Tag Archive | "IR35 Forum"

Budget 2012 – the new utopia of a modern Britain


One of the few advantages of resting between contracts is that you can go off on holiday without that nagging feeling that you’re throwing away lots of earnings to do so. And yes, I know my rate is annualised to cover such things, but it always niggles. Still, no time like the present so She Who Must Be Obeyed and I are off to far-flung places for a few weeks. Well, some friends are getting married over in Napier and it would be rude not to attend, wouldn’t it?

I will miss a few things though (no, not daytime television). I’m here long enough to see Wales grind England in the mud at Twickenham but I’ll miss the triumphant finale over France (hey, I’m Welsh, we’re natural optimists). I’ll miss the start of the Formula 1 season. And, most importantly, I’ll miss the Budget.

Now the Budget might not seem to be high on most people’s list of desirable things to witness first hand, but this one might actually do something for small business like mine; certainly the last two haven’t so it must be our turn.

It will be interesting to see if the Office of Tax Simplification – remember them? – comes up with anything. More importantly, will the IR35 Forum actually deliver something substantive? Looking at the minutes of recent meetings they seem to be in classic Sir Humphrey mode, failing to take any suggestion forward to a workable proposal. Since they have to report in time for the Budget, I’m guessing that they may have actually had to produce something this time round. They might even manage to work out how to distinguish between a business and an employee, something that is as obvious as the difference between a walrus and a walnut to most of us, but this is a body staffed by people who work in the civil Service so they can’t be expected to understand non-employees.

There is also a faint chance that Cameron and Osborne can agree what they want to do to support UK businesses. Or even that they together will decide that St Vince of Cable is wrong (he is, of course, but it’s worrying they haven’t spotted it yet).

Still, I’ll have my smartphone with me, so I’ll be able to keep up with things from the other side of the globe. Providing I’m not spotted doing so by the management; for some reason she is of the opinion that you don’t do work stuff when you’re on holiday. Most odd…

Ah yes, smartphones. Someone in HMRC has reached the 21st Century at last, and they have realised that a smartphone is not a PDA (remember PDAs – like smartphones that couldn’t make phone calls). As a result they have decided that having a business-owned smartphone can be taxed the same way as a business-owned mobile phone. It’s a small step, but we ought to encourage them; one day they might think of something really worthwhile.

Anyway, you will be spared my ramblings for the next few weeks. When I return it will be to the new utopia of a modern Britain with a growing economy, which recognises freelance contractors as the heroes they are and which has put St Vince back in his box.

Or perhaps not…

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

© 2012 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Lets Make A Dream by J0GA

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HMRC – the single biggest inhibitor to the recovery I can think of


January, and the vexed question of self-assessment rears its head again. My accountant friends have said good bye to the family until February and closeted themselves with quill pens and envelopes of receipts. Others have burned the midnight oil trying to complete their online returns. Still others – like me for example – pay the bill to the accountant, send off a small corrective payment to HMRC and wonder what all the fuss is about.

In my case that cheque is for precisely eighty pence. Can’t pay that online so a cheque it will have to be. Which will cost the drones in HMRC around £30 to process but basic economics was never really their strong point. And it’s only outstanding in the first place because last year I ignored a similarly trivial underpayment and this year got rightly stung for the interest.

Meanwhile, away from the distractions of the self-assessment merry-go-round, a rather more invidious tax change has crept in, largely unannounced and unremarked. As of now, there is a limit on how much cash you can take out when closing your company under the provisions of Extra-Statutory Concession 16 of just £25,000. Anything over that attracts Capital Gains tax at the relevant rate. Great. More taxes you never knew you owed.

There is a way around it; you simply have to liquidate your company. That means using the services of a liquidator who, incidentally, can’t be your current accountant. And it seems that such a service comes in at around seven grand a pop. Until, that is, Liquidators-R-Us get up and running and the cost comes down, so defeating the whole purpose.

But if you think about it, if the idea is to increase the CGT take from closing companies, why leave the Liquidation loophole in the first place? Joined-up thinking? Not at all, merely another excuse to get taxes imposed by relying on people not knowing the detail.

But what really irritates me about this is the underlying assumption by HMRC that a company’s sole purpose is to grow into an eternal corporate body and any that don’t are not to be taken seriously. There is no acceptance or understanding that if you are working in a world where income is variable and frequently non-existent, using a company to store and distribute your income evenly across the year is the best way to do it. And when you finally stop grinding away at the coal face you want to get your money back as efficiently as you can while paying whatever levies are due to the Treasury, not to some pointless corporate leech.

