One in 10 people put off starting a business by tax and accounting

Despite small businesses single handedly generating a quarter of the UK’s GDP, over a quarter (26%) of small business owners have next to no accounting knowledge. In fact, accounting is the reason many budding entrepreneurs don’t get a business off the ground with one in 10 people put off starting a business by tax and accounting.

‘Finance fear’ is real. And rightly so. It’s not just tax obligations and responsibilities that new business owners need to get their heads around, it’s also knowing when to register for VAT, ensuring they manage their cash flow and budget forecasting, have a bookkeeping system in place, set up payroll (if they have any staff members) and so on.

There is also a risk with the surge in prominence of accounting software platforms, such as QuickBooks or Xero, that give small business owners the expectation that they can do these things themselves simply and easily. We recognise the vital role that these platforms fulfil – but it is dangerous to suggest that anyone, with no financial training or prior knowledge, can fully understand the intricacies behind calculating VAT and tax, file their returns, know what expenses can be legitimately run through the business and so on, however intuitive these software packages are. Small business owners, particularly in the first years of trading, when cash is at its tightest, want the comfort and assurance they won’t be hit by a tax bill or fine later down the line.

Aside from the risks, the other side to look at is that there is financial support available for small businesses; support that, unless you’re a financial professional, you may not be aware of. For example, there is Research & Development (R&D) tax relief available for small and medium-sized enterprises. Government guidance on this exists, but it’s not always easy to navigate. Working with someone who can not only highlight the financial support opportunities available, but also help small businesses successfully navigate the relevant application processes, can be instrumental in helping small ventures kick on and grow.

The key to overcoming ‘finance fear’ is to essentially outsource it. It’s stemming from a fear of the unknown. And as finance arguably is the biggest priority when it comes to businesses either succeeding or failing, working with an expert in this field is incredibly valuable. Accountants – good ones, at least – can save new enterprises significant sums through effective financial planning, far outweighing their fees. A sentiment seasoned business owners agree with, as over a third (33%) advise others to hire an accountant.

Which brings me onto where can small business owners find an accountant? Well, actually, that should read – where can small business owners find a qualified, trusted accountant?

There is a real lack of knowledge around the accounting industry, and too many assumptions. For example, six out of 10 people have no idea that an accountant can practise without a qualification. Or that around one third of all accountants practising in the UK are not members of a professional body. What’s more concerning is that most people don’t even know that they should be worrying about these things. There is an assumption that any practising accountant adheres to standards and regulations.

Which, to be fair, is perhaps not unreasonable. How many of us ask to see the DBS check of our children’s nursery worker? Or ask our GP to produce evidence that they are suitably qualified to be in the position they’re in. We all just assume that their employer will have done these checks – or that the industry itself has protective measures in place.

Any business owner should go into a partnership with an accountant with their eyes wide open, knowing exactly who they are working with. It’s up to them whether they use an accountant who is unregulated or not, but given the fact that four in 10 small business owners have suffered financial losses due to poor accounting, it emphasises the significant benefit to business owners choosing to work with someone appropriately qualified.

This is why easy-to-use, online search tools, that give business owners access to skilled and professional accountants, are so key. We provide one such tool with our Member Directory, allowing small businesses to find anyone with an AAT license at the click of a button. This is an example of how, as a sector, we can work to ensure small businesses are protected from rogue accountancy.

With tools like this, business owners can search by location, so can find an accountant based locally if this is important, or can search by the name of the accountant, if they have been recommended someone specific by a friend or colleague. They can also select the accounting service they require help with, whether that’s bookkeeping, budgeting, forecasting, accounts preparation, tax, payroll – the list goes on – so they can match with an accountant that specialises in the specific topic area they are looking for.

SMEs account for three-fifths of the UK employment, contributing significantly to the UK economy and growth. We want small business owners – and those that are wanting to take the leap and start their own business – to feel empowered to do so. Finding the right partners to drive their businesses forward and help them get them over any fear-based hurdles, particularly in the early years, is essential.