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If you think a professional accountant is expensive, wait till you hire an amateur!

If you think a professional accountant is expensive, wait till you hire an amateur!

For some reason I’ve seen a whole raft of questions and complaints about that most retiring of professionals, our friend the humble accountant. What is more, the questions and complaints being raised tend to demonstrate why they need an accountant in the first place.

There are two basic themes, best summarised as “How much?!” and “My accountant won’t let me…”.

The “How much” brigade really amuse me. They usually ask for recommendations for a good accountant who only charges £50 a month. Well look, I used one of them when I started out in contracting, on the recommendation of someone who knows about these things and I was young (ok, youngish) and naïve. After a couple of years, when I’d learned what I was doing, I worked out he’d cost me a few thousand in unnecessary taxes, late filing penalties and generally weak advice. Rather more than I‘d paid him for his services, in fact. So I switched to one of the contractor specialist accountants who recovered that money over the next year or two by giving rather more appropriate advice and stayed with them ever since.

I’ve always said that a good accountant is free anyway. Let’s face it; I do two kinds of stuff. Some stuff is for clients and I get paid for doing it, at an hourly rate well above what my accountant charges. The other is stuff I want to do – well, OK, more usually stuff that She Who Must Be Obeyed wants me to do – and I don’t get paid for it (usually quite the opposite, in fact!). And doing accountancy beyond the bare minimum of logging what money went where does not fit into that category. So as far as I’m concerned the accountant is doing stuff I don’t want to do that has to be done, more accurately and far more cheaply than I could do it. So something of a no-brainer.

On the other hand, the members of the “Won’t let me” brigade are seriously deranged. In the last couple of days I’ve seen someone trying to claim spending £5500 on a single PC (including £2400 on two monitors) as a business expense, someone asking about charging his MBA course as a necessary business cost and someone asking about making his three year old a shareholder to save tax, then having a go at their accountant for asking questions. There are others – just wait a day or two and another one will be along…

OK, the first guy might have a point (he’s certainly got one hell of a home entertainment system …) but the other two not only don’t know the relevant laws, they’re actually complaining that their qualified, expert, paid advisor is telling them why it won’t work. Totally barking.

And just going back to costs again, I was challenged today on why I need to spend any more than £50 a month for a simple business model and can’t I see I’m being ripped off when his high street guy does all he needs doing. Fine, I replied, just ask him about a few contractor-related basics, such as what is the definition of a PSC, what’s IR35 and how it is assessed, what is the tax treatment of training to expand your skill set, how to correctly answer the questions on the P35 and why, and why he isn’t an MSC. He may well know all the answers, in which case well done him, but I know more than a few ACCAs who don’t.

As Red Adair said, “If you think a professional is expensive, wait till you hire an amateur”.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Cartoon Man by TheNickster

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