What to consider – High Street Vs Specialist Accountants:
The life of contractors and freelancers can be a strange and paradoxical experience, socially speaking. In one sense you’re flying solo, but in another sense you may find yourself working closely with dozens of people throughout a working day. Even regular clients that see you as an extension of their team will probably not invite you to their Christmas do. There’s probably only one person or group of people who will be on the journey with you for the long term – your accountant – which means it’s well worth choosing the right accountancy services from the word go. Rather than a head-to-head battle of high street vs specialist accountants, it’s more a case of which one is better suited to you and your company.
You may live near countless shop fronts with many general accountants, and in truth there’s nothing to stop you from paying them a visit and getting on the books. But if you do that you could be missing out on some important value that only a specialist contractor accountant can add. Here are some of the pros and cons that may help you make a decision.
Support & Expertise:
First of all, there’s the amount of support made available to you during your self-employed journey. Many high street accountants will provide the odd bit of ongoing support, answering questions and providing an annual review when the tax submission comes around – and this might be all you need. In which case, happy days! But specialist contractor accountants will be constantly looking at your business and reviewing your accounts, simultaneously minimising the amount of tax legislation related hiccups along the way and maximising your take home pay.
Another key advantage is their knowledge of businesses just like yours. A specialist should already have an abundance of experience dealing with similar circumstances, so you’re a lot more likely to be offered relevant advice at times of the year that are best suited to you – and not just when’s best for the high street accountants.
Location & Availability:
One of the best things about a high street accountancy firm is in the name – they’re just round the corner. Which means they’re right there when you need them. But therein lies the rub. Most high street accountants do ask you to go in to see them which can be tricky when running a limited company. They’re much less likely to give you the kind of on-the-go phone support that a contracting specialist will provide. Being able to take care of an issue on the phone during your commute, instead of finding time in your working week – when you should be on the clock and being paid – can be handy. Multiply that by a handful of times a year and the difference in value is obvious.
Of course, one of the nice things about high street accountants is that they’re from your local community. Some might even be family businesses, which has its own special charm. But they are also more likely to be old school. Quite often, sending spreadsheets by email is about as high tech as a lot of high street accountants get – it’s just not generally economical for them to invest in more sophisticated solutions. Contracting specialists, on the other hand, will be a whole lot slicker. Less charming, but a lot more efficient and proactive because of it. Instead of piles of paperwork and receipts you should be able to make the most of state-of-the-art online software, giving you the power to process all your expense receipts digitally, not to mention instant visibility across your earnings and outgoings, with easy forecasting and reporting. If not, then you’re looking at the wrong specialist accountant.
Making the right decision:
Because your accountant is part of your contracting life for the foreseeable future, it’s essential that you use someone you trust and that you feel understands your business. Few of us have time to speak to dozens in order to whittle down a short list. But it is worth getting in touch with whoever you can. Make a decision based on how they speak to you and how well they seem to understand your business and your needs, and the value you they can add. The monthly fee they charge is just one factor. If someone can add value to your contracting on a daily basis, whilst saving you time in the process, then it’s probably a no brainer.
If you think you could benefit from a specialist contractor account, or simply feel like your high street accountant isn’t quite giving you the peace of mind that you’re looking for, you can read our simple guide on switching accountants here.