Software can be expensive if you’re running a small business from home.
A good example is Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook (and sometimes a few other programs thrown in). Bought from the Microsfot Office website, the Home and Student version of Office 2007 costs £99.99, but you cannot use it in ‘business situations’. The standard version costs £349.99 if buying from scratch and £249.99 if you’re upgrading from an earlier version.
The good news that you can get very similar software for free – check out Open Office. As an ex-Microsoft Office trainer, I didn’t look at Open Office for years. I’d spent so long learning MS Office to the advanced level, I couldn’t face learning new Office software. But if you’re a regular Word, Excel or PowerPoint user, Open Office will look very familiar indeed. A few minutes exploring should be all the training you need. If you’re worried about the files being compatible with Microsoft Office – say, you need to send a spreadsheet to your accountant who only has Excel – don’t be. Open Office can cope with MS Office file formats.
It’s amazing that we all go out and pay hundreds of pounds for software we could (effectively) get for free, but I guess that’s the power of Microsoft.
There’s a lot of open source software out there – the blog software I use, WordPress, is open source and doesn’t cost me a penny. If you’re thinking about buying new software, it’s well worth Googling to see if there’s an open source equivalent. You could save a heck of a lot of money.
When I started out as a freelance trainer almost ten years ago I knew I needed help filling out my tax return form and making sure my books were kept properly. But I was apprehensive about hiring an accountant because I'd never done this before. I didn't really know what an accountant should do or how to find the right one for me. If you're new to business you'll probably feel a lot like I did. Which is why I've asked my latest guest blogger, Amy Taylor of Amy Taylor Accountancy, to share her expertise. In this article, Amy covers…
- What to look for in a great accountant
- What a good accountant should do for you
- Why you need an accountant
- What to do if you can’t afford an accountant
- First decision : High street practice or sole practitioner? The main benefits of a sole practitioner are lower fees and a more personal service. They are often more flexible, and as they run their own businesses are much more likely to understand the pressures you are facing. My clients chose me because they like having a regular point of contact and proactive tax planning advice.
- Talk to your business contacts and attend networking events. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a great accountant. Find out who your business contacts use, their experiences and attend networking groups which invariably will have at least one accountant in attendance who you can get to know informally before deciding on appointment.
- Check out Twitter. It’s another way of getting to know an accountant informally. See if they offer tax advice that is relevant for you as it’s a good sign they understand your business. Follow some lists such as http://twitter.com/efficiencycoach/great-accountants and http://twitter.com/BookMarkLee/uk-tax-and-accountants to get to know some great accountants, including me http://twitter.com/amyaccountant .
- You absolutely WILL save tax. A good accountant will assess its clients’ needs, identifying areas where tax can be legitimately saved and offer tax planning advice for the future. Areas where I have helped my clients save tax is by advising on the best VAT scheme, identifying missing expenses, such as costs of working from home, broadband, insurances, carrying forward Class 4 NIC losses and advising on eligibility for child tax credits.
- Avoid fines. Getting your tax return in on time is essential if you are to avoid heavy fines, and/or interest. A great accountant will know all the deadlines applicable to your business and make sure you work together to meet those deadlines.
- Prove you are taking reasonable care. HMRC have changed their penalty regime from 2009 which means that you must demonstrate a commitment to correctly declaring your tax liabilities, and taking the best possible care over your books and records. What better way to prove your commitment than taking on a suitably qualified accountant. It says to the taxman, look I know this is my weak area so I am taking responsibility for my tax affairs by appointing this expert to help me.
- Ask if your accountant will give you regular updates or a newsletter. I provide my clients with personalised updates to their particular industry or background, to make sure they are aware of any changes, for example compulsory online VAT filing, etc, so they can plan ahead and take on additional accountancy services if required.
- If you have issues over affording an accountant, look for an accountant who offers special rates for start-ups. I have very reasonable packages for start-ups as I recognise how finances can be pushed to the limits in the first year. A good accountant will advise you on how to keep your books and records in order, to obtain the lowest fees possible.
- Another reason why it is important to have an accountant is if you move house. If you are self-employed you won’t have any payslips to hand over as proof of your income when getting a mortgage, so it is essential to have an accountant who can provide you with a reference, let the bank know your past accounting and tax history and future expectations of growth.
- If you get it wrong and choose an accountant who is not right for your business needs, don’t worry. It is very easy to change. Find a new accountant and they will write a “professional enquiry” letter to your old accountant asking if there is any reason why they shouldn’t work with you. They will also draft a letter for you to sign which allows the old accountant to pass over all old tax calculations and accounts to the new accountant.
Good hunting! For more information on accounting and tax services from Amy Taylor Accountancy, or a copy of my ebook “10 Top Tax Tips” for the self-employed, please ring me on 01767 260282 or email me at email@example.com. Visit my website at www.tayloraccountancy.net. Amy Taylor Accountancy takes every care in preparing material to ensure that the content is accurate and up to date. However no responsibility for loss to any person acting or refraining from acting as a result of this material can be accepted by Amy Taylor Accountancy