It’s exactly the same mindset that got us IR35 in the first place. We have companies. We don’t have 300 employees and a pile of plant and machinery so we must be cheating the taxman, else why have the company? Well there’s S44-47 for one thing and the idiot tax liability transfer rules it embodies. But hey, that’s no excuse.

I have to conclude that the increasingly rapacious predations of HMRC are the single biggest inhibitor to the recovery we can think of. It’s all very well the Government saying we need a vibrant and flexible workforce, and we’d love to give them one, but getting constantly cut off at the knees by a body that has absolutely no experience or expertise in the real world is getting more than a little wearing.

And finally it’s the next meeting of the infamous IR35 Forum soon. There is a hope that they will come up with a final answer to the IR35 question. Personally, I’m not hopeful. Can’t imagine why…

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

© 2012 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Clueless BUB by Birdies100

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It’s been a difficult year for many but not a disastrous one, overall.


So this is Christmas, and what have we done? Well, speaking personally, quite a lot in one way and another. But it has been a funny old year in some ways.

Last December I was being optimistic about the Coalition making significant changes in various things. I was cautious about IR35, thinking they wouldn’t be a position to repeal it out of hand, but I didn’t expect young Osborne to come out in the Budget with the statement that he needs to keep IR35 to prevent abuses of the system. Which is kind of where we came in.

He did set up the Office of Tax Simplification though, and from there has sprung the IR35 Forum. The former has turned into something of a toothless wonder, getting ever more bogged down in detail. The more cynical among us might be tempted to suggest that this is because a lot of the parties around that table have something of a commercial interest in keeping IR35 exactly where it is, but that would be an unworthy thought. Wouldn’t it….

The IR35 Forum is still to produce anything but it looks like it can at least claim it has a direction and an intent that its parent body is sadly lacking. However we won’t really know much more until the next Budget.

In reality the best we can hope for is that IR35 remains as is, but Hector is rather more competent at judging who to stick under its microscope.

The Agency Workers Regulations arrived and caught all the agencies by surprise – hey, they only had a year’s warning, so what do you expect – leading to a flurry of letters demanding that you declare yourself outside its scope. Tricky, when anyone is potentially inside its scope and we have no case law to work with. Plus can change as they say.

The Cabinet Office was presented with a major paper on Security Clearance following a detailed, wide-ranging research project led by PCG, who highlighted what’s wrong with the system and, perhaps more importantly, what damage is being done. And even some options for how to fix it. This has been very well received and personally I am delighted, having been pressing for this kind of thing to happen for around eight years now.

Several IR35 appeals were completed, all but one of which were found to be outside, so reinforcing the status quo if not setting any new precedents. The other was the one I wrote about just last week, where the guy was found to be outside and then outside, all in the same contract. I think we’ll park that one in the folder marked “Say What?” and just forget about it.

The Market: now that’s interesting. The financial sector suffered an almost universal 10% rate cut during the year, with a few going even further. The rest of the world, however, seems to be plodding along at the same level. Lots of contractor layoffs and enforced holidays as well – again, only in finance. There are nowhere near as many jobs as they were, and rather more people chasing them, but you have to say that, taken as a whole, things aren’t as bad as some were predicting. The job losses seem to have been in the permanent market, so you have to conclude that UK PLC is sticking with easily-disposable temporary resources until they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A light which is most likely to be a train coming the other way, if the pundits are to be believed.

And best news of all – our favourite MP and failed tax evader, the fragrant Ms Primarolo, is standing down at the next election.

So it’s been a difficult year for many but not a disastrous one, overall. Speaking for myself I’ve been gainfully employed most of the year, and am hopeful of that continuing a while longer. I’m looking forward to a week off eating and drinking far too much – and not having to face a sheet of blank A4 on Thursday night – before having to face the 7:15 from Bristol in the bleak midwinter again.

Have a good one.

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: new check cover by jelene

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Who said that IR35 rules have changed?


Another judgement has been handed down that looks like it will further clarify the eternally vexed question of when is an employee not an employee. In the case of Autoclenz vs Belcher, it has been conclusively proven that, despite the contractual terms in place, a group of workers were de facto employees since they failed the key tests for non-employment and were in fact providing their services personally.

