Tax & admin · 8 December 2017

Why this freelancer no longer spends Christmas fearing his January tax deadline

Brian Jenner copy
Brian Jenner spent 12 years struggling with his accounting

Self-employed speechwriter Brian Jenner told Business Advice why cloud accounting means freelancers never have to let their bookkeeping get on top of them again.

For small business owners and the self-employed, December can be just as synonymous with feelings of unease as with feelings of goodwill, as the countdown to Christmas is matched by the countdown to the tax deadline at the end of January.

For many, it’s a time to find bank statements, open up envelopes of uncategorised receipts, put the monthly figures into accountancy software and, most importantly, work out where to get the money to pay the tax man, as well as the accountant.

This isn’t always good news, especially when there are also Christmas presents, parties and dinners to be paid for at this time of year.

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One small business owner whose sense of foreboding about the looming tax deadline in January got so bad during December that he decided to write a book about it, was professional speechwriter Brian Jenner.

Despite being self-employed for over a decade, Jenner had never been able to fully get to grips with his bookkeeping, until he discovered cloud accounting.

He said: “Whether I’d had a good year or a bad year, I wasn’t comfortable. Until my accountant worked her magic, I didn’t have a clue how much my liability would be.

“After 12 years of this, my vagueness around money was causing me so much pain, I decided I had to do something about it. My accountant told me that my bookkeeping wasn’t good enough, and she instructed me to use Clear Books’ cloud accountancy software package instead.

“The cloud element means that your accountant can also log on to your profile and tell you what you’re doing wrong. She also doesn’t need to piece stuff together from your piles of invoices, the software generates all your invoices.

“I was skeptical at first, because it involved setting up a direct debit for something that costs nothing to do on other software, Microsoft Excel.”

Within two years, Jenner had to register for VAT. Within three years, the sums of money he was dealing with meant he had to become a limited company.

“Before, I’d thought of myself as a ‘writer’. I believed money matters were a distraction to my purpose,” continued Jenner. “Before, I’d toss receipts into draws and forget about them, I couldn’t see how recording every postage stamp would make much of a difference to my tax liability.

“I thought it was important just to get work ­– As long as I was being paid, things would be okay – However, by developing a willingness to get to grips with all aspects of my money, using the accountancy software every day and overcoming fears of tax matters like VAT, I reversed all my assumptions.”

According to Jenner, his accounts are now his priority. “I’ll spend hours trying to allocate a missing 35 pence, because clarity around money matters is my purpose,” he said.

“Now, when I get back from a business trip, the first thing I do is gather up all the small pieces of paper that describe my expenses and put them into the accountancy software.

“I never have to go back three months and try to work out what a receipt was for. I now wait at least 24 hours before replying to work enquiries, and reject at least 50 per cent because they’re not realistic or there is a risk that the client might not pay.”

For the past four years, Jenner hasn’t had any worries about that looming deadline at the end of January. “I don’t enjoy paying taxes, but I do enjoy having clarity about how much I owe to HMRC and everyone else,” he added.

Brian Jenner is the author ofThe Bohemian who took up Bookkeeping, How cloud accounting can change everything for artists, creatives and entrepreneurs’.

An introduction to cloud-based services for small businesses

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

Tax & admin