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Freelancing, self employment and accountants.

A gross day rate multiplied by 365 sounds impressive to some but the take home reality is generally less… much, much less. Plan accordingly.

[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]T[/dropcap]axes, taxes, taxes, it’s all a scary proposition.

Get it right and you’re sitting pretty with a better deal for your efforts and helping fund the best of society. Get it wrong and you’re in a world of hurt that could land you with a hefty fine or possibly in jail.

It’s a weird one and over the years there are some things that we’ve seen and heard about accountants here at Trebuchet that have raised both eyebrows. Friends and colleagues that might not have been wronged (exactly) but certainly haven’t been as righted as they’d like… (and yes it has been their fault a bit, but then with accountants aren’t you paying for the best advice?). It doesn’t need to be an adversarial relationship, but there are an increasing number of accountancy firms that have an odd set to their hungry jaws.

So, here are some things that I wish I’d known before getting involved with some accountants, which are certainly conversation starters for anyone who works outside of a company structure with an internal accounts team handling all this for them.

  1. Hidden costs
    How much is it going to cost and are there different levels of service for the work they do?

Don’t be afraid to get granular. Whoever they are, whether a lone accountant working from his home or a firm geared towards people like you, it’s important to know exactly the work they’re going to do.

There is a lot of work that you can do yourself and in many cases you can make a saving by doing the grunt work of invoicing and keeping a good spreadsheet up to date yourself.

Good accountants will even send you the Excel spreadsheet that works for them. By getting granular you can start reducing costs by crossing off tasks that you can do yourself (although do get them to vet, check and sign it off). Better yet, handling the income and expenditure of your own company drops the scales from your eyes. A gross day rate multiplied by 365 sounds impressive to some but the take home reality is generally less… much, much less. Plan accordingly.

  1. Work versus advice
    Work and advice are different things and equally relevant at different times, but some people offer one thing and not another. Understand the difference. Define the difference before proceeding.
  1. Down time
    What happens to my accounts when I’m not working? Is there a dormant accounts fee and how much is it? Sometimes you go on holiday or just hit a patch where you’re not working or, worse yet, have to mothball your own company while you take a dream/gateway job on the PAYE.
  1. Mandatory (not optional) extras
    Are PAYE, VAT, and personal tax return included or not included in standard fee?
  1. Transfer of accounts

This used to be a professional courtesy but some companies are charging for it (sometimes quite handsomely). Be aware of these charges going in. Get a full understanding of what’s involved in ‘getting out’. Have this agreement in writing and with a stipulation regarding how long this might take. Watch out for things like “We have to finish your accounts for the next six months before we can transfer to you and in the meantime, here are some hefty charges”

  1. Calling you

What is the response time for emails and do they respond in the best possible manner?

  1. Proactive?

Don’t bother if they don’t respond well, and with the goods. From a client’s perspective a good accountant is basically the safest of hands cradling all the balls in your court.

  1. A good idea?

Do they have ideas? The best ones do. They don’t just push your paper for you. They say things like ‘You work in this industry, have you heard about this scheme the government is running, you can make a saving here, don’t overspend!’. This is old school accounting, harking back to when it was a prestigious service from people who loved their job. These days there are a lot of online firms that you’ll never see… don’t be fooled. Often they aren’t cheap and they don’t offer anything more than a downloadable package might. In the end, you are paying for insight and expertise.

  1. Charges
    How are they measured and when are they paid?
  1. The whites of their sober eyes
    Meet them face to face. It’s remarkable how much this matters. A steady clear gaze, a firm handshake and congenial smile are all winners. Avoid anyone who seems ‘pally’.
  1. You.

It is imperative that your accountant knows your business and that you are getting a tailored service. Establish a congenial professional tone early on and they’ll respond in kind. Moreover, when you’re telling them about your plans for expansion/contraction, they’ll be inclined to guide you right. Remember: they handle more business than you’ll ever see (beware if they haven’t).

  1. Hands Off

Be aware that it is never a good idea to have a ‘I just don’t want to think about it’ attitude to your accounts. Monitor both it and them, and don’t be afraid to ask for regular updates at a time that suits you both. No need to badger anybody, but at the same time, no one likes surprises.

  1. Assumptions

As in business, assumptions and grey areas are very dangerous and need to be clarified immediately. Okay partners give a list of what they’re going to do, good partners also give you a list of what they need you to do, and great partners give you both as well as being proactive about getting you where you want to go.

Of course, these are just suggestions and while internet research is a good basis for knowledge in many case you’d be best asking those directly in the know (disclaimer disclaimer).

Good luck out there and may the plum jobs find you well!

  1. Finally, always read the fine print

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