The real trick in this case is not that the workers were employees per se, but that the actual working conditions of their engagement, the rules under which they worked and the level of freedom they had in how that work was done contradicted the contractual terms in some key areas. Hence, they are employed.

Furthermore they failed to satisfy the judge in the Appeals Tribunal that they were in business on their own account, which, as we have seen, is now the real key test for both the AWR and IR35. And that is important.

This whole issue of “are you in business” is gaining greater importance and is beginning to rank alongside the triumvirate of Substitution, Direction and Mutuality, which, as any fool knows, are how you decide if you are IR35 caught.

Clearly it is not a revelation that these conditions have to exist in fact as well as in the contract; we got that one sorted in the Dragonfly case, which upheld the arguably self-evident case that the contract has to reflect reality and if it doesn’t it will be ignored in favour of a hypothetical one describing that reality.

So from our side – that of the genuine freelance contractor – this has merely clarified what we already knew and doesn’t actually take the IR35 argument a lot further forward. For the clients though, this presents something of a headache, especially when taking on us real contractors. They may have to consider doing something I’ve been on about for a long time now, use B2B contracts that treat me as a supplier of expertise, not as a temporary employee. That, in turn, greatly reinforces my status as being a genuine business. And that puts me neatly outside IR35 and the AWR without any further discussion needed.

Although I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.

Still, this goes back to the original IR35 legislation, which contains a thumping great non sequitur at its very heart. The question it asks is “Would you be an employee if you were an employee and not working through your own company?”. Well yes, I probably would, but that situation doesn’t in fact exist. It also goes on later to talk about how you treat two contracts, one caught and one not-caught. If you have a not-caught contract, then you’re in business, almost by definition. So how can you possibly also have a caught contract? Confusing, isn’t it? Let’s hope the IR35 Forum has the wit and wisdom to get this whole area sorted out for once and all and we can put HMRC back in their box.

Ah yes, HMRC. You may recall my little contretemps from last week, about them losing a CT payment. I got another reminder last Friday, with even more interest added, so I phoned them up, more in anger than hope, it being close to seven o’clock in the evening. And astonishingly I got to speak to someone. What is more, they identified what had gone wrong – their idiot system had seen two payments and assumed that they must belong to different tax years – and was able to sort it out there and then. So well done them. For once.

Except they still owe me some overpaid PAYE and have done for quite a while now. I suppose I could always try phoning them again….

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: new world park by Paul Keller

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Back again….and still ranting!


Took some time off last week to recharge the batteries and soak up some sunshine away from the rest of the world. Very relaxing it was too, once we got there; it was the bit between leaving the house and getting to the apartment that caused the grief.

Two factors conspired to make the journey less relaxing than it should have been; the ministrations of a certain Irish airline and the facilities of Bristol Unintentional Airport.

The airline is very proud to call themselves the “Low Cost” airline. What they don’t tell you is that means low cost to them, not you. Every step in the process of booking the flight to getting off the plane at your destination has been brilliantly engineered to save them as much effort and money as possible. So you end up standing in interminable queues to check in bags (with the best will in the world I struggle to get a week’s packing into my carry-on hand luggage and She Who Must Be Obeyed certainly can’t). You have to get to the most distant (and hence cheapest) gate possible at the most inconvenient flight times. Once there you stand in another queue to get on the plane, usually waiting for the incoming flight to unload its passengers so as not to waste any time when the plane is ready. Two hours at the airport and no chance for even a cup of coffee, much less some pre-flight drinkies

And, most irritatingly, all you hear over the loud shouters and in the in-flight magazine is how well they do in all the surveys, how few bags they lose, how few complaints they get (possibly because we’re not stupid enough to think they’ll take any notice if we do complain so we don’t bother) and how good their timekeeping is. So why were we 30 minutes late then…

As for Bristol Unintentional. I’m fairly well-travelled and as far as I’m concerned it rates as being about the least convenient one I’ve ever used (and that includes the one in Zanzibar). You kind of get used to paying to use the drop-off car park since they closed the front of the terminal building to everything bar their own taxis. You have to pay to use the trolleys; most places give you the money back when you return them, but not Bristol, In fact there is nowhere to return them to, so they usually get abandoned in the departures hall and the car parks. They’ve taken most of the seats out of the departures lounge to expand the Duty Free shop (which isn’t duty free anyway, come to that). And now, “for your comfort and convenience” they’ve scrapped the buses that take you to the more distant gates; instead you have a 450 metre walk along endless corridors and stairways with nary an escalator, moving walkway or lift in sight.

