Many happy returns to Sussex-based tax accountants!
Key messages :
- Local accountancy business survives 10 years through the economic recession – and thrives
- A look back, as well as forward, from an accountant’s point of view
- Technology in accountancy
- Brexit may mean economic turmoil, but the well-run and adaptable businesses can make it through
Sussex-based tax experts On The Spot Accountants (OTS) are celebrating many happy tax returns for their clients on their 10th anniversary this autumn.
Not only is On The Spot a well-regarded and established firm of accountants but managing director Paula Tomlinson set up the business in 2008 as an accountancy franchise. Her team works across the South offering personalised, jargon-free advice and support through the year to their clients.
OTS is the only accounting franchise in the UK set up by a CTA (Chartered Tax Adviser) and the only accounting practice based in Sussex which has been franchised, offering qualified accountants who want to run their own business under an established brand an opportunity to work flexibly, perhaps around their family or to get out of a corporate rut.
Paula says, “Our 10th birthday has given me a chance to look back over the years at statistics and trends that have happened. For example, over 70% of all companies are registered at a home address, something I wouldn’t have known 10 years ago. And more than half of all employment is with small businesses, not large.”
On The Spot was set up just before the 2008 financial crash when there were many clients worrying about the future.
The most successful dealt with the crash as an opportunity to review their business models, look for business in different places, make the most of new websites, review costs, or even expand. The answers are different for each client.
Paula says she has seen a lot of tenacious, excellent business people work hard to keep their businesses going. The most effective are those who also good at taking advice when they know they need it, and who then act on it.
The ongoing growth of technology has seen both HMRC and Companies House embracing this. It used to take about a week to set up a company with a manual form, now it’s registered within a couple of hours.
Paula says there is a general feeling that no-one else pays as much tax as you do, particularly with the growth of global companies online and on the high street like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Starbucks. But small businesses are not global businesses. She says unfortunately a Starbucks café next to a Jo Bloggs café will attract more business because it’s an established brand, and her advice is to focus on your own business model and build up a strong, local and meaningful brand yourself. There is a growing trend for people to support local businesses and communities over multi-nationals.
Over the 10 years there have been additional costs for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) such as making dividends taxable, introducing pensions auto-enrolment, taking away flat rate VAT, Making Tax Digital, and SMEs are good at responding to these challenges.
Also, says Paula, there seems to be a general view that accountants aren’t needed to prepare accounts for Companies House, to which she replies: Even if companies muddle through on their own, how do they deal with Corporation Tax? Paula doubts HMRC could function without accountants representing taxpayers as it would add too much to their workload.
“One issue that hasn’t ever changed and we all get questions about on a regular basis is: Why can’t I claim tax relief for entertaining? This really causes a lot of unhappiness. Again, there’s a general feeling that in a previous career when generous gifts, lunches, dinners, sporting tickets and hospitality were received, the host didn’t suffer tax issues. They do – it’s just not mentioned. The rules are the same for everyone.”
“Since I set up OTS I’ve met so many different people and businesses from wine sellers to health food retail, dog breeders to fast food burgers, solar torches to business software, sports kit to ski apartments,” adds Paula, “and I’ve enjoyed learning more about all these businesses especially those who make cakes and chocolate! We always meet our clients in person, so meetings have been in so many different places like garden centres, pubs, hotels, golf clubs, temporary offices, shops, and coffee houses – anywhere our clients feel comfortable.
And I’ve renewed a relationship with an old school tutor whose new career after retiring as a teacher is running a local business group. I’ve also met up with fellow members of a yoga class, previous neighbours, and ex-KPMG colleagues through setting up On The Spot.” And, of course, I have a fabulous, dedicated group of franchisees with whom it’s my privilege to work.
Going forward, Paula says the self-employed world has grown to such an extent that whether client one-person companies or sole traders are really self-employed has become a political issue. Her view is that when you have no employment protection (and don’t want it), have no continuous work, can walk away at any time, pay your own insurance, must constantly find new work, keep yourself up-to-date, use your own equipment, have no sick pay or holiday cover etc, you aren’t an employee.
And as for Brexit, Paula says that since 2008, we might now have another economic turmoil but we do know we have uncertainty. It’s always clear that well-run, adaptable businesses survive, whatever is thrown at them.
However, for the future of OTS the plan is to continue to grow the brand and the client base across London and the South East and attract more franchisees to join the team.
Paula’s top tip
Beware unqualified accountants! On The Spot have picked up work over the years where clients accepted a person’s word that they were qualified when they turned out not to be. Paula says it’s easy to check on websites of accountancy trade bodies like ICAEW or ACCA. Not everyone needs one, but in the cases of the people who came to OTS, there was no substitute for a better understanding of how accounts need to be prepared, for example when there is goodwill being transferred from one business to another. Often tax reliefs and opportunities get missed, so Paula recommends using professionals whenever you can.
Paula is a qualified and vastly experienced tax specialist and accountant, having been Group Finance Director, Tax Manager and Company Secretary for Palmer & Harvey (Holdings) plc, and previously with KPMG and BDO.
The three things Paula is most proud of over the last 10 years are weathering the economic storms, bringing together a team of like-minded accountants who believe in the OTS ethos, and still maintaining her sense of humour.
If anyone would like to join OTS as a franchisee, they should contact Paula Tomlinson on 07717 854333 or 01444 882677 or see more on www.onthespottax.co.uk