When we started Ashton McGill, we set out to transform the way things are done. We love small businesses, and it’s our mission to help them thrive. It’s what we were born to do.
Starting life as a design agency, we’ve helped businesses harness the power of design to transform what they do and improve the lives of their customers. And as accountants, we still help businesses improve their organisations, but this time it’s underpinned by a powerful understanding of the numbers, and how they impact the business as a whole.
Our journey from the world of design into the world of accounting isn’t a story we’ve really told, but it’s one that’s unique to us and forms part of who we are, so we’re sharing it here today.
Early Ashton McGill
Ashton McGill is built with people at its heart. We’re a family-run business, owned by father and son. A business shaped by our guiding values of family, culture and community.
(And we get to say that our first ever Christmas Party took place in 1995!)
Our name comes from the merging of two families. McGill, our cofounder Alasdair’s surname, and Ashton, his wife’s maiden name. It’s two parts of a whole we carry with us. As a business, we consider ourselves a family, so it felt only fitting that we be named after one too. (FYI, there’s no one in our business called Ashton!)
The Ashton McGill journey began in the world of design. Working with brands like V&A and Volkswagen, we helped people improve their services and create better experiences for their customers. Mapping customer journeys, talking to customers and collecting insights were all part and parcel of the job. We then used those insights to create the kinds of services that people wanted and needed. Services that met their needs and solved their problems.
Those of you that know us know we’re design aficionados, and this is what we mean when we talk about a design-led approach. Design isn’t just about shiny objects or a new logo, as many people believe. It’s about thinking beyond what you currently do and making the world a better place. It’s about people and putting them at the heart of everything you do. It’s about how things work.
Design is a hugely valuable tool that can equip your business with everything it needs to thrive, like making new products that reach new customers and designing new services that innovatively solve customer problems. But unfortunately, it’s something a lot of people get wrong. Accountants especially.
The pivot to design-led accounting
As service designers, we were passionate about people, and frustrated by the way many organisations behaved. As business owners, we were also frustrated by the way our own accountant behaved. They weren’t customer friendly or proactive, they didn’t care about their customers and they didn’t provide us with any additional value. As designers, you can bet we were thinking about that customer experience!
It felt like a transactional experience, one that was designed to benefit the accountant and not the customer. And after speaking to other business owners, we found it was an experience that wasn’t just unique to us. It was unanimous. People felt that their accountants didn’t care about them or their business. That profit had become their only measure of success. It was clear they’d forgotten about compassion, about empathy, about treating people well. They had no soul.
That’s when we decided to do something about it.
Not many business owners can say that they happen to be an experienced accountant, but that’s what helped us spot our opportunity. Armed with our co-founder Alasdair’s accounting expertise, and Andy’s vision to make it happen, we started to imagine a different kind of accounting service. One that put the customer first, that communicated in plain English and focused on helping businesses to grow.
That’s when the design-thinkers in us jumped into action. If we were going to do this, we’d do it right. We spoke to over 100 business owners, finding out what they wanted from an accountant, what their current pains and gains were, and we used that to build the service of their dreams. A service we knew we could design and deliver.
We discovered business owners didn’t value the compliance work their accountants were doing. That had to be done and it had to be done well, but what they really valued was an accountant who could help them build a better business. Someone to help them understand the numbers and how to use them to grow.
As designers, it was only natural that we take a design-led approach to accounting. Armed with these insights and a clear idea of our ideal customer, we sought them out and worked with them to build out our vision for Ashton McGill. An accounting service that was simple, smart and supportive, built with people and purpose at its core.
3 years on, and a lot has changed since then. Our team has grown arms and legs, our services and our brand have evolved and grown too. We’ve moved into our dream office space, ran design workshops in New York, started our own Community Fund and we’ve managed to bag a Xero award along the way. We’re so proud of the community we’ve grown and we’re lucky enough to work with some amazing businesses who are leading the way with what we do. It’s been a privilege to be a part of each incredible journey.
Looking to the future
As business owners, we’re busier than ever, always connected, searching for that elusive work-life balance. We long for workplaces where we can be ourselves. Where community, passion and purpose sit comfortably together. Workplaces that feed our soul. And that’s what we’ve found with Ashton McGill.
Back in 2017, we built Ashton McGill with the purpose of helping people build better businesses. But when we strip that back, it’s really just about helping people. We’re passionate about people and about using business as a force for good.
Our vision for AM, and our brand vision more generally, isn’t about targeting our ideal customers and persuading them to buy our services. In fact, it never has been. It’s about inspiring people. Inspiring our audience to be better, to believe in better, and to never settle. Inspiring them to build the organisation, the business, the life of their dreams. Inspiring them to live and breathe the values we share, in the hopes that we can build a better world, together.
What started out a few years ago as an innovative solution to a customer problem, as a way of reimagining what an industry might look like, has blossomed into a shared vision for change more generally. A vision for a better world, a world that puts people over profit, that puts purpose over lining pockets. A vision for a shared community of like minded people collaborating, connecting and dreaming up ways that they can make that vision into a tangible, liveable reality, and then working collectively to do so. And although we call ourselves ‘accountants’, that’s just one element of what we do. Everyday we help people build better business, and it just so happens that accounting is a part of that vision.
As we look to the future, we hope to embed our guiding mantra of helping people into every facet of our organisation, and use our Why to evolve Ashton McGill from what might be considered ‘accounting services’ into a truly purpose-led and community-centred organisation. One that not only truly helps people, in unexpected and delightful ways, but one that inspires others to do the same. This is our future vision for Ashton McGill.