And all the time, you’re being told this is all for your own benefit. Yeah right…

So then I get back to the real world this week and have a read of a paper HMRC have submitted to the IR35 Forum to establish the scope of who is and who isn’t caught under IR35. Sadly, they seem to suffer the same level of doublethink; compare the level of understanding demonstrated in the paper to the realities of what the IR35 Forum is trying to achieve and there is a yawning chasm between the two. For one thing, it’s headed “Customer Segmentation”. Sorry, but I am not your customer, HMRC, for a start. Also taxation is simple, according to that nice lady in the adverts; how does segmenting the taxpaying population lead to simplification then? The paper was rejected and is being redrafted apparently, which will be interesting.

Meanwhile I’ve vowed never to use a certain Irish airline ever again. Such a shame I can’t do the same with HMRC.

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: Big Data by Space & Light

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IR35 Forum – now there’s a challenge…


It’s time to get out the crystal ball, I believe. The inaugural meting of the shiny new IR35 Forum is on Friday 6th May. This is the body that Mr Osborne has charged with “improving the administration of IR35”. Which, given the present state of he administration of IR35, is a pretty open-ended kind of brief.

Clearly we aren’t going to see very much as a result of this first meeting. No doubt HMRC, who are in the chair, will present their Terms of Reference for the Forum’s agreement. Which will most likely be given, unless they contain something along the lines of “HMRC are right so there’s no point arguing” of course. They will agree the key issues such as which biscuits to buy and when next to meet, but that will be about it

But let’s assume they are honest about it – or that the other forum members keep them honest about it – and the objective is to deliver exactly what Osborne asked for, better administration of IR35. Let’s leap forward a year and see what may have happened. There are I believe three possible outcomes.

Firstly IR35 has been shown to be totally unworkable and will no longer be applied. Well that’s the dream result for some – like me, for example – but rather too far beyond the bounds of possibility. IR35 will still be festering away in the distance for a while yet. Heigh ho…

Secondly IR35 cases are only being brought against those who are genuinely within its scope. Well we can dream, but without changing the wording of IR35 so it becomes clear what that scope actually is, that is also a forlorn hope. For one thing HMRC are probably convinced that every case they’ve brought to date has been justified. For all their talk of “high risk” cases, if the rules aren’t changed the target stays the same; and that’s anyone that HMRC thinks they can bully into submission.

Finally IR35 cases are settled quickly and amicably. Yeah right. If there is no reduction in the number of cases being brought – and there aren’t that many in the overall scheme of things anyway – the only way to speed things up is for HMRC to start replying to the other side a lot quicker than they do. It’s not unusual for several months to elapse between each new step in the inquiry. Cases may well last for an average three years, but a lot of that time – probably 2 years 11 months of it – absolutely damn all is happening.

It’s also worth looking at the makeup of the Forum. There are HMRC people, tax experts of various shades, both independents and from the main industry bodies like ICAEW and CIOT, someone from the recruitment industry and a solitary representative of the freelance contractors in the shape of the PCG who, you might think, are the ones with the greatest interest in this whole debate. And who, it must also be said, are probably the only ones there who don’t have some kind of interest in maintaining the status quo. So clearly there is no question of the forum being biased in any particular direction then. Which is nice.

So I am not all that optimistic that anything significant will have changed. Although, along with 1.4 million other contractors, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

Now there’s a challenge…

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: tubey fight by JSF539

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Agency Workers Directive – what ever happened to “simplification”?


The final form of the guidance for the upcoming Agency Workers Directive has been published. This has not been the subject of any great debate so far, but it does have the capacity to really shake up some corners of the contractor market. And it appears to contain a sting in the tail.

The AWD has a noble aim; it intends to ensure that agency workers – which it defines as those providing temporary services to clients via an agency – are not disadvantaged in terms of the protections and rights enjoyed by full time employees. However, being an EU-derived concept, our beloved Civil Service has failed to recognise the very different nature of the “agency” model in the UK compared to the rest of Europe. While protecting the rights of the lower paid employee of the agencies supplying temporary staff to a whole raft of industries from farming to pharmaceuticals, it also wraps up the traditional freelance contractor in its scope. And that’s not a good thing.

