How to prepare your paperwork correctly and pay lower fees to your accountant
By Jonathan Amponsah CTA FCCA, The Tax Guys
Let’s be honest bookkeeping isn’t most people favourite job. However, when you have a small business keepings costs low is important and that includes the cost of bookkeeping and accountancy fees. If you try and do all the bookkeeping it may well take over your evenings and weekends. Without the funds to pay high hourly rates for accountants to sort through a cardboard box of receipts you need another approach. So, how do you get the balance right? How can you make sure your books are maintained accurately and keep your accountancy bills to a reasonable level? And also have time to relax at the weekend!
Here are some time and money-saving tips:
This might sound like asking a waiter whether you need a dessert but the first thing to do before you dive into preparing your books is to ask your accountant what you can do to lower your accountancy fees. The aim is not to take on more work at the expense of your weekends or family life. Most accountants do offer packages and it might be that you can get the year-end accounts and tax return work at half price. Or they could simply take over all your paperwork chores, produce regular management accounts and handle your VAT and payroll requirements. In return you get your end of year accounts done and filed for FREE. Why free? Well if the bulk of the work is completed and there are no additional complications or work at the year end, then I see no reason why the accounts cannot be filed at no cost to you.
If the above doesn’t work and you’re happy to do the books, then agree with your accountant what format to keep the books and how they want it done. Do they want you to simply keep record of income and expenses on excel? Do they want you to use a particular software? Would you match, cross reference and analyse the transactions or would they do it? Do they want you to keep a cash book, list of your sales and purchase invoices? And do they want you to reconcile the books by applying what is called “Double Entry” book keeping? Unless you are a professional book keeper or a member of the Institute of Certified Book keepers, please do not attempt to do double entry book keeping. You may end up paying for the accountant to rectify errors. You may even end up with some tax issues.
Another way to prepare the books and reduce your accountancy fees is to use a professional book keeper to help you. Their rates are certainly cheaper than that of an accountant. But do choose carefully. Shortlist a few and involve your accountant in the process if possible. What you want to avoid is a situation where you end up paying for the same work twice because the format and quality of the book keeping is not at a level to enable the accountant to produce the accounts at a cheaper rate. Or the book keeper and the accountants use different systems and speak different languages.
Whether you use an accountant, a book keeper or do it yourself, avoid complicated record keeping and try to streamline your transactions. Things you can do include having a dedicated business account, using the bank for most transactions, refrain from using the business bank account for personal expenses, avoid multiple bank accounts or credit cards and have all your records in once place (preferably in a digital format rather than a shoebox of receipts).
It can be time consuming to collate and record all your invoices and receipts. And if you send them to your accountant in a shoebox, they will spend additional time reviewing and sorting them – which means more costs. There are some good apps including Auto Entry and Receipt Bank that allow you to capture these receipts on the go and send them directly to your accountant. You can even ask your suppliers to send their invoices to the app to free up your inbox a bit. And this will also reduce your accountancy bill because accountants are not chasing you for records or sifting through a pile of invoices.
Gone are the days when book keeping software was written in complicated language that only accountants could use or understand. The likes of FreeAgent, QuickBooks and Xero have truly transformed the way book keeping is done. And if you’re going to do your own bookkeeping, then do use one of these platforms to save time and accountancy fees. Plus, some accountancy firms would even cover the cost of the platform for you or include it within their packaged services. Again, do agree with your accountant where your bookkeeping duties would end.
If you run a retail or restaurant business and you’re using a cloud bookkeeping platform, then why not go a step further and get an EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) and inventory system that integrates with your chosen cloud platform and helps you keep track of stock? Platforms such us Vend, Izettle and others should be considered. A key area that often causes issues with the accounting process is the value of your stock. Where you or your accountant spends less time on this area, you can both save time and costs.
Did you know you can ask for a lower accountancy fee if you prepare your books for your accountants at their quietest times? Yes, you can. Accountants have peak times with many businesses having December & March year-ends, plus the Tax Return deadline
Plan to avoid these times and ask your accountant something along the line of: “if I use the format we’ve agreed and get my books to you on 1st August, what discount can you give me?”
And try not to ask your accountant to do things at the last minute. Many will charge a premium for putting you to the front of the pile.
Open banking and artificial intelligence are taking away most of the heavy lifting when it comes to receiving your bank statements and analysing what the transactions are for. You can authorise your bank to send bank transaction to a cloud bookkeeping platform avoiding the need to spend time downloading them and keying them into, say, a spreadsheet. You can also set a rule to say that if a direct debit payment goes to, say Aviva, then this should be analysed as insurance so next time you don’t have to analyse it manually. Imagine how much time and fees you can save by doing this. However, don’t assume that you can ignore it completely – it’s very important that someone check though to ensure that the robots are behaving the way you intended.
I hope you’ll use these tips to help you negotiate a good fee with your accountants. However, bear in mind that cost isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing an accountant. Accountants can and do add a lot of value to businesses, so make sure you make the most of your relationship and maximise the business advisory and tax planning aspects.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Amponsah CTA FCCA is an award-winning chartered tax adviser and accountant who has advises business owners on entrepreneurial tax reliefs. Jonathan is the founder and CEO of The Tax Guys. www.thetaxguys.co.uk