After gaining experience working in her mum and dad’s accountancy business, Alison Sellar went on to establish one of the fastest growing and most successful payroll and taxation companies in the northeast of Scotland. Since launching activpayroll in 2001 as CEO Alison has presided over rapid growth that has seen the company’s services expand from its global headquarters in Aberdeen throughout Scotland and internationally. As well as its Aberdeen HQ, activpayroll services its 1,000 plus clients from offices in Edinburgh, Stavanger, Paris, Singapore, Sydney, Perth, Washington, Houston and Ontario.
It was while Alison was working for her parents that she spotted an opportunity to start her own business.
“Like many accountancy fims, they did payroll but didn’t specialise in it, so I saw an opportunity to really focus on the oil and gas sector and do it well. The companies that come to us realise that if we can handle this complex market then we will have no problem with sectors that are a bit more straightforward. Today our client
base is very diverse, from Formula One teams and investment banks, to energy companies and airlines, although we’re still renowned for our oil and gas expertise.”
As with any organisation that undergoes rapid expansion, especially one that operates in 80 countries spanning four continents, activpayroll has faced some challenges, says Alison.
“Moving into new international markets can bring signifiant challenges for a company, from dealing with cultural and time zone differences to trusting people to carry your values and your core vision into countries which are geographically far away. It’s also important to make sure you have the resources to keep up with the pace of change and that you’ve got the cash-flow mechanisms in place to support your growth.”
In order to successfully take activpayroll into new territories and sectors, Alison sought the help of Scotland’s enterprise agencies who she says have helped underpin the company’s success.
“Scottish Enterprise and SDI have been a fantastic support in helping us open up new offies in overseas countries and introducing us to like-minded companies who already have experience of doing business in these specifi markets. They also shared valuable insights into local trade and business culture in terms of training, organising leadership and management programmes and provided us with information on appropriate grant funding.”
Alison says that building up your own business, particularly when you have to deal with managing the payroll of clients across different time-zones, can sometimes be all-encompassing.
“Payroll is such a critical thing to get right so you do have to be dedicated to the job and put in a lot of effort. I travel most weeks which can infringe on your personal life but the sort of clients we have demand this sort of service. For instance we are the third biggest supplier for our Formula One client and many companies rely on our global payroll and ex-pat services which is such a critical thing to get right when you have people working abroad.”
As part of her commitment to growing the business and helping to foster Scotland’s business links with the rest of the world, Alison has also found the time to become a GlobalScot Trade Mission Ambassador, an opportunity she tackles with relish.
“Recently I was on a trade mission to Toronto and many of the companies I was introduced to were interested in speaking to me because of the experience I have in expanding a business. I came back with a bulging contacts book and many of these companies could be potential clients either for activpayroll or other Scottish companies either working, or looking to work, in Canada.”
With many impressive blue-chip companies on the books of activpayroll, Alison is proud of the fact that the company punches well above its weight.
“Some of the names we’ve got on our books are quite impressive which makes us believe, that as a Scottish company moving forward, we can keep playing in the bigger leagues with our rivals, and work with these bigger organisations. It’s also all about relationships as well, building strong partnerships with your clients is really important – I guess the energy comes from getting that next ‘big’ deal."
Alison credits her success in business to the following:
Top Tips for Success
- Be committed – a company is not something you can start and then walk away from easily
- It’s vital that you have the right people around you
- Acknowledge there will be challenges, all businesses have them and you are not alone
- Get someone you respect to mentor you through the early stages
- Have a really strong idea of the fiancial support you’ll need both for today and in the future
- Contact Scottish Enterprise, they can help you plan as well as support you as you grow
With many impressive blue-chip companies on thebooks of activpayroll, Alison is proud of the fact that thecompany punches well above its weight.