Anne Reilly: ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help’

We talk to female entrepreneurs who have successful businesses in rural Ireland.  Today, we talk to Anne Reilly, founder of Paycheck Plus.

In recent weeks we reported on how women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join ACORNS 6. The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach. Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.

The call is now open for applicants for ACORNS 6 and fifty female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

“Paycheck Plus was established in 2005 from my garage with just one employee. Since then we’ve grown organically and now employ almost 30 staff in Ireland and the UK”

Today, we speak to one of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs on the programme, Anne Reilly who has grown Paycheck Plus from one employee in 2005 to a company with a staff of 30.

Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?

Coming from a corporate background in multinational food companies, I pivoted several times from the public sector to teaching and then, following the arrival of my four sons in less than five years, I decided that I would go back to study payroll, as there was no formal payroll training when I did payroll at Unilever many years before. 

Being passionate about the topic I got excellent results and was subsequently asked by the Irish Payroll Association (IPASS) if I would like to lecture for them. That was great as I was combining my passion for payroll with teaching. It was there that I noticed a niche for a payroll information service to help employers understand the various complexities and legislation relating to paying their employees. 

Paycheck Plus was established in 2005 from my garage with just one employee. Since then we’ve grown organically and now employ almost 30 staff in Ireland and the UK.  We provide Irish and UK payroll outsource services and consultancy to our clients who come from 18 different countries across a range of different sectors from aviation to banking, retail to financial services, public sector and private, sole traders to PLCs. 

“We initially funded the business through personal savings and it was several years before I could draw a salary from the business, as we continued to invest in development”

Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?

Passion! At Paycheck Plus we can instantly spot a potential candidate who is genuinely passionate about payroll. They take it personally and will do everything possible to ensure employees get paid the right amount at the right time. We appreciate that everyone’s pay is important to them and we just love to make sure that happens, no matter how complex or challenging it is!  We are solution focused and enjoy sharing our knowledge and experience with employers to ensure their employees are happy! 

For many employers, the complexities of payroll mean that they need to have a specialised resource with a deep understanding of taxation, employment legislation, pensions, share option schemes, secondments, BIK rules and regulations. 

Outsourcing their payroll means that they don’t have to worry about that expert going on leave, keeping software updated, managing the bank payments or the continuous changes to legislation on tax and employment law updates.  We can scale our services to meet their needs as they grow. 

Of course, this year, the Covid subsidies brought additional challenges with 18 different updates already implemented since March. Outsourcing to Paycheck Plus relieves employees of a repetitive back-office function and leaves them free to focus their resources on profit making activities.

Our USP – well, we have been awarded the best payroll company in the world! And several members of our team have received individual and team awards nationally, and internationally. We have developed systems and processes that are setting the benchmark for the industry to ensure that our KPIs for accuracy, on-time delivery and customer service are retained at over 99pc consistently month after month. Our expertise is what sets us apart, combined with professional, yet friendly service. We believe in investing in continuous development of our team which means that they remain up to date and able to manage the most complex payroll requirements in Ireland and the UK.

“I took the advice offered to me many years ago to surround myself with the best people and that has served me well”

How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?

We initially funded the business through personal savings, and it was several years before I could draw a salary from the business, as we continued to invest in development. Plans for growth include the launch of our new cloud portal to provide a more seamless service to our clients and their employees, the expansion of our UK business and we have another exciting new service in the pipeline … but you’ll have to watch this space as details will be announced soon!

What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?

I took the advice offered to me many years ago to surround myself with the best people and that has served me well. There are many wonderful people who have helped, advised, supported and challenged me along the way, locally, nationally and internationally. not least the wonderful network of ladies I met through Going For Growth and ACORNS , where my fellow Leads are now some of my best friends and advisors. I engaged a mentor and coach for years and found that so worthwhile that I have recently become an Executive Coach myself. 

I firmly believe that if we ask for help, we will receive it. I have received excellent help, support, and advice throughout the years. Now, I enjoy sharing my learning with others who are on their journey. I firmly believe that by sharing knowledge and experiences we can all grow stronger. That is very much reflected in the culture we have created at Paycheck Plus and is a significant contributor to our success.

What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?

Having started in 2005, I was only getting established during the last recession but at that time, I didn’t feel I had an option of quitting, so I just put the head down and kept going. We have been through many challenges such as the introduction of new banking systems due to the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) and GDPR, which impacted the payroll sector enormously – but we were prepared as we always operated from a clean room environment with a focus on data protection and confidentiality. Our greatest challenge has always been to find the right talent.  Good payroll people are few and far between. This led us to creating our own Payroll Graduate programme three years ago which has been HUGELY successful. So we have plans to further develop that model to grow our own talent, as we expand in Ireland and the UK.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

A good friend recommended that I “fail fast, fail cheap” when I asked her advice on setting up in the UK.  It took me a while to fully understand what that meant. Now I am not afraid to try something. If it doesn’t work, I see it as a learning process. Instead of feeling that I’ve failed, I now realise that I have learned just as much from the things that didn’t work out as the things that did. It’s better to make a start on something than waiting until I’m confident that it’s going to be perfect. As a perfectionist, that was difficult at first but now I feel the fear and do it anyway!

Who inspires you in business?

I used to admire entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and others who had created massive organisations but now, with a deeper understanding of people, I get inspired by the efforts made by so many wonderful ladies like Mary McKenna of Tour America who has faced so many challenges in the travel industry, yet never gives up. Anne Heraty who defied all the odds to take her business CPL from start-up to become a PLC and many more like them who are part of the Going for Growth network in particular. However, on a daily basis I am inspired by my team at Paycheck Plus who continuously dazzle our clients with their commitment to providing the optimum service.  I regularly get e-mails and messages from clients with the loveliest comments and that makes me feel so proud of them, which inspires me to continue to develop and lead our business forward.

What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?

The culture in Paycheck Plus endorses collaborative learning and new members to the team are supported by their team mentor, encouraged to ask questions time and time again to ensure they fully understand. There is no such thing as a silly question. Our graduates have stated that the team “trip over themselves to help each other” so they learn in a warm and engaging environment. We support and challenge our employees, encourage and reward them with training and development and have an educational bursary in place. We focus on strengths to ensure that everyone gets to maximise their skills in areas that they choose. We have two in-house coaches, a dedicated trainer, an external coach and mentor and engage in continuous professional and personal development initiatives to ensure our employees are progressing in their career and meeting their own personal ambitions.

What business books do you read or would recommend?

I have bookcases full of business books and just love to read! I always have several business books on my bedside locker with my study books in the kitchen and the den! I also subscribe to Blinklist to get a synopsis of those I just can’t get time to read and love the McKinsey updates that come to my phone. One of the books that had the greatest impact on me was Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective people and I go back to it time and time again. 

When it comes to working with women entrepreneurs through ACORNS, what is the top advice you give entrepreneurs?

As part of the ACORNS network you will be surrounding yourself with people that will inspire and support you. Ask for help!  No matter what you are experiencing, you can be sure that someone else has already faced a very similar challenge and will only be delighted to share their learnings with you. 

Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Written by John Kennedy (

Published: 9 September, 2020