that are facilitated by successful entrepreneurs. Over 800 female entrepreneurs have benefited from taking part in Going for Growth to date and the initiative is now in its 14th year.

The six-month programme, which is supported by Enterprise Ireland and KPMG, is currently looking for new participants for its latest cycle, with a deadline of December 16 for applications for the free programme.

“I love being involved in these type of programmes and trying to help the participants with practical advice and encourage them to overcome obstacles to build the best possible business they can. I’ve also benefited personally from these business networks.”

Larissa firmly believes that budding entrepreneurs should seek the help available to them from networks like ACORNS and Going For Growth.

“Don’t go it alone. Seek out support from mentors and coaches and people who will support you on your journey. Join networks – your network is your net worth,” she says.