In the earlier consultations, the PCG picked up on the potential for this scope mismatch and were assured that Limited Company contractors would be out of its scope. The early proposed form of the Directive did in fact specifically exclude those working through their own Limited Companies. That was not considered to be much of a problem, naturally enough.

Now, however, that phrase has been watered down. It contains a further qualification, “those operating as genuine businesses”. So here we go again, we are once more being presented with the finely crafted clarity of the mud-encrusted IR35 legislation.

You may recall that Osborne kept IR35 on the statute books at the last election as a deterrent to people who may incorporate to avoid the taxes they can no longer save by using offshore EBTs. My suspicion is that they have the same qualification about “genuine business” in the AWD for exactly the same reason. This is fine as long as there is a clear definition of a “genuine business”. Which there isn’t.

One of PCG’s objectives with the HMRC’s IR35 Forum (when it gets of the ground) will be to try and define how you recognise a genuine business. Simple enough if you’re Tesco or the corner shop, rather more tricky if you are a one or two man company selling your skills and knowledge to the highest bidder. The level of debate that has been engendered within PCG about how to make that definition has to be seen to be believed, so I have no expectation we will see a quick answer. .And until we do, we remain exposed to HMRC’s biased concepts. But hey, we’re getting used to that.

The other victims are the umbrella companies who will have to keep their “clients” – who are de facto employees of the umbrella – fed and watered while they are out of contract. Wonder if anyone has told those clients who will be paying for it…?

And finally, of course, those hugely risk averse recruitment agencies will see the AWD as yet another set of hurdles to overcome to prevent any possibility of their being made responsible for the contractors who they sell to the end clients as their own staff. Expect a whole new layer of miasma to creep into the contractor-agency contracts to ensure the contractor is obeying the demands of a law that doesn’t actually apply to them at all.

Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose. What ever happened to “simplification”?

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<

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So when is a business not a business?


That is a question that’s been exercising me and a few like-minded souls over the last week. And this existential philosophising has been prompted by the planned creation of the IR35 Forum, which aims to establish who is liable for consideration as IR35 fodder and who isn’t. So first a quick history lesson may be in order.

The idea of IR35 as a way to recover NICs avoided by use of dividends has been around for quite a while. It was certainly floated to the Thatcher/Major governements and was firmly rebuffed as being both ineffective and unnecessary. Still, treasury officials are nothing if not doggedly persistent (or doggedly bloody-minded, if you prefer) and it came up again when we switched to New Labour. And found an ally in the Paymaster General, the fragrant Miss Primarola.

However, Primarola – herself, let it be remembered, a failed tax evader (which takes a degree of ineptitude all by itself, having had a tax bill she didn’t agree with paid for by a supporter with perhaps more money than sense) – was adamant that IR35 was only aimed at people cheating the system,. Those “genuinely in business” need have nothing to fear.

Yeah, right…

So wind on ten years and we have a new government and IR35 cases are still being prosecuted almost at random; a recent case is against someone who has been providing services to multiple concurrent clients for several years. Like I said, the usual dogged persistence by HMRC. Or something canine anyway (or should that be lupine…?)

Anyway, now it turns out that we get to keep IR35 because it will stop people leaping from employment to freelance doing the same job to avoid paying the taxes they now owe since their offshore EBT money boxes have been slammed shut. This is almost as skinny an excuse as the original Dim Prawn explanation, but we can live with it, as long as IR35 is only aimed at these cowboy Friday-to-Monday converts and not us real businesses.

Osborne took the key OTS suggestion and has determined that the administration of IR35 needs to be vastly improved. Setting up the IR35 Forum for that very purpose is happening now. It is something of a shame that he didn’t take the extra step and set up something vastly to improve the administration of HMRC itself, but let’s be grateful for small mercies

So the IR35 Forum’s most knotty problem will be working out the common factors between Mr Patel at the corner shop, the guy with a successful SME business, the average jobbing contractor and the traditional self-employed and separating them from someone who genuinely has incorporated just to save paying some taxes. Perhaps they should look for the crossed fingers?

It ought to be as simple as saying your client today isn’t the same as your employer two days ago, you’re VAT registered and have a company bank account, but the more you look into it the harder it gets. This is one debate that I suspect is going to run and run. And one that whatever the outcome. A lot of people aren’t going to be happy with it.

If only we could wave a magic wand, bin IR35 and start from a clean sheet of paper. If only…

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: magnifying glass by Tall Chris

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